SAN DIEGO -- How many different versions of you are there in the multiverse? How do they differ from you? And what would an actual superhero look like, in the real world?
Those questions are at the heart of The Multiversity, Grant Morrison's latest superhero epic for DC Comics. The first issue is expected to be published in August. And DC, the home of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, touted the series at San Diego Comic-Con 2014 as involving every character it's ever published.
The nine-issue series takes the science behind superstring theory and the music of the spheres to expand on decades of alternate-universe storytelling. Several theories derived from superstring theories explain how there can be multiple universes, and no single one fuels Morrison's Multiversity.
But in short, superstring theory posits that all states in which a particle can exist, do exist. The music or harmony of the spheres assumes that celestial objects each have their own harmonic tone based on the length of their orbits.
"So we leave the scientific door open to this stuff," Morrison told CNET. "What we've done is taken the basic DC concept of this vibrating universe where everything's occupying the same space but vibrating at different speeds and tied that into the superstring notion, and tied that into music and harmonics, and all the things built into this octave structure."
Each universe in the story, Morrison said, is linked "causally and archetypally." Morrison's theory is that there are 52 universes, and the multiverse he designed with artist Rian Hughes places each world on the map, but also charts areas beyond Earth.
Hughes linked the multiple Earths by "atomic orbit devices," and then Morrison started departing from more established scientific theories. He took Brane cosmology's the Bulk, a gigantic hyperdimensional space that encloses all these potential parallel universes and allows transit between them, and changed the name to the Bleed, an idea that writer Warren Ellis introduced in his 1999 comic "The Authority."
"We tied that back to DC's Monitors, and made a place where the gods fit, and where the archetypal realm is in relationship to the main Earth," Morrison explained. As the story charts the realms that contain the multiverse, beings in the story get successively bigger. A ship that appears 50 miles long on Earth becomes a piece of nanotechnology beyond the Bleed.
The story features a villain so large and threatening that it attacks the entire multiverse. The only way that the Earth-bound heroes of multiverses can communicate with each other is through comic books, a nod to the 1960s conceit that the super-speedster Flash, Barry Allen, read comics about the 1940s Flash, Jay Garrick.
The seven books between the first and the last book will each focus on a specific version of Earth, driven by alternate-universe versions of DC's superhero pantheon -- except one, said Morrison.
"How much can I dissolve the barrier between reader and story in this one? This is as far as I can take it," he said. Morrison has a long history of breaking the "fourth wall" that separates the reader from the story. But this one, he said, is different.
"The reader is really quite deeply implicated in what happens. This is the scariest book I've ever written," he said. Earth-33 in the Multiversity is the "real world" Earth, and will be featured in the seventh issue, to be published sometime next year.
"If I can give real human beings real superpowers, then they're going to have to come up against the world's first super villains aren't they? So I had to make something that will genuinely threaten the reader."
The world's reaction to being threatened by Morrison is an answer we'll have by next year's Comic-Con.