The multiverse of madness is upon us. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, that is. While the multiverse concept is fairly new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, making its theoretical debut in Avenger: Endgame, the concept has been hard at work in the pages of comic books for decades.
As I’m writing this, the new Doctor Strange isn’t out yet, so I can only guess what will happen. We’ve seen from the Disney+ What If…? series that there is a darker Doctor Strange, zombies, and Captain Carter, among other things. Spider-Man: No Way Home made all three recent cinematic webcrawlers canon in the MCU. Will the X-Men or other mutants finally make their MCU debut? Will the dream cast of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt appear in a new Fantastic Four? Come on, future reader, use your own multiversal powers to reach back in time and tell me!
Okay. That was confusing. That’s the multiverse for you.
While the MCU focuses pretty hard on the timeline element to differentiate their multiverse, the comics have nearly as many reasons for different universes as they have universes themselves. Parallel dimensions, time travel, buying other comic book companies, on and on goes the list.
Can’t get enough of these always-exciting and often-confusing multiversal adventures? Here are the absolutely mandatory multiverse comics for you to read.
Disclaimer: Comics being comics, particularly with Marvel and DC, means this list includes too few women.
Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez
This was one of the earliest and still best multiverse stories out there. In an attempt to clean up decades of continuity errors and character shifts, DC Comics created their first Crisis, a word now synonymous with a big crossover event that involves multiple Earths and universes. So. Many. Supermen.
Exiles by Judd Winick, Mike McKone, Mark McKenna, and Jung Choi
I might be dating myself here, but this book is basically the Marvel Universe version of Quantum Leap, but with superheroes. In it, a rag-tag group of superheroes from different realities hop around from universe to universe, righting wrongs and trying not to destroy all reality in the process. There is nothing quite like this for mandatory multiverse comics.
Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert
Flashpoint begins simply enough. Barry Allen wakes up to a world very unlike his own, and only he remembers the world as it was before. As this story of an alternate DC Universe unfolds, however, it changes the status quo for DC Comics going forward in big, multiversal fashion.
Infinite Frontier by everyone at DC Comics
Less an event and more of a reboot/relaunch/massive upheaval, Infinite Frontier reach across every title in DC Comics. Notice a pattern with DC? Whenever the multiverse rears its head, it’s time for a reboot. In this case, DC Comics brought back many pre-“New 52” characterizations while retaining a select few. It also made DC Comics fans happier than they’d been in a while.
Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic
Marvel’s Ultimate Universe had a good run, providing an entry point for readers without the barrier of continuity. It also brought us Miles Morales. All good things, however, and Secret Wars saw the end of the Ultimate Universe. The Beyonders forced the various universes to fight for their existences. Battleworld became the stage for this massive slugfest, with all surviving characters landing in the 616 (main) universe together.
Spider-Gwen: Gwenverse by Tim Seeley and Jodi Nishijima
Spider-Gwen has always been wrapped in a cloak of multiversal travel. She was first introduced in Into the Spider-Verse and has been hopping between realities ever since. In this new ongoing series is in the same vein, our Spider-Gwen meets alternate versions of Gwen Stacy and takes on even more superhero and supervillain monikers.
Spider-Verse by Dan Slott and Olivier Coipel
There are a lot of Spider-People nowadays. No more is there Peter Parker and nobody else. New York City must just be filled with swinging, arachnid-themed heroes at this point. Bring in the multiverse, and wow. A villain is hunting Spider-Men across the multiverses, and only by banding together can they stop him.
What If…? by various writers and artists
I was surprised that What If…?, a series that asked and answered hypothetical questions about Marvel characters, was turned into a Disney+ show. I was even more surprised when they made it MCU canon. This originator saw Storm wield Mjolnir, Wolverine kill Hulk, Hulk kill Wolverine, or Punisher becoming an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was a playground for creators, and definitely one of the mandatory multiverse comics.
This list should have your one-universe mind spinning sufficiently, and it doesn’t even include stories that happen in only one alternate universe. Comics, y’all, we love them partly because of their complexity. So there’s nothing more comic bookish than a multiverse.