WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Dark Nights: METAL #4
The DC Comics Multiverse just got a new origin story, revealing the true history and stakes of DC's METAL comic event. Most casual comic fans already know of the DC Multiverse, the name given to the many parallel universes of the publisher's mythology. But Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo promised that Dark Nights: METAL would be an event to remember, and boy have they delivered. Because when The Sandman enters the DC Universe to reveal the TRUE origin of DC's Multiverse... things will never be the same.
The Sandman's previous step into the METAL story came without much explanation, and Issue #4 helps set the record straight. For those fond of Neil Gaiman's master of dreams, it should come as no surprise that, to him, the reality of the DC Universe is just one of many - a story among countless others. So with the threat of Barbatos and the larger METAL villains closing its grasp on the Multiverse, it's time to inform Superman and Batman of the one story they need to know.
The story of the DC Multiverse;s creation, and how its many worlds - and those of the Dark Multiverse - came into being.
The Origins of The Monitor & Anti-Monitor
It's worth pointing out that this story should be taken as a story first and foremost, and not one objective 'truth' (Dream may be telling the account in a manner that makes sense to the listener). He explains in this issue that, in no uncertain terms, the story established as the DC's main reality is not inherently 'more real' than any other. The event so far has explained that DC's 'Earth Prime' is the brightest, or most key reality, but the boundaries of fact and fantasy are always fluid in Sandman narratives. Still, he lays out the origin of the DC Multiverse with constellations for Superman and Batman to hear - and understand how it can be saved.
According to Dream, the Darkness of Creation birthed a spark, and that spark created two figures to bring order to both Matter and Anti-Matter. Figures resembling, predictably, the Monitor and Anti-Monitor comic fans already know. This is a welcome simplification to the ever-changing order of DC's cosmos, possibly streamlining the Anti-Monitor/Darkseid War bombshells.
The remaining chapters of METAL may reveal new wrinkles to these "brothers" charged with monitoring reality, but for now, the real significance has to do with the third figure created alongside them. Where the Monitor and Anti-Monitor kept realities and parallel worlds in order, it was not their job to create them...
The Master of DC's World Forge
It's implied in Sandman's story that the primary reality of the DC Universe was the first that burst into existence, along with the Monitor and Anti-Monitor to oversee it. But built below, in the realm of realities that had not yet been formed, was created the World Forge, and the cosmic smith who would use it. With each hammer strike, new realities were forged in the shape of dreams and hopes of living beings. These world did not need to be intrinsically good, or even mirror images of others - they only needed to be stable. It was these worlds that, once created, could rise into the order of the first reality. Over time, these became the dozes of realities that make up DC's famous Multiverse (what Sandman refers to as "The Orrery," emphasizing that all realities shrink in comparison to the cosmic beings shaping them).
But for the worlds that didn't measure up, The Orrery was no place for such unstable realities. For the worlds born of ideas, dreams, or nightmares too terrible to last... destruction was their fate. They would end, so that their energies could return to the World Forge, and their doomed future would only take place in the depths of reality - DC's Dark Multiverse.
It can be safely assumed that these are the worlds which produced the nightmare Batman of the METAL event. The version of Batman who became The Joker. The version of Batman who became Doomsday to kill Superman. The Batman who killed Ares to take his place. All worlds that should have been destroyed... but were spared by Barbatos, so that they might be joined to bring down the brighter realities above.
The Origin of Barbatos, The Bat-God Revealed
Batman and Superman might wish that Sandman would have offered more help to their plight, but he does answer the biggest question. The identity of Barbatos is revealed in Sandman's origin story as the fourth creation of the same spark that birthed the Monitor, the Anti-Monitor, and the master of the World Forge. Along with the World Forge and its master was created a Great Dragon. Its purpose was only destruction: to consume the worlds forged that were too unstable, too broken, or too terrible to be allowed to exist. Predictably, that dark a purpose eventually poisoned the Great Dragon, driving it, too, into darkness. After killing its master, the nightmare worlds were left to survive... at least until their versions of Batman could be recruited by Barbatos and his minion (the Batman who became Joker).
So, why is Sandman informing Superman and Batman of this origin story now? Because by this point in the METAL event, the Prime Earth has been pulled so far down towards the roiling evil of the untamed, un-monitored Dark Multiverse, it sits on the brink. Barbatos is close to unleashing the nightmares he should have destroyed onto its heroes. From there, every reality allowed to join the Multiverse is doomed to fall. Should that day come, Sandman reveals, then every story contained in the Library of The Dreaming - every story and dream ever created - will burn along with it.
Oh, and the only hope for the heroes to drive back Barbatos lies at the World Forge itself. A cosmic foundry that currently has a NEW master. But their identity... is something DC fans should find out for themselves.
Dark Nights: METAL #4 is available now.