During the mid-1970s, DC Comics launched a large batch of new titles to conquer market shares – the DC Explosion. One of the new writers, David Michelinie , had several of his books share a cosmology called the Fifteen Worlds.
However, the DC Explosion was a failure and had to be dramatically scaled back – leading comic book enthusiasts to name this era the DC Implosion.
This article summarizes what is known about the Fifteen Worlds. It also discusses the implications for other fictional worlds, since Michelinie’s creations popped back in an unlikely range of places, implicitly tying these realities to the Fifteen Worlds lost cosmology.
Claw’s milieu is a system of 15 proximate planes, with a Dimensional Travel Distance of but one between each other. There are various ways to interpret what we’re told about the 15 worlds. Here are the known facts and hypothetical frameworks to tie all of this together.
What do you mean by “fifteen” ?
The most likely organisation is that there are 8 dimensions who are floating into a common interdimensional “void”. This void is divided between seven Shadow-Gods, and is thus considered to constitute 7 of the 15 worlds. It is aligned with chaos.
This interdimensional void has teratogenic properties – even brief exposure will mutate living beings into developing demonic-looking traits. It’s not “void” in the sense of being a vacuum — actually it’s full of stuff — but in the sense that nothing is structured or long-lasting, and in the sense of a moral void.
The more straightforward organisation is that the Fifteen Worlds are 15 distinct entities and not 8 plus 1 divided into 7. This is not the impression I got when trying to understand how the void hells were depicted in the story, but it has the advantage of being simple and one illustration seems to support that view, showing what may be 15 planets.
Making mistakes while handling magical forces within the Fifteen Worlds has a definite tendency to rip the dimensional fabric and expose the experimenter to one of the void worlds. Many of the mutated, chaotic-looking monsters in Claw’s world seem to be unique results of such accidental exposure, rather than D&D-style races of monsters.
Law and Chaos, part 1
Seven of the 8 non-void dimensions are said to be worlds of law, dominated by the Gods of Elder Light.
From what is glimpsed of those, it seems that the world “law” should be taken more literally than one would expect, and in the same sense as the phrase “rule of law”. That is, these places have a formalised society where everybody is expected to behave according to a set of clear and documented rules.
Apparently this has magical implications allowing these worlds not to become like the interdimensional void. One of the 7 worlds is named Awadaka and is Ghilkyn’s home world.
The Shadow-God and the Lords of Elder Light cannot fight directly, since that would destroy their multiverse.
The fifteenth world is the one that includes the kingdom of Pytharia, the heroic-fantasy land from which Claw the Unconquered originates. It is repeatedly described as being in balance between the two.
Law and Chaos, part 2
This manifests as it having a primitive society, but those rules and laws that exist are crude and fragile, and most people seem interested in twisting them or dodging them for immediate, personal benefit.
Society might thus crumble under the weight of naked greed and impulses, or might eventually grow and consolidate. As such it is the lynchpin of the 15 world, and having it swing more clearly toward law or toward chaos would provide that side with a tipping point advantage in making all 15 worlds theirs.
“Pytharia” is but a kingdom on this world, but it has sometimes been used to designate the whole world. A proper name for the world might be “Terra Arcana” — read on for more — though the name given by Michelinie was the Known World.
A scene showing a brief view of the Fifteen Worlds shows Claw standing on a planet whose geography is very reminiscent of a simplified depiction of Earth, which may have been meant to imply that it is a parallel Earth – or the past or future of Earth.
Cosmology and crossovers
Two other David Michelinie works from the 1970s (Starfire and Star Hunters) exist within this multiverse, as 2 of the worlds of law (or perhaps the future or past of 1 or 2 such worlds).
In Star Hunters, both Claw and Starfire are referenced as “Champions of the Sornaii”, which seems to designate a collective of pro-law divine entities given Claw’s background.
The Sornaii may be the same thing as the Gods of Elder Light. Donovan Flint also becomes a Champion of the Sornaii though Star Hunters died at that point.
A third flashback in the Star Hunters scene picturing the Champions of the Sornaii depicts what seem to be a WWII-era combat scene, but is not identifiable.
My No-Prize Hypothesis — since all works referenced are Michelinie’s own — is that the unidentifiable Champion of the Sornaii was the Unknown Soldier, the one World War II hero Michelinie got to write during his early career. It would also make sense that the Unknown Soldier would be the unidentifiable, faceless one on the page whereas Claw and Starfire are clearly visible.
Since Michelinie’s work of that time is explicitly influenced by 1960s Moorcock works (particularly the law vs. chaos aspect), one may imagine that the Champion of the Sornaii is a figure like Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. But this is purely speculative.
Other realities and the Fifteen Worlds
Stalker’s world and Beowulf’s world might be among the fifteen worlds. The multi-dimensional Oracle knew of Beowulf and Claw as well as of Stalker, and travel between the DCU and these 3 heroic-fantasy worlds was quick and easy using a shard from the Rock of Eternity.
In this context, it should be noted that :
- Stalker’s world had a backstory identical to that of Starfire – advanced human space colonists are overwhelmed by magical aliens and thrown back into low-tech slavery until they can rebel and exile their magical alien masters. Starfire’s era could easily be the distant past of Stalker’s world, and hers the rebellion of legend in Stalker’s world history. Claw is later seen operating in a milieu with the same backstory – see the History section.
- While in Starfire’s era law was ascendant, in Stalker’s time the world seemed to be well on its way to become a void world, with the hell-lord Dgrth being quite powerful and the world itself being slowly drained of beauty. Stalker’s world may have been the world in balance at that point, or it might have been a “mild” void world – lawless and breaking down, but not a sanity-blasting reality smudge.
- Dgrth didn’t just threaten Stalker’s world, but numerous dimensions including the DCU. If Stalker’s world was the one in balance (and losing to chaos), then Dgrth’s plan was presumably to finish winning the war there, then take on 7 dimensions of law with ease and massacre billions using the advantage given to him by tipping the balance.
- Beowulf’s world was also concerned with issues of an emerging society vs. chaos and evil. Interestingly, it was but one AP of dimensional distance away from an underworld ruled by Satan and full of monsters and chaos, with Satan toying with the world and using monsters such as the Blood-Beast Grendel to weaken the rule of law. That Beowulf’s world might have been the world in balance is a credible hypothesis.
Other worlds such as the one of Crystar the Crystal Warrior could be part of the fifteen worlds as the world-in-the-balance of their time, as they also use a strong framework of law vs. chaos as their central conflict. And, speaking of Marvel worlds…
Hyborea (home to Conan, Red Sonja and others) exists among the Fifteen Worlds — when Sonja and Claw met, it seemed to them that they lived on the same world. The caption specifies that there exists a “lawless wasteland” between the Hyborian kingdoms and Pytharia, which does sound like one of the Voids.
Though it looked like a mostly-normal, bandit-infested wasteland, this land was rife with corruption, breeding mutated monsters was simple, there was little law and the life expectancies were as bad as you’d expect, and so on. It didn’t match the standard image of the demon-infested warped insanity, but presumably not all the seven voids are identical and it may have been a “mild” chaos plane.
Hyborea is part of the Marvel Universe. It is in the past of Earth-616 and natives from that era such as Conan, Sonja, Kulan Gath, etc. have interacted with persons from the far future such as the X-Men or Spider-Man. This would lead to the conclusion that the Marvel Universe is or was one of the seven worlds of law – perhaps existing at the very edge of the 15 worlds system and thus not as implicated in the law vs. chaos war and not as concerned with corruption by the void.
There’s little to refute this hypothesis. The Marvel Universe has its share of action tied to a war between chaos and law, such as the 2011 Chaos War or the various clashes between Lord Chaos and Master Order. The Chaos War might be the result of a defeat of the forces of law on the world in balance, strengthening chaos among the fifteen worlds.
However – the Red Sonja in this tale could have been from an alternate version of Hyborea, existing on a Earth parallel to Earth-616. Even meta-fictionally, it’s hard to tell. This Hyborea was depicted by another publisher, which is usually a clue of a parallel world.
But on the other hand the goal was to channel the classic stories published by Marvel back in the days where mighty-thewed (and occasionally also mighty-bosomed) barbarians were an important part of their répertoire. For instance, Sonja was wearing the, hmm, scalemail bikini that is a signature visual of that Marvel era.
Back to DC
The DCU is likewise touched by Claw, or more precisely his descendants. Putting aside one joke appearance at The Oblivion (the otherdimensional bar frequented by magical types from all eras and dimension of the DC Universe), there was the encounter with Wonder Woman chronicled in this entry. But not just that !
There is a Claw the Unconquered among the XXth century Primal Force on New Earth, the main Earth of the DCU. This was a Hong Kong man called John Chan, with a demon hand. In 1994 Dr. Mist says that he hadn’t seen the demon hand in 800 years, so Claw’s lineage has presumably been on New Earth since at least the Middle Ages.
There is a Claw the Unconquered on Terra Arcana (appearing in the 2000s in the Creature Commandos Limited Series). This story — which occurs “in the future” — is impossible to place in a continuity and is often considered an Elseworld . The Claw who appears there introduces himself as Claw of Pytharia, Son of Kregar (though Pytharia later morphes to Pythana).
It could be the original after some dimensional travelling to another of the Fifteen Worlds, it could be a parallel version.
The hypothesis we’ll use here is that, since the story occurs somewhen in the future, this man is a descendant of Valcan and the family has a tradition of naming male children after their grandfather. It’s an unsupported judgement call, though.
The Claw of Terra Arcana claimed to have battled the Shadow-Gods and won, and seemed to exist in symbiosis with his demon-claw, freely using its magic even while wearing a grey gauntlet looking like the original Claw’s and also made or oraculum. The demon paw’s magic was much more overt and powerful, of the “casting large eldritch bolts” variety.
He had to beware the influence of the hand or act in a brutal, bloodthirsty fashion, and occasionally succumbed to the influence, taking off his gauntlet and acting like a demon until he was forced to wear the gauntlet again.
Sorcerers around him knew that the gauntlet was a gift from the Gods of Elder Light, attributed its weakening influence to the rise of evil on Terra Arcana, and the story was taking place in the greater context of interdimensional consolidation and invasion by lawless forces.
Therefore, there’s a good chance that what we witnessed in this series was the distant future of the Fifteen Worlds and that “Terra Arcana” was the world in balance.
More DC Universe stuff
Like the MU, the DCU is likely one of the seven worlds of law in the Fifteen Worlds cosmology. Since the clash of law and chaos play a greater role in the DCU than in the MU (the Lords of Chaos and Order, Doctor Fate, Hawk and Dove, etc.), the DCU might be a wee bit more included in the main system.
Maybe Nekron is originally one of the seven Shadow-Gods, or maybe the rise of the Black Lanterns was the result of a defeat of law on the Known World. Whereas, say, the capture of the Starheart was made possible by early victories of the forces of Elder Light on the Known World.
A recent (2010) story (Time Master : Vanishing Point) has both Claw and Starfire encountered in the timestream, which would seem to indicate that Claw’s time is the distant past of New Earth and Starfire’s time lies somewhen in the future.
However, it is important to note that both encounters took place due to a sabotaged time jump, and Rip Hunter’s databases couldn’t identify either time period. It is thus entirely possible that these forays were lateral (in another dimension) as well as vertical (in the past and future of New Earth), though that’s not the most likely hypothesis.
These events imply that the “world in balance” always has been the DC Universe’s New Earth, with the realities and the state of the chaos vs. law conflict changing during the aeons to become different from those of Claw’s time.
It is certainly possible to postulate that all the worlds discussed in this section are actually New Earth at various point in its history – even the flat world of Stalker, since we know that way back during the reign of the Pre-Dead the Earth had a different physical shape as a result of magic.
Starfire’s world could be in the very distant future or past after one of the Great Disasters that punctuate Earth’s history, Beowulf may have existed during roughly the historical time of the poem at a point where the Shadow-God Satan was making a push to anchor his void to Earth, etc..
Time Master : Vanishing Point has no indication of having considered these implications, but this is certainly a viable arrangement.
Writeup updated and expanded on the 7th of May, 2011.