Comics are filled with alternate realities—that’s why they call them multiverses, after all. While strange, most of these worlds are just variations of the primary universe, where Superman landed in Russia instead of America, or the radioactive spider bit Gwen Stacy, and so on. But underneath all those realities lies an altogether weirder set of alternate dimensions for heroes to visit, get stuck in, or be freaked out about. Here are our favorites from DC Comics and Marvel’s lengthy history.
Sure, there’s a fourth Dimension, too, but really in DC all the action is in the fifth—mainly because it’s home to the planet Zrff, the homeworld of the race of massively intelligent assholes that Mister Mxyzptlk is a member of. The Fifth Dimension’s weird physics grant Mxyzptlk’s species godlike powers over not just the Fifth Dimension but other realities and dimensions they can traverse to, but they pretty much explicitly use it to be jerks, which is pretty fun!
Many comic book multiverses have the concept of a whole dimension that exists between the fabric of parallel universes, but none are as edgelord-y as DC’s, which is literally called the Bleed. It is, of course, blood red. Originally the concept in DC comics was simply referred to as Limbo, but the Bleed was introduced as an idea in Wildstorm in the ‘90s before the New 52 shuffled all of DC’s properties together into a re-imagined multiverse, making the Bleed the official name for the interconnected and suitably edgy pathway dimension of DC’s multiverse.
Marvel’s Microverse is best known for being the home dimension of the Micronauts, the Hasbro toyline the publisher ran a comic for in the ‘80s. But the Microverse existed long before the Micronauts’ arrival and would continue to do so after Marvel’s license to the characters lapsed. It was actually first described as a series of pocket realities that could be reached when shrunk down to subatomic sizes (by, say, Ant-Man’s Pym particles); it first appeared in a Captain America story, in which a tiny Cap and Bucky ended the despotic regime of a sinister yet minuscule king named Togaro, who had sent his daughter to grow up in the giant-sized realm of Earth.
Perhaps one of the most famous alternate dimensions of all, the Phantom Zone basically just exists to be filled with nothing. Well, except for a bunch of prisoners the Kryptonians kept dumping there, which is an extremely rude way of incarcerating someone. First discovered by Superman’s dad Jor-El, it was meant to be a more humane way to treat prisoners than placing them in suspended animation, but considering it’s a nothingness void that exists outside of all concepts of space and time, it seems like it’s a really miserable alternative. At least they usually saved it for their most monstrous criminals?
When Doctor Strange’s adventures first began in the pages of Strange Tales, he went on a lot of dimension-hopping adventures to trippy worlds with wild visuals. But then there’s a purple-hued dimension, home to the evil, jewel-hungry Aggamon, which is literally just called the Purple Dimension. It’s not even that Purple! I feel betrayed, Aggamon.
Aside from the incredibly poetic name, which is just wonderful compared to the relatively hum-drum names elsewhere in this list, the dimension of Couldn’t-Be-Shouldn’t-Be, introduced in the wonderful Dan Slott/Mike Allred Silver Surfer book, also has an equally dramatic creation. That involves cosmic banging. Basically.
Couldn’t-Be-Shouldn’t-Be was formed as a sort of romantic fallout of the relationship between Eternity, the cosmic entity that represents reality, time, and space in the Marvel cosmos, and the Queen of Nevers, the embodiment of possibility. Their relationship created the void-strewn dimension as a literal blank canvas, with nexus points where literally anything could happen. Now that’s a power couple.
The Flash has had a whole host of goofy villains over the years, including the Mirror Master—but it was the first incarnation of the Mirror Master that accidentally used a dimension of his own to activate his powers. Sam Scudder, the original Mirror Master, was actually dropping into this sideways dimension whenever he used his abilities, and once he was captured and imprisoned by the Flash, he fled there, only to go too deep and discover he had no way back out. Mirror World has appeared multiple times since thanks to new generations of Mirror Masters, but Scudder’s creepy, desolate original version is still the best.
Both Marvel and DC have a lot of alternate dimensions dedicated to real-world theological concepts—Heaven, Olympus, Asgard (yes, DC also has Asgard, but it’s just for the regular old Norse Gods rather than a gateway to the Marvel Universe), you name it. But then it also just has generally sinister and unpleasant demonic dimensions that just happen to be very very similar to hell. The Darkforce Dimension is probably the most famous of all of Marvel’s hell-adjacent realms, as it’s home to Dormammu, after he was exiled by his extra-dimensional species, the Faltine. Now Dormammu just collects other hellish dimensions to expand the Dark Dimension’s reach, so it’s pretty much Hell 2.0.
As you might guess from the name, Dimension Aqua was a dimension composed entirely of water, seen in the early Aquaman comics, naturally. Originally, it’s actually where Aquaman’s sometime-wife Mera and her kingdom, Xebel, were from—Mera’s first origin being that she was exiled from her dimension and fled to Earth, recruiting Aquaman and Aqualad so that she could return to her watery home. Instead, she ended up staying on Earth...in an equally watery home.
Remember how I said there were a lot of hell-style dimensions in comic books? The Brimstone Dimension is another, but it’s a ridiculously specific one: it’s the dimension Nightcrawler and other mutant teleporters, who were created by the demonic mutant Azazel, were originally from. Azazel’s race, the Neyaphem, hoped to use mutants like Nightcrawler to escape from exile beyond the Brimstone Dimension after a war with another secretive mutant race, the Cheyarafim. If you hadn’t guessed already, it’s some angel and devil symbolism, just, you know, mutant-y.
Ah, the Weirdworld. Hidden away in a mysterious dimension as the cosmic debris of a war between gods, it was basically Marvel’s excuse to publish traditional fantasy comics. A realm of dragons, magic, and as many traditional fantasy stereotypes as you can muster, Weirdworld first appeared in the late ‘70s as a backup story in Marvel Super Action, but then decades later in the Secret Wars event, the realm was briefly brought back for a miniseries that got a short-lived follow up when Marvel rebooted its multiverse with the “All-New, All-Different” line-up.
Thought one alternate dimension of water was enough for Aquaman? Think again. Inspired by Arthurian fantasy, the Secret Sea was a dimension ruled over by the Lady of the Lake, and allegedly the source of life in Man’s World. When Aquaman was going through a rough time of, oh, losing his hand and being exiled (no big deal!), he encountered the Secret Sea’s dimensional waters and was tasked by the Lady of the Lake as being her conduit for the Secret Sea’s power in Earth’s dimension. Plus, she gave him a sentient water hand, which is both rad and dumb as hell.
Comic books love weird alternate dimensions about the gaps between all their different universes, but what about the gaps between the literal panels of a comic book itself? Marvel has the Gutterspace, a secretive dimension discovered by Gwenpool thanks to her comic awareness—she could use it to look at other pages in her comic and see events she wasn’t privy to, or go back to her past and pick up handy items, but she also started to dump some of her foes in the white void, which for a comic book character (especially one aware of the comic book medium like Gwen is) seems particularly sadistic.
The Survival Zone has only had one tiny appearance in the classic version of Supergirl’s origin story, but it’s a totally hilarious one. It’s where Kara’s parents hung out while Krypton was being destroyed, a secret pocket dimension that Zor-El, Kara’s dad, had discovered and then just never mentioned to anyone as his planet slowly edged towards complete annihilation. When Krypton’s time came, Zor-El and Allura conveniently peaced out to their “Survival Zone,” happily avoiding the destruction of literally everything else they’d known.
The Punch Dimension is absurd because it’s both a complete and utter in-joke and actually a real thing. See, in some versions of Cyclops’ mutant origins—mainly those addressed in Marvel’s catch-all handbooks—his concussive eye-blasts were actually caused by his eyes opening miniature gateways to a dimension of teeming concussive energy, to explain why Cyclops’ eye beams had force but weren’t heat-based. This is amazing, but also ridiculous, thus giving birth to the “Punch Dimension” as a meme among fans.
But then the second run of the incredible Al Ewing’s Ultimates comic from a few years ago decided to actually make the Punch Dimension a real thing in Marvel canon. America Chavez, whose powers allow her to smash open star-shaped gateways to other dimensions, opened a window to the red-tinged dimension in Ultimates Squared #9 to help the team defeat a giant monster, making a very silly comic book idea an equally silly (and delightful) reality.