This essay will explore the nature of abstract entities, their relative place in the hierarchy of cosmic entities and then compare and contrast abstract entities in more detail in the DC and Marvel universes. Certain entities are the anthropomorphic equivalent of what is known in philosophy as an abstract object. In the DC and Marvel universe these types of beings are generally referred to as cosmic entities. All abstract entities are cosmic entities but not all cosmic entities are abstract entities. For example, the Celestials (Marvel) have permanent bodies and are cosmic entities but not abstract entities. How do you know if you are dealing with a cosmic entity or an abstract entity? There are three big tests.
1) If the entity has to shape shift in order to have a different appearance to fit different audiences then you are probably dealing with a cosmic entity that is not an abstract entity. If the entity appears to be different to different beings automatically with no effort on the part of the entity then the entity is probably an abstract entity. Mere mortals cannot perceive the abstract entity directly so they create a concrete perception on their own as a perceptual filter.
Dream appears as a Martian version of Dream in The Sandman-Preludes and Nocturnes V1 (Vertigo).
Dream then appears as a cat to a cat in The Sandman-Dream Country V3 (Vertigo).
2) If the entity has a clear function that supersedes their personal whims and identity then you are probably dealing with an abstract entity. Being an abstract entity in both the Marvel and DC universes seems to be accompanied by a certain level of dehumanization. In The Wake, when the original Dream dies and Daniel Hall, a mortal becomes the new Dream, the new Dream no longer has the same feelings for his mother.
Thanos (Marvel) decides to keep a physical body despite having infinite power due to the Infinity Gauntlet. Mephisto (Marvel) reflects that this is a fatal flaw that will ultimately be the undoing of Thanos. Why does Thanos do this?
If you take on a role in the universe then perhaps the being becomes amoral and more duty bound and perhaps this is the reason Thanos does not ascend to the status of being an abstract entity. If Thanos for example becomes death then Thanos cannot become the lover of death which is his main goal in life! Conversely, Death is incapable of sharing her role with Thanos because of her status as an abstract being. Abstract entities may sacrifice a certain degree of free will even as they become more powerful. Abstract entities lose their subjective nature and become more objectified? Thanos may not understand this trade off consciously but senses this trade off at an unconscious level. Anyway, this sort of trade off would make cosmic entities much more interesting! You get more power over external reality and greater durability at the expense of your free will.
3) The entity may appear god like but the entities power level is absolutely independent of worship and actually many abstract entities are totally unknown to any being that is not a cosmic entity. This is especially true of the Seven Friendless (Marvel). Bast, the Egyptian Goddess, has suffers due to a lack of worship.
Furthermore gods may begin in dream.
Type of Universe
The Presence is the highest being in the DC universe and operates not only through abstract entities but also uses aspects of his being and angels to manifest his will.
Aspects of the Highest Being
The aspects of the Presence are at the top of the cosmic hierarchy in the DC Universe. The aspects follow certain laws and if even very powerful cosmic entities try to violate the laws associated with the aspects then disaster will follow. Are aspects of the highest being abstract entities? The highest being in the DC universe seems to be beyond human understanding and beyond concepts of abstract versus concrete objects. The highest being in the DC universe might even be the source of abstract versus concrete objects. The Presence is mysterious and not easily classified. The Presence may ultimately be noumenon as opposed to phenomena and by definition unknowable. The Presence takes on a familiar form in order to explain itself.
The hand is one way the presence communicates and leaves a cryptic message “To know everything is to know how much is not known” which could be interpreted as saying that total knowledge of phenomena means we understand that noumenon is beyond our knowledge!
A very powerful being of in the DC universe, Krona creates a machine that can peer through time and sees the Hand of Creation but tries to see what happens before the Hand appears then evil is unleashed upon the universe. This story seems to be a cosmic version of the Adam and Eve story. The apple represents knowledge that is not meant for mortals. The Hand of creation represents knowledge that is not even meant for immortals.
The Source is the source of all creation and all being in the DC universe. Jack Kirby made the Source very mysterious. Jim Starling, does what he always does with cosmic entities, and reduced the very interesting Source into yet another predictable and boring slug fest cartoon character in Death of the New Gods.
The Source is guarded by the Source Wall.
The first version of the wall is less a wall than planetoids with giants bound to the planetoids.
The latest version of the Source Wall looks more like a wall.
The wall is very inappropriately turned into yet another slug fest device in Green Lantern Annual V5 #3. Black Hand controls the dead and uses his power to control the dead embedded in the Source Wall.
The Voice is divine will and the progenitor of the Word. The Voice is never heard but the Word is very active in Swamp Thing V2 #168-170.
The angels clearly have bodies. They have a singular appearance and do not change their appearance for different audiences which is one of the hall marks of an abstract entity.
Dumas is an angel that never talks and might be an aspect of silence.
Gabriel is the lord of the cherubim and seraphim.
Garaquael is in charge of spirits.
Lucifer is a fallen angel and the adversary.
Michael Demiurgos controls the demiurge.
Raguel is the vengeance of God.
Raphael oversees humanity.
The Saint of Killers is an angel of death willed by God.
Spectre is an angel of vengeance.
The Furies in the DC universe specialize in vengeance on those who have killed family members.
The Endless are the only cosmic entities in the DC universe that are clearly abstract entities. Everything in the DC universe is below aspects of the highest being including the Endless. The Endless do seem to be more powerful than gods. Gods fade as their nations and worshippers fade and the Endless are well endless. The Endless are clearly less powerful than at least one angel. Dream is clearly fearful of Lucifer. Lucifer is by far the most powerful of all the angels so being less powerful than Lucifer does not mean the Endless are less powerful than all angels.
1) Destiny is the embodiment of predestination. Do abstract entities lose their subjective nature and become more objectified as their power level increases? Destiny (Vertigo) does not appear to have much in the way of free will and is generally considered to be the oldest and therefore the most powerful of the Endless.
2) Death is the embodiment of the end of life. Death is a psychopomp, guide to souls, unlike her Marvel counterpart. Death generally dresses like in black casual clothes and wears a silver ankh on a chain around her neck, and has a marking similar to the eye of Horus around her right eye.
Death explains what a lifetime is to someone who has managed to live fifteen thousand years!
Death explains her role to Element Girl in The Sandman – Dream Country V3 (Vertigo).
3) Dream is the embodiment of dreaming.
Dream explains to Desire that abstract entities are a principle of causality rather than manipulators of causality! Becoming part of the very firmament of the universe means a price must be paid.
Abel (Vertigo) provides a short but incisive explanation of the secret of how immortality works for an abstract entity.
4) Destruction is the embodiment of destruction and creation.
Destruction states, “Are not gross Bodies and Light convertible?” This is Newton’s version of what will eventually become the principle of Mass–energy equivalence (E = mc2) that will eventually lead to atomic weapons and a whole lot of destruction!
5) Desire is the embodiment of emotion including love and hate.
Desire explains her antipathy towards dream and her/his role to a moral supplicant in Endless Nights (Vertigo).
6) Despair is the embodiment of the emotion of despair.
7) Delirium is the embodiment of madness. Delirium was Delight until she was transformed.
Delirium was once Delight!
In The Sandman: Overture #5, (8) Time is revealed as the father of dream. The equivalent of Time in the Marvel universe is Eternity. (9) Night is the mother of Dream. (10) Dusk is a distant sister that serves under Night.
What is the first circle in relation to the other cosmic entities reviewed in this article? Delirium swears by the first circle in Brief Lives.
The Glory of the First Circle commends Dream in the name of the first circle in The Sandman – Overture #6.
Type of Universe
The Marvel universe is essentially a dharmic universe i.e. there is a highest being but the highest being works through abstract entities that represent laws and principles of the universe rather than through direct agents. In Buddhism dharma means cosmic law and order. The Marvel universe has a clock maker but once the clock was made the clock maker decided to leave the clock alone.
The highest being in the Marvel Universe is the One-Above-All not to be confused with the One-Above-All (Celestial). The One-Above-All does not use an army of angels or aspects of his being as his agents and solely relies on the Living Tribunal as his agent. There does not seem to be very much communication between the One-Above-All and the Living Tribunal. The Living Tribunal generally acts autonomously. Thanos and Warlock have a rare extended conversation with the One-Above-All in Thanos-The Infinity Finale.
Aspects of the Highest Being
There is no Marvel equivalent to the aspects of the highest being that exists in the DC universe. This is because the Marvel universe is a dharmic universe which operates via laws rather than through the direct will of the highest being.
There are angels in the Marvel universe but they have nowhere near the importance of angels in the DC universe. The role of angels in the hierarchy of the Marvel universe is irrelevant given the dharmic structure of the Marvel universe.
1) Anomaly creates bodies for abstract entities.
Anomaly first appears in Quasar V1 #20 and Anomaly is killed and replaced.
2) Death is the embodiment of the end of life. Death also exists in the DC universe and has similar powers but is much more likeable. Death in the Marvel universe looks fearsome but takes on different appearances and even different genders with different persons.
Death first appears in Captain Marvel V1 #26.
3) Empathy is the embodiment of the emotion of empathy.
4) Enmity is the embodiment of conflict.
5) Entropy is the embodiment of destruction.
Entropy first appears in Captain Marvel V4 #4 (2003).
Entropy explains what he is in Captain Marvel V4 #5 (2003). Entropy has some serious daddy issues.
6) Eon nurtures sentient life. Eon first appears in Captain Marvel V1 #28.
7) Is Epiphany the embodiment of madness? Epiphany first appears in Captain Marvel V4 #5.
8) Epoch nurtures sentient life. Epoch first appears in Quasar V1 #27.
9) Eternity is the embodiment of time of the universe.
Eternity’s first appearance is in Strange Tales V1 #138.
10) Eulogy is in charge of endings. Eulogy first appears in Captain Marvel V4 #25 (2004). Eulogy seems to narrowly be in charge of comic book character endings. In the DC universe characters go to Limbo but Eulogy guides characters to a mysterious glowing door instead.
11) Expediency is in charge of quick solutions. Expediency first appears in Captain Marvel V4 #25 (2004).
12) In-Betweener is the embodiment of duality. The In-Betweener first appears in Warlock V1 #9.
13) Infinity is the embodiment of space in the universe.
14) Is Kronos the defender of the universe?
Kronos first appears in The Invincible Iron Man #55.
15) The Living Tribunal maintains the cosmic balance at a multiverse level. The Living Tribunal first appears in Strange Tales #157 (1967).
16) Lord Chaos is the embodiment of chaos. DC has the Lords of Chaos and Order but they seem to be gods rather than abstract entities. Lord Chaos and Master Order both appear for the first time in Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (1977).
Lord Chaos and Master Order attempt to convince Galactus with argument and then force to once again take on his role as the devourer of worlds and renounce his new role as a life bringer. Galactus ultimately wins (Ultimates #6, 2016). Galactus is part of the cosmic hierarchy but not an abstract entity. Galactus resembles Shiva the Destroyer in Hinduism. Both are destroyers but Shiva’s roles are much more complex and even contradictory. Shiva is part of a triad called the Trimurti that also includes Brahmin and Vishnu. Galactus is part of a triad as well that includes Eternity and Death. The Hindu dharmic universe has a superficial resemblance to the Marvel dharmic universe.
17) Master Order is the embodiment of order.
18) Mirage is the embodiment of nothingness. Mirage first appears in Iceman V1 #3.
19) Mistress Love is the embodiment of love. Mistress Love first appears as a man that the Enchantress falls in love with in Defenders V1 #107. Mistress Love is identified in the next issue, Defenders V1 #108.
20) Numinus is the embodiment of numinosity i.e. causes small changes to create awe in the universe in the person affected. Numinus first appears in Power Pack V1 #51.
21) Oblivion is the embodiment of nothingness. Oblivion has a brief cameo in Iceman V1 #1 but his first important appearance is in Iceman V1 #3.
22) Sire Hate is also known as Master Hate and is the embodiment of hate. Sire Hate first appears in Infinity Gauntlet #3.
23) Unbeing is the embodiment of un-creation. Unbeing first appears in Quasar V1 #18.
Jim Starlin is the foremost creator of the over the top cosmic entity conflict and in marked contrast with Neil Gaiman’s emphasis on internal as opposed to external conflict. The Infinity Saga includes the Infinity Gauntlet #1-6, Infinity War #1-6, Infinity Crusade #1-6, Warlock and the Infinity Watch (1992) #7-10 & #18-22, Warlock Chronicles (1993) #1-5, and Marvel Comics Presents (1988) #108-111 and uses the fist a cuff approach when dealing with cosmic entities.
Comic Book Proposal: The Mad Immortals
Jim Starlin, to his credit, wrote the first modern cosmic entity story titled …The Birth of Death which was first published in Star Reach #1 in B&W in 1974. The story was reprinted and colorized by Eclipse in Star Reach Classics #1. I read the original story in a head shop while I was still in high school and the story just blew me away! I explore the impact of comic books on my life in my essay titled Hugh Fox III Comic Book Autobiography. In the interests of comic book history I present the Eclipse reprint version below.
There are some visual similarities between the characters in the Starlin story and He-Man characters. Death does resemble Skeletor visually. The unnamed muscular opponent of Death resembles He-Man visually. He-Man was designed by Mark Taylor in 1976 which is two years after …The Birth of Death was published. Maybe Mark Taylor saw the story by Jim Starlin and got some ideas or maybe not.
In the story, Death manages to kill all the mad immortals except seven of them! There are also seven Endless! Maybe the seven mad immortals are the DC antimatter universe version of the Endless! I really think Jim Starlin and Neal Gaiman should team up on the story of the Seven Mad Immortals! Brian Michael Bendis in the comic book Alias (Marvel) goes back and forth from a more realistic art style to a more cartoonish art style. The standard superhero story with an emphasis on superhero fist a cuffs is presented in the more cartoonish style. The personal story of how mind control effected the heroine Jessica Jones internally is drawn in a more realistic manner. Scott McCloud explains how these two different art styles effect the reader at the cognitive level in Understanding Comics –The Invisible Art.
Jim Starlin could write a story about the fights of the seven Mad Immortals and draw it in his fairly realistic manner. Neil Gaiman provides a counterpoint story from an internal POV of the Seven Mad Immortals in a more anime style. The comic book switches back and forth between the two story lines and thus the first comic book using counterpoint is created! The following is my list of the Endless of the anti-matter universe. All of the Mad Immortals have enhanced durability due to their abstract entity status. The Mad Immortals see themselves as champions of life not mad but have decided to appropriate the name Death has given them. The Anti-Matter universe is asleep and dreaming unlike other universes. The Mad Immortals have learned how to manipulate this state of affairs to their own advantage. The numbering system of the superpowers is the one I use in my list of superpowers.
1) Amnesia has the power of memory manipulation on a planetary scale (134). Amnesia routinely erases memories so Death has no trail to follow. Amnesia can insert memories to create a false trail but generally erases memories. Amnesia can also scan the memories of any being.
2) Ghost has the power to make himself and the other Mad Immortals totally imperceptible to all except Death who can see through this power but only if right next to the person using this power (114).
3) Logos has super intelligence and is the leader of the group (219). Logos can also merge the Mad Immortals into a single being that is omniscient and combines all the powers of the Mad Immortals but only for a short period of time (139).
4) Machine can turn others into robots that serve the Mad Immortals on a planetary scale (230).
5) Mirror can make duplicates of himself or others (77,78). The duplicates of others retain all abilities and powers but have to obey Mirror. Mirror can make thousands of copies. Mirror can also make duplicates of objects and creates copies of money and resources such as weapons as needed.
6) Phobia can cause fear on a planetary scale (149) and uses this to power distract Death.
7) Twilight has the power of metafictional transportation (142). Ghost can transport herself and others into fictional realms that Death cannot enter. Ghost can only enter stories that have a critical mass of followers and therefore can make the story manifest in the imagination of the universe. Normally even abstract entities cannot enter the imagination of a universe but a sleeping universe is more vulnerable to such transport than a universe that is awake. Ghost can also banish Death to a metafictional realm for a time if Death is within her line of sight. Death can leave a fictional realm once Death has finished the story. However, if Death does not finish a story successfully that is according to the logic of the story then Death may be trapped in a story forever.
The Mad Immortals want to awaken the universe to create a being akin to Eternity in the Marvel universe and therefore radically diminish the power of Death in the antimatter universe. Death must destroy the Mad Immortals before their plan can be accomplished.
There are far fewer abstract entities in the DC universe than the Marvel universe. The abstract entities in the DC universe are less likely to be involved in fist fights than the abstract entities in the Marvel universe due largely to the influence of Neil Gaiman. The main conflict of the DC abstract entities is between their sense of duty and their desire to be free rather than conflict with other cosmic entities. Abstract entities occupy a more central role in a dharmic, Marvel universe than an Abrahamic, DC universe. Abstract entities of the DC universe largely appear in The Sandman series. Abstract entities in the Marvel universe appear prominently in the Infinity Saga which is the brainchild of Jim Starlin and engage in more external as opposed to internal conflict.
Neil Gaiman decided to give all the Endless names starting with “D” after Daniel the Biblical prophet. The letter D is the most negative letter in the alphabet. The letter D corresponds to the number 4, and the planet Saturn or Pluto, and the principles of matter and death. The Chinese consider 4 to be the most unfortunate number and avoid it at all costs because it sounds like “death” when pronounced in Cantonese, and actually helps bring it about. It is perhaps our version of the unlucky 13 which adds up to 4(1+3) in numerology. The Endless do seem to be much more tragic than their Marvel counterparts.
I think less is more when it comes to cosmic entities in general and abstract entities in particular. I remember my first Galactus story way back when in Fantastic Four #48 and how special this story was. Galactus has been overused and so have cosmic entities in general in the Marvel universe. Also, having Galactus get defeated over and over again makes him much less awe inspiring. I mean Galactus is even defeated by Squirrel Girl in Squirrel Girl V1 #4.
No, not really and actually the Squirrel Girl story might be my favorite Galactus story ever!
Abstract objectification as a superpower is explored at: