Back when mainstream American comic books began, early in the 20th century, there was only one narrative and only one fictional universe. This lasted for some decades, but at one point, publishers began feeding us with so-called alternative stories, which gave birth to the concept of the Multiverse. We will discuss this as we try to explain Marvel’s concept of the Multiverse within the comics and MCU.
The Multiverse is a concept of a larger fictional universe within which multiple alternative realities exist, often called “Earth,” with one primary, canon narrative setting; in Marvel’s case, it is Earth-616. This allowed for more diverse storytelling and enabled a constant expansion of the fictional narratives.
The concept of the Multiverse might seem difficult to understand, but that is quite misleading. We will explain everything step-by-step, and before you’re done, you will be an expert in the field. We will also explain how the MCU universe ties into the whole concept.
Marvel’s Multiverse explained
In the storytelling realm of Marvel Comics, most stories unfold within the expansive Marvel Universe, which is nested within an even grander fictional Multiverse. From the initial editions of Captain Britain, the primary continuity where most Marvel tales are set was designated as Earth-616. This set the stage for the Multiverse, which Merlyn safeguards.
This was back in 1976, although the concept was vaguely introduced as early as The Avengers #85 (February 1971).
Every universe within the concept has its own version of Captain Britain assigned to guard its version of the British Isles. These guardians are grouped under the name “Captain Britain Corps.” They signify the first phase of the Multiverse’s development.
Gaining popularity, this numerical notation of the individual Earths was continued in the Excalibur series and other titles before pouring over to the core titles.
In the Marvel Multiverse, every alternate universe consistently had its Sorcerer Supreme throughout its history. This role was always designated by the mystical trio, the Vishanti, to safeguard the world mainly from magical threats, both internal and external. The wielder of this title always possessed the Eye of Agamotto, the mightiest tool of the Sorcerer Supreme.
Subsequently, numerous writers adapted and redefined the Multiverse across various titles. Some standout mentions include Exiles, X-Men, and the Ultimate Fantastic Four. In this regard, the Ultimate Marvel Universe is particularly significant.
Stories featuring time-traveling characters such as Rachel Summers, Cable, and Bishop led to the creation of new universes. Their actions transformed their original timelines into alternate ones.
How many universes are there within Marvel?
The Marvel Multiverse comprises an indefinite number of universes, but it’s essential to note a few things:
- Earth-616: This is the primary continuity in which many of the main Marvel stories take place.
- Other Notable Universes: There are several other universes that have been explored in-depth, like the Ultimate Universe (Earth-1610), the MCU (Earth-199999), and many others.
- Multiverse Reboots: The concept of the Multiverse in Marvel has undergone various changes, especially with story arcs like “Secret Wars” (2015). The Multiverse was destroyed and later rebuilt during this event, potentially altering its structure and the number of existing universes.
- The Official Handbook: The “Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe” and its derivatives often delve into the details of various alternate universes, but it hasn’t (and likely can’t) enumerate them all.
While there are many named and numbered universes within the Marvel Multiverse, there’s theoretically an infinite number or at least an incomprehensibly vast number of them.
However, only a subset of these universes has been detailed in the comics. It’s always possible that future comics or updates from Marvel could provide a more exact number or further insight into the structure of the Multiverse.
How could the MCU fit into Marvel’s Multiverse?
The integration of the MCU in the Multiverse was a question that arose back when Iron Man first appeared on the screen. And while a lot of people thought it would be impossible, the MCU has – in fact – already been integrated into the Multiverse.
Namely, the MCU’s reality has retroactively been labeled as Earth-199999 and has been integrated into the larger Multiverse as an alternative Earth to the primary Earth-616. This means that the MCU is, officially part of the larger Multiversal canon.