The Marvel Universe is the fictional shared setting where most of the comic stories published by Marvel Comics takes place.

Though the concept of a shared universe was not new or unique to comics in 1961, writer/editor Stan Lee, together with several artists including Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created a series of titles where events in one book would have reprecussions in another title and serialized stories would show characters grow and change. Headline characters in one title would make cameo or guest appearances in other books. Eventually many of the leading heroes assembled into a team known as The Avengers.

Over time, a few of Marvel Comics writers lobbied Marvel editors to incorporate the idea of a multiverse; this plot device allows one to create several fictional universe which normally do not overlap. What happens on Earth in the main Marvel Universe would normally have no effect on what happens on a parallel earth in another Marvel-created universe. However, storywriters would have the creative ability to write stories in which people from one such universe would visit this alternate universe. When characters from one universe meet characters from another universe that they normally do not interact with, this is termed a crossover.

Several Marvel Comics writers wanted to do a crossover with DC Comics's Justice League of America (JLA), the superhero team fearuring Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern and others. However, at this time inter-company crossovers were not being done. As such, writer Mark Gruenwald wrote a series of stories about the Squadron Supreme, a group of superheros on an alternate Earth (not in the main Marvel Universe) that effectively were the Justice League. There were very close analogues to all the main DC Comics superheros, but since they were given different names and costimes (yet astonishingly similar back-stories) Marvel Comics could maintain plausible deniability. This was one of the industry's biggest in-jokes. However, the writers of the storylines containing the Squadron Supreme did not take the characters as a joke, and treated them with great respect; they effectively allowed Marvel writers to write JLA stories. In 1986 Marvel published a Squadron Supreme 12 issue maxi-series that was groundbreaking for its time, and is considered a predecessor to similar comics such as Watchmen and Kingdom Come.

In 1982 Marvel published the mini-series Contest of Champions where all of the major heroes in existence at the time were gathered together to deal with one threat. The Marvel Universe was also notable for setting its central titles in New York City. Care was taken to portray the city and the world as realistically as possible with the presence of superhumans affecting the common citizens in various ways.

Over the years as the number of titles published increased and the volume of past stories accumulated it became increasingly difficult to maintain internal consistency. In order to continue publishing stories of its most popular characters, maintaining the status quo became necessary. Change and growth for characters was replaced with the illusion of change. Unlike its main rival DC Comics Marvel has never engaged in a drastic reboot of their continuity. Minor attempts have been made in recent years to produce stories more accessible for neophyte readers such as the Heroes Reborn titles (occurring in a pocket universe where many of the major Marvel heroes were exiled).

A greater attempt has been made with the Ultimate titles; this series of titles is in a universe unrelated to the main Marvel continuity, and essentially is starting the entire Marvel Universe over again, from scratch. Ultimate comics now exist for the X-Men, the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. Sales of these titles are strong, and indications are that Marvel will continue to expand the line, effectively creating two Marvel Universes existing concurrently. (Some rumors exist that if sales continue to increase and more titles are added, Marvel may consider making the Ultimate universe its main universe.)

In 2002 a study was done of the interactions between characters in the Marvel Universe (Alberich, R., Miro-Julia, J. & Rosselló, F. Marvel Universe looks almost like a real social network) which revealed that the Marvel Universe shares some non-random features with the social networks of collaborating scientists or co-starring movie actors. This pattern developed without deliberate coordination among the various writers over the years. The most socially networked character in the universe is Captain America.

Table of contents
1 Continuities
2 Crossovers and major events
3 Related links
4 External links


The action of most Marvel Comics titles takes place in a continuity known as Earth 616. Note that in Marvel Comics, the concept of a continuity is not the same as "dimension" or "universe"; for example, characters like Mephisto and Dormammu hail from alternate dimensions and the Celestials from another universe but they all nevertheless belong to Earth 616. There are, however, other continuities:

  • Age of Apocalypse
  • Days of Future Past
  • Heroes Reborn
  • Marvel 2099 (actually, supposedly the "official" future of Earth 616)
  • Ultimate Marvel
  • What If

Crossovers and major events

Related links

External links