The Marvel Universe is the fictional shared universe where most of the comic stories published by Marvel Comics take place.
The Marvel Universe actually exists within a multiverse consisting of thousands of separate universes, all of which are the creations of Marvel Comics and all of which are, in a sense, "Marvel universes". In this context, "Marvel Universe" is taken to refer to the mainstream Marvel continuity, which is known as Earth-616.
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 repercussions in another title and serialized stories would show characters' growth 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
. This was not the first time that Marvel's characters had interacted with one another—Namor the Sub-Mariner
and the Original Human Torch
had been rivals in Marvel's "Golden Age
"—but it was the first time that the comic book publisher's characters seemed to share a world. The Marvel Universe was also notable for setting its central titles in New York City
(by contrast DC heroes each live in a different fictional 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 time, a few Marvel Comics writers lobbied Marvel editors to incorporate the idea of a Multiverse; this plot device allows one to create several fictional universes which normally do not overlap (see below or Multiverse for more information). 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.
In 1982, Marvel published the mini-series Contest of Champions, in which all of the major heroes in existence at the time were gathered together to deal with one threat. This was Marvel's first miniseries. Each issue contained biographical information on many major costumed characters; these biographies were a precursor to Marvel's series of reference material, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, which followed shortly on the heels of Contest of Champions.
In 1986, in honor of Marvel Comics' 25th anniversary, then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter
launched the New Universe
line of comics. The New Universe was intended to be a more realistic, with less reliance on standard comic book clichés, but due to a combination of a lack of editorial support and fewer sales than the mainstream titles the line was eventually canceled.
Heroes Reborn and Ultimate Marvel
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 and continuity
. But, 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, which occurred in a pocket universe where many of the major Marvel heroes were exiled for a year. The most successful attempt to date has been the Ultimate
titles, a series of titles in a universe separate from the main Marvel continuity and essentially starting the entire Marvel Universe over from scratch. Ongoing "Ultimate" comics now exist for the X-Men
, the Avengers (in the form of the Ultimates
, and the Fantastic Four
, as well as miniseries featuring other characters such as Daredevil
. Sales of these titles are strong, and indications are that Marvel will continue to expand the line, effectively creating two Marvel Universes existing concurrently.
In fact The Ultimate titles have done so well they have been the basis for several video games (Ultimate Spider-Man, X-Men Legends and the Ultimate Alliance games) and two animated movies: Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers 2.
The Marvel Universe as a social network
In 2002, a study was done of the interactions among 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.
The Marvel Universe is strongly based on the real world. Earth in the Marvel Universe has all the features of the real one: same countries, same personalities (politicians, movie stars, etc.), same historical events (such as the 9/11 incident
), and so on. However, it also contains many other fictional elements: countries such as Wakanda
, and Latveria
(very small nations), and organizations like the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D.
and its enemy, HYDRA
. Marvel has recently began to officially describe its world's geography in a two-part miniseries, the Marvel Atlas
Most importantly, the Marvel Universe also incorporates examples of almost all major science fiction and fantasy concepts, with writers adding more continuously. Aliens, gods, magic, cosmic powers and extremely advanced human-developed technology all exist prominently in the Marvel Universe. (A universe incorporating all these types of fantastic elements is fairly rare; another example is the DC Universe.) Thanks to these extra elements, Earth in the Marvel Universe is home to a large number of superheroes and supervillains, who have gained their powers by any of these means.
Comparatively little time passes in the Marvel Universe compared to the real world, owing to the serial nature of storytelling, with the stories of certain issues picking up mere seconds after the conclusion of the previous one, while a whole month has passed by in "real time". Marvel's major heroes were created in the 1960s, but the amount of time that has passed between then and now within the universe itself has (after a prolonged period of being identified as about ten years in the mid-to-late 1990s) most recently been identified as thirteen years. Consequently, the settings of some events which were contemporary when written have to be updated every few years in order to "make sense" in this floating timeline. Thus, the events of previous stories are considered to have happened within a certain number of years prior to the publishing date of the current issue. For example, Spider-Man's high school graduation was published in Amazing Spider-Man #28 (Sept 1965), his college graduation in Amazing Spider-Man #185 (Oct 1978), and his high school reunion in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #7 (Dec 2004). Despite the sliding timescale policy, where stories reference real-life historic events, these references are later ignored or rewritten to suit current sensibilities. For instance, the origin of Iron Man was recently changed to refer to armed conflict in Afghanistan, whereas the original Iron Man stories had referred to the Vietnam War.
Interestingly, the Marvel Comics company itself exists within the Marvel Universe, and versions of people such as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have appeared in some of the stories. The Marvel of this reality publishes comics that adapt the actual adventures of the superheroes (except for details not known to the public, like their secret identities); many of these are licensed with the permission of the heroes themselves, who customarily donate their share of profits to charity.
Pop Culture characters such as Dracula and Frankenstein actually exist in the Marvel Universe. This is usually justified as a second hand account of events as told to credited authors Bram Stoker and Mary Shelly although the general public continues to believe them as fictional. Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Kull the Conqueror, and Solomon Kane also have real life existences in the Marvel Universe. The Hyborian Era of Conan and Kull is considered part of Earth 616 pre-recorded history. However, they rarely encounter modern Marvel superhero characters. This is most likely possible due to the uncertain legal status of Howard's works prior to 2006 when they became public domain. Other licensed works that have been incorporated into the Marvel Universe include Godzilla, 2001: A Space Odyssey, ROM: Spaceknight, The Micronauts, and the Shogun Warriors. In most cases, such material is either restricted from use after the license expires or the or characters redesigned or renamed to avoid infringement.
Costumed superheroes and supervillains
The tradition of using costumed secret identities to fight (or commit) evil had long existed in this world (for example, with the medieval Black Knight
) but it came into prominence during the days of the American "Wild West
" with heroes such as the Phantom Rider
. During the 20th century the tradition was reinvigorated by Captain America
in the 1940s (not the first costumed hero of the time, but arguably the most influential).
Marvel's major heroes (the ones who get involved in most of the important events) are those created between 1961 and 1963, during Marvel's "Silver Age": Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director, Nick Fury. Unlike the DC Universe, few of Marvel's 1940s characters have become major characters in modern publications; Captain America is one exception, and to a lesser extent his contemporary, the Sub-Mariner, is as well, primarily because both of these characters were reintroduced to readers and to the Marvel Universe during the 1960s.
Prominent groups of superheroes include the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the Defenders. All these groups have varying lineups; the Avengers in particular have included most of Marvel's major heroes as members at one time or another. The X-Men are a team of mutants formed by Professor X and include some of Marvel's most popular characters, such as Wolverine. The Defenders are an ad-hoc team usually brought together by Dr. Strange, which has included the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer.
During the last five years, many previously-costumed supervillains have been portrayed in street clothes (without costumes). Recently published comics show that this trend may have been temporary.
Origin of superhuman powers
Most of the superhumans in Marvel's Earth owe their powers to the Celestials
, cosmic entities who visited Earth millions of years ago and experimented on our prehistoric
ancestors (a process they also carried out on several other planets). This resulted in the creation of two hidden races
, the godlike Eternals
and the genetically unstable Deviants
, in addition to giving some humans an "x-factor" in their genes, which sometimes activates naturally, resulting in sometimes superpowered, sometimes disfigured individuals called mutants
. Others require other factors (such as radiation
) for their powers to come forth. Depending on the genetic profile, individuals who are exposed to different chemicals or radiation will often suffer death or injury, while in others it will cause superhuman abilities to manifest. With the exception of psionic
abilities, these powers are usually random; rarely do two people have the exact same set of powers. It is not clear why the Celestials did this, although it is known that they continue to observe humanity's evolution. A Marvel series titled Earth X
explored one possible reason for this: that superhumans are meant to protect a Celestial embryo that grows inside the Earth and has for eons, against any planetary threats. An X-Men villain known as Vargas
claims to be a new direction in human evolution, as he is born with superpowers even though genetic profile said he was an ordinary human being. The majority of the public is unaware of what may cause superhuman powers.
Other possible origins for superhuman powers include magic, genetic manipulation or bionic implants. Some heroes and villains have no powers at all but depend instead on hand-to-hand combat training or advanced technological equipment. In the Marvel Universe, technology is considerably more advanced than in the real world; this is due to unique individuals of genius intelligence, such as Reed Richards (Mister Fantastic) of the Fantastic Four. However, most of the really advanced devices (such as powered armor and death rays) are too expensive for the common citizen, and are usually in the hands of government organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D., or powerful criminal organizations like A.I.M. One major company producing these devices is Stark International, owned by Anthony Stark (Iron Man) but there are others. Advanced technology has also been given to humans by hidden races, aliens, or time travelers like Kang the Conqueror, who is known to have influenced the robotics industry in the past.
In superhumans the energy required for their superpowers either comes from within using their own body as a source, or if the demand of energy exceeds what their body is capable to deliver, comes from another source. In most cases, this other source seems to be what is called the universal psionic field (UPF), which they are able to tap into. Sometimes they are connected to another source, and more rarely they are even a host for it.
Marvel tries to explain most superpowers and their sources "scientifically", usually through the use of fictional science-like concepts, such as:
- The battery effect; the cells in the body have the same function as batteries, being charged with energy that comes from an outer source. This is most often seen in gamma exposed individuals such as the Hulk, who get their powers from this stored energy. The powers will remain as long as the energy is present, and can even be increased by filling the "batteries" even more. If the energy is emptied, the powers will fade away.
- The Power Primordial is a leftover force from Big Bang and is controlled by the Elders of the Universe.
- Psionic energy, which is assumed to be an invisible, unknown form of energy generated by all living brains that has the ability to manipulate other forms of matter and energy.
- Universal psionic field is a force present everywhere in the universe, but only those with abilities to connect to it can make use of its energy.
- Enigma Force is suspected to be connected to the Microverse, and is also the source to the Uni-Power, which transforms an individual into Captain Universe.
- Extradimensional space: dimensions that can be tapped in order to pull mass from them (to add to objects on Earth) or taken away from those objects and be stored in those "pocket dimensions" to be retrieved later. This is how characters like the Hulk can grow and shrink with no visible absorption of mass. A type of subatomic particles called Pym Particles can be used for these effects. (Note that many giant-sized characters have a limited ability to manipulate gravity to handle their increased weight.) The change in mass can be in the form of a density change instead, allowing a character to become harder or incorporeal. Some characters can seem to "transform" themselves (or others) into unliving substances, or even pure energy, by storing their bodies in extradimensional space and replacing them with bodies made from matter or energy from that dimension, while their souls remain on Earth, controlling their new body. Travel into other dimensions can also be used as a way to "teleport" by re-entering the Earth dimension at a different point from the exiting one.
- The Darkforce is an unknown, dark substance from another dimension (known simply as the Darkforce Dimension) that can be summoned and manipulated in many ways: to create impenetrable darkness, to solidify it in various forms, and (most notably) to absorb the "life energy" from living beings (not all users can use all these effects). The Darkforce can also be used to travel to and from its home dimension, but this is dangerous to all except those with Darkforce powers. Some believe that the Darkforce is sentient and sometimes has an evil influence on those who use it. Various heroes and villains have versions of Darkforce powers, including Darkstar, the first Blackout, the Shroud, Cloak, Doorman and Quagmire (of the Squadron Supreme Universe). Cloak seems to be the prime 'portal' to the Darkforce, however.
- The Living Light is the opposite of the Darkforce: a form of energy that resembles light and also comes from its own dimension, but has healing effects on living beings (except ones made of darkness or Darkforce.) It is unknown if it might be sentient. Cloak's partner, Dagger seems to be the Living Light's main avatar.
- The Power Cosmic is a force that can alter reality, allowing the user to do whatever he or she wants (including bending the laws of physics), only being limited by how much cosmic energy the character can tap at a time. It seems to be part of the universe itself and it can be linked directly to Galactus as its primary wielder or even source. The Heralds of Galactus, including Silver Surfer and Nova are imbued with a fraction of the Power Cosmic.
- Magic also appears to be like a form of energy, except that it can defy the laws of physics naturally. However, it does have rules of its own to follow, which vary with the method of invocation, usually in the form of spoken spells. It appears to be present in everything, even living beings. All humans in the Marvel Universe have the ability to use magic, but only if properly trained. Most people are unaware that magic actually works. In addition, powerful magical beings from other dimensions have created specific, extremely powerful magical spells that they allow to be used (often indiscriminately) by those sorcerers who invoke their names; one example is the trinity of beings called The Vishanti, who serve as patrons to heroic sorcerers. At any given time, there is a sorcerer on Earth whose task is to protect the universe against extradimensional mystical invaders; this sorcerer is known as the Sorcerer Supreme, an office currently held by Doctor Strange.
A degree of paranoid fear against mutants exists due to stories of mutants being a race or even a species (Homo superior
or Homo sapiens superior
) that is evolving and is meant to replace normal humans. This has caused organizations to form to deal with the problem, who can be divided into three camps: those who seek peaceful coexistence between mutants and normal humans (the X-Men and their affiliated groups), those who seek to control or eliminate humans to give mutants safety or dominance (Magneto
and his followers, as well as other mutants such as Apocalypse
), and those who seek to regulate or eliminate mutants in favor of humans. The latter often use the robots known as Sentinels
as weapons. Certain species are regarded as subhuman
, like the Morlocks
who lurk beneath New York City and have been discriminated against by the outside world because of their mutant deformities. The Morlocks have recently joined the terrorist organization Gene Nation
In addition to mutants, Eternals and Deviants, several other intelligent races have existed secretly on Earth. These include: The Inhumans, another genetically unstable race (like the Deviants, but in their case its due to their use of a substance called the 'Terrigen Mists') that was created by a Kree experiment long ago; The Subterraneans, a race of humanoids adapted to living below the surface, created by the Deviants (some subterraneans were transformed into 'Lava Men' by a demon); and Homo mermanus, a humanoid race of water-breathers that lives in Earth's oceans. Most of these races have advanced technology but existed hidden from humanity until recent times. More variants of humanity can be found in the Savage Land (see places, below.) Most of the Savage Land races have their origin from a group of primitive ape men who seems to have escaped the Celestial experiments whose influence is present in all modern Homo sapiens. Other leftovers from the era where primitive humanoids walked the earth still exist, such as the altered Neanderthal known as Missing Link, an old enemy of the Hulk.
The Marvel Universe also contains hundreds of intelligent alien races. Earth has interacted with many of them because a major "hyperspace
warp" happens to exist in our solar system.
The three major space empires are:
The three are often in direct or indirect conflict, which occasionally involve Earth people; in particular, the Kree and Skrulls are ancient enemies, and the Kree-Skrull War has involved humans on several occasions.
The Skrulls have also been known to be in a long and consistant war against the Majesdanians, who live in a milky planet named Majesdane. The war between the two had started after two Majesdanians, Frank and Leslie Dean of The Pride had been kicked out for criminal activities; the two travelled to Earth, where Frank and Leslie stopped the war against Earth in exchange for giving the Skrulls the location of Majesdane, which was hidden behind the corona of a white dwarf. The war had gone on for sixteen years minimum; it ended ubruptly after the Skrulls shot a barrage of missiles at Majesdane, who retaliated.
Another prominent alien race is The Watchers, immortal and wise beings who watch over the Marvel Universe and have taken a sacred vow not to intervene in events, though the Watcher assigned to Earth, Uatu, has violated this oath on several occasions.
The Elders of the Universe are ancient aliens who have often had great impact on many worlds, for billions of years, acting alone or as a group. A power called Power Primordial is channeled through them.
Many other races exist, and have formed an “Intergalactic Council” to have their say on matters that affect them all, such as interference from Earth humans in their affairs.
In Secret Wars, Spider-Man's symbiotic black costume made its first appearance, and was identified as an alien life form by Mr. Fantastic. Later, with Eddie Brock, it became the being known as Venom, who is now one of Spider-Man's greatest foes and has spawned Carnage who spawned Toxin.
Also abundant in the Marvel Universe are legendary creatures such as gods
. The 'gods' of most polytheistic
pantheons are actually powerful, immortal human-like races from other dimensions who visited Earth in ancient times, and became the basis of many legends (obviously not all such legends can be true, since they contradict scientific facts, as well as each other.) Besides mythological gods, many deities made up by Marvel writers exist as well, such as the Dark Gods, enemies of the Asgardians
Note that many persons and beings have falsely pretended to be gods or demons during history; in particular, none of the ones claiming to be major figures from Judeo-Christian beliefs (such as Satan or God) have turned out to be the real article, although a number of angels have appeared in recent years, proving that Heaven and Hell do exist in this Universe, in keeping with common real world religious belief.
Similarly, demons are evil magical beings who take affairs in the matters of the universe, one of the most notorious being Mephisto. Others include Nightmare, D'Spayre, N'Astirh, Dormammu and Shuma-Gorath.
Most of the current generation of gods have been revealed to be the descendants of the Elder Goddess Gaea. The two most prominent pantheons are the Asgardians (of whom Thor is a member) and the Olympians (of whom Hercules is a member). The lords of the various pantheons sometimes gather in groups known as the Council of Godheads and Council of Skyfathers.
The gods were forced to stop meddling with humanity (at least openly) a thousand years ago by the Celestials, and most people today believe them to be fictional.
Above all other beings in the Marvel Universe are the cosmic entities
, beings of unbelievably great levels of power (the weakest can destroy planets) who exist to perform duties that maintain the existence of the universe. Most do not care at all about "lesser beings" such as humans, and as a consequence their acts can occasionally be dangerous to mortals. When dire threats threaten the universe it is not uncommon for these beings to gather together to discuss the threat, and even act. The first greatest of these is the One-Above-All
, or known as the God of the Marvel Universe. Ranking second only to him is the Living Tribunal
, the cosmic mediator and overseer of the entire Marvel Universe.
Above all pantheons of gods, cosmic entities and even the Tribunal there exists one, ultimate supreme being known as the One-Above-All (not to be confused with the Celestial of the same name). Indicated to be the creator of all life, this being presides over a realm referred to as "Heaven" populated by angels, to which the souls of the virtuous deceased are committed (such as Ben Grimm) - as such, the One-Above-All is effectively synonymous with the Judeo-Christian God. When the One-Above-All finally appeared on-panel in a 2004 Fantastic Four storyline, he appeared in the form of Jack Kirby, who 'sketched out' reality on a comic book storyboard. He professed to communicate with a partner (implied to be Stan Lee), though exactly where this Lee-based being would fall in the cosmic hierarchy is unrevealed.
While the above is true, the Living Tribunal, and most of the other cosmic characters, are morally neutral. They often say that such concepts are relative (implicit in Galactus' anthill analogy), or simply relevant only to "lesser" beings.
The Marvel Universe is part of a multiverse, with various universes coexisting simultaneously without affecting each other directly.
The action of most Marvel Comics titles takes place in a continuity
known as Earth-616
. This continuity exists in a multiverse
alongside trillions of alternate continuities. Alternate continuities in the Marvel multiverse are generally defined in terms of their differences from Earth-616.
Continuities besides Earth-616 include the following (for a complete listing see Marvel Comics Multiverse):
In addition, multiple continuities are visited in the comic book series What If, What The--?! (formerly Not Brand Echh) and Exiles.
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 Galactus from another universe, but they all nevertheless belong to the Earth-616 continuity (where all the dimensions and universes seems to be connected to the same main timeline). A continuity should also not be confused with an imprint; for example, while the titles of some imprints, such as Ultimate Marvel, take place in a different continuity, some or all publications in other imprints, such as Epic Comics, Marvel MAX, and Marvel UK, take place within the Earth-616 continuity.
Within and sometimes between
continuities, there exist a variety of dimensions
, sometimes called pocket dimensions
which typically are not depicted as separate continuties, but rather part of one, typically Earth-616. There are a score of such dimensions, ranging from the Earthlike to the totally alien. Some are magical in nature and others are scientific; some are inhabited and others are not. These include realities like the Microverse
, the Darkforce Dimension
, the Mojoverse
, and many more.
A noteworthy feature of the Marvel Universe is that one cannot normally alter history - if a time-traveller should cause an alteration to the established flow of events at some point in the past, a divergent universe
will simply "branch out" from the existing timeline, and the time-traveller will still return to his or her unaltered original universe. Those realities can also spawn realities of their own. There exists hundreds, probably thousands of such realities. It is unknown why this happens, though a warp known as the Nexus of All Realities
exists in a swamp in the Florida of the main Marvel Universe (known as Earth-616
). For the most part this does not matter, as most beings are unaware that this occurs, or even that their universes were recently "born" from another. However, individuals and organizations exist that try to monitor or manipulate the various realities. These include Immortus
, the Captain Britain Corps
, the Time Variance Authority
, the Timebreakers
, and Kang the Conqueror
It has been shown to be possible to travel through time without creating a new alternate universe, instead altering events in the future, but this seems to have devastating and very, very far-reaching repercussions (as depicted in the Marvel 1602 mini-series).
Also, time itself passes much differently within the confines of the Marvel Universe than it does in the real world. Despite various characters having appeared within company publications for decades, few if any have aged to any appreciable degree. For example, the patriotic hero Captain America was created in 1941 but stopped appearing in titles soon after the end of World War II. The character was revived more than twenty years later, explained as having been frozen in a block of ice though believed to be dead, to lead Marvel's latest team of superheroes the Avengers. This first Avengers team featured several characters that would go on to be some of the company's most famous and most popular. Although the characters would be portrayed in hundreds and even thousands of adventures over the decades, they have been portrayed as having aged little or none at all.
While the Marvel Universe is presumably as large as the non-fictional universe comic book readers inhabit, for all intents and purposes the Local group
is the universe; practically all action takes place in it. The Skrull Empire is located in the Andromeda galaxy, the Kree Empire in the Magellan clouds which are satellites of the Milky Way galaxy in which Earth of course is found, while the Shi´ar Empire is located somewhere between them in one of the smaller galaxies (perhaps Triangulum); frequently, these three empires are quoted as the main political powers "in the universe". Similarly, the Local Group seemed to be the only affected area when the Annihilation Wave
cut its bloody swath "across the universe".
One notable exception to the "Local group" rule is Planet Hulk
, which not only took place in another galactic cluster but indeed another galactic supercluster
, namely Fornax
Another matter altogether is the Astral Plane, given heavy influence in the Marvel Universe, it is a dimensional plane which is the source of telekinesis and various other psychic powers.
For more complete lists of inhabitants of the Marvel Universe, see List of Marvel Comics characters
, List of Marvel Comics teams and organizations
, and List of Marvel Comics alien races