Anyone reading the Wikipedia entry on any of their favorite heroes from the Marvel comics pantheon of four-colored titans might be perplexed by the non-stop references to something called “Marvel 616.” Is this some classroom where all the heroes learned to be super? Maybe it’s part of a date, June 16 of whatever year these stories are supposed to be taking place in?
Maybe 616 refers to how many comic books Wolverine appears in per month, or the kingpin’s waist size, or the amount of teeth in Venoms maw or the amount of money you’ve wasted on revamps of your favorite comics before you drop the new series because you hate the new direction.
NOPE. None of the above…though you were close with the Kingpin thing.
THE 411 ON 616
616 is the name of the existing Marvel universe and its continuity. Modern comic books rely on so many alternative realities, bleak alternative futures, parallel dimensions and time travel adventures that it became useful to have a reference point for when things were normal stories taking place in the status quo.
Like every single innovation in post-modern comic books, the term was coined by Alan Moore. Moore wrote some FANTASTIC stories about a British super hero named Captain Britain with the sensational Alan Davis as co-ploter and artist. Captain Britain journeyed to an alternate realm where he learned that he was Captain Britain #616 in an infinite group of Captains from across the multiverse known as the Captain Britain Corps. In the corps he might meet a Nazi Captain Britain from universe 597 where the German’s won WWII or a stoned out, hippy Captain Britain from some universe numbered 420 or who knows what.
These incredible Captain Britain stories, by the way, are available in the double-plus-good Captain Britain Omnibus from Marvel, or in older trade paperbacks you can still find at reasonable rates. To digress further, they are essential reading for anyone wanting hero stories with real gravitas and chutzpah. Captain Britain is a deeply flawed character you root for time and time again because there’s no one else to do the job.
Later in his wanderings the Captain joined a merry band of leftover mutants from the X-Men, namely fan favorites Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler and Rachael Summers, A.K.A. Phoenix. Together they created a team known as Excalibur.
Excalibur had a long standing plot line called “The Cross-Time Caper,” where the displaced mob of muties wandered around alternative timelines and realities trying to get home to their own, Universe 616. Readers picked up the term and ran with it as the official moniker for mainstream Marvel continuity across all books.
The frequently visited alternative universe of “Days of Futures Past,” the dark alternative reality where Sentinel robots wipe out all mutant kind is reality 811. Ultimate universe, where the Ultimate Marvel comics run is dubbed Marvel 1610. The universe where everybody is a gingerbread man/woman is Universe 45671, and the Universe where newts wear chaps, bassoons are outlawed and Wolverine is a ballerina is, obviously, Universe 348,925,028,471.
Most Marvel big wigs admit to hating the fan term 616, though this hasn’t stopped Marvel Comics from frequently using the term in their pages.
These days DC insists there are only 52 realities. I have no idea which one of those is the Gingerbread place. Probably 12.