No, Earth-616 is not the strongest, but it is certainly the most popular (whether you know it or not) and possibly the most important (we will discuss it in further detail later, we promise).
In Marvel Comics, Earth-616 is only one version of Earth among an infinite number of versions across the Marvel Comics Multiverse (but if you ask me, the most awesome is Earth-2149 – go ahead, look it up).
But why is it called Earth-616? How did it come to be in the first place? What is its importance? Is it real?
In this post, we will try to tackle every question you have about Earth-616. Along the way, we will also touch on how it relates to the MCU movies and shows. So let us get right to it!
What Does Earth-616 Mean?
The term “Earth-616” is used as a designation to refer to the version of Earth (and the universe, dimension, or even timeline it belongs to) where most of the main continuity of Marvel Comics happens.
The name Earth-616 was first used in the Captain Britain comic books in the early part of the 1980s decade.
But first – some bit of background. Back in the early 1970s, Marvel Comics started its Marvel UK imprint.
You can think of it as the United Kingdom publishing arm of Marvel Comics (which is an American publishing company), or at least, initially. Over time, however, Marvel UK grew into its own.
It soon began telling comic book stories geared towards British readers, featuring comics characters who are British or based in the UK.
Of course, it would also employ a wave of UK comics creators who would go on to become legendary scribes and illustrators, including Alan Moore (of Swamp Thing fame and many others), Steve Dillon (Punisher), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), and Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman).
One of Marvel UK’s early successes was the comics character Captain Britain (that would be Brian Braddock, the leader of the British mutant team Excalibur and the brother of Psylocke, who would later take on the Captain Britain mantle herself).
One of Brian’s adventures in Marvel UK comics would lead him to become aware of the existence of the Captain Britain Corps.
Basically, this is a league of various versions of Captain Britain from different dimensions. To designate each other, the Corps would devise a numbering system for each reality, with the main Marvel Comics universe’s Earth given the title “Earth-616.”
The designation would stick. By the time Chris Claremont worked on the Excalibur comic books (it starred the UK-based mutant team Excalibur, but was marketed and distributed to the US market) in the late 1980s, the British-born American comics writer would reference Earth-616, either casually or as a key plot element.
Although at first the term “Earth-616” would only appear mostly in the Excalibur comic books, it would eventually make its way later on to other Marvel Comics titles as well.
On top of that, Marvel itself would publish various Official Handbooks (reference texts outside of its comics titles) that would feature the Earth-616 designation.
One popular example of this is the Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe: Alternate Universes 2005, which not only mentions Earth-616, but also profiles other popular alternate dimensions like Earth-928 (most widely known as the home universe of all the 2099 comics characters like Spider-Man 2099, also known as Miguel O’Hara) and Earth-811 (the universe where the events of the classic and iconic Days of Future Past X-Men saga took place).
Is Earth-616 The Sacred Timeline?
Yes, Earth-616 is the Sacred Timeline, and it is even cited by Wikipedia as such. But the whole thing is kinda complicated, so be prepared – we have lots of explaining to do.
It all starts with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies and shows, specifically Avengers: Endgame.
You may remember that during the Time Heist (where post-Thanos-Snap surviving members of the Avengers use Pym particles to go back in time via the Quantum Realm to steal, actually “borrow,” all the Infinity Stones).
But the 2012 heist goes wrong, with the Tesseract (which contains the Space Stone) unfortunately falling into the hands of 2012 Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who proceeds to use it to generate an interdimensional portal and escape, while also creating a new timeline in the process.
So it is not long before Loki is apprehended by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), which informs him that he has committed crimes against the Sacred Timeline (as told in the first season of the MCU series Loki).
So what exactly is the Sacred Timeline?
Think of it as the general path in which all timelines must follow supposedly (albeit allowing a few minor deviations here and there, but basically still aligned with the planned path).
You can imagine the Sacred Timeline as a thick rope made up of small strands of twine (these are the individual parallel timelines).
The TVA’s job is to make sure the Sacred Timeline remains intact, specifically policing and fixing (resetting) any damaged timelines so they would still follow the supposed general flow.
In other words, they don’t want a stray strand of twine to branch off and create another rope leading away from the main one.
Is Earth-616 The MCU?
Through the Loki series, we can pretty much establish that the MCU reality is the Sacred Timeline.
But then Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness gets released. And in that 2022 film, the version of Christine Palmer that exists in Earth-838 (also played by Rachel McAdams) confirms that Doctor Strange’s reality is Earth-616.
So we can conclude that all the MCU films and shows are set on Earth-616.
Interestingly, the MCU reality is designated as Earth-199999 in the comics (as cited in 2008’s Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z Volume 5). That makes sense because Earth-616 already exists in the comics as the main continuity’s reality.
One way of seeing it is that perhaps a new Earth-616 version (the MCU) can exist as a variant of the original one (the comics Earth-616). Or maybe naming conventions should not apply across different media (comic books against movies).
It is also possible that future MCU films and shows will address this concern soon. So patience, my dear readers, patience.
Why Is Earth-616 So Important?
The reason is simple – Earth-616 is important because it happens to be the reality in which most of the adventures (and misadventures) of Marvel’s superheroes (and supervillains) take place.
Earth-616 is where the main continuity of Marvel Comics runs. In other words, it is basically where all the action happens.
And it is where the most legendary Marvel superheroes live – Spider-Man (Peter Parker), Iron Man (Tony Stark), Daredevil (Matt Murdock), Hulk (Bruce Banner), the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and many more.
It is the venue in which various good guys and bad guys can meet and team up or fight each other, helping generate some of the most unforgettable sagas in all of Marvel and general comics history.
Think the Infinity Gauntlet saga, the Civil War crossover event, and the Daredevil: Born Again storyline, just to name three (all of which would inspire adaptations for the big screen as well as the small screen).
Earth-616 would also serve as the baseline from which other universes would be created.
True, Earth-616’s superheroes are already interesting and awesome enough in their own right. But one can imagine (as many Marvel Comics writers did) slight variations of these characters and feature them in other weirder universes.
For instance, Earth-90214 is populated with noir versions of your favorite Marvel characters, while Earth-2149 should make George A. Romero proud. Earth-8311 is a parody version of Earth-616 (hi there, Peter Porker), while in Earth-311, superheroes exist in the year 1602.
Is Earth-616 Still Going?
Yes, Earth-616 is still going. But technically speaking, it is now designated as “Prime Earth” on Marvel Comics pages.
This came to be because of the Secret Wars saga, which ran from 2015 to 2016. Note that this recent storyline is different from (but definitely inspired by) the original Secret Wars limited series published by Marvel Comics in the mid-1980s.
In the mid-2010s Secret Wars arc, the Marvel Universe as we know it (as well as other alternate realities like Marvel 1602 and Marvel 2099) undergoes a dramatic transformation.
Basically what happens is that Earth-616 collides with another reality. After the collision, the surviving pieces of Earth-616 fuse with the remnants of other Earth versions to form a new realm called Battleworld, which becomes home to different and even multiple versions of various superheroes we have come to love through the years.
The end of the Secret Wars saga sees Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards) destroy Battleworld and then bring back Earth-616, which is now called Prime Earth and home to post-collision refugees like Miles Morales (originally from Earth-1610).
Meanwhile, Richards, as well as his wife Sue Storm (most popularly known as the Invisible Woman) and kids, embark on a mission to restore other realities across the Multiverse.