When Marvel and DC started experimenting with the multiverse back in the 1960s, it didn’t take long before keeping track of all those parallel realities got complicated. The solution? Come up with names to identify each universe.
In DC Comics, the main story takes place on Earth One, while Marvel somehow wound up calling its prime universe Earth-616. (This convention goes beyond comics; in Rick and Morty the main plotline takes place in Dimension C-137).
Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is wading into the multiverse, it’s time to give the MCU a numeric designation of its own.
Fortunately, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness does just that. However, there’s a catch. Thankfully, we’re here to explain. (Light spoilers ahead for Doctor Strange 2.)
Earth-616 in Marvel
As revealed in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the universe where the MCU’s story has taken place so far is officially designed Earth-616. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we heard the same number back in Spider-Man: Far From Home, when Quentin Beck (aka, Mysterio) claimed to be a multiversal traveler. Of course, Beck was a liar, so we assumed he was lying about Earth-616 too. Turns out he was right — or just a lucky guesser.
But the origins of Earth-616 go back much further than the 2019 Spider-Man film. In Marvel’s comics, the main continuity has been called Earth-616 for decades (what this means for the distinction between comics and movies remains unclear). Marvel editor Tom Brevoort tells Inverse the origins of the number can be traced back to an unlikely comic.
Here’s Brevoort (via email):
The mainstream Marvel universe was designated Earth-616 in, of all places, a Captain Britain story published exclusively in the United Kingdom. In that storyline, Dave Thorpe had Captain Britain learn that he was one of a myriad of different parallel champions who had taken up the role of Captain Britain across the multiverse, and who had been brought together as a Captain Britain Corps for this particular crisis. Dave designated our Captain Britain as coming from Earth-616 as a bit of a tweak, it was based on 666, the number of the Beast, minus 50 as a nice round number. So it was a bit of a joke, but comic book fans, particularly the Marvel ones in those days, were fanatical about continuity, and so when Alan Moore continued to use the Earth-616 designation in his well-regarded Captain Britain stories with Alan Davis thereafter, fans took notice and began to use it themselves. It wouldn’t really take root within Marvel publishing in general until the mid-2000s, and then only reluctantly.
So you can thank Captain Britain and Alan Moore (among others) for the arrival of the words “Earth-616” in the MCU. But what about some of the other universes we’ve heard about in these movies?
What is Earth-838 in Marvel?
When Doctor Strange meets the Illuminati in the new movie, it’s in an alternate reality where their Strange was corrupted after using dark magic. Specifically, he’s in Earth-838 — at least, that’s what the Illuminati say.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for more info on Earth-838, you’re out of luck. This specific universe has never appeared in any Marvel story before. A Google search turns up this Wiki page, which is clearly marked as a “Temporary Reality Number” for a “reality with no official designation.” In other words, it’s just a coincidence.
However, it’s probably worth noting that when Mysterio showed up in Far From Home, he claimed to come from Earth-833. It’s not 838, but it’s close...
What about Earth-199999? Isn’t that the MCU?
Congrats, you know your stuff. Long before Doctor Strange 2 and Far From Home, Marvel published a coffee table book in 2008 titled Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A to Z, Vol. 5. Released the same year as Iron Man, the book officially designated the MCU as “Earth-199999.” For almost two decades, fans assumed this was the end of the story. Until now.
If the MCU really is Earth-616, that means Earth-199999 is as good as dead. Then again, was it ever really canon in the first place? Sadly, we may never know.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters now.