Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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 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. 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 a 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. 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. 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 featuring 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 superheroes 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 superheroes, but since they were given different names and costumes (yet astonishingly similar backstories) 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.
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, which occurred in a pocket universe where many of the major Marvel heroes were exiled for a year.
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 (in the form of The Ultimates), 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.
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 Marvel Universe is Captain America.
The basic concept of the Marvel Universe is that it is just like the real world, except that Superheroes (and Supervillains) exist there. It is more than just that, however. The Marvel Universe includes examples of most Science Fiction and Fantasy concepts ever invented, and writers keep adding more continuously. Further, these concepts are developed in ways that don't contradict each other, but instead form a unified background. This concept is fairly rare; another example of a fictional universe that seeks to use all types of fantastic elements is the DC Universe.
Earth in the Marvel Universe has all the features of the real one: same countries, same personalities (politicians, movie stars, etc.), same historical events (World War II, etc.), etc. However, it also adds fictional ones, such as countries like Wakanda or Genosha (see Places, below.) It also has some fictional personalities. It must be noted that, due to the fact that Marvel's publishers do not want to allow their characters to age, the setting of the stories has to be updated every few years; Marvel's major heroes were created in the 60's, but the heroes have only been allowed to age about a decade in that time. Unlike DC Comics, who uses the idea that interference with time by villains caused reality to reboot a few times, Marvel simply assumes that the stories happen in the space of years instead of decades. Thus, the events of previous stories are considered to have happened a certain number of years prior to the publishing date of the current issue. Where stories reference real-life historic events, these references are later ignored or rewritten to suit current sensibilities (for example: changing the war a character with military background may have served in, such as Iron Man)
Marvel's major heroes (the ones most of the important events are connected to) are the ones created in between 1961 and 1963: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Thor, The Hulk, and The Fantastic Four. Two characters from the 1940s, Captain America and The Sub-Mariner, were also reintroduced at the time and also became major fixtures. The Silver Surfer, introduced in the pages of the Fantastic Four comic, can also considered a major player, as he often teams up with Strange, Namor and Hulk (as a team known as The Defenders) to save the world. The character of Nick Fury could also be considered a prime mover due to the fact he heads the SHIELD antiterrorist organization. Two other teams, The Avengers and the X-Men, are also considered major, despite the fact that their membership often changes. (The Avengers have included most of the major heroes as members at one time or another; the X-Men contains some of Marvel's most popular characters (such as Wolverine) thought individually they are not as influential (except perhaps for their mentor, Professor X.)
Most of the superhumans in Marvel's Earth owe their powers to The Celestials, cosmic entities who visited Earth one million years ago and experimented on our prehistoric ancestors (a process they carried out in several worlds.) 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 superpowered (and sometimes disfigured) individuals called mutants. Others require other factors (such as radiation) for their powers to come forth. 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 called Earth-X explored one possible reason -that superhumans are meant to protect a Celestial that is "growing" inside Earth- but this series has not been established as official part of Marvel's continuity). Note that the majority of the public is unaware of what the cause for super powers is; also, a degree of paranoid fear against mutants exists due to certain individuals spreading stories of mutants being a "race" (Homo Superior) that is evolving and is meant to replace normal humans. This has forced organizations to form to deal with the problem, mainly The X-men (who supports peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants) and those who believe they must use force against humans to survive, mainly Magneto's followers.
Other possible origins for superpowers 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 high-technology equipment. (In this Earth, technology is slightly more advanced, thought most of the really advanced devices (such as Power Armor) are too expensive for the common citizen, and are usually in the hands of organizations like the government, or powerful criminal organizations such as HYDRA. The major company producing these devices is Stark International, owned by Anthony Stark (Iron Man.) It has been suggested that this increase in scientific levels was due to time travelers meddling with history, in particular Kang.
Unlike the DC Universe, where the laws of physics are often violated by superheroes with no good explanation offered, Marvel tries to explain most powers scientifically, usually through the use of pseudoscientific concepts, such as:
- Psionic Energy, which is assumed to be an invisible, unknown form of energy generated by all living brains (though only mutants and mutates can make use of it) and that has the ability to manipulate other forms of matter and energy.
- The Quantum Field, an invisible field of electromagnetic energy that extends through most dimensions and can be tapped for almost infinite amounts of energy. This field is the structure that support the Universe, and manipulating it could alter space itself.
- 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. (Note also that many giant-sized characters have the secret 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. Travel into other dimensions can also be used as a way to "teleport" by re-entering the Earth dimension at a different point.
- The Darkforce- 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 be 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.
- 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.
- The Power Cosmic is a force that can alter reality, allowing the user to do whatever he wants (including breaking 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 is mostly used by Cosmic Entities.
Magic also appears to be like a form of energy, except that it can defy the laws of physics naturally (it does have rules of its own to follow, however, which vary with the method of invocation -usually 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; but most people are unaware it even exists. In addition, powerful magical beings from other dimensions have created specific, extremely powerful magical spells that they can allow to be used (often indiscriminately) by those sorcerers who invoke their names. Every 100 years, a contest is held to elect the Sorcerer Supreme, whose job is to keep the universe safe from magical menaces. The current Sorcerer Supreme is Doctor Strange.
Many magical creatures exist in the Marvel Universe, both those from known mythologies and original ones. The "gods" of this universe are actually superstrong, immortal human-like races from other dimensions who visited Earth in ancient times, and became the basis of many legends. However, they were forced to stop meddling with humanity (at least openly) by The Celestials, and most people today believe them to be fictional. Similarly, demons are also extradimensional creatures with a need to feed on the life forces of others. It must be noted that characters from Christian belief are no longer used in Marvel stories, and those who seemingly were (such as Satan) were later defined as impostors.
The Marvel Universe also contains hundreds of intelligent alien races. Earth has interacted with many of them due to the fact that a major "hyperspace warp" happens to exist in our solar system. The three major space empires are: The Kree, who rule the "Kree Galaxy" (Actually the Greater Megallanic Cloud, a mini-galaxy that orbits ours); Their ancient enemies, The Skrulls, who rule the Skrull Galaxy (Andromeda) and the Shi'ar, of the Shi'ar Galaxy (unknown real name, if any.) The three are often in direct or indirect conflict, which occasionally involve Earth people.
And above all the 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, but their acts can occasionally be dangerous to mortals.
The highest ranking known being in the Marvel Universe is the Living Tribunal, a giant golden cosmic entity with a disembodied, three-faced head that floats above his body. Of his three faces, one--"Revenge"--is half-cloaked, while another--"Necessity"--is fully cloaked. The only face that is not covered represents "Equity", and it is this voice with which he usually speaks. The Living Tribunal passes judgment on crises that endanger the multiverse. It has been said that there is one who ranks above him--and whose will he seeks to carry out. This being, supposedly the God of the Marvel Universe, has never been fully described or displayed, and most likely never will be.
Another noteworthy feature of the Marvel Universe is that time "branches out" creating new alternate realities when certain important events happen. Those realities can also spawn realities of their own. There exists hundreds, probably thousands of such realities. It is unknown why this happens, thought a warp known as The Nexus of All Realities exists in a swamp in Florida Swamp of the original reality (known as Earth 616). For the most part this doesn't matter as most beings aren't aware this is going on or even that their universes were recently "born" from another. However there exist organizations that try to monitor or manipulate the various realities. These include: The Captain Britain Corps, The Time Variance Authority (or TVA), and Kang's forces. See Continuities, below.
Certain places, some of which exist in real-life and some of which are fictional, figure prominently in the Marvel Universe:
- Atlantis - home of Namor
- Attilan - home of the Inhumans
- Deviant Lemuira - Undersea home of the Deviants located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
- Genosha - island dwarf-nation off the coast of Africa, north of Madagascar; an apartheid-like state where mutants were once enslaved
- Flying Fortress - Nick Fury and Shield reside on a floating military base.
- Latveria - A country ruled by Doctor Doom
- Madripoor - fictional city, modeled after Hong Kong, to which Wolverine has connections
- New York City - where most of the action of Marvel Comics takes place
- Baxter Building - fictional building that is the home of the Fantastic Four
- Columbia University - where Matt Murdock (Daredevil) and Elektra Natchios went to college
- Daily Bugle - A fictional building where Peter Parker works as a newspaper photographer for J. Jameson.
- Empire State University - fictional university where Peter Parker (Spider-Man) went to college
- Sanctum Sanctorum - fictional abode of Doctor Strange located in Greenwich Village
- Olympia - Mountain city of the Eternals located on Mount Olympus in Greece.
- Salem Center , Westchester County, New York - hamlet in the town of North Salem that is the home of the X-Men
- Savage Land - a fictional place with tropical climates and prehistoric animals located in the heart of Antartica.
- Stark Industries - a fictional place where technology of Tony Stark, Ironman was invented.
- Titan - Main moon of Saturn and technologically advanced home to the Titan Eternals.
- the Vault, a fictional prison for superpowered villains
- Wakanda - An African nation ruled by T'Challa, the Black Panther.
- X-Mansion - Home of the X-men published by Marvel.
- Danger Room - a fictional training center for the X-men.
Some items have been created specifically for the Marvel Universe and carry immense powers
- Ultimate Nullifier
- Infinity Gems/Infinity Gauntlet-Six gems that grant their owner supreme power over Mind, Power, Soul, Time, Space, and Reality
- Cosmic Cube
- Cosmic Egg
- M'Kraan Crystal-The "nexus of realities". By entering the crystal, the user can enter any universe they wish. The protector of the crystal is singular in all universes, with the same memories in each--which suggests that the reality immediately surrounding the crystal is anchored in place.
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. 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, the titles of other imprints, such as some of the Marvel MAX and Marvel UK titles, also take place within the Earth-616 continuity. Other continuities besides Earth-616 include:
- Age of Apocalypse
- Days of Future Past
- Earth X
- Heroes Reborn
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Marvel 2099
- Marvel Age
- Marvel Mangaverse
- MC2 (the Spider-Girl universe)
- New Universe
- Squadron Supreme
- Supreme Power
- Ultimate Marvel
- What If
- What The--?! (formerly Star)
- X-Men Adventures (based on X-Men: The Animated Series)
- X-Men: Evolution (based on the X-Men Evolution animated series)
- X-Men: The Movie (adaptation of the X-Men movie)
Crossovers and major events
- Atlantis Attacks
- Avengers Disassembled
- Infinity Gauntlet / Infinity War / Infinity Crusade
- Kree-Skrull War
- Maximum Security
- Secret Wars
- House of M
- List of Marvel Comics characters
- Marvel Comics
- Fictional crossovers
- The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe
- Marvel Universe role-playing game
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