WHEN MARVEL AND DC first experimented with the multiverse in the 1960s, it wasn’t long before keeping track of all those other universes became difficult. What is the solution? Come up with names for each world.
The major plot in DC Comics takes place on Earth One, although Marvel ended up naming their core reality Earth-616. (This trend extends beyond comics; the major narrative of Rick and Morty takes place in Dimension C-137.)
Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has entered the universe, it’s time to give the MCU its own numerical identifier.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, thankfully, accomplishes exactly that. There is, however, a catch. Fortunately, we’re here to help. (Slight Doctor Strange 2 spoilers coming.)
The reality in which the MCU’s tale has so far taken place is officially designed Earth-616, as stated in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. If the number seems familiar, it’s because Quentin Beck (aka, Mysterio) claimed to be a multiversal traveler in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Because Beck was a liar, we concluded he was also lying about Earth-616. He was correct — or simply a fortunate guesser, as it turned out.
However, the roots of Earth-616 stretch far further back than the 2019 Spider-Man film. For decades, the dominant continuity in Marvel comics has been referred to as Earth-616 (what this means for the distinction between comics and movies remains unclear). According to Marvel editor Tom Brevoort, the origins of the number can be traced back to an unlikely comic.
Here’s Brevoort’s response (through email):
Earth-616 was assigned to the mainstream Marvel world in, of all places, a Captain Britain tale published only in the United Kingdom. In that narrative, Dave Thorpe had Captain Britain discover that he was one of a slew of parallel heroes who had taken up the mantle of Captain Britain throughout the universe and had been gathered as a Captain Britain Corps for this specific crisis. As a little variation, Dave labeled our Captain Britain as hailing from Earth-616, which was based on 666, the number of the Beast, minus 50 as a good round figure. So it was a bit of a joke, but comic book readers, especially Marvel fans back then, were obsessed with continuity, so when Alan Moore continued to use the Earth-616 designation in his well-regarded Captain Britain tales with Alan Davis after that, fans took note and started to use it too. It wouldn’t take hold in Marvel publishing in general until the mid-2000s, and then only hesitantly. So you can credit Captain Britain and Alan Moore (among others) for introducing the phrase “Earth-616” into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But what about some of the other worlds mentioned in these films?
IN MARVEL, WHAT IS EARTH-838?
In the DSMOM, Doctor Strange confronts the Illuminati in an alternative universe where their Strange has been tainted by black magic. According to the Illuminati, he is specifically in Earth-838.
If you’re seeking for further information about Earth-838, you’re out of luck. This world has never previously appeared in a Marvel narrative. A Google search yields this Wiki article, which plainly states that it is a “Temporary Reality Number” for a “reality with no formal classification.” In other words, it’s all a fluke.
However, it’s worth mentioning that when Mysterio first appeared in Far From Home, he claimed to be from Earth-833. It’s not exactly 838, but it’s close…
WHAT ABOUT THE YEAR 1999? Isn’t that the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Congratulations, you are an expert in your field. Long before Doctor Strange 2 and Far From Home, Marvel published an official coffee table book titled Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A to Z, Vol. 5 in 2008. The book, which came out the same year as Iron Man, formally identified the MCU as “Earth-199999.” Fans imagined this was the conclusion of the narrative for over two decades. That is, until today.
If the MCU is indeed Earth-616, Earth-199999 is all but extinct. But then, was it ever ever canon in the first place? Unfortunately, we may never know.