‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ opens the door to alternate Earths
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness introduced a new aspect of comic books, one that longtime readers have been looking forward to for years.
While multiverse-hopping elements — or central plots — have cropped up in several recent Marvel movies, Multiverse of Madness approaches the multiverse with its eye clearly set on the future. Other titles, like Spider-Man: No Way Home and Into the Spider-Verse deal with the multiverse in different, mostly self-contained ways. Multiverse of Madness, on the other hand, felt extremely intentional, with numerous hints and cameos that likely point to the MCU’s multiversal plans for the future.
Viewers left the theater buzzing about any number of Multiverse of Madness’ big reveals, but one stuck out to longtime fans of the comics these popular films are based around. The existence of numerous versions of Earth have been a staple of Marvel comics for decades now, but Multiverse of Madness is the first Marvel film to directly bring these other Earths into the spotlight.
The Earth we’ve come to know and love over two decades of Marvel releases is designated as Earth-616. The latest Doctor Strange film provided concrete confirmation of Earth-616 — the version of our planet that most mainstream versions of our heroes exist on — along with Earth-838, the world on which Strange comes face-to-face with the Illuminati.
Earth-616 already got a shoutout in the MCU via Spider-Man: Far From Home, but it felt more like a nod than definitive confirmation. The name was dropped by Quentin Beck, after all, a character who claims to hail from the multiverse but is, in fact, a disgruntled former employee who is very much from our Earth. This makes it seem as though Beck landed on 616 purely by chance, rather than through genuine knowledge of the planet’s slightly odd classification.
Marvel comics started experimenting with the broad and baffling multiverse back in the 1960s, leaving fans with decades of often confusing dimension-hopping to enjoy. The many alternate dimensions dreamed up by Marvel writers eventually came to be classified numerically, with the primary Earth — the one on which Spidey, Captain America, and Iron Man live — cinching the “616” label.
Earth-616 takes a different shape in the MCU than it does in Marvel comics. In the MCU, this Earth has seen several alien attacks, is aware of Asgardian Gods like Thor and Loki, and continues to recover from Thanos’ snap and the events of Endgame. This world is thoroughly distinct, but has been well established through a wealth of releases like the Spider-Man films and Hawkeye, all of which help to flesh out the world and make it feel like a real place.
In Multiverse of Madness, Strange and America Chavez find themselves on a distinctly different version of the Earth they know. This world boasts a council of brilliant and powerful heroes, called the Illuminati, which is populated by several alternate versions of beloved characters. Strange himself is absent — a victim of his own hubris in this world — as are common Illuminati members Iron Man and Namor, but other mainstays appear in forms both new and familiar. Sir Patrick Stewart’s return as Professor X was utterly delightful, as was the big reveal of John Krasinski as Mr. Fantastic.
The planet may have seemed important in the context of the film, but it likely won’t be a vital part of the MCU’s multiversal lineup in the future. This version of Earth doesn’t exist in Marvel comics, and was likely created just for Multiverse of Madness. Given that most of Earth’s Mightiest are already dead in this world, chances are good we won’t be seeing it again. That doesn’t mean no other versions of Captain Carter or the Fantastic Four exist in the multiverse — hopefully played by the same actors — but it does mean that we’ve likely seen the last of Earth-838.
It has yet to be introduced in the MCU, but Earth-818 remains a looming possibility for the future of Marvel’s sprawling cinematic universe. It, along with many of the other Earth options introduced in Marvel comics, could present plenty of material for future movies and plot points. This version of Earth was intended to be a utopia, the loveliest and best of all the multiversal Earths. Instead, thanks to efforts from the Multiversal Masters of Evil, it became a barren wasteland.
Earth-818 is a bleak place, leeched of all the loveliness that initially defined it. The planet’s heroes were killed off long ago, leaving it to persist as an apocalyptic badland under the control of Black Skull. The alternate universe mostly crops up in the recent run of Avengers Forever, which sees a major switch up in characters like Tony Stark, who adopts the mantle of Ant-Man in Earth-818. There are no definites in the MCU, but fans can’t help but wonder if this world will one day make an appearance on the big screen.
If you recognize this alternate version of Earth, you’re doing better than most of us. Earth-199999 has been around for a few decades now, but it’s hardly gotten a mention in that time.
It did appear in a 2008 breakdown of Marvel’s properties, titled the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A to Z, Vol. 5, according to Inverse. In this handy book, the version of Earth that appeared in what was, at that time, the only entry into the MCU was designated as Earth-199999. Fans who caught onto the Earth-199999 designation have assumed, in the back of their minds, that the entire MCU timeline occurred in this same version of Earth for more than two decades. Until Multiverse of Madness came along and retconned everything.
The MCU’s Earth now appears to share a numerical classification with the primary Earth in comics, Earth-616. The second Doctor Strange film confirmed this, and seemingly eliminated Earth-199999 from the canon permanently.