A blog from my dearly departed Marvel blog of a decade ago in which I discuss my dislike for the term Earth-616. Despite what I wrote here, the term 616 was invented by Dave Thorpe not Alan Moore.
I cannot stomach the current fannish tendency to refer to the mainstream Marvel universe as “616.” It bugs me, in a sort of dopey, exclusionary way.
The term originates in Alan Moore’s CAPTAIN BRITAIN stories from close to thirty years ago, but has only really come into popular usage in the last couple of years, as handbook-minded writers have begun to use it on Wikipedia and in similar information-based sites about the Marvel characters. Alan’s story postulated a multiverse in which our Captain Britain was one of hundreds of slightly-different Captain Britains across a string of parallel universes, each one slightly different in the manner of the classic DC Earth 1/Earth 2 scenario. And in needing some designation for our Captain Britain, Alan decided upon Earth 616. Different people have speculated on the source of Alan’s inspiration, but as far as I know, he’s never confirmed any of them.
To me, though, referring to the main Marvel Earth as 616 is counter-intuitive to the principles underlying the Marvel Universe as a whole–specifically, that while it’s a world of fantasy, there’s still enough of a semblance of verisimilitude that allows the average reader to relate these stories and events in a meaningful way to their own lives and conflicts and struggles. Marvel’s Earth is meant to be the “real world” far more than any fantasy construct. I have no problem with Alan’s use in his original stories, but thereafter calling it Earth 616 makes it feel all the more like a place of make-believe, of science fiction, of unreality. Which is it, of course, but acknowledging that in this direct a way shatters the illusion a bit too much for my tastes.
I also think it’s exclusionary. It’s the sort of term that means absolutely nothing to any reader who isn’t dyed-in-the-wool–even long-time readers don’t know where the tag comes from or what it signifies. And so the hardcore readers started to toss it around as a badge of honor, as a codeword that allowed them to identify one another. And from there, it simply began to grow.
I can tell you for sure that those of us actually working on the books virtually never use the term–and I kind of wince inside whenever I hear somebody use it. It just sounds so stupid to my ear, and so counter to the kind of mindset we try to foster in regards to the stories we create and the thinking we try to employ.