Once upon a time, in 1981, Dave Thorpe was writing original Captain Britain comic strips for Marvel UK's monthly Marvel Superheroes title, drawn by artists Alan Davis and Paul Neary. A world away from the previous Captain Britain stories, these were weird and wonderful but also satirical, allegorical and political, which wasn't appreciated at the time. He lasted a year, before he was replaced by Alan Moore who amped up the weird – but he did create a number of concepts on the comics which were then taken up by Alan Moore. Mad Jim Jaspers, Saturnyne, The Crazy Gang, the Jaspers Warp – and the idea that the Earth Captain Britain was fighting on, was designated 616.
One of which is about to get a whole lot more of attention thanks to the Spider-Man: Far From Home movie, released in cinemas today. The idea that the Marvel Earth is just Earth 616 on the parallel dimensional scale. While DC Comics had Earth 1, Earth 2, Earth 3, Dave Thorpe put Marvel Comics further down the dial.
Sadly, Dave Thorpe didn't get a 'thanks' in the end credits of Spider-Man: Far From Home. But I'd only heard Alan Davis paraphrase what Dave Thorpe meant by the numbers. So, fresh out of the cinema, I thought I'd ask Dave directly. Talking to me today, he explained where it all came from.
616 was the worst of the parallel Earths that was holding the others back from achieving the shift forward to the next evolutionary stage, which is why Saturnyne turned up to administer the evolutionary fluid to its population. 666 = number of the beast (Crowley). It would have been too obvious to use that. I chose 616 = 666 – 50. Why 50? a nice round number, but the school in the world's coldest town in Siberia closes when the temperature reaches -61.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It's an extreme tipping point.
There you go. From the man himself. Who currently has a young adult SF novel, Perfect Girl out next year, and you can find more of his more recent work here.
The phrase 616 wasn't spoken on panel in the comic when he wrote it, but this was meant to be the parallel universe in which his Captain Britain was fighting. When Alan Moore began writing the Captain Britain strip, took on the idea of the Omniverse and created the Captain Britain Corps. During which, in an issue of UK magazine Daredevils #7, he used the numbers for the first time, now stating that the parallel universe Dave described above was to be designated 238 and that the Marvel Universe, in which Captain Britain originally resided and returned to was 616.
Chris Claremont was a big fan of Alan Moore's work. putting Sir James Jaspers into Uncanny X-Men #200, alongside Roma – though his plans for The Fury and James Jaspers changed into Nimrod and The Adversary over copyright disputes, but when he put together the the comic Excalibur with Alan Davis and picking up on a number of characters from both the X-Men and the Captain Britain worlds, including Dave Thorpe's Crazy Gang and Saturnyne, especially with the pandimensional Cross-Time Caper, the numbers 616 popped up. And other Marvel Comics engaged in dimensional travelling storylines used the same number for the Marvel Earth.
Decades on, this had become quite the trope, editorial had spoken out about using it, despite creators' love for the phrase. So people were given a last hurrah, to use it, get it out of their systems on stories such as Spider-Verse and Infinity, culminating in The Secret Wars comic that destroyed the 616 Universe and then recreated it as Prime Earth.
But you can't keep a good number down. It keeps popping up – it was all over the Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse cartoon, it's now been stated as the designated MCU dimension by Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home and there is a new Marvel TV series called Marvel's 616 coming up,
"Marvel's 616" (working title) is an anthological documentary series exploring the intersection between Marvel's rich legacy of stories, characters and creators and the world outside your window. Told through the lens of a diverse group of filmmakers, each documentary will dive into the rich historical, cultural and societal context that has become inseparable from stories of the Marvel Universe.
"Marvel's 616" (working title) is part of Disney+'s exclusive multi-year production agreement with David Gelb ("Chef's Table," "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"), Brian McGinn ("Chef's Table," "Amanda Knox") and Jason Sterman ("13th," "Five Came Back") of Supper Club. The series is produced in partnership with Marvel New Media. Executive Produced by Joe Quesada, Stephen Wacker, Shane Rahmani, John Cerilli, Harry Go and Sarah Amos for Marvel and David Gelb, Brian McGinn and Jason Sterman for Supper Club.
You can't keep a good 616 down… say I wonder if Dave will get thanked for that one?