Back in May, Bleeding Cool looked at the use of the term "616" by Marvel to denote the main continuity in which their stories were told. And suggested that its use was about to be curtailed.
Invented by Dave Thorpe/Alan Moore for the Captain Britain comics, it was picked up by Chris Claremont for X-Men and soon spread. We said,
As a direct rejection of the American exceptionalism of DC's Earth One and Earth Two, the Marvel Universe was well down the dial, giving a greater sense of perspective and the impression that these stories were a small part of something bigger, grander, more epic than anyone could see.
And in the last year, despite comments such as the ones below…
"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 regard to the stories we create and the thinking we try to employ." – Marvel Executive Editor, Tom Brevoort
"I never use it, I hate the term pure and simple and agree with Tom's assessment of it. I can't remember ever hearing it in the office and only really see it used online for the most part. I think the term really came into vogue when the Ultimate Universe came into prominence, but in my world, the language and distinctions are simple, there is the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe. Anything other than that reeks of all that DC Earth 1, Earth 2, Earth Prime stuff which I've never really taken to, but then again, I got into DC when they got rid of all that stuff so it was from and for a different era than my own." – Marvel Chief Creative Officer, Joe Quesada
…it has proved very popular at the publisher. Bleeding Cool suggested, in the light of the then-upcoming Secret Wars that creators had been given one last chance to use 616 before it was gone forever. And so, in Spider-Verse…
…in Time Runs Out…
…in everything, you couldn't move for the reminder that the story you were reading was in the 616 reality. Unless of course it wasn't.
But now, in a post-match interview with Jonathan Hickman and Tom Brevoort for CBR, Tom Brevoort has stated,
It's effectively a new multiverse. The biggest and most important thing here that nobody in the world will like, and that I'm the only one that keeps poking at, is the fact that the Marvel Universe is no longer the 616. I don't know if by the end of "Secret Wars" #9 there are 616 universes yet. There will be an infinite number of them. Realities that we've known and new ones that we've never visited before are being constantly created, and then mapped and explored by Reed and his family.
They started by restoring the Marvel Universe. So really, it's now the Prime Universe.
And as for this being the last Fantastic Four story, Brevoort says,
At a certain point, we set out here to do the last Fantastic Four story, at least for the time being. We didn't necessarily start with that as the original goal way back even with "Avengers" #1. That having been said, it's such a natural end point because a lot of this stuff organically grows out of Jonathan's "Fantastic Four" run. It seems like a fitting capstone to all of that.
Of course, with Avengers #1, the edict of "No more Fantastic Four comics" had yet to come down the pipe, as it originated with a collapse of negotiation and terms with Fox Studios over character rights and the Fantastic Four movie.
The question is asked about the characters being shelved because of movie rights and Tom says
It's a shelf in that the Fantastic Four as a unit are now split up. Ben and Johnny are in "Guardians," "Inhumans" and "Uncanny Avengers," and there isn't a "Fantastic Four" title. None of these characters are dead, though. Therefore, the future will inevitably and invariably get to a point where we'll see more of Reed, Sue, Franklin, Val, Dragon Man and the Future Foundation. We will get to that point. I don't know that we'll get to it quickly. Maybe we will. Maybe we won't. Hopefully we'll get to it when you least expect it so their reappearance on the Marvel stage can have some resonance to it.
I think that the admission that there is a shelf, and a decision not to contradict the questioned reason for that shelf is the closest you'll ever get to an admission or what went on. Though he does talk about the idea of giving the Fantastic Four comic a rest, and while I also know that those discussions had taken place, this is not the reason the Fantastic Four was cancelled, and Brevoort is careful not to actually say it was…