How I created Marvel Universe Earth-616

How I created the Marvel Universe (and see! I was into green energy even in the early ’80s!).


See? I was into solar and wind power even then!

With a new series from Disney/Marvel called Earth-616 out, it’s a great opportunity to talk about how I came up with an alternate universe that became the main Marvel Universe.

When I was working at Marvel UK editing and laying out the monthly and weekly comics, and we decided to relaunch Captain Britain, the managing editor Paul Neary stipulated that he wanted our stories to take place in an alternate universe.

Paul had just put artist Alan Davis and myself as writer together as a team. Both and Alan and myself were starting out as comics creators, it was our first gig.

Privately, I believe Paul was thinking to set our tales in an alternate universe and not the ‘real’ Marvel one, as it was then, in case the whole thing went belly up, and so we could use Marvel US characters without messing up their continuity. We could always say that our stories didn’t really happen and didn’t affect anything else in what was at the time seen as the mainstream Marvel universe.

The Captain Britain relaunch was meant to mark a decisive break from the Steve Parkhouse historical Black Knight version of the character, which was his last manifestation a few years previously.

MSH377 cover

So we had the rebirth origin story depict Merlin sending the new Captain to this alternate universe deliberately, with a mission to sort it out.

But why did he do this? I had to come up with a reason.

So I came up with 616 being just one of many universes each containing different versions of Earth.

Earth 616 was the most retrograde and regressive. Wars, disease, poverty, hunger, inequality, environmental destruction, etc. And a fascist government in control of the UK. Not at all like ours, no.

Why 616? Read on.

This Earth 616 was holding back all of the others – which are all connected in a trans-dimensional string – from moving into the next evolutionary stage of development.

If you read the stories that I wrote you will find out more, and why the pan-dimensional being Saturnyne was sent to administer the evolutionary fluid to humanity to push us on to the next level – so that all Earths could be released to ascend onto the next stage of heightened consciousness.

Sometime later another writer (Chis Claremont?) postulated many Captain Britains on each alternate Earth – a Corps of them.

Even later, unbeknownst to me until recently, instead of the tiny universe we had created being a minor player in relation to the majority of the Marvel universe, the whole of the Marvel universe moved into Earth-616.

It’s ironic too, considering that 616 was only meant to be a temporary universe created partly as a precaution.

But who knows? Perhaps the universe that we inhabit is also only a temporary one created as a precaution by somebody else…

Wow. And super-weird. It is truly awesome.

Big confession. I’ve not read every Marvel comic ever written. (Who has?) So I don’t know how or when this happened and which creators were involved. There must have been an editorial decision made. A no-prize (I still got one here that Stan the Man gave me) for anyone who can tell me.

Oh yes. Why 616? Every now and then I get email from a fan asking me this, and each time I give a different reply. But pretty much all of them have to do with Alistair Crowley and the number of the beast…

(Contrary to rumours, it has little to do with a dislike of superhero comics as such, more the state of most superhero comics at the time, and I wanted to avoid any idea that a character draped in a Union Jack might be associated with fascism and nationalism. I think Alan Moore and I agreed on that point. Alan took over from me on the title. He and I often met in the office or at conventions throughout the 80s.)

Although the story by Alan in British Marvel monthly Daredevil #7 contains the first printed designation of Earth-616, I came up with the name earlier when I introduced Saturnyne, as Alan Davis corroborates.

It was in my notes but never made it into the published scripts, which often had to be cut for reasons of space. We were only allowed five or six pages per monthly story and a lot of things ended up on the cutting room floor.

Now, if only I can figure how to get some more of that evolutionary fluid. I can think of some people I’d like to give it to…

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Separating truth from lies in the causes of the Covid-19 pandemic

Covid-19: after Hokusai

What’s caused this devastating pandemic that’s so far cost at least 207,000 lives (and it’s hardly begun) and wrecked the global economy? If, like me, you’ve been on the receiving end of a blizzard of bizarre messages claiming to reveal the truth behind the pandemic you might be forgiven for feeling confused, so here’s your handy guide to what isn’t the cause and what is.

Disinformation wars

Right from the start misinformation was rife: there was no virus; the disease was like flu and wouldn’t cause significant harm; emails offered baseless cures and treatments; and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire about its origin.

It turns out that many of those who circulated such misinformation have a history of casting doubt on climate science or seeking to debate issues that were already laid to rest within the scientific community, according to

“The decades that fossil fuel companies spent funding organizations that sought to undermine the conclusions of credible climate scientists and building up doubt about science itself ultimately created a network of professional science deniers who are now deploying some of the same skills they honed on climate against the public health crisis at the centre of our attention today.”

Some of this disinformation was/is channelled by Presidents Trump and Bolsanaro. Others by think tanks, experts (some self-proclaimed), academics, and professional right-wing activists who are also climate change denialists.

After taking apart all of these arguments, DeSmog asserts: “COVID denial should forever discredit climate science deniers”.

Former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers Corbyn tweeted that the pandemic is a “world population cull” backed by Bill Gates and George Soros, who had secretly bankrolled the Chinese with American dollars to create a bio-weapon. He called for them, along with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, to be sent to Guantanamo Bay.

A lot of people have been forwarding David Icke’s video, which is astonishing given that here is a narcissistic con artist who believes the moon is hollow and the world is ruled by shape shifting reptiles from another planet, and who was banned from entering Australia because he’s a Holocaust denier who argued the September 11 terrorist attacks were a government hoax.

If other people’s motivations for spreading pandemic misinformation are political, what is Icke’s? Easy. Self marketing: I’m sure his book and merchandising sales are doing very well, thank you.

Meanwhile Bill Gates himself has commercial reasons for his pledge to produce a vaccine, which I guess is acceptable, but this has been hijacked by both Russian propaganda channel RT and David Icke to hint/claim that Gates would insert human-controlling nanobots into the vaccine. Again, nonsense.

Many right-wingers are attacking lockdown measures, and not just Republicans in US states. A friend in Berlin tells me that right wing groups in Germany “don’t quite call for a total lifting of restrictions but query every single measure, along the lines if that’s allowed, why not that”.

Personal freedom is touted by them as a more fundamental right than social consensus for the sake of health, as if the right to infect others (or be infected) was at the forefront of the minds of the Founding Fathers. This is another ideologically motivated attack on science which has backfired on the proponents because its stupidity is self-evident.

Anti-Semitism has also got mixed up with claims that the 5G network is responsible for the virus. This claim resulted in people attacking 5G towers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the mistaken belief this would stop them from being infected – never mind that it started in a place where 5G didn’t exist. Early on in the pandemic I was sent an email suggesting that “G5 [sic] was invented in Israel, then exported to other countries whilst banned in Israel”.

How to refute conspiracy theories

In the absence of a known medical cause, people invent causes for illnesses which are “a sign of the times and not a reason for the disease”, wrote New York intellectual Susan Sontag way back in 1978 in her book Illness as Metaphor. This analysed how victims of illnesses like tuberculosis and cancer were blamed for catching the disease before science caught up with an explanation.

When HIV came along, early victims were likewise blamed, for a lifestyle that moralists and ideologues disapproved of.

What we’re finding now is that fake theories and conspiracy theories are similarly pushed around by people seeking to further their own agendas – whether is anti-American, pro-American, anti-WHO, anti-capitalist, anti-left-wing, anti-Semitic, anti-Chinese or pro-Chinese.

The recently published book Conspiracy Theories by Quassim Cassam identifies two sorts of people who push these kinds of fake rumours: those who invented the theories, like David Icke and Donald Trump, and their hard-core supporters; and lesser followers, or the more innocent – maybe they are just seeking to understand what’s going on and gain ‘likes’ for forwarding.

Cassam’s lucidly argued book succinctly takes apart what all conspiracy theories do, and offers advice for counteracting them – which he says is absolutely necessary in order to fight fake news and educate the public.

It’s very hard to argue with the hard-cores because any attempt to do so usually only reinforces their belief that you are yourself a victim of brainwashing by the establishment. However, it does help, Cassam says, to point out the occasions when you yourself have criticised the establishment to prove that you are not an establishment stooge.

For everybody else, which is the majority of people who forward these messages, Cassam advocates pointing out to them the company they keep by doing so – they may not really wish to be associated with loonies or anti-Semitic/anti-liberal democracy extremists.

He says, “By endorsing conspiracy theories, one can’t help associating with the causes that these theories have traditionally promoted”.

The 5G connection is an example. While there are some legitimate reasons for you to oppose the 5G roll-out (e.g. the higher environmental and carbon footprint it will bring), associating your opposition to it with baseless claims about the coronavirus will do your cause no good at all.

Cassam also advises to use evidence and proper arguments to refute the theories, and try to educate people in how to check information on the Internet, as they may not know how to be discerning about their sources.

The truth about the origins of Covid-19

In the last few weeks, many of us have encountered what our comfortable lifestyle had kept from view: our supply chains and economies are built on shaky foundations.

Even the most powerful economies have proved to be inadequately prepared. And we’ve hardly begun to see the effect on the poor countries, with no healthcare infrastructure, no welfare safety net, and no possibility of social distancing.

A recent Financial Times article stated: “Covid-19 began as a disease of the rich but will devastate the poor far more.”

It spread fast because the rich fly everywhere.

It most probably began, although this has yet to be finally determined, with a virus that leapt from a trafficked animal, the extremely endangered and beautiful, harmless pangolin, whose illegal trade to China conservation groups have long campaigned against.

Scientists have been warning about this type of virus transmission and this type of pandemic for many years – just watch the 2011 film Contagion, which was based on such warnings, for a prescient glimpse of what has just happened.

The trade in animals is just one part of humanity’s war on nature. As the IPBES’ Global Assessment Report says (the organisation is to biodiversity what the IPCC is to climate change): we have in the last 50 years lost 60 per cent of nature.

Last week we celebrated Earth Day’s 50th birthday. Over the same time period, humanity’s overall ecological footprint has increased from one planet to 1.7 times what Earth can renew. We’ve been living on borrowed time and asking for trouble.

As the Footprint Network says: “The Ecological Footprint is one of the metrics that already exist to provide the necessary tracking of human demand on nature and of the ability for natural ecosystems to meet that demand.”

“COVID-19 has made obvious that “we are in it together’,” they say. “This is straight biology. This means that justice, prosperity, public health, and ecological balance are not separate issues. The neglect of our biological dependence has become the Achilles’ heel of our modern existence.”

As my colleague in Berlin, the writer Kurtis Sunday, observes, “Covid-19 attacked a global system which was already fragile in all sorts of ways … people are freaking out for all sorts of reasons and think one can go back to a pre-Covid normality. Some business interests simply want to get the tills ringing again but are also freaked out by seeing that society can get along with a much lower level of consumption/work and contrail-less skies.”

So what should we do? “We have the power to build a world that thrives within the means of our planet,” concludes the Footprint Network. This is what any nation’s recovery programme needs to have at its heart.

Yes, this is obviously in keeping with their agenda, and mine, but it happens to be based on science.

David Thorpe is author of ‘One Planet’ Cities: Sustaining Humanity within Planetary Limits. He also runs online courses such as Post-Graduate Certificate in One Planet Governance.

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When reality merges with fiction…


This is not the future we imagined

A pandemic with no known cure has put the country in lockdown and economic meltdown. We are scared. We don’t know when it will end. We’re sharing dark humour, supporting each other, trying to stay safe. I wish you all the best.

As you may know, writers often have the feeling that reality is starting to merge with a fiction they’re working on – and that’s when they know the writing is going well. I got it while writing Hybrids, which is a novel that won a national contest run by HarperCollins. And I’m getting it now.


The virus may be different, the situation less dire. But images like this are just like what I imagined. Spot the difference between reality and images I created while working on it:

I wrote Hybrids partly as metaphor – for our relationship with technology and my own relationship with my body – I have cerebral palsy and use assistive technology. And now we’re using technology more and more, as the lockdown continues…

Many of us have more time to read now. Whether you read for escapism or to understand more about the world, if you haven’t read the book, now is the time. And tell your friends… All of you, be safe, show love, and follow the medical guidelines.

Get the book here:

Like the Hybrids Facebook page.

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Where are the previous blog posts?

Simple! On my old blog: Sympathy for the Moon.

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