Strange as it may seem, the end of the Original Marvel Universe was heralded by the return of Roy Thomas. The man who had done much to build Marvel’s continuity returned to it in the late 1980s after a long interregnum, but even he demonstrated little regard for maintaining what had since been established. Rather, along with lesser talents, he might be considered one of the architects of the Second Marvel Universe. At this time, by editorial decree, Marvel’s characters were frozen into a sort of limbo where character development quickly ground to a halt, replaced by story stunts that came and went with no lasting repercussions.
One of the hallmarks of the Second Marvel Universe was the unnecessary resurrection of any and all deceased characters, no matter how minor or irrelevant. Dracula, Baron Strucker, James MacDonald Hudson, Norman Osborn, Thanos, the Mimic, the Creature from Kosmos, even Borgo, the hunchback of Castle Frankenstein—none of these were allowed to rest in peace. This trend continued to the point where it became ludicrous, until “death” was a joke and resurrections no longer even needed to be justified or explained. The end result was the creation of a world in which actions had no consequences, and as such, stories had no drama.
What, then, is the Original Marvel Universe? It’s not Earth-616, to use the common classification system. No, Earth-616 is whatever Marvel says it is. I hold the Original Marvel Universe to a more rigorous standard. Think of it as an alternate reality, one where Everything You Thought You Knew Is... essentially correct. A reality where the Marvel stories are played out against a backdrop of real-world history, with characters that live and die, change, grow old, and learn. A reality where three decades’ worth of Marvel stories occur between 1960 and 1975, just as westerns, pirate tales, or sword & sandal epics are located in their own eras. As an alternate reality of the Marvel Multiverse, we might want to call it Earth-6111. Sixty-One Eleven.
So where does one reality end and the next begin? I set out to determine the exact point of transition for each Marvel series, and to thus discover the endpoint for the OMU version of Marvel’s characters. Once I knew where they all “left off,” I could imagine for myself where their lives likely went in the years to follow, based on the general direction the Marvel Universe had been heading for 30 years, as well as clues left scattered among myriad issues. I present my findings below.
Endpoints for the Original Marvel Universe
DOCTOR STRANGE, SORCERER SUPREME #8 (OCT 1989)
With the end of the four-part storyline “The Faust Gambit,” Doctor Strange regains many of the magic talismans previously lost to him, and also discovers the origins of both Mephisto and Satannish. The next issue brings several odd revisions to Strange’s backstory, including the idea that he grew up in rural Nebraska, signaling the shift to the Second Marvel Universe. This story then leads into the creative team’s wrongheaded decision to bring vampires back after their “final” destruction years before. Still, the OMU Doctor Strange makes numerous guest-shots until appearing for the final time in Namor #24.
SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #8 (NOV 1989)
After John Byrne’s initial run on this series, the stories become increasingly absurd. Hence, this is an ideal endpoint for canonical issues. However, as this is a “humor” title, the events depicted herein must be taken with a grain of salt anyway.
SILVER SURFER #31 (DEC 1989)
There is a clear continuity break when Steve Englehart leaves the series. The Silver Surfer appears subsequently in Daredevil and then makes his final canonical appearance in Silver Surfer Annual #3. The following issues of this series tie in with The Infinity Gauntlet, which takes place in the Second Marvel Universe.
POWER PACK #55 (APR 1990)
This is the last issue before the introduction of editorially-mandated changes to make the series “edgier,” produced by new creative team Mike Higgins and Tom Morgan. The changes they made were later retconned away, suggesting that the series shifts into the Second Marvel Universe at this point.
MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #50 (MAY 1990)
The next issue begins Rob Liefeld’s feeble attempt at a Wolverine solo tale, followed by a Wolverine/Hulk story-arc by Mike Higgins and David Ross that pointlessly resurrects Calvin Rankin, the Mimic, and is thus definitely set in the Second Marvel Universe. There’s a nice break with #50, although the Comet Man story in this issue is necessarily non-canonical. However, a special exception is made for Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X” series in issues #72-84, which does depict the Original Marvel Universe. The other stories in those issues are excluded from canon, though.
QUASAR #12 (JULY 1990)
The next issue begins the ill-conceived “Journey Into Mystery” story-arc in which Mark Gruenwald dredges up numerous obscure characters who are better left dead. Thus, the series clearly shifts into the Second Marvel Universe at this point, although the OMU Quasar continues to appear in Avengers and elsewhere for a while.
ALPHA FLIGHT #86 (JULY 1990)
The next issue of this series begins a regrettable story-arc by Fabian Nicieza that brings James MacDonald Hudson back from the dead, signaling a shift into the Second Marvel Universe. However, Alpha Flight makes its final OMU appearance in Nicieza’s six-part story “The Crossing Line” in Avengers.
NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. #14 (AUG 1990)
There is an ideal continuity break when the original creative team leaves the book, soon after which Baron Strucker is brought back to life. The OMU Nick Fury makes several more guest-appearances until bowing out with a cameo in Excalibur #56.
PUNISHER #41 (OCT 1990)
The Punisher transitions into the Second Marvel Universe following Nick Fury’s guest appearance in this issue.
PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #24 (NOV 1990)
There’s a convenient continuity break when Carl Potts leaves this series. The Punisher makes a few more guest-appearances until his final cameo in Namor #20.
HULK #377 (JAN 1991)
The menace of the Hulk is ended once and for all as Leonard Samson finally succeeds in re-integrating the fractured psyche of Bruce Banner, with some unexpected help from Maynard Tiboldt, the Ringmaster. Coming to terms with the death of his mother at the hands of his father, Banner emerges from therapy permanently transformed into an intelligent green-skinned Hulk and starts a new, better chapter in his life. Breaking here affords the character something of a happy ending.
GHOST RIDER #9 (JAN 1991)
There’s a continuity break with this issue, which features guest-appearances by X-Factor and the Morlocks. The next issue starts an extended storyline that brings back Johnny Blaze, signaling the shift into the Second Marvel Universe. The brief OMU career of Danny Ketch ends with a guest-spot in Thor #430.
AVENGERS SPOTLIGHT #40 (JAN 1991)
This is the final issue of this title.
MARVEL FANFARE #60 (JAN 1991)
This is the final issue of this title.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #383 (MAR 1991)
This 50th anniversary issue marks the ideal spot to transition out of the Original Marvel Universe, as there is a clear continuity break before the extended story-arcs that follow. The OMU Captain America continues to appear in Avengers for several months.
NEW MUTANTS #100 (APR 1991)
This is the final issue of this title, and shows the last of the New Mutants, Cannonball and Boom-Boom, leaving Xavier’s school with Cable and his new team. The replacement title, X-Force, takes place in the Second Marvel Universe, although the OMU Cable makes a few more appearances in Wolverine.
THOR #432 (MAY 1991)
It’s the end of the line for Thor, as Odin banishes the thunder god to Mephisto’s realm as punishment for killing his brother Loki. The final page, which shows Eric Masterson transformed into a replacement Thor, occurs only in the Second Marvel Universe.
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #177 (JUNE 1991)
Spider-Man stops the rampage of Dagny Forrester, a.k.a. Corona, in the final canonical issue of this series. The next issue launches an extended story-arc that’s set in the Second Marvel Universe. As such, the scenes of Harry Osborn hearing voices in this issue, meant to set up the coming story, can be dismissed as non-canonical.
WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #78 (JULY 1991)
Spider-Man teams up with Cloak & Dagger to defeat Firebrand and save most of his supporting cast from a burning building in the final canonical issue of this series.
FANTASTIC FOUR #354 (JULY 1991)
The last issue of Walt Simonson’s run on this series marks the end of OMU stories about the Fantastic Four. After escaping from the Time Variance Authority, the FF give up their black & white costumes and the Thing inexplicably changes back from his “stegosaurus” look to his “classic” form. His girlfriend, Sharon Ventura, has recently been cured of her own “Thing” state by Doctor Doom and is once more in human form. After a lame fill-in issue, the long run by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan begins, which is unquestionably set in the Second Marvel Universe.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #350 (AUG 1991)
Spider-Man gets his ass kicked by Doctor Doom (though it’s most likely really another Doombot) in his final canonical appearance. However, the concussion he suffers causes him to have hallucinations about his Uncle Ben, which helps Peter to finally come to terms with his guilt over his uncle’s death. Spidey comes out on top in the end, as he prevents Doom from killing the Black Fox and saves the world from an invasion by carnivorous insects. This issue ends Erik Larsen’s run on the book, signaling the transition into the Second Marvel Universe, home of the “Clone Saga.”
CLOAK AND DAGGER #19 (AUG 1991)
This is the final issue of this title. Cloak & Dagger make their last canonical appearance in Web of Spider-Man #78, which, though published a month earlier, occurs later in the chronology.
X-FACTOR #69 (AUG 1991)
The penultimate chapter of “The Muir Island Saga” marks the final canonical issue of this series. The next issue acts as a transition into Peter David and Larry Stroman’s new team, which is set in the Second Marvel Universe, and as such can be dispensed with. This issue features the original X-Men’s long-awaited reunion with Charles Xavier.
UNCANNY X-MEN #280 (SEPT 1991)
The final chapter of “The Muir Island Saga” brings this series to a close as far as the OMU is concerned. With the help of his former students, Charles Xavier finally ends the menace of the Shadow King, which wraps up a long-running storyline. The post-Claremont era begins.
AVENGERS WEST COAST #74 (SEPT 1991)
The conclusion of the story-arc called “The Pacific Overlords” marks the endpoint of this series, as the team gains new members in the Living Lightning and the second Spider-Woman. Meanwhile, Tigra resigns from the team and the Wasp & Hank Pym finally retire.
AVENGERS #339 (OCT 1991)
A six-part saga called “The Collection Obsession” wraps up the canonical run of this series, as the team’s old foe, the Collector, meets his final fate. Also of note, Crystal (of the Inhumans) joins the team.
MARC SPECTOR: MOON KNIGHT #31 (OCT 1991)
Following the “Scarlet Redemption” storyline, Moon Knight recovers from his injuries and adjusts his priorities, seeking to become less an agent of vengeance and more a catalyst for redemption. Incidentally, the scenes featuring the Hobgoblin, which merely set up the next storyline, occur only in the Second Marvel Universe and can be ignored.
X-MEN #3 (DEC 1991)
Chris Claremont’s last X-Men story (until many years later) is the final OMU adventure of the team, and features the death of Magneto. After this, the series shifts into the Second Marvel Universe as Jim Lee and Scott Lobdell take over.
WOLVERINE #50 (JAN 1992)
With this issue, Wolverine’s solo series takes off in a new direction, signified by the return of his yellow & blue costume. Thus, it is the ideal endpoint for the OMU Wolverine and is the last we see of members of the X-Men.
DAREDEVIL #300 (JAN 1992)
A new day dawns in the life of the Man Without Fear as he finally brings down the Kingpin once and for all in the four-part “Last Rites” story-arc by D.G. Chichester & Lee Weeks. In the end, Matt Murdock finds himself readmitted to the bar and set up in a brand-new law office. Reflecting on recent events in his life, he re-dedicates himself to his battle for justice, both in the courtroom and on the streets. A perfect ending for the saga of the OMU Daredevil.
IRON MAN #277 (FEB 1992)
Iron Man teams up with the Black Widow in the last canonical tale of this series. The next issue ties in with the “Operation Galactic Storm” crossover event that occurs in the Second Marvel Universe. We leave Tony Stark still suffering from the rapid and irreversible degeneration of his central nervous system.
NAMOR #25 (APR 1992)
With some help from Wolverine and his cousin Namorita, the Sub-Mariner escapes from the H’ylthri, only to fall victim to the sorcerer Master Khan, who strips Namor of his memory and identity and banishes him to parts unknown. John Byrne’s series then jumps ahead six months, and into the Second Marvel Universe as well.
EXCALIBUR #67 (JULY 1993)
Alan Davis’ final issue on this title also marks the last story set in the Original Marvel Universe. In it, he presents the final chapter of the “Days of Future Past” saga, as Rachel Summers finally succeeds in saving her future world from the Sentinels. Nevertheless, she elects to return home with her teammates rather than stay in her native reality. Interestingly, this last OMU story does not even take place on Earth-616, but in an alternate future timeline (now known as Earth-811). I should note that Excalibur #20, 26-31, 53, and 57-60 are all non-canonical and depict the Second Marvel Universe.
A Note about Other Series:
Some Marvel titles from this era are wholly non-canonical and are set entirely within the Second Marvel Universe, including Wonder Man, Deathlok, New Warriors, Darkhawk, Sleepwalker, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man.
Though it’s no longer the case, the Hyborian Age stories featuring Conan and Red Sonja that Marvel published were definitely part of the Original Marvel Universe. However, these series transitioned into the Second Marvel Universe along with the rest of the line. Thus, for my purposes here, Conan the Barbarian ends with the nine-part story-arc “The Second Coming of Shuma-Gorath,” its last canonical issue being #260 (September 1992). The black & white companion title, Savage Sword of Conan, ends concurrently with #200 (August 1992).
A Note about Annuals:
The 1990 Annuals are the last to be set in the Original Marvel Universe. These 16 comics break down into four separate storylines: “Days of Future Present” featuring the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, X-Factor, and the New Mutants; “The Terminus Factor” featuring Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Avengers West Coast, and the Avengers; “Lifeform” featuring the Punisher, Daredevil, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer; and “Spidey’s Totally Tiny Adventure” which runs through the Spider-Man titles.
What Happens Next?
An intriguing question, and though we can never know for sure, a look at where the Original Marvel Universe leaves off can offer many suggestions and form the basis for reasonable speculations. Certainly, the landscape of the Marvel Universe would show some dramatic changes going forward.
For starters, three of its major heroes would be seen no more. Thor, banished by decree of Odin “for all eternity,” would certainly be freed from his imprisonment eventually, but several generations of men would probably pass before that time. It was 15 years, after all, that Thor was trapped in the form of Don Blake before being reunited with Mjolnir and assuming his true form once again, and that was punishment for a far more minor offense. It is entirely possible that Thor would remain banished / imprisoned until the coming of the true Ragnarok sometime in the next 500 years. The Sub-Mariner was likewise banished by Master Khan “until the very end of time.” With his memory completely erased, he was teleported to the other side of the world from New York (perhaps to Indonesia or Hong Kong?) to live as a vagrant, just as he was when Johnny Storm found him in a Bowery flophouse 13 years earlier. Namor had spent a dozen years in amnesiac exile then, and it would probably be at least as long before he was found this time. Iron Man, though, died not long after the cessation of OMU stories, as his central nervous system failed from the effects of a parasitic techno-organism implanted in his body by his enemies. As he told the Black Widow, his body was “locked into an irreversible state of decline” and was failing faster than his technology could compensate. While it is certain that Tony Stark could have devised some means of transferring his consciousness into a suit of armor or a computer or some such, and live on indefinitely much as the Machinesmith or Arnim Zola did, I believe all the years Stark spent as Iron Man would have taught him that he would rather die as a man than live as a machine. It’s a good thing he did, too, for otherwise he would have existed for over ten thousand years and evolved into the immense super-computer called Baal, the last sentient thing on earth. This fate was avoided by sending the robot known as Mister Kline back in time to derail Foggy Nelson’s political ambitions. If Foggy had achieved high political office, he would have been pressured by interests determined not to lose Stark’s inventive genius into forcing Stark to upload his mind against his will. Since Mister Kline had been successful, Stark was able to pass peacefully into oblivion, and a terrible future was avoided.
Many of Marvel’s other heroes would continue on for some years, though age would begin to wear on them. Spider-Man turned 30 in the last year of OMU stories, and after finally coming to terms with his guilt for not stopping Uncle Ben’s killer when he had the chance, Peter Parker may very well have retired when his wife, Mary Jane, inevitably got pregnant. Nothing can change one’s priorities like becoming a father, and Peter just didn’t have the resources to support a family and be a superhero. Daredevil was pushing 40 by the time he finally defeated the Kingpin, and would be getting a bit too old for constant brawling. He probably shifted more to fighting injustice in the courtroom and less to putting on the red tights. Nevertheless, his hypersenses would serve him just as well as a lawyer until he eventually retired from that life as well. Nick Fury would be reaching retirement age soon, also. One of the good things about the OMU timeline is that it obviates the need for nonsense like the age-retarding “Infinity Formula.” The Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. would only be 60 years old by the time of his final canonical appearance. The Hulk, benefiting from his new emotionally-balanced persona, could now turn his remarkable intellect, as well as his limitless strength, to the benefit of all mankind, and eventually would earn the public’s trust and be hailed as a great hero. Power Man and Iron Fist would renew their partnership following Danny Rand’s return, and Moon Knight, Cloak & Dagger, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Alpha Flight, and Power Pack would go on much as before. Doctor Strange would doubtless serve as Sorcerer Supreme for the next 500 years, as did the Ancient One before him.
The Avengers would continue their proud tradition, adding new members as older ones retired. It’s unclear what losing the super-soldier serum would mean to Captain America, or how long his career could continue without it. Despite his intensive training regimen, he would be more prone to pulled muscles, sprained joints, fatigue, and other minor ailments that could cause major problems in the sort of life-or-death battles in which he frequently found himself. In the last canonical issue of his own series, Steve Rogers celebrated the 35th anniversary of his becoming Captain America, though, as he noted, he spent 18 of those years in suspended animation. Still, without the advantages of the super-soldier serum, Cap would soon face the same physical deterioration faced by athletes in their forties. Hank Pym finally gave up adventuring to return to full-time research while his ex-wife, the Wasp, also gave up the hero’s life to start a new career as Janet Van Dyne, Hollywood screenwriter. The Scarlet Witch and the Vision, their marriage dissolved, would build separate lives on opposite coasts. The Black Panther would likely turn his attention to producing an heir, to ensure Wakanda remained at peace as he grew older. Hercules and Sersi, being immortal, would continue on into the foreseeable future with little change.
The ranks of the X-Men grew as the original members rejoined and Professor Xavier recovered from his injuries. However, the long-brewing war between humans and mutants would draw ever closer, with Cable undoubtedly playing a crucial role in finally sparking the conflict. This war would lead the X-Men to meet their destiny, both individually and as a team, and would put Xavier’s dream to the ultimate test.
The Fantastic Four entered their final phase as Reed Richards was well into his 50s by the end of the OMU timeline, and Johnny Storm, in his early 30s, would be starting a family soon with his wife Alicia. Things were looking up for Ben Grimm, though, who found after returning from his trip aboard the Cross-Time Express that not only had he regained his normal “Thing” form, but that he could change to and from human form at will. Furthermore, he confirmed that he did not age appreciably as the Thing, and still had the body of a man in his mid-30s. As such, there was nothing to stop him from marrying his gorgeous girlfriend Sharon Ventura and enjoying life to the fullest. They also probably adopted new versions of their classic blue costumes again at this time. They would have a good four years before Franklin Richards hit puberty and his mutant powers fully kicked in, at which time he would possess the power to change the world. But that’s a story for another time.
Next Issue: And Then What?