The Marvel Multiverse Explained
“This universe is only one of an infinite number. Worlds without end … Who are you in this vast Multiverse?”
—The Ancient One, Doctor Strange (2016)
The “Multiverse” refers to a collection of parallel universes and realities existing simultaneously. Often, these are divergences or branches from established timelines. It’s almost mathematical, with certain choices, variables, moments, and moves affecting an entire lifetime to create a new branch. Some new dimensions can even be the result of time travel.
In Marvel comics, this concept has been introduced and continuously explored; in fact, there are 161 universes in Marvel, each with their own Earth. Most hero teams, from the Avengers and X-Men to the Fantastic Four and more, have experienced interdimensional crises.
After a decade of keeping the Sacred Timeline on course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is finally tackling its own Multiverse. Let’s look at some examples below, and discuss how they’re going to impact the future of the MCU as we know it.
Exploring what could happen if major moments from the MCU were altered slightly, Marvel’s What If…? (2021) takes familiar franchise characters and alters their stories, relationships, and personalities. The Disney+ anthology series mixes nostalgia and novelty, and also has a lot of fun with its animated style and alternate universes.
Under the gaze of Uatu the Watcher, we’ve seen Peggy Carter become the First Avenger and T’Challa — AKA Black Panther — become a Star-Lord. Later in the series we’ll see how Tony Stark and Erik Killmonger’s lives could cross over, how the Guardians of the Galaxy save New York from the Chitauri, and what Peter Parker might accomplish as the Sorcerer Supreme, among other cool concepts.
Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse (2018) isn’t technically part of the MCU, but it deserves a mention here, as it really jumpstarted the onscreen Marvel Multiverse, continuity or not. Following Miles Morales as he takes up the mantle of Spider-Man, the animated film creates an origin story with a twist. Miles isn’t learning this hero business on his own; instead he’s joined by multiversal spider-heroes such as Peter B. Parker, Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Gwen, and Peni Parker & SP//dr.
Our amazing wall-crawler will get a live-action multiverse in the highly anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). Following Tom Holland’s Peter Parker — the third iteration of a live-action Peter — this MCU movie is reaching into silver screens past to bring back villains from Spider-Man film history. This cataclysmic clash of universes is the result of an already-fractured timeline as well as Doctor Strange’s magical meddling into Peter’s predicament of murder accusations and exposed identity. You can watch the trailer below to get a good idea of what’s in store for the multiverse-maneuvering pair.
Marvel’s Loki (2021) on Disney+ is the definitive start of the MCU Multiverse. The entire premise of the show brings a timeline-hopping Loki into contact with various versions of himself called Variants. These Variants are generally purged by the TVA — Timeline Variance Authority — who protect the Sacred Timeline by ensuring all branches of reality, or possible new universes, are destroyed before they can be fully formed.
Of course, in typical Loki fashion, Loki takes a grenade to that plan. With the help of Sylvie, another Loki variant, and a cast of Lokis ranging from a classic comic version to an alligator, the Lokis get to the man responsible: He Who Remains, a variant version himself of Kang. The infamous villain admits his orchestration, his foul deeds, and his mission behind the curtains. He warns Loki and Sylvie that his death will unleash not only an uncontrollable amount of alternate timelines, but an unstoppable amount of more powerful and dangerous Kang variants who will oppress all worlds — possibly hinting at a Kang the Conqueror appearance.
Calling his bluff, Sylvie kills him, and the multiverse of madness ensues.
Wanda Maximoff is the Scarlet Witch, and she’s ready to use her chaos magic to its fullest potential. After creating an alternate reality of sorts — really just a powerful spell on an established timeline — in Marvel’s WandaVision (2021), Wanda is clearly capable of bending the universe to her will. So that begs the question, how far can she go? How far will she go — to regain her lost lover, Vision, to find alternate versions of her twin sons Billy and Teddy, to revive her twin brother Quicksilver … to find a place (or time) where she no longer has to be alone?
In the WandaVision finale, Wanda is practicing spells and strengthening her sorcery. She is astral projecting, a power set we have only seen thus far in …
In Doctor Strange (2016), the Marvel Multiverse was mentioned for the first time in the MCU. It was a big deal then and a big deal now — Marvel fans finally got a taste of the cinematic Multiverse, and although it wasn’t delved into beyond a quote and a trippy, colorful cosmic astral projection sequence, we knew it would set the stage for more.
Flash forward to Phase 4 of the MCU, and we’re witnessing the seeds in Marvel shows and films that will grow into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). Doctor Strange will have to confront the fallout of Avengers: Endgame (2019) and the fractured realities catalyzed by He Who Remains’ death, as well as all the evils, oddities, and changes that come with these major MCU events.
What are you most looking forward to in the Marvel Multiverse? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!