Marvel Comics just altered the timeline of the Marvel Universe yet again.
SPOILERS for Marvel Two-in-One #2 follow.
First, some background material. Time works differently in the Marvel Comics universe. That’s just something comic book fans have to accept if they’re going to go with the idea that the Marvel Universe is “our universe,” just with superheroes in it. Having started in the early 1960s, Marvel’s most-popular heroes would almost all be retirement age if the stories told in the pages of Marvel Comics worked in real-time.
Because of that, Marvel employs something called a sliding timescale. As time passes in the real world, the heroes of the Marvel Universe move forward with it but they don’t age at the same rate. Instead, moments from their histories are adjusted to make more sense with the newly accepted timeline.
For example, when Mr. Fantastic and the Thing were first introduced, they were both said to have fought in World War II. When The Punisher was created, he was a Vietnam War veteran. As time passed on and these characters didn’t age, these markers became less and less believable, so their timeline shifted forward. Now, Reed Richards and Ben Grimm fought in Desert Storm and Frank Castle also served in a Middle Eastern theater, though with a less specific date and campaign.
For a long time, this was all considered to be a real-world concession made to fictional storytelling, but not something that the Marvel Universe itself acknowledges. Al Ewing changed that in The Ultimates in 2016, when Galactus, now the life-bringer instead of the world-devourer, explained that nature of the sliding timescale within the Marvel Universe to his heralds, the Ultimates.
Galactus explains that the “now” hurtles forward from past to future through a stream of events. Those events have varying weights, some heavy and some light. Some events have a “unique gravity,” being dragged along by the present as if caught up in its gravity, somehow always being “just a handful of years behind.” Those events are the events in the lives of the Marvel superheroes. Somehow, no matter how many decades these characters have existed, their entire careers, if not their entire lifespans, can be condensed into a relative handful of years.
And that brings us to Marvel Two-in-One #2, where the timescale slid again. The Marvel Universe began with the Fantastic Four, and so their first appearance is a marker for how long the Marvel Universe as we know it has existed. That date has changed once again.
When the Fantastic Four debuted in 1961, they were all young adults who recently finished their college studies. Marvel Two-in-One #2 reveals that Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, and Victor Von Doom were in college together in 1998, which mean that Reed, Ben, Sue Storm, and Johnny Storm didn’t fly into a wave of cosmic radiation and transform into the Fantastic Four until after the turn of the century, sometime around 2001.
That means that the entire history of the Marvel Universe from Fantastic Four #1 to now, 57 years worth of stories, has taken place with a window of about 17 years within the lives of these characters.
That may not gel perfectly with every other Marvel characters’ history – shared universe storytelling over decades is a tricky business – but it does make sense for many characters. If Peter Parker began being Spider-Man as a teenager, 17 years later he would be a man in his early to mid-30s, which is consistent with how Peter is written today. The original X-Men would be of a similar age, and 17 years allows for several more classes of students to make their way through the halls of the Xavier Institute, which they have. And, more closely related to the Fantastic Four story that Chip Zdarsky and Jim Cheung are telling, its adequate time for two college graduates in love like Reed Richards and Sue Storm to get married and have a couple of children.
Marvel Two-in-One #2 is on sale now.