What is this thing called Marvel time? Is it consistent, and how does it relate to real time?
American Historian Troy D. Smith explains it all
(originally posted at WizardUniverse.com; reprinted by kind permission of the author)
(Other attempts at reconciling Marvel Time and Real Time,
including my own feeble efforts, will be added at the end.)
YEAR 1: 1961-1962 The FF appear; Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man.
YEAR 2: 1963-1964 Peter Parkerís Junior year of high school. Most major heroes appear.
YEAR 3: 1965-1966 FF wedding; Peter Parker graduates h.s., starts college
YEAR 4: 1967-1969 Franklin Richards born
YEAR 5: 1970-1972 The Defenders begin; Luke Cage appears.
YEAR 6: 1973-1975 Death of Gwen Stacy. First clone saga
YEAR 7: 1976-1978 Pete graduates college (late, due to no phy.ed credits- Oct. 78)
YEAR 8: 1979-1983 Peter Parkerís one year of grad school
YEAR 9: 1984-1987 Peter Parker/ Mary Jane Watson wedding
YEAR 10: 1988-1991 Parkerís life gets Venom-ous; Kravenís Last Hunt.
YEAR 11: 1992-1996 Second clone saga. Onslaught.
YEAR 12: 1997-2001 Genosha destroyed.
YEAR 13: 2002-2006 Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Civil War. A bad year.
YEAR 14: 2007- End of Civil War
This is a topic that most of you folks have probably discussed more than once before, but I have been giving it some thought and have come up with a theory of sorts. The question: How does "Marvel Time" work? I mean, is there a fixed ratio of some sort...? twenty years or so ago I generally assumed that it was something like 1:3, so that 25 years of "real" time meant a little more than 8 years in the Marvel Universe. I think now, though, that a more "sliding scale" is in order.
(Let me interject briefly to tell you that I have been a comics fan for well over 30 years, and am now working on a history Ph.D., hence the obsession with timelines.)
Anyway, [regarding] the inevitable chart, a few things that we do know. Peter Parker became Spider-Man at age 15, in 1962. Reed and Sue Richards were married in 1965, Franklin is born in 1968. Pete starts college in the Dec. 1965 issue, and graduates in the Oct.. 1978 issue -at the end of summer, rather than spring, because he forgot he needed phys.ed credits. He starts grad school in 1979 then drops out in 1983... at the end of his first year. The first clone saga ended in 1975; when the Spider-clone reappeared (blecchh) in 1994 everyone thought he had been dead five years (ironically, I was thenceforth dead to the Marvel Universe for about 5 years, as were a lot of people.) As of right now, Franklin Richards is about 10 years old, and the "Marvel Age" has been going on, according to Quesada, 12 or 13 years.
SO: I have laid out a loose timeline, [above]. I believe that time "passed" much more quickly in the early years of Marvel, and as (real) time marches on, Marvel time gets slower and slower... one could explain this by noting that nothing much was happening the first few years (in comparison to now.) There were at most 20 superheroes and maybe a hundred supervillains... it's quite likely that Spider-Man could've gone for weeks at a time in Year Two or so without running into noteworthy supervillains, not that likely now when there are thousands of them, so at that time there was less to "report". Thus, comic time was closer to real time.
So this is all clear evidence I've been working too hard and need some sunshine, and that historians can complicate anything, and that I am trying desperately not to be at work right now on my dissertation. Anyway, here's the chart.... it really does seem to work, try it on for size and tell me what ya think. This would indicate Spider-Man is 28 years old and recently had his 4th wedding anniversary; by the same token, 'twould indicate the original X-Men (minus Iceman, who was the youngest and would be about Spidey's age) are around 30.
Comments from readers
(When this was originally posted at WizardUniverse )
They've established in some books that Cap was thawed five years ago, if I remember correctly. Additionally, in Illuminati, The Infinity War was referred to, I believe, as happening "months ago." Ultimately, I think editorial jumbles it around as they see fit. [but] Your effort is one of the best I've seen [.]
[Another reader writes] Have you considered counting holidays? How many Christmases have their been in a single character group? I know the X-Men don't celebrate EVERY year, but it certainly seems to come up every couple. That could skew everything. It's like on the Simpsons, the kids are still the same age despite something like 17 Halloweens.
Troy replies (my emphasis):
Yeah, it's impossible to get anything that works right, as they jumble stuff around to fit their editorial needs (though how they can claim Cap has only been thawed 5 years when Spidey met him in high school, and is now AT LEAST a couple years past grad school...) And Christmases would be the elephant in the room. I suppose these mental exercises are mostly for my own satisfaction; you can't suspend disbelief unless there are certain rules, even if they are fictionalized rules, that are somewhat consistent. Heck, I used to love the show Gunsmoke when I was a kid; then I realized it was on for 20 years, with all the attendant actors' aging, and in season 20 it was still the same year as season 1 (heck, it may've even been earlier.) As a historian, I'm compulsive about gettin' the time right- but it's not gonna affect my enjoyment of the story.
Other attempts to measure Marvel Time
My own view is that Marvel Time and Real Time were the same thing until the mid 1960s, and they begin to diverge around maybe 1967. There are hard dates in certain issues, fixing certain events as happening in 1963 and 1969 for example. However, as Troy notes, there are apparent contradictions that have to be reconciled, so there is plenty of room for interpretation. Our views only differ by a year or two (or less than that in Marvel Time!) and I have not even attempted to do what Troy did - bringing Marvel Time right up to date.
Paul Bourcierís month by month chronology
Paul Bourcier set himself the incredible task of placing every comic into not just the appropriate years, but into the exact month of Marvel time! Clearly this will be a VERY short summary. He began with the Avengers, so to give just a flavor, here is just the first Avengers book of each Marvel year. Bourcier has not listed the real time month of publication, though these can be calculated with a little effort.
Year 1: includes Avengers issue 1 in September of Marvel Year 1
Year 2: includes Avengers issue 26 in September of Marvel Year 2
Year 3: Avengers 58 in September
Year 4: Avengers 114 in September
Year 5: Avengers 119 in October: this Marvel year is actually SHORTER than a real year.
Year 6: Avengers 137 in March: a gap of half a Marvel year between books.
Year 7: Avengers 150 in November of Marvel Year 7.
Year 8: Avengers 181 in September
Year 9: Avengers 212 in November
Year 10: Avengers 228 in September. The last Avengers issue in this chronology is Avengers 251 in August.
Thus we see that roughly 25 years are compressed into ten years, a slightly lower compression than in Troy Smithís calculations. At the time, this broadly agreed with the common belief among Marvel editors that the whole of Marvel Time took place in seven or so years. However, the interesting this is what has happened since then. Marvel editors still vaguely refer to ten or so years for the whole of modern Marvel, which is roughly in keeping with Troy Smithís timeline. However, Paul Bourcierís more painstaking approach requires more and more Marvel Years to be added since the 1980s. The latest version of his chronology can be seen at the Marvel Chronology Project, and if I interpret it correctly, his chronology is currently at year 22!
Why does this matter? It matters because the widely held view of Marvel Time, that it places everything ďfive to seven yearsĒ in the past, or ten years at the most, is utterly untenable. Troy Smithís version has the advantage that it makes Marvel history manageable, but at the cost that we cannot look too closely. As more time passes, Marvel Time needs to become more and more vague to survive. Comics need to have fewer and fewer references to current events, or even to their own past issues. If comics have no past, and no connection with the present, can they have a future?
My own view is that, since Marvel Time means ďdonít look too closelyĒ then why do we need it? We may as well have real time instead. We could still have superheroes who stay young forever, but just explain that each hero has a personal time bubble or something. It sounds crazy, but it is less crazy than a time scheme that only works if you donít look at it.