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How Mark Gruenwald changed the Marvel Universe (and inspired a central Loki character)

On Mark Gruenwald, Marvel's continuity cop

The late, great Mark Gruenwald at a Marvel Comics office party in 1992
Image credit: Marvel Comics

There’s one person primarily responsible for the storytelling and architecture of the modern Marvel Universe — and perhaps all of modern comics: Loki’s Mobius M. Mobius.

Wait - sorry. That’s the fictional version.

Every minute piece of multiversal trivia, every rule of character and variant interactions, and alternate reality arcana that comes out of Owen Wilson’s mouth as he plays Mobius in Disney+'s Loki series. That’s all based on…

Okay, it’s still a fictional version. Wilson’s character is based on the comic book version of Mobius M. Mobius, who first appeared in 1991’s Fantastic Four #353. Created by Walter Simonson, Mobius was a loving tribute to his friend and Marvel's then-executive editor, Mark Gruenwald.

While individual superheroes may be the legacies of various creators for the medium’s 85 years, the multi-layered, multiversal architecture of modern superhero comics is all Gruenwald—the least known and greatest hero of the Omniverse.

There shall come... a Gruenwald!

With humble midwestern roots (Oshkosh, Wisconsin!) and a college degree in Art and Literature from the University of Wisconsin, Mark Gruenwald moved to New York in the mid-'70s, hoping to land a job in comics. He kept going when his comics career didn’t launch right away. He took the time to focus on his passion — the structure of comics’ universes and their worlds.

Gruenwald was obsessed with the idea of continuity and making all the stories in any given comic universe fit across all universes. He took the concepts of DC’s multitude of earths and Marvel’s alternate timelines and examined them in his fanzine, Omniverse, which he edited and co-published with his friend Dean Mullaney.

As Gruenwald himself related in the opening editorial of Omniverse #1, the magazine was born while distributing copies of his 'Treatise on Reality in Comic Literature' (a.k.a. TORICL) at the 1976 New York Comic Art Convention. The book continued exploring topics that Gruenwald and his father, Myron, had written earlier, 'A Primer on Reality in Comic Books.'

While the fanzine only saw two issues in print, each was a magnum opus of what Gruenwald loved. Subtitled The Journal of Fictional Reality, Omniverse was more than just fans being fans. Gruenwald was passionate about the nuts and bolts of how continuity worked across all stories. Omniverse wasn’t 'just' a fanzine per se; it was a fan-produced academic journal dedicated to exploring Omniversal Theory.

Gruenwald’s plan wasn’t just to explore the nit-picky details of how Batman could have been teaming up with the Martian Manhunter while he was off-earth with the Justice League — although he did chart storylines. The larger plan was to explore it all. In the first issue, Gruenwald’s writers explored the shrinking of the Atom in DC storylines

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Matt Brady

Matt Brady: Matt Brady was the co-founder of Newsarama.com and wrote constantly about pop culture for ten years. These days you can find him at the intersection of pop culture and science. He’s a high school science teacher, science writer and communicator and author of The Science of Rick and Morty. He keeps his toes in the pop culture pool by blending science with pop culture at thescienceof.org, and debating all those who think Star Wars is better than Star Trek. His dog, Jack, is constantly unimpressed by him.


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