Or – “Comic-Book Time: Explained.”

The Marvel Universe as we know it (barring a few retcons and absorptions of existing properties such as Captain America) can be seen to have begun with the first issue of the Fantastic Four.  For the first few years, it seemed that the stories were happening in ‘real time,’ but slowly, time in the Marvel Universe began to change, to stretch and flow and even reverse itself a time or two.  Many a comics fan has remarked at one time or another how difficult it is to resolve the sheer number of happenings with the in-universe explanations of how long the characters have been around.

Three things you probably DIDN’T know about Marvel Time: 

The Marvel Universe DID begin in 1961. 
Everything you know IS NOT wrong. 
And it’s all the intentional and deliberate work of one single, terrifyingly powerful and dizzyingly twisted mind...

Time Is An Illusion

Before we get too far into our exercise, I want to lay out the ground rules under which I am working:

1. We accept that Fantastic Four #1 actually takes place when it was published, in 1961.

2.  We accept that all ‘topical references’ (i.e. Captain America fighting Nixon, then working alongside Carter in ‘The Avengers’, then saving Reagan from the Serpent Society, et al) actually happened as shown, in their appropriate time-frames.

3. We accept that it is currently the year 2011 in Marvel Comics continuity.

Luckily for us, we have a handy touchstone of time’s passage throughout the early years of the Marvel Universe, one Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider during his sophomore year of high school.  That story saw print in August 1962, and Peter graduated high school in Amazing Spider-Man #28 in the fall of 1965.  Thus, Peter’s last three years of high school take place over the space of three years for us as well.  Reed Richards and Susan Storm get married in the summer of 1965, and two years later, in the fall of 1967, we discover that Sue is expecting.  Since Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 guest-stars the Human Torch, and since the Official Marvel Index of The Amazing Spider-Man puts that issue BEFORE Amazing Spider-Man #53 (which came out the same month as Fantastic Four Annual #5, where we find out about the pregnancy) we can see that time is passing at roughly the same rate for Spider-Man and for the FF.  (Stay with me, I’m just showing my work, here.)

In the fall of 1968, Susan Richards goes into labor.  (Our first hint of what’s to come is that fact that Sue’s pregnancy takes place over the course of nearly twelve months instead of the customary 37 to 42 weeks of gestation, the first time that the Fantastic Four’s stories don’t conform to ‘real time.’)

Most children are only a few minutes old when officially named.  Reed and Sue’s baby, born in November 1968, is not named for nearly THIRTEEN MONTHS, our time, receiving the sobriquet “Franklin Benjamin Richards” in January 1970.

The Mind Games Start Early

Two things about this are significant to someone with a keen eye (and a mind for conspiracy theories):  One, the thirteen months of stories we have been presented cannot actually cover thirteen months of time for the characters, as not even absent-minded professor Reed Richards would wait a year to pick a name for his firstborn.  Two, the child is named for his grandfather, later revealed to be a time-traveler who looks out for him, and (Sorry, I mixed up my grandpa stories!) his ‘Uncle Ben,’ the most physically imposing member of the Fantastic Four.  In short, it’s almost as if his parents were influenced into naming him so that a powerful fellow would be particularly interested in his welfare.

Very early in his life, Franklin is shown to have unusual abilities (he is able to see his mother while invisible, and awakens The Thing at one point using latent psychic powers.)  After interactions with Annihilus and later Ultron, Franklin’s powers became a running theme, scaling up and down as well as turning on and off with relative regularity.  No less an authority than Professor X quantified him as one of the most powerful mutants alive.  By the time of Fantastic Four #134 (May 1973) a five-year-old Franklin looks to be the size of a (rather creepy) three-year-old.

Okay, I may be underestimating the boy’s size.  But by the time of Fantastic Four #170 (May 1976) Franklin looks like…  a rather creepy (and strangely brunette) three-year-old.

And by the time of Fantastic Four #224 (November 1980), the now 12-year-old Franklin looks and acts approximately seven or so.

And is it just me, or does it look like he just made Mommy’s pants disappear?  Now, at this point, much of my speculation is based on what you expect a child of a given age to look or act like, but how can we explain it when, nearly a year later, Franklin seems to be five again?

That particular interaction with Annihilus is interesting, as well, as it leads to Franklin once again manifesting his super-powers (openly.)  The answer is as simple as it is frightening:

Franklin Richards is whatever age he wants to be.

And he not only makes himself that age, he makes it so that he’s ALWAYS been that age, and no one ever remembers anything different BECAUSE HE CHANGES THE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE.  In a very real way, Franklin Richards IS ‘Marvel Time.’  And the entirety of his universe ages more slowly because Franklin doesn’t want to grow up and he certainly doesn’t want things to change too much while he enjoys his extended childhood.

Where It Gets All Icky And Freudian

By the early 80’s Franklin is firmly established as being somewhere between 6 and 9 years old, when the first echoes of a change start to occur in his universe.  Seeing as how he was born in 1968, Franklin is starting to reach what should be the age of puberty, where he should start liking girls and growing up.  By no coincidence, the Marvel Universe of this era is witness to the events that the X-Men would come to know as ‘Days of Future Past.’

For those of you that don’t know, ‘DoFP’ is an alternate reality where all the mutants are nearly wiped out, and Franklin is the most powerful creature left in the world, and he has a girlfriend and you can’t call her and check it or nothin’, because she’s from the future.  In short, it’s the quintessential adolescent power fantasy of heroism and sexual potency.  During this same timeframe, Susan Richards becomes pregnant again, and Reed is forced to try and save his child from cosmically irratiated body chemistry.  This time it fails and the Richards’ second child is believed to have died.  (We later learn that “Future Franklin” arrived and mystically moved his sister’s spirit somewhere else.  Write that down.  It’s important later…)  Altering his age yet again, Franklin becomes an official superhero for the first time as Tattletale, auxiliary member of Power Pack.

Franklin’s age from this point on (1987, the year of his what should be his 19th birthday) seems a bit older, hovering in the 8 to 11 year-old range, and his first foray into superherodom seems to convince him that this vague pre-pubescent realm is a good thing.  Franklin also allows the Marvel Universe to grow up a bit, transitioning into the dark and gritty 90’s era.  But, of course, his idea of “grown up” is all about beard stubble and phallic weapons and leather jackets and adolescent angst.  Now, remember that bit where Franklin came back in time to save his sister’s mind? Why would that be significant? 

Because, if we accept our hypothesis that the Marvel Universe is under his control, that means we have to accept the unpleasant fact that Franklin caused his baby sister’s seeming demise.  His motive:  Not wanting to share Mommy’s attention with ANYONE.  To add an exclamation point to these emotional issues, Franklin’s time-travelling grampa arrives and ages him in a dimension outside of time or something (ironically, he ends up close to his actual age of 25 or so) allowing Frank to become the superhero Oedipus Psi-Lord.

Notice the Invisible Woman’s costume here, or more to the point, the relative lack thereof…  An associate of mine once remarked that Susan Richards is the mother figure of the Marvel Universe, and the problem with this peek-a-boo stripperific suit is simple:  “Who wants to see the mother of the Marvel Universe half-naked?”  Answer:  A kid with some serious maternal bonding issues after years of nannies and butlers and witch-caretakers, that’s whom.  To add to the whole (you should excuse the expression) complex, Reed Richards is lost, presumed dead at this point, leaving Mommy single and coincidentally dressed like a whore from Krypton. “Who said anything about talking,” indeed.

Franklin remains a grown-up superhero for a few years, eventually missing his dad enough to resurrect him.  When he tires of the responsibilities of adulthood, Franklin lets things go back to normal, de-aging himself again.  In the late 90’s, in a fit of pique, he wishes his family and all their friends to the cornfield dead, but still manages to protect them by creating an alternate world where they’re safe and sound (albeit poorly drawn.)  Around the time of what should be his 30th birthday, he realizes that he was unfair to his lost sister, and brings little Valeria back, finally ready to share his parents’ love and attention.  Franklin never quite completely overcomes his Quentin Tarentino-esque love of the terse, stubbly tough guy but at the same time rediscovers his childhood love of the brightly-clad superheroes like Spider-Man.

Eternal Sunshine In A Perfect Museum Of Colorful Toys

At present, Franklin Richards is chronologically 43 years old, and may not even himself fully realize that he is controlling the entire universe.  He has finally learned to socialize, taking a place in the Future Foundation, recognized as one of the greatest potential minds of the future, and surrounding himself with peers who are likewise prodigious, including his sister Valeria.  He has periodically re-injected himself as center of attention, as seen recently when Galactus himself arrived to assess Franklin as a threat.  He has given up many of the childish pursuits of his youth, and has accepted that things don’t always have to have happy endings.  He has realized that he likes Spider-Man young and single, that he likes the Avengers nearly as much as the Fantastic Four, but that Daddy is (and will always be) the smartest man in the world, and Mommy the strongest woman.  Uncle Ben is his special favorite (see Fear Itself #5 if you don’t believe me) while he holds a quiet resentment of popular Uncle Johnny.  (Sometimes he even wishes Uncle Johnny were dead, but he knows he won’t stay mad forever.)  Like many kids, he likes the idea of having more than one of the same toy in different colors, and wonders how the Hulk would look in red, or how Wolverine would look as a girl.  His adult mind likes to ponder huge world-shattering stakes, but his child mind doesn’t really like to (and, indeed, isn’t equipped to) think about long-term consequences.  And, of course, Franklin likes being 12 and half years old more than anything.

Time is never going back to normal, if he has his way, and none of the denizens of the Marvel Universe, not even super-smart Daddy, will never know any different.  Like little Anthony Fremont, he quietly enjoys that everyone in the world is just a puppet dancing on his stage, and he’ll cut their strings, change their clothes and repaint them however he sees fit, whenever the mood strikes.  And that’s a good thing, Franklin.  A real…  real good thing…

(Of course, there’s a completely DIFFERENT subtle and disturbing reason why no one in the DC Universe ever ages, but that, as they say, is another ((Classified)) story.)


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. This is so awesome!

    You do realize that with some creative twisting you can probably attribute everything to Wanda too, though, yes?

    • Perhaps there is a subtle, unconscious, and constant war between Franklin and Wanda. She’s older, but less powerful than Franklin. She used to control the universe and he’s the young hotshot. She undermines him, manipulates certain aspects of reality, then he becomes aware and hits the reset button, or puts events in motion to suit himself. It would explain the fact that the Universe has settles into a weird homogeneous stasis pleasing neither one, yet exists in a constant state of world threatening crisis, one after another, with nothing REALLY changing.

      • It would also seem to explain why the events are shifting lately, going from FF-focused to Avengers-focused to X-Men-focused. Perhaps it’s an ongoing 3-way war with David “Legion” Haller?

        No, no, it’s just Franklin, being a jerk.

  2. This is an awesome article. I’ve had similar thoughts about Franklin and Marvel Time but you summed it all up great Matthew. Correction though – Franklin was named after Sue’s dad who gave his life to save the FF from Skrull bomb. Reed’s dad Nathanial is the time traveller.

  3. Sounds plausible except for one small thing…

    Why would Franklin allow YOU to write this article exposing him? Hmmm?

    I mean, if he truly controls the Marvel Universe, doesn’t he control the fact that we’re aware of it? He must be aware of us, and yet he allows us to watch almost everything. Allows, I say! And therefore, if he wanted, he could have prevented you to put this all together.

    I’m just sayin’.

    btw- is Tim Hunter the reason DC never ages? I’m guessing it is. I mean, hes totally hiding from us AND allowed us to watch/read 7 Harry Potter books/movies, which pretty much look like him….

    • You should keep in mind that while Franklin Richards may know of the existence of Major Spoilers (not that we have seen anything to the contrary save for a sudden lack of press material from Marvel), Franklin may just consider Major Spoilers that rogue element that keeps everything interesting, and if you’ve spent any time listening to the Major Spoilers Podcast (where this theory first appeared), he may simply regard Matthew as the Lone Nut, and by allowing him to put this theory out in the open, it causes the larger fan base to disregard it as simply the ravings of a mad man, thus keeping the real truth from ever reaching a mass acknowledgement.

      Or at least that is what I would do if I were controlling everything…

      Thank goodness for Major Spoilers: Classified. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a blond kid at my door wearing blue Dr. Dentons who would like a word with me.

  4. So, if I understand correcty…

    Franklin is some sort of illustrated manifestation of the myriad writers and editors for Marvel? A real life Marvel Comics Onslaught, basically. I’d wager no one ever created, wrote, or illustrated him. He just inserts himself into titles, issues, and storylines when it pleases him.

  5. Capt Magellan on

    That was great!!!

    I think the Wanda situation is simple: she’s a manifestation (and maybe not the only one) of his Anima.

    Looking forward to the DC version of this article.

  6. I’ve never put that much thought into it before, but a side note i’d like to point out that i find interesting. I was reading the Essential Doctor Strange, and so little “real time” passes in those it’s scary. One event quite literally follows the other, day to day. I’m not sure if later ones skip time, but he goes from one issue to the next and one storyline to the next day by day and even comments on it sometimes.

    So what i might be getting at, what if Doc is the only one who isn’t affected and it’s basically an issue a day or so for all of them, but he’s the only one who sees it? ;)

  7. The Great NateO on

    Matthew, “You truly have a dizzying intellect.”

    This was a great post on the site, how do you do it? I Enjoyed it a lot.

    You have no idea, you do now, how much I enjoy your insight and comments on the podcasts and site. I wish I could have you teach me everything you know. I can read your stuff for hours, I have to sleep sometime, that’s when I listen to you in my dreams.

    Rock On Dude!!!

  8. Fantastic “Major Spoilers Classified”. Thanks Matthew for pulling this history together. And Stephen thanks for the humorous update there. Or do you remember posting that after the visit?. Thanks again Major Spoilers…..

  9. Pure Genius. You have made me desire to read more about Franklin and honestly I always thought of him as boring. Time to go bargain bin hunting.

  10. “Who wants to see the mother of the Marvel Universe half-naked?” Answer:

    When that mom is a MILF, the answer is “half the guys on the interwebs” if reality is any indication… (this is a not-serious/ha ha posting, please do not call the lawyers on me.)

    • This may also be why Jessica Alba was cast in the movies – Franklin influenced casting of an attractive female over one who can act.

  11. On a wierd tangent, does anyone remember that Captain Marvel issue where crazy Genis-vell teams up with Entrophy to murder Eternity? Not only did he destroy the entire multiverse, but he then rebuilds it at the end of the issue… if I remember, several of the following stories in that series dealt with the fact that he remade the universe wrong and there were a bunch of subtle changes as a result. Only reason I’m pointing this out because that story was published in April of ’03, and in September ’04 we got the first issue of Avengers Disassembled.

  12. Mike Wytrykus on

    Awesome article. I cannot wait for the next one. However, shouldn’t it be Major Spoilers DEclassified, since you’re revealing all this great info to us? Just a thought.

  13. This is fantastic loved the theory when it was first brought up on the podcast. Marvel needs to hire Matthew as and editor!

  14. Brilliant. Engaging. A creative spin on comic book history – this is the kind of recap and review that makes this site great!

  15. That was a fun read. I should mention I’m not sure if it’s accurate that Franklin was in the “8 to 11 year-old range” when he was hanging out with PP. Wikipedia mentions that Katie Power was 5 years old when the original Power Pack series started, and I believe it was mentioned that Katie and Franklin were about the same age, which would be well under the 8-11 year range. Maybe Franklin was 8-11 until he saw Power Pack and then altered his age to 5 because he thought Katie would be the most fun to hang out with. “Oh boy, my favorite!”

  16. Great theory. You’ve solved the ‘time/reality problem’ for Marvel. And I love the fact that Franklin is the son of the ‘parents of the Marvel Universe! Congratulations.

  17. I agree, Matthew, you have a dizzying intellect to work this theory out. It is making me dizzy. Brain hurt!

    Actually, you’re missing the simplest explanation: the people at Marvel could throw their hats at the ground and miss. Continuity is something they buy adult diapers to control. I mean, look at the picture of Franklin watching the ants. Take a look at the fence behind him. The folks at Marvel can’t even draw a FENCE POST!

    So, the simplest, and truest explanation: The folks are Marvel are dumber than fenceposts.

    That’s my theory, and at least it don’t make me poor little brain hurt. Ow.

    • So, the simplest, and truest explanation: The folks are Marvel are dumber than fenceposts.

      And they’ve been #1 in sales for how many years? “Who is the greater fool? The fool, or the fool who follows him?” :D

  18. I wouldn’t say 65 upvotes is a “big” hit, but this is surely upvote worthy and #4 ranking in r/comicbooks is a great start.

    Go sign up for reddit and upvote!!

    • not the upvotes..but the comments are overwhelmingly positive.
      also r/comicbooks is a smaller sub-Reddit the top articles of all time with the exception of one top out around 500.

  19. I’ve got a question: can’t we attribute Mar-Vell’s death to Franklin’s actions?

    Here’s my theory; Captain Marvel’s Cosmic Consciousness made him aware of the pseudo-kid’s shenanigans. And he had to be stopped. Thus, in 1974; Franklin Richards sends Nitro to fight Mar-Vell. There’s a canister full of deadly gas, the kree blondie goes to seal it up using his strength; yadda yadda yadda? The carcinogens in the deadly gas take a few years to de their work because of the Captain’s Nega-Bands. And he finally dies in 1982.
    Notice, if you please, the still tiny Franklin Richards leering angrily at the reader in the group shot that’s provided right before Mar-Vell’s death. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Then again, I don’t usually think.

    Great article Mr. Peterson; reads like these are the reason I’m coming to the site. Keep up the outstanding work!

    • I’ve got a question: can’t we attribute Mar-Vell’s death to Franklin’s actions?

      If we take this to it’s logical conclusion, the fact that so few deaths are final in the Marvel U (as well as the fact that Mar-Vell is one of the few who stayed dead) is entirely due to Franklin making subtle changes in the nature of reality.

  20. Amazing.

    It was like reading the a marvel continuity dissertation. Every point was well supported with comic book references and citations, while remaining truly compelling.

    I too think of this as Marvel Canon.

    Well done.

  21. If anybody else is interested in this sort of “continuity-building”, but in the t.v. realm, one should check out wikipedia for the “Tommy Westphall” page. I’d link, but since there’s no “preview post” I’m afraid I’d mess up and not realize until too late. Anyway, he’s the Franklin Richards Of Television, sort of… At least, according to St. Elsewhere, and any show with Howie Mandel cannot be untrue~!

  22. …Lotta talk about Franklin’s reality altering capacities, but there’s a wildcard out there that just as easily coult toss this out, if powers clashed.

    Wanda Maximoff. Li’l Frankie’s not the only one who can alter reality to suit one’s whim anymore.

    • Wanda Maximoff. Li’l Frankie’s not the only one who can alter reality to suit one’s whim anymore.

      The difference here is, Wanda is KNOWN to be a scapegoat for this sort of thing. She’s Franklin’s stalking horse, the one who gets blamed when he makes changes. She’s like a little sister who takes the heat for breaking the good china. :)

  23. I’m a third generation comic reader/collector. Both me and my dad and grandfather thank you Mathew. This article will pevent what would have been many continuity headaches in the future.

  24. Justin Wawrzonek on

    I’m so glad you put this down in an article. I’ve wanted to share this theory of yours with some friends for quite some time.

  25. How could I have missed this post for four days? Oh, right. Franklin. :: Shakes fist ::

    I think you might be giving Franklin too much credit for all the things that go on in Marvel titles, Matthew. Clearly his conception was the start of the Marvel Time Paradox, and he has the power of Retcon as well as dilating or compressing time for himself and others and building pocket universes that have St. Elsewhere reruns playing work like thumb drives for saving story ideas, but surely not every storyline is written entirely by Franklin. Who knows if the entire universe is under Franklin’s sway at all times or if he merely squashes and stretches the continuum as he knows it? The farthest corner of the Marvel Universe where Franklin has never been or been interested in could well have never been retconned, and indeed may wonder why they see parts of the rest of the universe flicker and warp and send out broadcast signals which contradict each other. If his domain is the continuum and his sphere of influence is whatever he’s aware of, then he’s like a comic book fan who can’t afford to get every title every month and so buys the trades and collections later to catch up, then if there’s things he doesn’t like, he wobbles the universe a bit and fixes them. He isn’t making everything up on his own and watching all the time, so we get storylines that are influenced or created by other movers of things and he just cleans things up to be how he prefers them with a bit of creative denial here or there. If he’s wanting to bother. Or if he’s not already invested in the new thing. Which is why his resets rarely reset everything to how it was before.

    So all the other time-travellers and reality-warpers and such flex their muscles and make big changes and then Franklin cleans up the things that just don’t suit him, only I don’t think it’s the child Franklin who’s doing that, it’s the REAL Franklin, for whom the boy version of himself is more of an avatar. A tiny extrusion into the dimensions visible in the Marvel Universe of a pan-dimensional being, as it were. A character in the comics he himself reads, if you will. The visible universe is only 4-and-a-bit percent of the actual universe, we’re told by physicists, the rest being some neutrinos and a whole lot of Dark Matter and even more Dark Energy (not to mention Dark Flow, if that exists), and Franklin may be that way, too. His child-self isn’t some petulant god playing family, it’s just the expression of the physical age his true self’s emotions can find a stable dynamic when he’s reading comics, given the stress he’s under the rest of the time. The real Franklin is nearly 44, probably living in a reality where he’s got no apparent powers, is working a job where he’s quite underappreciated and underpaid, and which takes up a bit of his time such that he’s in that sort of frozen state of slog where he counts the passage of time by trips to the comic store when his pay allows, and then and only then is when his imagination lets go and should things in those comics have gone astray from what keeps his inner child happy, he reshapes the Marvel U into what he wants it to be. Probably most of the hugely-powerful Marvel characters are like that. Mephisto, who is the same age as Franklin, is probably a bitter grownup teenager who likes Death Metal and has no friends (or hair on top of his head anymore). Wanda Maximoff is older than Franklin, but she prefers tangential fanfiction of her own making (and probably has a lot of cats). Dormammu may be Jim Lee.

  26. Who do Franklin Ricahrds and Wanda Maximoff have in common?

    Agatha Harkness. Perhaps she’s pitting her two former charges against each other. Or using them both to create balance in the universe.

    How are Franklin and Wanda also connected? Franklin killed Mephisto, and Wanda used remnants of Mephisto’s soul to create her twins, Thomas and William. Who are her twins’ father, Vision, Mephisto, maybe Franklin himself? Mephisto (perhaps an instrument of Franklin) also engineered OMD…

  27. Now I’m wondering about the Ultimate Universe. I’m not completely familiar with it, but I don’t think Franklin exists there yet.

    Also it looks like in the Marvel NOW Fantastic Four Franklin put himself and his sister in the rocket with his parents. Now he can be a part of the universe from the beginning!

  28. John Byrne has stated many times, when he was writing his terrific run on the FF, that Franklin Richards is 5 years old, and will always be five years old, because that’s who the character IS. So when fans ask him when Franklin will grow up, the answer is, never.

  29. I hate this theory, although it makes perfect sense, I dont want to deal with changing the marvel universe that I know into this.

    Although the marvel characters pretty much stay the same age, I like to think of it as something that just isn’t supposed to make sense….because it’s make believe

    Also, if this theory is true, does that mean that there is another “real universe” in which the marvel characters are constantly dying and being born…….and that events like age of apocalypse never happened?

    This theory makes sense, but honestly I hope that it isn’t true, and that characters stay the same age because they are supposed to stay the same age…..just because marvel says so.

  30. Hello Matthew,

    a very interesting theory. And it makes sense, too!

    But what about the explanation why nobody in the DC Universe ever ages? Its been more than 7 years since you hinted at it, yet you still haven’t revealed details about it.

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