One of the big reveals from the Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania trailer was the introduction of a civilization within the Quantum Realm, now a full-on microscopic universe. One with many beings of all stripes that live within it. Some look human, others decidedly not so much. But for Marvel Comics fans of a certain age, the Quantum Realm might seem a bit like another very similar world from the pages of Marvel Comics — the Microverse. Unfortunately, Marvel Studios can’t use the name “Microverse” in film. And it all has to do with a very popular toyline that originated in the 1970s called Micronauts.
From action figures to the Marvel Universe
The action figure and toy line called Micronauts has a long and tangled origin story. One we won’t deep dive into too much here. But the short version is this. They were a series of toys that began in Japan, before getting brought to America by 1970s toy company Mego and given a new name. The toys comprised tiny cyborg people who disguised themselves in our universe as mere action figures. Micronauts was a huge seller for Mego, and they eventually licensed the concept to Marvel Comics to produce an ongoing comic book series. Micronauts the comic began in 1979, just as the power of the toys faded away (thanks a lot, Star Wars).
Writer Bill Mantlo, who created Rocket Raccoon, swayed Marvel’s editor-in-chief Jim Shooter to pick up the Micronauts license in 1978, after his son got some Micronauts toys for Christmas. Ironically, the Micronauts toy line ended in 1980, once Mego went bankrupt. Yet the comics ran for a full six years after that. A true testament to its popularity on its own merits, and not just as a toy tie-in comic.
The series focused on a microscopic universe made up of many strange and varied worlds. Among them was the human-inhabited Homeworld. The so-called Micronauts came together in response to the evil Baron Karza, an immortal black-armored dictator, who had taken over Homeworld. They created many new characters for this series, including Bug (who, as the name suggests, looks like an insect). Characters that are still part of Marvel continuity today.
From”Sub-Atomica,” to “the Microverse,” to the “Quantum Realm.”
Micronauts was so popular for a time, they even had a crossover mini-series with the X-Men. After the last issue of Micronauts came out in 1986, Marvel Comics lost its license to the property. Although Marvel could retain key characters they had created that were not based on the toys, like Bug (who later became a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy), the terms “Micronauts” and “Microverse” reverted to Hasbro (who bought the license from Mego after its bankruptcy). A similar thing happened with another licensed property based on a toy, ROM: Space Knight.
Luckily for Marvel, the concept of a sub-atomic universe was already in play in the Marvel Universe since 1943. So they could continue to use it. In various comics like Captain America and Fantastic Four, Sub-Atomica became the name of this realm. Not as cool or catchy of a name as the Microverse, but it was the same concept. In the MCU, Ant-Man science advisor Dr. Spyridon Michalakis chose the phrase “Quantum Realm” to use instead. Although the comics could continue to use the name Microverse, the film rights were tied to the toy license. So a new name had to be concocted.
No Micronauts in the MCU
While it would have been fun to see the Micronauts appear in Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania, the license to Micronauts comics has traded hands sever times since 1986. They landed at Image Comics, then Devil’s Due, and most recently, IDW Comics. A movie with J.J. Abrams producing was announced back in 2015, but we have heard nothing about it since. In an interview, the screenwriters said the movie would look vastly different from the old Marvel Comics. No doubt because a lot of the concepts Marvel invented were now off-limits to the producers.
Nothing has been known about this project for years now, suggesting that it’s dead. But who knows what lies in the future? The way these corporate mergers seem to happen constantly, Disney could buy Hasbro one of these days, and the Micronauts could theoretically “come home” to the MCU at some point. We guarantee that if Marvel Studios got their hands on the Micronauts again, they would not be sitting on the shelf. One day, they might be protecting the Microverse along with Scott Lang and the Pyms.