The MCU thoroughly explores what they’re calling the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. While they’ve shown glimpses of the subatomic world on screen, indigenous creatures like the Micronauts and the various amorphous invertebrate-like animals and people are new to the MCU. The Quantum Realm itself is not.
In the comics, it’s called the Microverse, and it’s had a lot of visitors over the years. While its natural inhabitants have always been there, living complex microscopic lives, many Mighty Marvels have stumbled into the Microverse entirely by accident. Others, mostly scientists, theorized its existence and further proved it via firsthand exploration. Fans may be surprised to learn the order in which Earth’s mightiest heroes got tiny enough to make the trip.
1 Bucky Barnes
Captain America #25, written by Ray Cummings, illustrated by Syd Shores
If it seems like a technicality, it is. Bucky Barnes volunteered to shrink down to the subatomic level first. While the first settlements in the micro verse appear after a little more shrinking in the following issue, Captain America #25 sees Bucky become a giant over the landscape he’d soon explore with Cap.
Given Bucky Barnes’ rap sheet, First Explorer of the Microverse is just another badge of honor. Of course, the Microverse wasn’t officially named until much later when the Fantastic Four studied and explored it, but this first attempt by Marvel was a huge step in exploring the conceptual “World of the Atom.”
2 Captain America
Captain America #26, written by Ray Cummings, illustrated by Syd Shores
Captain America #26 picks up where the previous issue left off, with Cap and Bucky trapped in a mad scientist’s lab alongside a princess of the “atomic world.” Shrinking and growing drugs litter the surrounding tables, and the duo deduces that they must save the princess from evil tiny giants.
Captain America and Bucky battled giants of several sizes but eventually reach the first appearance of Marvel’s Microverse. There, the giants are terrorizing a kingdom until Cap and Bucky grow to match them. After saving the day, the star-spangled avenger and his boy sidekick left the Microverse and never really talked about it again.
3 Fantastic Four & Ant-Man
Fantastic Four #16, written by Stan Lee with pencils by Jack Kirby and inks by Dick Ayers
When the time came to take a more scientific approach to the Microverse, Marvel sent the only group that made sense. After defeating Doom with an experimental shrink ray, The Fantastic Four started to grow and shrink uncontrollably. Reed didn’t hesitate to call Hank Pym.
Hank Pym dropped off a mystery drug and then left without explaining. The Fantastic Four took too much and found themselves at Doom’s mercy in the Microverse, where he’s fully taken over. Pym returned to the team’s lab and figured out what happened in time to save them and return everyone to their normal size to fight another day.
4 Silver Surfer
Fantastic Four #76, written by Stan Lee with pencils by Jack Kirby and inks by Joe Sinnott
Norrin Radd’s relationship with The Fantastic Four has saved Earth on several occasions. When he arrived at the Baxter Building shortly before Fantastic Four #76, he acted again as the herald of Galactus. When the world-eater sent his punisher to fight the heroes, the Surfer escaped to the quantum realm.
Jack Kirby’s compositions and cosmic landscapes are the stuff of legend, and the Surfer’s journey is no exception. Norrin gracefully glides through the spiraling fractals and particles of the Microverse, basking in the freedom he hasn’t known for millennia.
The Incredible Hulk #140, written by Harlan Ellison and Roy Thomas with pencils by Herb Trimpe and inks by Sam Grainger
When the Avengers battled the villainous Psyklop, his shrink ray hit the Hulk for longer than expected and sent him tumbling into a mote of dust and then the Microverse. Not only did the jade giant get very tiny in The Incredible Hulk #140, but he also met one of the loves of his life.
Hulk was understandably and predictably displeased, but was soon found by a collective of green-skinned people. The warrior queen Jarella commissioned her subjects to teach Hulk their language, and the two fell in love. Their story doesn’t have a happy ending, but Hulk’s tiny romp is fun and touching. Seeing the big guy in a healthy relationship for a change is nice.
6 Scott Lang
Marvel Two-In-One #87, written by Tom DeFalco with pencils by Ron Wilson and inks by Chic Stone
The first clear explanation of the Microverse comes in Marvel Two-In-One #87. Reed Richards explains that entering the Microverse depends on a dimensional shift caused by a reduction in density. As per usual, Ben Grimm is the test subject and when things go wrong. Once again, Ant-Man comes to the rescue.
Scott Lang is a very different Ant-Man. He’s smart like Pym, but he’s got an Everyman charm that makes him an ideal partner for the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing. Lang also had the foresight to bring his ants along and is arguably the first hero to enter the Microverse entirely of their own volition and without the use of drugs.
7 X Men & The Micronauts
X-Men and the Micronauts, written by Bill Mantlo and Chris Claremont with inks by Jackson Guice
The Micronauts technically never entered the Microverse. They look human, and Marvel’s subatomic Lilliputians are mostly biologically similar to humans, but they come from another dimension. For a long time, their adventures were basically unconnected from the Marvel universe around them. When that changed, every major hero team finally had some knowledge of the Microverse.
Several Avengers and The Fantastic Four have visited the Microverse firsthand, but the X-Men only learned of it when a villain escaped into their dimension. What starts with the Micronauts growing to normal size leads the X-Men into the Micronauts for a journey that explores both teams and their overlapping themes of rebellion, justice, and belonging.
Fantastic Four #282, written and illustrated by John Byrne with inks by Jerry Ordway
With a new lineup, the Fantastic Four’s mission during Marvel’s second Secret Wars event was one of vengeance. Reed, Sue, and Johnny were hellbent on finding and defeating Psycho-Man after his emotion-warping powers violated Susan, turning her into the being called Malice. She-Hulk is sort of just along for the ride.
It’s a straight-up sci-fi action romp, and it’s She-Hulk’s introduction to the Microverse. Her membership feels forced at times, especially as the other three discuss deeply personal family struggles out of earshot from her. However, she-Hulk’s experience smashing the fourth wall prepared her well for the psychedelic landscape of the Microverse.
Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #10, written by Stan Lee and Gerry Conway with pencils by Rich Buckler and inks by Mike Manley
Time and again, strange and awful things happen to Peter Parker. After attending a scientific showcase, he noticed he was getting smaller. Over the course of The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #10, his friends try to reverse the process to no avail. Eventually, Spidey shrinks down to the subatomic level and falls through the Microverse.
Like Cap and Bucky, he was a giant when he first arrived. The residents of the Microverse quickly overpowered and restrained Spidey a la Gulliver’s Travels. When he shrank through the restraints and into the void below, he defeated Psycho-Man easily after learning the villain wanted his supposed Uni-power. Some nice lizard men hit Spider-Man with a growth ray shortly after, so the trip only lasted a few hours.
Cable #38, written by Jeph Loeb with pencils by Ian Churchill and inks by Vince Russell, Scott Hanna, and Jim Lee
Much like the X-Men before him, Cable found himself up against a threat from the Microverse in the world above. Psycho-Man had tried to conquer earth before but retreated back home. His attack on Cable’s team in Cable #37-38 was different in that Psycho-Man kidnapped Copycat and immediately returned to his own dimension.
Cable is no stranger to inter-planar travel, having traversed many timelines and dimensions in the course of his life. In the Microverse, he, too, met the Micronauts and enlisted them in fighting Psycho-Man and rescuing Copycat before returning to regular size.
NEXT: 10 Differences Between The Microverse and The MCU’S Quantum Realm