Doctor Strange 2: What Is the Multiverse of Madness?

There’s plenty for MCU fans to look forward to now that the full Phase 4 lineup has been revealed. Easily one of the most intriguing projects in the works is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Not just a sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange, this movie will team Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange with Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch for an epic odyssey into the dark corners of the Marvel multiverse.But what exactly is the Multiverse of Madness? We have some theories about what the title may be referring to and what villains and worlds may appear in the sequel. Read on to see what could lie in store for Doctor Strange this time.

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The Lovecraft Connection

Unlike “Age of Ultron” or “Civil War,” the subtitle “in the Multiverse of Madness” isn’t one that hearkens back to an existing Marvel Comics story. If anything, the title seems intended as an allusion to the work of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and his famous novella, “At the Mountains of Madness.” Like many Lovecraft stories, “At the Mountains of Madness” deals with human protagonists becoming exposed to the true scope of the universe and being driven mad as a result. Lovecraft’s work centers around cosmic beings called “Great Old Ones” (Cthulu, Ghatanothoa, etc.). Worshiped by a handful of dark cults, the Great Old Ones exist mostly outside of time and space as perceived by human beings. Those few unlucky enough to see a Great Old One in the flesh are often driven insane by the sheer horror of the encounter.

Marvel’s multiverse does have its own dimension inspired by Lovecraft’s stories. The crossover Realm of Kings introduced the Cancerverse, a horrific place where death doesn’t exist and godlike, multi-dimensional beings called “the Many-Angled Ones” have conquered everything. In the follow-up story, The Thanos Imperative, the Many-Angled Ones attempt to invade the Marvel Universe and continue their never-ending cycle of conquest and expansion. To do so, they rely on twisted versions of traditional Marvel heroes (including Lord Mar-Vell and a team called The Revengers) to act as emissaries and soldiers.

The Thanos Imperative introduced the Cancerverse and the Many-Angled Ones. Art by Brad Walker. (Image Credit: marvel Comics)

The Thanos Imperative introduced the Cancerverse and the Many-Angled Ones. Art by Brad Walker. (Image Credit: Marvel Comics)

It’s possible Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will introduce the Cancerverse and pit both heroes against the Many-Angled Ones. If so, we could even see twisted versions of popular characters like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor as villains.

It could also point to Shuma-Gorath as a major villain. While probably best known for being a playable character in the Marvel vs. Capcom series, Shuma-Gorath is a Lovecraftian monster with a long history in the Doctor Strange franchise. Several stories have dealt with Shuma-Gorath trying to use the Ancient One or Stephen Strange himself as vessels to enter the mortal world. In The Thanos Imperative, Shuma-Gorath was revealed to be one of the Many-Angled Ones. And because Shuma-Gorath is linked to dozens of worlds in the multiverse, this villain could be the key to opening up the barriers between worlds in this movie. In one particularly disturbing comic story arc, Doctor Strange defeated Shuma-Gorath only to find himself transforming into the new version of the villain, so he committed suicide to stop the process, and was soon after resurrected by an ally. Watching Stephen Strange go mad as he finds himself turning into a tentacled terror from the multiverse certainly seems to line up with the subtitle. And maybe Scarlet Witch could be the ally who rescues him — more on her in a moment.

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Doctor Strange vs. Nightmare

While we only just learned the tile of the new Doctor Strange movie at Comic-Con, Marvel has made no secret of the fact that a sequel has been in the works for a while. And throughout that time, signs have often pointed to Nightmare being the next major villain to battle Stephen Strange.

The title reveal does nothing to discount the possibility. Nightmare is a powerful villain who rules a realm known as the Dream Dimension. He’s able to roam the dreams of mortals and draw psychic power from those dreams. He’s also one of seven Fear Lords, powerful demons who draw strength from the fears of mortals. Basically, think of him as an evil version of DC’s Sandman.

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If Nightmare is indeed the villain of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it’s possible the title isn’t referring to a literal multiverse at all. Instead, It may focus on various imaginary worlds conjured up as Doctor Strange battles Nightmare in the Dream Dimension. All the while, Strange and Scarlet Witch may fight a losing battle to maintain their sanity against an opponent who feeds on their worst fears and darkest dreams.

Other Marvel Universes

Regardless of whether the new movie actually delves into the fabric of the Marvel multiverse or simply takes place in Nightmare’s Dream Dimension, chances are we’ll be seeing some dark, distorted versions of the MCU appear along the way. Given how much this sequel is being emphasized as the first true horror movie in the MCU, we’d expect some of these worlds to make Dormammu’s Dark Dimension seem like a stroll through the park.

One possibility is a world inspired by the Marvel Zombies universe. In this universe, a devastating zombie plague has transformed nearly every hero and villain into an undead monster, leaving only a handful of survivors like Magneto and Black Panther to defend the dwindling human race. Spider-Man: Far From Home seemed to pay homage to Marvel Zombies through Peter’s Mysterio-induced vision of Iron Man, but this would be a chance to tackle the concept more directly.

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Another option is to introduce a world built around Marvel’s various horror characters like Frankenstein, Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, Ghost Rider and the modern-day Howling Commandos. This wouldn’t necessarily preclude any of these characters from appearing in the regular MCU, but it would be an opportunity for Marvel to tackle some lesser-known characters who might otherwise not be high on the priority list. It could even be a way of introducing a version of Mahershala Ali’s Blade ahead of his solo movie.

Finally, the movie could introduce worlds inspired by any number of dystopian future storylines in the Marvel Universe, such as Age of Ultron, Earth X, Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect, Thanos Wins, or Ruins. The options are practically unlimited.

How Scarlet Witch Fits In

The biggest surprise with the reveal of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the fact that Scarlet Witch will be playing a major role. The movie will build on the upcoming Disney+ series WandaVision and team Stephen Strange with fellow spellcaster Wanda Maximoff.

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The pairing makes sense given both the “madness” angle and the history the two share in Marvel’s comic book universe. Wanda is unusual in that her magical abilities are rooted in her superhuman genes. Unlike Doctor Strange and most other sorcerers, Wanda never had to study the art of magic and develop her skills. Her powers are mostly instinctual, which means she doesn’t truly understand the “rules” of magic or how to fully control her abilities. We can see Strange becoming a mentor to Wanda in the movie, both helping her understand her true potential and probably butting heads with a pupil who never had to work for her power the way he did.

Because of her vast potential and lack of experience, Wanda has often been a target for villains who hope to abuse her powers for their own ends. That plot point will very likely come into play in this movie, regardless of whether the villain in question is Shuma-Gorath, Nightmare or someone else entirely.

In the comics, Wanda’s lack of control has caused some major headaches for her and her fellow Avengers. For example, she’s killed and resurrected teammates and even created two children out of thin air. If she and Strange are thrust on a mission that tests their sanity, it’s a safe bet that Wanda herself will become the most dangerous threat of all by the end. The fact that she nearly killed Thanos singlehandedly in Avengers: Endgame shows that she’s potentially more powerful than even the Sorcerer Supreme.

We also have to wonder if Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Karl Mordo factors into the Strange/Wanda dynamic. While an ally to Strange for much of the original movie, Mordo ultimately broke ranks and dedicated himself to a new mission. He’s determined to rid the world of any and all magicians he deems unworthy of magic. It’s not hard to imagine Mordo having a major problem with an Avenger who wields magic as a super-power.

For more on other upcoming Marvel movies, learn how Phase 4 is shaping the MCU’s future, read up on why an Avengers-less MCU could be a great thing, and check out how Ryan Reynolds is teasing a possible Deadpool appearance in Phase 5.

This story has been updated with the latest information available on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.

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