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Who is the villain of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?

Tentacles? A more evil beard? We examine

Doctor Strange faces off against Doctor Strange Supreme in What If...?. Image: Marvel Studios
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

The new trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness reintroduces us to many of the good doctor’s old friends and frenemies — like Wong and Baron Mordo — and even some new ones, like the Scarlet Witch and America Chavez. But it isn’t snippy on the villains, either.

It seems as if Doctor Strange will once again be facing off against the price of his own hubris ... or maybe his own hubris from another universe? In the trailer, Stephen Strange comes face to face with what appears to be an evil version of himself.

Some are wondering if we haven’t seen this Doctor Strange before in a very unlikely place: What If...?, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first canonical animated series. But does that connection hold weight?

Evil Doctor Strange, an examination

Benedict Cumberbatch plays a seemingly evil Doctor Strange in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Image: Marvel Studios

An alternate version of Doctor Strange appeared in three episodes of What If...?: “What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” “What If... Ultron Won?” and “What If... the Watcher Broke His Oath?” In his home universe, Stephen Strange never accepted the death of Dr. Christine Palmer, and became obsessed with resurrecting her by any means necessary.

This Doctor Strange Supreme began amassing power by absorbing the energy of magical beings, growing more twisted and eldritch with each capture — eventually breaking the laws of reality to bring a terrified Palmer back to life, an act that caused the destruction of his home universe. He would not stay in that shattered cosmos forever, though.

When the Watcher needed his help to defeat a version of Ultron that threatened the entire multiverse, Strange Supreme heeded the call, becoming the leader of the Guardians of the Multiverse. The last we saw of him, he was promising to look after the last fragment of his home universe, which now served as a jail for alternate versions of Killmonger, Ultron, and Arnim Zola, who were eternally battling over the Infinity Stones.

Is Doctor Strange Supreme in Multiverse of Madness?

Doctor Strange Supreme in What If...? Image: Marvel Studios

It’s natural to think that if the MCU multiverse already has an Evil Doctor Strange, he’s the one who has shown up in the trailer of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

However, the connection has not yet been confirmed by anyone involved on Marvel’s side of things. The closest we’ve come is a quote from What If...? director Bryan Andrews, in which he said that the folks behind Multiverse of Madness took a look at their evil version of the character. “And maybe they were a little bit inspired,” he told The Verge. “I like to think that they were.”

It’s completely possible that Multiverse of Madness will pick up the thread What If...? started — it might even be likely! But there are also a lot of worlds in the multiverse, and there could be more than one Evil Doctor Strange out there. An infinite multiverse pretty much guarantees it.

But regardless of whether Multiverse of Madness’ Evil Doctor Strange is the same as What If...?’s, there’s still a new Doctor Strange villain in the trailer with previous history.

Whoa, is that Shuma-Gorath?

Shuma-Gorath, a tentacle monster with a central eye, hurls a bus at the camera in Doctor Strange in the Mountains of Madness. Image: Marvel Studios

Yes, that tentacled boy fighting Doctor Strange on the streets of Manhattan is none other than Shuma-Gorath.

Of all the various Cthulhu-alikes of the Marvel Comics universe, he is absolutely one of them. His backstory is your standard Lovecraftian mythology: ancient ones beyond mortal comprehension who came to Earth and ruled primitive man before absconding to alternate dimensions for thousands of years in anticipation of their dread return. His most notable role in Doctor Strange’s history is that he overwhelmed the mind of the Ancient One, forcing Strange to execute his teacher to save the world.

His most notable role outside of Marvel Comics might be that he has been included as a playable character in several of Capcom’s Marvel fighting games. According to Capcom’s Takeshi Tezuka, his team specifically requested Shuma-Gorath from Marvel Entertainment.

“Marvel Comics had very little visibility and awareness in Japan at the time,” he told Polygon, “and so I remember when we were trying to select the characters for inclusion into the game, we wanted characters that Japanese gamers could easily identify with as well.” But you can read more about that in our oral history of X-Men: Children of the Atom.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is scheduled to hit theaters on May 6, 2022.

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