We are celebrating this week's Doctor Strange release (get your tickets here!) with a bunch of articles all dedicated to Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a villain problem. You know it. I know it. Marvel knows it. Marvel has regularly addressed the necessity for its doppelgänger villains, and the studio has understandably focused on building up its vast array of heroes rather than its baddies. But the plain truth is that it's gotten tiring to see the endless parade of one-and-done villains, antagonists who come out swinging but then get handled with ease within the space of a single movie.
But Doctor Strange may very well change that. There are many big bads in the Marvel pantheon, but as an individual hero, Doctor Stephen Strange just might have the worst rogues gallery in the universe. Marvel's earthbound comic book characters tend to primarily deal with earthbound villains and the cosmic heroes with cosmic villains. But Doctor Strange deals with everything: the Earth-based villains, the cosmic adversaries and the magical threats, too.
Just as Doctor Strange is more powerful than almost any other of Marvel's most well-known heroes, his villains match. Kingpin may be the corrupting pestilence at the heart of Hell's Kitchen, for example. Norman Osborn might mastermind a global crime syndicate. Magneto might level an entire city or attempt to wipe out humans. But half of Doctor Strange's villain lineup could warp reality as we know it or wipe out life in multiple dimensions — that's what happens when the vast majority of your foes are extra-dimensional entities or immortal demons. While Strange isn't adverse to asking for help from time to time, they are primarily his threats to handle, simply because he's usually the only hero equipped to.
Just who — or what — are some of these enemies of Doctor Strange? Let's take a look at the Sorcerer Supreme's five greatest foes over the years.
Dormammu is the literal Lord of the Realm of Darkness — seriously, he rules over an alternate dimension known as the Dark Dimension. He's far worse than a demon and no one is exactly sure how ancient he is, as the realm over which he rules defies the natural law of physics. His powers are beyond comprehension, including (but not limited to) teleportation, resizing, energy projection, the manipulation of matter, necromancy, being able to transfer power from one creature to another, opening portals to other dimensions, and raising demon lords. He has the ability to wreck things not just in one dimension, but in multiple dimensions. And he does.
He's been Doctor Strange's self-admitted "most terrible foe" since Strange's mystical origins, as the entity behind Baron Mordo's plot to turn on and assassinate his mentor, The Ancient One. Among his usual, routine business are things like kidnapping and/or banishing Stephen Strange's love interest, Clea (who also happens to be Dormammu's niece), invading and merging planets and alternate dimensions to rule over them, striking deals with demons, and that one time he ate — yes, ate — most of the Pan-Dimensional Oversight Council while his sister, Umar, reduced the rest to "screaming blobs of mindless jelly." Just an all-around swell guy.
2. Baron Mordo
If Dormammu is Stephen Strange's greatest enemy, then Baron Mordo is right behind him. Few adversaries are more bitter than a former friend turned enemy, and that's the case with Mordo. A former student of the Ancient One, Mordo trained for a time at Strange's side — until, that is, his plans to overthrow the Ancient One were thwarted by Strange. As a result, the Ancient One trained Strange to be able to combat Mordo and the two have been locked in off-and-on battle ever since.
Like Strange, Mordo has a powerful arsenal of magical abilities, but he is particularly skilled in astral projection and hypnosis. His other powers include the ability to shoot magical blasts of force, teleportation, manipulating magical energy, tapping into the magic of other dimensions, and summoning demons, among others. So if Strange has all those same abilities, what makes Mordo so dangerous an enemy? Simple. He's essentially Stephen Strange without morals. What separates the two is that Baron Mordo has no reservations when it comes to conjuring or allying with demons and dabbling in the dark black magic that Strange is unwilling to use. While that has backfired on him at times, his willingness to cross every line has enabled him to best Strange at others.
Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, whatever you call him, Mephisto is the Marvel universe's equivalent and the entity’s fingers have woven the webs of some of the furthest-reaching diabolical plots in the comics. He's been the cause of the destroyed lives of a number of notable characters, including a perennial foe for Silver Surfer, causing Scarlet Witch to go insane, and undoing Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane Watson. Almost every hero — and quite a few villains — have tangled with the demon at some point, and Doctor Strange is no exception. Need more proof of his evil? He rules over a realm that includes Hitler, Attila the Hun, and Blackbeard.
Mephisto has explained himself that he's literally incapable of being anything but evil, as he was created by the supreme being whose suicide created both the universe itself and the Infinity Gems. The being, having no concept of goodness, made Mephisto in his image of pure chaos and evil. The immortal demon gains energy by feeding off sources of evil, and, because of this, has done nothing but plant the seeds of evil since his inception. This energy gives him a variety of powers, including superhuman strength, shape and size shifting, projecting illusions, manipulating memories, and altering time. He can acquire souls, and has taken control of many through pacts — literal deals with the Devil. Oh, and he can't be killed — if his physical form is destroyed, he'll simply regenerate whole back in his own evil realm, where he becomes even more powerful.
As you've probably figured out by now, Doctor Strange seems to specialize in attracting and combating immortal beings from other realms and Nightmare is no exception. He's like Dream/Morpheus from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, if Morpheus were a demon that sought to plague humanity with nightmares, hallucinations and terror. Troubled humans are brought to his Dream Dimension while they sleep to be psychically tortured. In fact, Nightmare has trapped and tormented Doctor Strange in his realm after Strange forgot to cast protective spells.
As his name implies, Nightmare is not a demon to mess with: He is near-omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, with the ability to walk in people's dreams and tamper with their subconscious minds. Similar to Mephisto, he feeds off energy, but of the psychic kind. The more violent and tortured that energy, the better. As a last evil feather in his cap, two of his daughters, Dreamqueen and Daydream, were conceived through rape. So that's all...well, horrible.
It's arguable that Shuma-Gorath is the most ancient of Doctor Strange's adversaries, which is saying a lot considering most of them are immortal. He's been around since at least Earth's pre-history and survived on human sacrifice. He is ancient, a force of chaos, and rules dozens of alternate dimensions, even hundreds. Whenever Doctor Strange has had to do battle with him, it's damn near destroyed the Sorcerer Supreme. First Strange had to kill his own mentor, the Ancient One, to prevent Shuma-Gorath from returning to Earth through the Ancient One's mind. Strange even once had to commit suicide to prevent himself from turning into a new, earthbound version of the entity after battling it in its own realm.
It's largely believed that Shuma-Gorath is more powerful than even Mephisto and other demonic entities, capable of energy projection, shapeshifting, teleportation, levitation, altering reality, and sympathetic magic, to name just a few of his world-destroying capabilities. And world-destroying, they are — the creature has wiped out multiple galaxies at a time simply by manipulating his own aura. The only reason he's not higher on this list is because he appears so rarely, and that's a good thing. The heroes of the Marvel universe could not combat it regularly, even with Doctor Strange on their side.
There you have it. A quick peek into some of the major enemies in Doctor Strange's world. Things are about to change for the Marvel Cinematic Universe heading into Avengers: Infinity War, and Doctor Strange, with his godlike abilities, may just be the only hero in the universe able to stop it.