In the second episode of this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Meet the New Boss, the audience saw some of the mysteries of the “ghosts” somewhat explained. They are, in fact, victims of some type of experiment that has stripped them of their corporeal form and have been trapped in that state “for years” by someone probably using the device in which the ghosts’ containment boxes are found and…the power of the Darkhold.
It’s nice (well, maybe not for them) to have the Darkhold dropped in so casually between them in their conversation since, while perhaps a large portion of the viewers have never heard of it, fans of the comics side of the Marvel Universe have not only heard of it, but have dealt with it, its effects and influences, and the people surrounding it, for more than 40 years (in real time) and for millions of years in MU history.
It is difficult to believe that in a fictional universe like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where we’ve been assured that “it’s all connected,” dropping something as pervasive as the Darkhold into the mix will not have a wide-ranging impact. Is the Darkhold opening a new storytelling door in the MCU? Introducing the Darkhold a month before introducing the Sorcerer Supreme (and at the same time as some hot-rodding demon) suggests a broader connection.
To examine that fully requires an answer to a rather simple question: So what is the Darkhold?
Some of this information has been covered in the MCU Exchange breakdown of episode two of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but there is some deeper history in Marvel Comicverse that will be interesting to examine. This overview will be nowhere near complete in detailing the entire history of the Darkhold. The book has had a deep connection to the wider MU. If you’re interested in a particular portion of the Darkhold’s history (like how it was the source for the Necronomicon), there are plenty of websites out there for you to dig deeper if need be. The aim here is a synopsis…covering millions and millions of years. Easy, right?
So, just how far back does the Darkhold go in the comics? Turns out…WAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY back. While the Darkhold was first mentioned and seen in the comics in 1972, its origins go back to the Elder Gods of the Marvel Universe, a group of beings “birthed” from the Demiurge billions of years ago, before organic life emerged on Earth. Delving into the Elder Gods would take another entire article, but we do need to focus on one of these beings: Chthon.
Chthon, the first practitioner of the dark arts on this planet, is credited as the primary author of what would become to be known as the Darkhold. Originally a set of scrolls, readable in any language, penned by Chthon and referred to as (no surprise here) the Chthon Scrolls, the Darkhold survived the slaying of most of the Elder Gods by Demogorge (it’s notable that Chthon survived this purge as well).
Then humans–once there were humans–encountered it.
Circa 18,000 B.C., before the sinking of Atlantis, a barbarian king (originally from Atlantis), Kull, slew the sorcerer Thulsa Doom. Doom’s followers, known as the Darkholders, used the Darkhold to transform one of their wounded brethren, Varnae, into the first vampire. Varnae immediately killed one of the Darkholders and began creating more vampires.
Once Atlantis sank, Varnae entered a suspended state and did not revive for nearly 9000 years during the Hyborian Age. Upon emerging from his “hibernation” he set out to recover and collect some of the scattered pages of the Darkhold. During this mission, he encountered and battled Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, and the magician Zula. The Darkhold helped the trio to defeat Varnae by allowing them to cast a powerful (but incomplete) spell that only drove the vampire off, not destroying him as hoped.
In a later adventure, Zula uses the Darkhold scrolls, still in his possession, to transport himself and Red Sonja to safety, which succeeds, but the Darkhold disappeared after this usage.
During this time there were sporadic reports of it passing through the hands of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Hebrews before ultimately coming to the attention of Morgan le Fay, half-sister to King Arthur, in the 6th century.
Morgan bound the scrolls into book form at this time and sought to use the Darkhold, with the aid of the Darkholders, to summon and control Chthon. As Chthon is an Elder GOD, this went about as well as could be expected with Chthon proving too powerful to be controlled and forcing Morgan and the Darkholders to attempt to return him to his realm…which also proved as successful as the whole controlling-a-god plan.
They were able ultimately to imprison Chthon under Wundagore Mountain (which comes into play big time in the modern MU).
Magnus the Sorcerer, lover of Morgan le Fay, having seen pure evil for the first time during his interaction with Chthon, sought to take the Darkhold out of circulation (the book is indestructible) by hiding the book on the Isle of Wight in what became known as the Tower of the Darkhold and placed enchantments on the tower to prevent anyone with evil intentions to enter the tower. Problem solved, right?
No. Shortly thereafter, a mystic named Modred, who had turned down an apprenticeship with Merlin (not the real Merlin, a mad imposter), sought to gain control of the Darkhold in order to fight and defeat the mad wizard. Again, while he was able to enter the tower because his intentions were not evil, becoming evil once he gave up his soul to Chthon and was able to use the Darkhold was something we’re thinking Magnus hadn’t considered.
Modred was ultimately defeated by Merlin and St. Brendan who succeeded in defeating the power of the Darkhold and then entombed Modred thereby kicking the can down the road yet again for the future Marvel Universe to deal with. Brendan would later scatter the pages of the Darkhold throughout the world hoping that disassembling the book (since it can’t be destroyed) hoping it would weaken its power.
About six hundred years later, a monk named Aelfric became a disciple of Chthon and was tasked with reassembling the Darkhold from its scattered pages, a mission he had accomplished by 1149. When found out by his fellow monks, he was chased from the abbey and almost immediately started killing using the power of the Darkhold. He was overcome and burned (supposedly with the book) at the stake. Scavengers later found the book, unharmed, in Aelfric’s burnt remains. Aelfric’s soul remains, however, and he can be summoned by readers of the Darkhold (not a good idea though as he generally possesses the reader who summons him).
The book passed through many hands before coming into possession of the Vatican in the 1600s and it was from there that Dracula (Yeah! That’s right! DRACULA!) sought to steal it. He sent a thief to snatch it but the thief was intercepted and killed by a would-be sorcerer named Cagliostro, who, after he had mastered the Dark Arts from the book, taught the secrets of the Darkhold to a time-traveling Doctor Doom who was on a quest to learn more arcane knowledge. Cagliostro is the author of the “Book of Cagliostro” which combined his own dark knowledge with arts learned from the Darkhold and from von Doom and which eventually fell into the hands of Baron Mordo.
As we move into the modern era, the Darkhold’s history starts moving fast and there’s more of it.
Circa 1930 Gregory Russoff acquired the Darkhold and copied much of it into his family journal. When reading the section on lycanthropy, his family’s curse of the werewolf (acquired during a failed attempt by Russoff’s father Gregor to kill Dracula in 1795) was triggered by the Darkhold and Gregory became a werewolf as well, a curse passed to his son Jack Russell (aka Werewolf by Night) and granddaughter Nina Price.
Back to Wundagore! The spirit of Magnus (Remember him? The lover of Morgan le Fay who put the Darkhold in the tower and helped seal Chthon beneath Wundagore) approached the current owner of Wundagore, Herbert Wyndham, the High Evolutionary, and warns him of the emergence of Chthon from his slumber. Magnus convinces the High Evolutionary and his assistant, Miles Warren (the Jackal!) to allow him to train his mutated animals, dubbed the New Men, as knights instilled with an Arthurian code of ethics and chivalry.
The High Evolutionary agrees and the Knights of Wundagore are ready when Gregory Russoff arrives at Wundagore with the Darkhold, with the aim of raising Chthon in an effort to cure his lycanthropy. Russoff’s father, Gregor, had already encountered Wyndham (injuring him while in werewolf form) as well as killing the wife of Wyndham’s first assistant Jonathan Drew (Spider-Woman’s parents!).
ASIDE (like this hasn’t been ONE BIG COLLECTION OF ASIDES): The radioactive clay around Wundagore (radioactive due to the large uranium deposits there) was also infused with the evil magic of Chthon due to his nearly 1500 year imprisonment there. This is the clay the Fantastic Four villain the Puppet-Master uses to construct his mind controlling puppets. Another impact of the Darkhold and Chthon you probably weren’t expecting.
SO, Russoff inadvertently freed Chthon, the High Evolutionary and Magnus managed to banish the Elder God again, and Russoff made off and reacquired the Darkhold. He continued his activities before being killed by an enraged mob.
Soon after, Russoff’s son, Jack (again, also a werewolf), recovered the book and brought it to a Father Joquez for a translation (you probably see where this is going). During the translation, Jacquez was possessed by the spirit of the monk Aelfric (he had to read it after all) and sought to wreak evil havoc but was stopped by Jack Russell who believed the Darkhold was destroyed during the altercation (silly werewolf).
Jack travels to Transylvania, battles Dracula (DRACULA!), finds his family’s diary which not only has the history of his family’s curse, but also parts of the Darkhold, including the Montesi formula, which can destroy all vampires. Dracula comes to possess the diary but abandons it when he realizes what is in it and thereafter it is acquired by Morgan le Fay.
Later Modred, awakened from his slumber (a running theme), becomes possessed by Chthon, takes the Scarlet Witch to Wundagore under the guise of helping her find out more information about her past and instead offers her to Chthon as a vessel for him on Earth, which she was for a while.
Modred is defeated and left mentally damaged, while Chthon is once again banished.
It is worth noting that this isn’t the ONLY Maximoff twin Chthon managed to get control over. During the Dark Reign he also managed to grab Wanda’s brother Quicksilver as well…
Meanwhile, the Darkhold itself, which was back at the Vatican, goes missing again. At the same time, a being known as the Darkhold Dwarf starts appearing around the world offering people pages of the Darkhold and encouraging them to use the arcane knowledge on the pages to fulfill their desires. Victoria Montesi, whose family the formula is named after and whose family it has fallen to over the centuries to guard the Darkhold, forms a small task force, the Darkhold Redeemers, to get these pages back.
Eventually, the Darkhold Redeemers join the Midnight Sons, a group tasked with fighting the demoness Lilith and her plans to take over the world with her demonic brood, and which included the use of the Darkhold. To aid in the fight with Lilith, Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange, becomes instrumental in the Rise of the Midnight Sons, a group that included not only the Redeemers (AND Blade!), but, among others, not one, but TWO Ghost Riders: Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch.
Lilith was ultimately defeated, the group disbanded, as did the Darkhold Redeemers after recovering only some of the missing pages of the Darkhold (but after Modred joined their ranks).
After the Midnight Sons affair, Doctor Strange, who has been guarding the book, used the Montesi Formula found in the Darkhold to destroy all vampires. However, following that, Varnae was resurrected, seemingly negating the Montesi Formula effect.
Most recently the Darkholders have taken an interest in Carnage as they feel that he represents a prophecy contained within the book that reads, “When the Red Slayer spills blood on sacred stone, he who sleeps shall wake and what walked once will walk again.” The Darkholders believe this refers to Carnage due to the illustration that accompanies the prophecy.
Carnage believed that he would gain immortality from the ritual when, in fact, the Darkholders sought to resurrect Chthon by spilling his blood within the temple to Chthon. They attack him with knives, the head priest starts the incantation to restore Chthon, and everything goes sideway from there. Carnage gains the powers of the Darkhold, the Darkhold gets stolen, Carnage recovers it, spills his own blood on it, again a violent display of red tendrils, the Darkhold starts leading Carnage on a bloody, rampaging journey across the sea with Victoria Montesi and Eddie Brock in pursuit, the ultimate goal is an island calling to Carnage, who goes to a temple the Darkhold is leading him to…but not just the Darkhold…Chthon himself…which takes us up to the exact current actions surrounding the Darkhold at the present time in the comics. The Carnage storyline continues with the next issue! We have no idea how it will end but my money is on someone getting entombed!
And, in yet another aside, the Darkhold hasn’t just shown up in the comics side of the Marvel Universe. In 2008 in the Marvel Comics novel Spider-Man: Requiem, the Darkhold plays a large part in the plot by resurrecting a character, Sin-Eater, the Darkholders hoped would assist in bringing Chthon back (because that always works out well). Plan thwarted, Chthon stayed gone.
What an active little book! What a lot of confusing history across many ages, heroes, and comic genres! What one small item used effectively as a plot device can do!
And…most importantly here:
What in the HELL does it have to do with the Darkhold now in the MCU?!?!
Well, given that it has literally JUST been introduced, there’s likely little more than speculation that can be offered. The “ghosts” in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode do appear to have gotten in that state through science, but the fact that the Darkhold was mentioned playing a part in that suggests that maybe magic plays a big part in there as well. Given the part the Ghost Riders have played in the comic side history of the Darkhold (as noted above), perhaps tossing the book out there at the same time Reyes comes rolling in is more than just coincidence.
But even more than that is Doctor Strange, out in theaters in just a few weeks! In the comics, the good Doctor is a guardian of the book (though that Carnage is currently gallivanting around the world with it begs a few questions), he has even used spells from it. And there’s this image from the most recent trailer from the film:
That sure looks like a book! Right?
Of course, Strange is learning magic at this point apparently; this could be ANY chain-bound magic tome, right? Sure. But, “it’s all connected” remember? And it IS a chain-bound spell book! (Isn’t it? Isn’t it?) And they DID just introduce the Darkhold!
And, if it isn’t a book, this image from the trailer certainly is:
All of which means nothing (for a couple more weeks anyway). What this overview of the Darkhold was supposed to drive home is that this thing has been a part of the MU for–almost quite literally–EVER. If the MCU is introducing the realm of magic to the films, the guide…the thread…the equivalent of Agent Coulson in Phase One…could…could be this book. Look what it potentially offers: Atlantis, the Elder Gods, pre-history, Arthurian legends, Dracula, werewolves, Blade, the High Evolutionary, the FF, Dr. Doom, Baron Mordo, Morbius, Ghost Rider, the Spider-Man mythos via Carnage, all the goings on surrounding Wundagore, and, of course, Doctor Strange.
If the MCU is looking to branch out in new directions (directions they hold the rights to branch out to at any rate), to tell new and compelling stories that depart from the “normal” superhero story, perhaps this book tells the way forward.
It will at least be interesting (and hopefully fun) to see what happens on the next page…