If you haven’t been keeping up, this week MCU Exchange has been speculating on what characters, scraps of lore, and mystical artifacts might appear in the margins of Doctor Strange this November. We’re pretty confident the movie will be jam-packed with oblique references, some of which may one day get spun off into the next big Marvel epic—you never know. For now we’re just putting together an arcane scavenger hunt of sorts for the attentive viewer. You can check out Part One here and Part Two here. This is the final installment, so let’s peer into the Orb of Agamotto and see what murky shapes emerge.
The Screaming Idol
Although it looks like a fairly unremarkable statue, the Screaming Idol is a magical artifact from Peru made in the likeness of the ancient entity known as Tiboro, Lord of the Sixth Dimension. Long before recorded history Tiboro ruled an empire in South America as a mighty god-king but his tyrannical rule was eventually overthrown and he was banished back to his home reality. The Screaming Idol serves as something of a dimensional anchor for Tiboro, allowing him to influence the thoughts of people on Earth who are near it and even open portals to the Sixth Dimension in its vicinity, all part of his ongoing attempts to return to Earth and reclaim his lost empire. Doctor Strange has had to deal with Tiboro a few times, usually because somebody tampered with the idol. It’s got a distinct look and would be a natural fit on a shelf in the Sanctum Sanctorum.
One of the weirder dimensions Strange has visited is usually called “Agamotto’s dimension” or “Unreality.” The only known gateway to this dimension is the Orb of Agamotto itself, and it is full of non-Euclidean landscapes that fold back in on each other, mirrored versions of people you know from life (Strange once ran across most of the Avengers in there—they were having a tea party) and thanks to the Orb’s necromantic energies you sometimes find spirits of the dead as well. Every now and then you even run into Agamotto himself, who still lives in this dimension and takes a variety of forms. His favorite is the Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. Just what you see in the Orb seems to vary a bit based on who you are and your own thoughts. Two people traveling through Unreality might encounter entirely different surrealist landscapes and visions. During Strange’s first visit to Agamotto’s domain he found himself embroiled in a mysterious ritual that involved him confronting the personification of Death itself, an entity similar to Eternity and often considered his sister and polar opposite. The ritual made Strange functionally immortal, immune to death from old age or disease. The Ancient One seems to have gone through a similar ritual at one point, which probably explains the mystic’s extensive lifespan. Like the Orb itself it’s unlikely Unreality will have a prominent role in the movie, but if Strange is passing through a few different dimensions, during a montage sequence or something, it might show up briefly. Keep an eye out for the giant caterpillar.
The Hood’s Cloak and Boots
The Hood was a petty criminal in the Marvel Universe who had the unusual (mis)fortune to stumble across a mysterious pair of boots and a hooded red cloak during one of his heists. Unbeknownst to him these items were enchanted by none other than Doctor Strange’s nemesis, the dimension-lord Dormammu. The cloak granted the wearer invisibility and the boots would let them run on the air as if it were solid ground. The Hood used these powers to create a criminal empire, all while Dormammu secretly whispered in his ear, convincing him to pursue darker and darker magic. At the Dread Lord’s urging the Hood eventually attempted to attack Doctor Strange directly, seeking to kill him and usurp the position of Sorcerer Supreme, only for Dormammu to magically take control of the hapless thief’s body when the battle turned against him. By the end of the the confrontation the Hood was freed from Dormammu’s possession, at the cost of horrible burns over most of his body and the loss of his powers. Though the abilities the Hood’s garments offer are fairly meager, their connection to Dormammu makes them very dangerous indeed, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them locked up alongside other cursed and enchanted items like the Screaming Idol, Wings of Needless Sorrow, or the Purple Gem.
City of Dreams
A minor but memorable Doctor Strange villain/location, the City of Dreams has only appeared in one particular comic story. Located in another dimension, the city sends phantasmal projections into the minds of sleeping beings, luring them back through their dreams to the City’s home dimension. Once there the hapless dreamer finds him or herself in a vast, dark city with no inhabitants, buildings that are warm to the touch and feel like they’re made of skin, and a deep, persistent humming noise. The traveler is then beset by hallucinatory enemies and visions, and only through great strength of will can they be overcome. Unfortunately, this is what the City wants. The towers and spirals that looked like buildings are actually growths on the back of an enormous creature, a vast dreaming predator who lures in the strong willed and then devours them, turning them into another of its own eternal, selfish dreams. An eerie and unsettling place, the City of Dreams would make a good challenge for a fledgling Strange in the movie during his first dimensional travels, or just an unusual backdrop.
Staff of One
The Staff of One is usually associated with a different magician in Marvel comics, one Nico Minoru, AKA Sister Grimm. Nico is a member of the group of teen heroes called the Runaways. Each member of the group is the child of supervillains who chose to rebel against their parents and stike out in the world on their own. Nico’s parents were evil wizards, and she stole the Staff of One from her mother somewhat accidentally, absorbing it into her body when her mother attacked her. The staff re-emerges from Nico’s body whenever she sheds blood, allowing her to cast spells, although in a limited fashion. The staff responds to verbal commands but no spell can ever be cast twice and the staff seems to interpret the user’s intentions on its own. You might say something like “shine on you crazy diamond” and the staff could, depending on your desire, make a diamond appear out of thin air or blind someone with a flash of light. Whichever effect you were going for, it won’t work if you say the phrase again. Despite this no-repeats limit, the effects the staff can achieve are seemingly limitless. Its origins are rather mysterious, with Nico’s mother once saying that Staff would scare even the Dread Dormammu. Marvel Studios has supposedly been trying to get a Runaways movie off the ground for years, though it hasn’t yet materialized. Interestingly enough, Nico’s mother showed up for a brief cameo in the Doctor Strange movie tie-in comic I mentioned in the first part of this series. Maybe that movie will finally come along in Phase Four or Five or maybe the Runaways will get a TV show. In the meantime, it’s not out of the question that the Staff of One might put in an appearance in a glass case at the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Most of the other dimensions and realities Doctor Strange visits aren’t much like our own. They’re psychedelic fantasy lands where natural laws like gravity and thermodynamics seem to be more like natural suggestions. Yet from what the filmmakers have said, the Doctor Strange movie will deal not just with those alien dimensions but also parallel realities, worlds just like our own except for a few key differences. There seems to be at least one hint of this in the movie’s trailer, where the Ancient One casts Strange out of his body and sends him plummeting through the folding landscape of New York. It’s a shot that has drawn a lot of comparisons to Inception, but if you look closely you’ll notice the same stretch of NY harbor front is duplicated several times, along with the same boat going through the water. The boat is a different color in each instance, suggesting that what Strange is experiencing is not one folding landscape, but several parallel dimensions that he is being allowed to witness simultaneously, each one with a tiny detail separating it from the others.
If that’s the route the movie is going, it seems like it would be hard for the filmmakers to resist referencing Marvel’s lengthy history of bizarre alternate versions of their own universe including, among others: a world where all of the superheroes have been turned into zombies, a world where Iron Man is a woman and married Captain America, and a universe where Peter Parker’s Aunt May became the Herald of Galactus the World Eater. In fact, it’s a rule of thumb that all of Marvel’s various properties each constitute a parallel universe in a broader “multiverse” including both their comic line and their movie line. This also applies to the real world, and there have been a number of stories where Marvel characters visit our reality and discover they’re merely fictional entertainment here, including one where a pissed off Doctor Strange attacked his writers for making his life miserable. It’s impossible to say which of these universes might make it into the movie. Perhaps Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange will simply stumble into the comic book universe, where everything is in four colors and the costumes are much more ridiculous. Maybe he’ll find himself on Duckworld, in the home dimension of Howard the Duck. You might scoff, but Howard’s already in the MCU, and I can’t say many of us ever saw that one coming.
Whichever of these Easter eggs, cameos, references, of blatant bits of fanservice makes it into the final movie it seems inevitable that the Doctor Strange movie is going to grow the scope of the MCU by a considerable degree. Not only is it introducing the concept of other realities and dimensions, but it is also introducing the idea that magic has been present in the MCU this whole time, hiding just out of sight. Once this movie comes out the idea of the MCU’s unknown magical history is going to start spilling out into other movies and Marvel’s various TV shows. So even if I’m 100% wrong about this whole list as far as the Doctor Strange movie is concerned, there’s a high chance many of these items and characters will start showing up elsewhere in new future movies and shows. I, for one, can’t wait for the merchandise. I’ve always wanted a coffee mug shaped like the G’uranthic Guardian, testing my beverages for worthiness.
Until then, that’s it for this series. Let us know if you think there are any prominent characters, items, or places you think we missed that might appear in the movie, and come back the MCU Exchange in November to see what we got right. Oh, and one last thing. I’m 99% certain that one of the items in this series will appear in the final movie, as it was already featured in a piece of concept art. Guess which one it was in the comments!