Of all the Dr. Strange characters these articles have covered (and one yet to come) each has been an established figure in the comic series for decades. The good doctor himself, The Ancient One, Wong, Baron Mordo, all have been around since the first few issues of the comic were published back in the 1960’s. The character this article is about, however, has not.
Nicodemus West has appeared in precisely one Dr. Strange story, “The Oath,” published back in 2007. He’s a newcomer, although the story frames him as a figure from Doctor Strange’s past:
Dr. Strange’s origin story is kicked off by the accident that cripples his hands, robbing him of the fine motor skills that made him such a brilliant surgeon. Nicodemus West was the fellow surgeon who operated on Strange after the accident, ensuring that he still had hands at all. He’s not in the original Dr. Strange origin story: the doctor who informs Stephen of his injuries is unnamed there.
“The Oath” goes back and fills in some details, and makes West something of a parallel to Strange. After his accident, Strange unfairly blamed West for not fixing his hands properly. He then spent all his money seeking another way to repair the nerve damage, until he eventually fled to the far East, searching for more unorthodox cures. This left behind young Dr. West, who was talented, but nowhere near as talented as Strange, to care for the patients left behind while suffering a great deal of guilt over failing Stephen.
Devastated by the suffering he was unable to prevent, West decided he needed to atone. He left his job to seek out Strange, to fix the doctor’s hands and make up for his failure. His pursuit takes him many years and when he finally finds the secluded Himalayan abode of The Ancient One, he finds that Strange has already left. Sensing West’s conflicted heart, the Ancient One offers to teach him much as he did Strange. Yet. where Strange had been humbled and left open to a new worldview, West is still too obsessed with his own feelings of inadequacy. He learns some magic and immediately wants to put it into practice.
He leaves the Ancient One prematurely and returns to New York, seeking to heal others with magic, but his incomplete training causes him to accidentally kill his first patient. From that point on West decides magic is too dangerous and that humanity needs to advance at its own pace, without supernatural interference. This change of heart is due in no small part to him being blackmailed by a pharmaceutical company that discovered his eldritch malpractice.
Strange started as a bad man and became good, while West started as a good man and became bad. He was unable to let go of the past and never achieved the same kind of spiritual reinvention that Strange did. Instead, to soothe his feelings of guilt and failure, West convinced himself that magic itself was evil and had to be resisted at all costs. The two men inevitably came into conflict over their history together and their new ideologies. More innocents were killed in West’s attempt to defeat Strange. The two of them finally met in a duel on a rooftop in the rain, and West was ultimately destroyed in the confrontation, his experience being no match for Strange’s.
Since then, Nicodemus West has not appeared or been referenced in the comics. He was a one-off villain. In truth it’s not even confirmed that he’s being referenced in the Dr. Strange movie. As we reported previously, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety both claimed that the actor Michael Stuhlbarg would appear in the film, and that he would play Nicodemus West. (Marvel has since announced that Stuhlbarg would be in the film, but they have not confirmed what character he is playing.)
Assuming Stuhbarg is playing West, what will he do in the film? Given that the movie seems to have two potential villains (Baron Mordo and the unnamed villain played by Mads Mikkelsen), it seems unlikely West will be the main antagonist. It’s possible he may just show up as a colleague of Strange’s at the hospital in the early parts of the movie, resenting Strange’s narcissistic behavior, then being unfairly berated by the crippled doctor for failing to save his hands. A one and done role, as it were.
Rachel McAdams is also playing a doctor in the movie and according to Kevin Feige she’ll have a major role. So Nicodemus could also be a bigger player in this hospital subplot. It may show us how Strange interacted with his colleagues before his accident and then he runs into them again as a sorcerer. McAdams could be the character who sees how much personal growth Strange has undergone, while Nicodemus West could be a fellow doctor who does not and still judges Strange for his selfish actions in the past. That would certainly add some more grounded personal drama against the backdrop of supernatural calamity that the main plot will involve.
At the same time, Stuhlbarg’s name is included in the main cast, suggesting something more than a minor supporting role. He gets billing up there with McAdams, Mikkelsen, and Cumberbatch. That might just mean the hospital drama takes up a substantial amount of screen-time and his role is important there. It could also mean that he’s a lesser villain in the more magical plot, perhaps a disciple of the evil sorcerer Mikkelsen is playing.
In that case. he may be pursuing a former grudge against Strange or may just be a prominent henchman who merely borrows the name “Nicodemus West” from the comics. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Marvel did that; a number of their villain roles (Alexander Pierce, Malekith, Aldrich Killian, etc) have borne only superficial resemblance to their comic book counterparts.
Regardless of the exact nature of the part, if Stuhlbarg is playing Nicodemus West he will probably be antagonistic to Dr. Strange in some capacity, likely a secondary one. Which means we’re still left without a clear major villain, as Mads Mikkelsen’s character is shrouded in mystery. We don’t know enough about his part to make any solid guesses about who he may be playing, but there is one other important Dr. Strange enemy who may appear in the movie.
Stay turned to learn more about him in our next Meet and Greet, starring The Dread Lord of the Dark Dimension, Dormammu!