Doctor Strange is shaping up to be the most exciting Marvel movie yet. We were already expecting something revolutionary; it's adding magic to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the trailers have been more than a little reminiscent of the classic sci-fi thriller Inception. For me, though, one thing's stood out above everything else: the villains.
Marvel movies are quite infamous for having what fans call a 'Villain Problem'. The majority of Marvel supervillains are criticized for being poorly developed, with shallow motivation and simplistic arcs. That said, Marvel has seemed very confident of Kaecilius, played by Mads Mikkelsen.
The studio has been playing a clever game with us, drip-feeding information about Doctor Strange one detail at a time. Now, finally, Marvel Comics and ComiXology have released the digital comic dubbed The Zealot. An official prelude comic to Doctor Strange, this reveals that Kaecilius may well be the answer to Marvel's 'Villain Problem'!
Kaecilius's Motives are Haunting and Powerful
The Zealot reveals that Kaecilius's motives are rooted in his own haunting past. Having already lived a troubled life, Kaecilius had found a measure of peace with his wife Adria. Tragedy robbed him of all happiness, though, when a complication during pregnancy led to Kaecilius losing both his wife and their unborn child.
Kaecilius plunged into despair, losing himself in darkness. He was ultimately offered a sliver of light when he was found by Baron Mordo, who recognized the mystic potential that lay within him. Neither Mordo nor the Ancient One realized that Kaecilius's heart remained fixed upon his wife and child. He pursued ever-greater mystical power, seeking a way to turn back time, or to return them to life. Ultimately, this pursuit of power led to his breaking away from the Ancient One, stealing her secrets, and founding a new order of his own: the Zealots.
Written by Will Corona Pilgrim, and with art by Jorge Fornes, The Zealot presents Kaecilius as a fascinatingly three-dimensional character. His motives run to the heart of human existence, to our shared experience of not knowing how to deal with a world of pain and suffering. In magic, he sees a way to fight against the injustice of this world. There are also intriguing parallels with Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange.
Where Kaecilius found joy in his family, Strange found it in his work. Both suffered a tragedy that cost them the thing they love the most; both are recruited to the Ancient One's cause by Chiwetel Ejiofor's Baron Mordo. In the comics at least, the one thing Stephen Strange finds he cannot do is repair his damaged hands, and thus return to his previous life as a world-renowned neurosurgeon. In just the same way, the one thing Kaecilius cannot undo with his magic is the tragedy of his past. I don't know how much the film will draw these parallels out, but there's the potential for a fascinating parable, of one man accepting his loss and another destroying himself (and others) because he can't cope with his grief.
The Fate of the Zealots
The Zealot teases that Kaecilius is pursuing the secrets of a mystic known as Cagliostro. A little-known figure in Marvel lore, Cagliostro was a powerful sorcerer who discovered the secret of eternal life, and who even experimented with time travel.
At the end of The Zealot, Kaecilius — along with his Zealots — steal some of the Ancient One's most dangerous books. It's possible that these include the Book of Cagliostro — a collection of dark mystic knowledge that, in the comics, even included Cagliostro's secret of time travel. More concerning, the Book of Cagliostro included notes from a far more ominous tome known as the Darkhold. The Darkhold is an ancient manuscript that was crafted by an Elder God known as Chthon, and contains the most dangerous mystical secrets of our reality.
We know that the Zealots will use this knowledge to peer through the dimensional barriers; they'll glimpse something that is described as "seducing" them, driving them to the point where they seek to break down the barriers between the dimensions.
The tantalizing question is this: what force seduces them? There are actually three possibilities:
- Shuma-Gorath, an ancient entity with ties to Cagliostro in the comics. This monstrous entity seems to be visible in a LEGO playset — a fact that's more important than you'd think, given that a LEGO playset spoiled the Giant-Man scene in Captain America: Civil War!
- Dormammu, Doctor Strange's most powerful enemy, who's certainly going to make an appearance. We know we're going to see the Dark Dimension, the realm that Dormammu rules, and one leak referred to a scene where Doctor Strange confronts Dormammu.
- Death herself is a possibility. In the comics, Death is a cosmic force in its own right, usually taking on a female form. There's one fascinating scene in The Zealot where Kaecilius's memories of his wife turn into a skeletal figure, a hint that Death herself may be trying to conquer our very reality.
Until The Zealot, my money had been on Dormammu. That said, an appearance from Death would be particularly important for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thanos, the future villain of Avengers: Infinity War, is infatuated with this cosmic force. In the comics, Thanos's greatest desire is to give our entire universe over to Death as a gift, in the hopes she will return his love. Featuring Death as the one who had seduced Kaecilius would make Doctor Strange an important stepping-stone on the road to Infinity War.
Could Kaecilius be the Solution to Marvel's 'Villain Problem'?
Kaecilius is becoming a fascinating character. Marvel Studios has one major advantage; he's such a minor character in the comics that the Studio can reinvent him with ease. If The Zealot is any indication, the cinematic version of Kaecilius is a fascinatingly complex villain, one whose evil is rooted in his desire to be reunited with his wife.
We don't yet know what force is going to seduce Kaecilius, twisting his good intentions until he unwittingly risks bringing an end to all reality. The contrast between Kaecilius and Doctor Strange — both of whom must deal with grief and loss — is one that has real potential, and could well lead to a fascinating, introspective confrontation. There's a curious sense in which the Ancient One's strategy - gathering those who are wounded, and teaching them how to harness mystical power — was always going to bring someone to this point: where they crave the power to undo their suffering once and for all.
- Who are the Zealots in 'Doctor Strange'?
- Everything We Know About the Villains of 'Doctor Strange'!
- Four Reasons Doctor Strange Will Transform the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
The Zealot has just given me more reasons to be optimistic about the direction of the MCU. What's more, as you can see, the MCU is a lot more than just movies. If you want to experience the whole thing, you've got to embrace the TV shows, the Netflix series, and even the comics as well. Right now, this tie-in digital comic gives us a taste of a supervillain who I reckon Marvel can be proud of. I can't wait till November!
Doctor Strange will hit US theaters on November 4, 2016. In the meantime, be sure to check out this sneak peek from the Captain America: Civil War Blu-Ray:
Are you excited for Doctor Strange? Let me know in the comments!