ByTom Bacon, writer at Creators.co
I'm a film-and-TV fan who grew up with a deep love of superhero comics! Follow me on Twitter @TomABacon or on Facebook @tombaconsuperheroes!
Tom Bacon

As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 continues, fans have been fascinated by the way Marvel has woven the supernatural into their science-based universe. Standing at the center of all this is a single book; a mystical tome known as the Darkhold! Lifted straight from the comics, the Darkhold has upped the ante in the most dramatic way possible. But what is the Darkhold, what secrets does it bear, and where does the Marvel Universe go from here?

What Is the Darkhold?

One very dangerous book! Image: Marvel Comics
One very dangerous book! Image: Marvel Comics

Sometimes known as the Book of Sins, the Darkhold is perhaps the most dangerous mystical artifact in the Universe. It was created by a demonic entity known as Chthon, and it has been at the center of the darkest magic running through history. On ancient Atlantis, the Darkhold's evil sorcery was used to create the first vampire; in the eighteenth century, it was used to cast the curse of the first werewolf!

The most powerful and dangerous sorcerers have always pursued the Darkhold. Morgan Le Fey (the contemporary of King Arthur, and legendary foe of Merlin) was the first to have the Darkhold bound like a normal book. In the present day, Doctor Doom learned to penetrate the barriers between dimensions from the pages of the Darkhold.

It's impossible to overstate the evil of the Darkhold. Simply reading its pages opens you up to the corrupting forces of Chthon, and puts you in danger of being cursed with vampirism or lycanthropy. At some points, the spirits of demons themselves have been bound to the Darkhold, and unleashed by the opening of its arcane pages!

The MCU Version

We learned a lot about the version in the episode "Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire". It seems that the legend of this dark mystical tome is one that runs through history; many of Hydra's greatest figures — from Daniel Whitehall to the Red Skull himself — have searched for it. At one point, even Nick Fury hunted for the Darkhold; but, like all those before him, Fury was unsuccessful.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gradually revealed that the Darkhold had fallen into the hands of scientists from Momentum Labs, who had used its sorcery to create a 'quantum particle generator' — a machine that they believed would create matter out of nothing. In reality, it seems pretty clear they were drawing matter out of another dimension. Whatever the case may be, the scientists' experiments drew the attention of Johnny Blaze's Ghost Rider, who retrieved the Darkhold.

Will Johnny Blaze soon appear? Image: Columbia Pictures
Will Johnny Blaze soon appear? Image: Columbia Pictures

Of course, the Darkhold didn't stay buried; as we saw in the "Ghost Rider" arc, it was retrieved and used by Eli Morrow. Everything we've seen in Season 4 spins out of the forbidden knowledge of the Darkhold.

Tying the Threads Together

If you're wanting to understand the Darkhold's secrets, though, you have to cast your eyes to . There, the villain stole forbidden knowledge from the Ancient One - the Book of Cagliostro. Here's the thing; if the MCU follows the pattern of the comics, the sorcerer Cagliostro copied out pages from the Darkhold as he penned his dark tome. The Darkhold and the Book of Cagliostro are a common thread, tying the events of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Doctor Strange.

Significantly, both Kaecilius and Doctor Radcliffe are actually focused on the idea of conquering death. Although it's more notable in the official prelude comics than in the final film, Kaecilius's motivation was a desire to conquer death; he was scarred by the deaths of his wife and unborn child. So he sought to defeat death, time, and loss, by introducing the timeless reality of the Dark Dimension.

In the same way, Doctor Radcliffe's Darkhold-inspired breakthroughs in LMD technology — the quantum brains, for example — have led to the Framework, a virtual world that's been stripped of regret - and has been turned into a twisted, terrifying realm in which Hydra rules. The irony? As we saw in "BOOM", the body eventually passes away anyway, leaving the uploaded mind contained within a world that doesn't truly exist. Both approaches are attempts to use the mystic science of the Darkhold to deal with death; both are self-defeating, in that one sees the world absorbed into the Dark Dimension, while the other sees men and women flee from any semblance of reality.

He'll definitely be interested in the Darkhold... Image: Marvel Studios
He'll definitely be interested in the Darkhold... Image: Marvel Studios

Now let me add one more complication; in the episode "Lockup", we learn that the Darkhold 'reads' its readers. Everyone who reads the Darkhold sees it in their own language; but is it also possible that they see different secrets too? If that's the case, then we should be wary of assuming that Doctor Radcliffe and Aida have the same plans for the Framework - or even that they've learned the same secrets from the Darkhold.

We know that this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is divided into three acts, and so far the Darkhold has been the center of it all; the Darkhold's secrets inspired Eli Morrow, and now they inspire Holden Radcliffe. But could the Darkhold yet unleash more mystic threats? Eli Morrow wanted to become a god; Radcliffe wants to conquer death itself; what other dark purposes could the Darkhold yet be put to? Is it possible that another attempt to conquer death will lead to the emergence of vampires or werewolves, or that one of our stars will be somehow corrupted by the Darkhold's influence?

See also:

Featuring the Darkhold in this way is a step of genius. Its arcane power can transform Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as surely as it turns men into werewolves; the series can literally turn in any direction from this point, and we can't possibly know what the future will hold for any of our major characters. Right now, anything is possible — and I couldn't be more excited!

Poll

Do you think one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team will themselves be corrupted by the Darkhold?

(Poll Image Credit: ABC)