With the Captain America: Civil War Blu-Ray due out next week, Marvel have released the Doctor Strange featurette that's on the disc. In an earlier post, I examined the themes and ideas you can see in that featurette — it actually reveals quite a lot about what we can expect from Doctor Strange! If you haven't seen the featurette yet, check it out below:
Here, though, I want to focus in one word: 'zealot'. According to the featurette, the Zealots are the villains of Doctor Strange, led by Mads Mikkelsen's #Kaecilius. Who are the Zealots, what are their goals, and how will they challenge Doctor Strange?
The Origin of the Zealots
Although Doctor Strange is presenting a traditional origin story for Marvel's latest superhero, the film is taking real licenses with the original comics. For example, Doctor Strange has never fought a group known as the Zealots; if we want to know more about the Zealots, we have to look elsewhere.
The word 'zealot' commonly refers to someone who is uncompromising in their loyalty and beliefs. My suspicion, though, is that Marvel is using the word in a far more historically precise sense.
Historically, the Zealots were a brutal political & religious sect in 1st century Judaism. They objected violently to Roman rule of Israel, and sought to liberate the country through violent means. The Zealots took inspiration from the likes of Mattathias, whose tale is told in the apocryphal book 1 Maccabees:
"When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did against Zimri son of Salu. Then Mattathias cried out in the town with a loud voice, saying: “Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!” Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town."
In the words of historian and theologian N. T. Wright, in the first century "zeal was something you did with a knife". The extremes to which the Zealots would go are best indicated by a look at Masada.
Masada was a city where a group of Zealots fell under siege. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, with nowhere left to run, and with suicide forbidden, the Zealots drew lots to murder one another rather than surrender to the Romans. They burned everything they had, except the food. Their provisions remained uncharred to show the remains they had the means to survive, but chose to murder each other rather than surrendering. Historians strongly dispute this account, but it still gives you an idea of the historical sense of the word 'zealot'.
If the Zealots of Doctor Strange are anything like the Zealots of ancient history, we can expect them to be brutally effective warriors. They'll be passionately dedicated to their cause, and with no qualms about taking lives — or giving up their own. These should be ferocious enemies.
What Do We Know About the Zealots in Doctor Strange?
In November 2015, LRM published an interesting rumor. At the time it went largely unnoticed, but it now seems to be accurate:
"The "Doctor Strange" movie actually starts much earlier than anyone expected, opening in 1968 Kathmandu where some Zealots of dark magic manage to open a portal to another dimension. Leading them is a character named Kaecilius, a name taken from a character associated with Baron Mordo in the Marvel Comics."
We know that Doctor Strange will feature sorcerers stepping through the barriers between the dimensions. The featurette reveals that the Zealots are sorcerers who are "seduced" by what they find in these other realities — presumably by a demonic being known as Dormammu, who seeks to extend his rule to the Earth. We know that the Zealots seek to break down the barriers between the dimensions, which would allow Dormammu (or whichever inter-dimensional being they serve) to conquer our reality. It fits with an earlier comment by Kevin Feige on Kaecilius:
“[Kaecilius] is a sorcerer who breaks off into his own sect. [He] believes that the Ancient One is just protecting her own power base and that the world may be better off if we were to allow some of these other things through.”
Essentially, then, Doctor Strange features two powerful groups of sorcerers. The Ancient One trains the Masters of the Mystic Arts, warriors who are dedicated to protecting the world from the forces of darkness. Kaecilius believes that the world needs guidance and order; seduced by the power of Dormammu, he seeks to allow Dormammu to establish his rule on Earth. As a Zealot, he'll do that by any means necessary — if I'm right about Marvel's deliberate use of the word 'zealot,' he'll seek to achieve his ends through bloody violence. Stephen Strange has sought out the Ancient One just as the two groups of sorcerers finally enter into all-out war!
- Marvel Releases the 'Doctor Strange' Featurette - What Does it Reveal?
- Everything We Know About the Villains of 'Doctor Strange'!
- Kevin Feige Reveals Dormammu and the Dark Dimension are in 'Doctor Strange'!
Marvel is commonly criticized as having a 'villain problem'. Marvel supervillains are often presented as one-dimensional, lacking in motivation and characterization. In Kaecilius and the Zealots, that could be about to change. Every interview with Marvel representatives hints at a great deal of pride in the villains of Doctor Strange, and I can see why. If the Zealots of Dormammu are indeed as fanatical as I suspect, they should make terrifying adversaries!
Are you excited for Doctor Strange? Let me know in the comments!