** The following article contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness **
“The multiverse is a concept about which we know frighteningly little,” so warned superhero sorcerer and former neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Spider-Man: No Way Home. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the doors to the Multiverse are truly flung open.
Comic book readers know the multiverse concept well - superheroes often fight against or alongside their alternate universe incarnations. DC’s television shows have dabbled in the multiverse, while Marvel has been building up to a collision of multiverses with shows like Loki and What If…? on Disney+. Spider-Man: No Way Home united Spider-Men from across the multiverse, and now Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes things to a whole new level.
Ever since the film was announced, there has been feverish speculation as to just what – and who – might show up. Here is a guide to just some of the references and easter eggs within.
Defender Strange/Zombie Strange
The first version of Strange that audiences see is an incarnation called Defender Strange, sporting a red-and-black costume and a ponytail. This is the version that America Chavez is familiar with, before she encounters the Earth-616 (we’ll get to this number designation later) Strange. Not much is revealed about Defender Strange, but the title is a reference to the team known as the Defenders from Marvel Comics. The Defenders were originally comprised of Strange, the Hulk, and Namor the Sub-Mariner, with subsequent members including Valkyrie, Hawkeye, Daredevil, the Silver Surfer, the Punisher, Luke Cage and others. Defender Strange’s costume in this movie resembles the one he wears in the 2010s run of the comics. Defender Strange is killed by a monster and Chavez takes his body to Earth-616, where Earth-616’s Strange buries him. Later, Strange reanimates Defender Strange’s corpse and remotely possesses it via the Dreamwalking spell. Separate from this version, a zombified Strange has appeared in the Marvel Zombies comic and the What If…? animated series. The upcoming Marvel Zombies series will likely feature a Zombie Strange as well.
The Book of The Vishanti and The Darkhold
Two magical tomes are crucial to the plot of Multiverse of Madness. The opening scene sees Defender Strange and America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) attempting to reach the Book of the Vishanti, which contains powerful spells and counter-spells. The evil counterpart to this book is the Darkhold, containing unspeakable arcane power and currently in the hands of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). She acquired the book from Agatha Harkness/Agnes at the end of the WandaVision series. The Darkhold previously appeared in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Runaways TV series, even though those events were not referenced in WandaVision. And of course, a forbidden book of dark magic has been a key component of Sam Raimi’s filmography: the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, or the Book of the Dead from the Evil Dead series.
An early set-piece has Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) battling a giant monster that has tentacles and a single eye. This is Gargantos, who is after Chavez to steal her multiverse-hopping powers. In the comics, Gargantos is a sea monster controlled by Lemuria, an underwater kingdom that opposes Atlantis, ruled by Namor the Sub-Mariner. Gargantos’ design is closer to that of Shuma-Gorath, an ancient godlike being who is primarily an enemy of Doctor Strange. The movie was unable to use the “Shuma-Gorath” name because it is derived from Robert E. Howard’s short story The Curse of the Golden Skull, featuring Kull the Conqueror, and Heroic Signatures owns the copyright to the name.
Billy and Tommy Maximoff
Wanda Maximoff is mainly motivated by a desire to travel to a universe in which her children Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) are still alive. We hear the WandaVision theme song by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and revisit the house in which the later episodes were set. Billy and Tommy were created by Wanda along with the rest of Westview. When she undid the spell sustaining the entire construct, Billy and Tommy ceased to exist. However, as she was studying the Darkhold, she heard Billy’s voice calling to her. Wanda now knows that her children are still alive in other realities, and that the dreams she has of them are really glimpses into those worlds. This sets her on a ruthless path to acquire Chavez’s powers. In the comics, Billy becomes the superhero Wiccan and Tommy becomes Speed. It is possible that these characters could be part of a Young Avengers team within the MCU, alongside other characters like Kate Bishop/Hawkeye, Cassie Lang/Stature, Eli Bradley/Patriot and Riri Williams/Ironheart.
The green-furred minotaur-like creature seen in Kamar-Taj is named Rintrah. In the comics, the character hails from the extradimensional planet R'Vaal. In the comics, Rintrah was the apprentice of the wizard Enitharmon, who helped Doctor Strange repair his Cloak of Levitation. Rintrah later became a disciple of Strange himself. The character’s name is derived from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Earths-616 and 838
Chavez tells Strange that she has travelled to 72 universes, and the one that she and Strange arrive in about a third of the way into the movie is the 73rd. Strange and Chavez are captured by Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is this reality’s Sorcerer Supreme. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) tells Strange that he hails from Earth-616, and that they are currently visiting Earth-838. The comics feature a practically endless array of alternate earths, each of which are given a number designation. Earth-616 is considered the main Marvel reality in the comics’ very complicated continuity. Confusingly, the MCU has been designated Earth-199999 by Marvel Comics. In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Quentin Beck/Mysterio claimed to be from Earth-853, but this was later revealed to be a sham.
Shortly after arriving on Earth-838, Chavez gets a bowl of pizza balls, thinking they are free as food is free in most universes. However, the owner of the Pizza Poppa food cart calls after her, asking her to pay. Strange and Pizza Poppa have an altercation, in which Strange makes the street vendor squirt mustard in his own eye and casts a spell that makes him punch himself repeatedly. This is a cameo from Bruce Campbell, director Raimi’s high school friend and the star of the Evil Dead film series. Campbell made cameos in each of the three Spider-Man movies directed by Raimi. It has been speculated that a fourth movie in that series would have revealed Campbell’s character to have secretly been Mysterio the whole time. Fans who were hoping that Campbell would finally play Mysterio in Multiverse of Madness might be a little disappointed. Pizza Poppa shows up again in the post-credits scene. As the self-punching spell wears off, he excitedly exclaims “it’s over!”
America Chavez’s Mums
A controversial moment in the film has led to the movie being banned in countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. A flashback shows Chavez as a child in a utopian dimension with her two mothers (played by Ruth Livier and Chess Lopez), both of whom die when Chavez first accidentally unleashes her powers. While this is not explicitly stated in the movie, Chavez is herself a lesbian in the comics. There are a few clues in her costume: she sports the rainbow pride progress pin, and the words “amor es amor” (“love is love” in Spanish) are written on her jacket. In the comics, Chavez adopts the Miss America superhero moniker and is part of the Young Avengers, A-Force and West Coast Avengers teams at different points.
This is where most of the movie’s cameos and references are centred. While Strange and Chavez are in captivity, Strange asks Mordo what organisation he represents, to which Mordo answers “the Illuminati”. In Marvel Comics, the Illuminati is a secret society comprised of powerful and highly intelligent characters who each have different areas of knowledge and specialisation and together, can defend the world from myriad threats. In the comics, the founding members were Iron Man, Mr Fantastic, Namor, Black Bolt, Professor X, Black Panther and Doctor Strange. Subsequent members have included Enchantress, Beast, Medusa, Captain Britain and the Hulk.
These are the members of the Illuminati in Multiverse of Madness:
Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart)
This was the first major cameo hinted at in promotional material, with Stewart’s unmistakable voice audible in the first trailer, and then a glimpse of a yellow hoverchair in a subsequent trailer. It was thought that Logan would mark Stewart’s last appearance as the leader of the X-Men, but he has returned for this film. This is not the version of the character he played in the X-Men movies, but rather a live-action incarnation of Professor X from the beloved 90s cartoon X-Men: The Animated Series. His entry is even accompanied by a rendition of the show’s iconic theme song.
Karl Mordo/Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor)
In the first Doctor Strange movie, Mordo was Strange’s mentor-turned-nemesis. This version of Mordo initially appears friendly to Strange, but then later double-crosses him and Chavez, revealing that his universe’s Strange went rogue and betrayed him.
Peggy Carter/Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell)
Hayley Atwell voiced Captain Carter in the What If…? animated series and returns to play the live-action incarnation of the character. In this reality, it was Peggy Carter and not Steve Rogers who received the super soldier serum and fought for the Allies in World War II.
Blackagar Boltagon/Black Bolt (Anson Mount)
The TV series The Inhumans is often considered the least successful MCU venture and is all but forgotten. Therefore, it is a bit of a surprise that Anson Mount returns as his character from that show, but Black Bolt is a member of the Illuminati in the comics, so perhaps it is not entirely a surprise. Black Bolt is Attilan royalty and the leader of the Inhumans. He is silent because his voice is incredibly destructive, and just a word can even decimate entire planets.
Maria Rambeau/Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch)
Lashana Lynch reprises her role as Maria Rambeau, Carol Danvers’ best friend and fellow pilot from Captain Marvel. In this reality, it is Maria rather than Carol who becomes the cosmic superhero. In the mainline MCU, Maria founded the organisation Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division (S.W.O.R.D.). Her daughter Monica (Teyonah Parris) was a key character in WandaVision and is set to return in the Secret Invasion series.
Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic (John Krasinski)
This is probably Multiverse of Madness’ biggest surprise appearance. Moments before Mr Fantastic is revealed, Christine tells Strange she is working for the Baxter Institute – the Baxter Building is the home base of the Fantastic Four.
Marvel Comics’ original super team has had a troubled history on the big screen. A new Fantastic Four movie within the MCU has been announced, and John Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt have long been fan favourites to play Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic and Sue Storm/Invisible Woman respectively. Artist Russell Dauterman’s rendition of Mr Fantastic in the War of the Realms comic from 2019 even resembles Krasinski. While there is no confirmation on the casting of the other three members of the Fantastic Four, Krasinski’s appearance in this movie is the fulfilment of many fans’ wishes.
After the Darkhold is destroyed, Wong is forced to reveal that it was only a copy, and that the original runes within the spell book are carved into Wundagore Mountain. Wanda and Wong travel to Wundagore, where monstrous manifestations of Chthon are awakened. This location is an important one in the comics and is where Wanda and her twin brother Pietro were born. Chthon is an elder god who was imprisoned in Wundagore after being summoned by the sorceress Morgan le Fay. The Lovecraftian Chthon wrote the Darkhold in a cavern within Wundagore called the Darque Hold. The extent of the lore is not explored in Multiverse of Madness, and it is possible that we have yet to meet Chthon himself, and that the creatures seen in the film are just his servants. In the comics, Wundagore also served as the base of operations for the supervillain Herbert Wyndham/High Evolutionary.
Strange and Christine travel to a universe that has collapsed in on itself and that appears completely desolate. They arrive at a dilapidated Sanctum Sanctorum, that is occupied by an evil version of Strange. Fans speculated that this is a live-action version of the character from What If…?, in which Strange descends into madness after repeatedly trying and failing to prevent Christine’s death, eventually destroying his universe of origin. Cumberbatch told Total Film that Sinister Strange in Multiverse of Madness is a separate character from the What If…? version, saying “[This Sinister Strange] is nothing that you’ve seen before. What If...? is a beautiful riff of a potential. And this is something different.” The design of this universe also evokes the Nightmare Dimension from the comics, ruled by the demon Nightmare. The character most frequently fights Doctor Strange and Ghost Rider.
Doctor Strange’s Third Eye
We see Sinister Strange possess a third eye on his forehead, and at the very end of the movie, Earth-616 Strange has a third eye open on his forehead as well. This is a manifestation of the Eye of Agamotto, the talisman that Strange wears on a necklace. In the MCU, the Eye of Agamotto contained the Time Stone, but it appears that the magical object has powers separate from the Infinity Stone it once held. In the comics, the Eye grants its user powers including True Sight (the ability to see through illusions and disguises) as well as the ability to play back past events, trace beings via their magical residues and even generate portals to other dimensions. The Eye is often associated with white or “good” magic in the comics, so it is interesting that Sinister Strange possesses it.
The mid-credits scene after the main-on-end titles introduces a key character from the Doctor Strange comics: the silver-haired, purple-clad Clea, played here by Charlize Theron. In the comics, Clea is the daughter of Umar and the niece of Dormammu, the demonic ruler of the Dark Dimension. Clea betrays Dormammu to become the disciple and eventual wife of Strange. Clea returns to the Dark Dimension to lead an uprising against her uncle, and eventually takes on the mantle of the Sorcerer Supreme and the new Doctor Strange, following the Death of Doctor Strange arc in the comics. It is likely the Clea will feature prominently in the next Doctor Strange film.