One of the most exciting announcements at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego was Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the Sorcerer Supreme's second solo film. This intriguing title was accompanied by director Scott Derrickson’s reveal that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would be Marvel’s first horror movie.
Horror fans might have recognized the Lovecraftian reference in the title of the film. In the Multiverse of Madness sounds very similar to the title of H.P. Lovecraft’s seminal 1931 horror novella At the Mountains of Madness. It tells the story of Professor William Dyer expedition to Antarctica, where he discovered the remains of fourteen prehistoric lifeforms and an alien city as old as the moon. He also discovered evidence that there were Elder Things from space inhabiting and terraforming the Earth long before any actual life spawned on its surface. As the members of the expedition disappear or die, Dyer and Danforth start to lose their minds when confronted with these creatures.
Lovecraft’s central theme about humans being incapable of processing the answers to these existential cosmic questions have influenced everyone from Stephen King to comic book creators. And since Doctor Strange deals with that kind of cosmic horror as a part of his regular schedule, the Marvel Universe already has an Elder Thing of its own, Shuma-Gorath.
If the title of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is any indication, that immensely powerful being could show up in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While Shuma-Gorath might be most widely known for his role in the Marvel vs. Capcom fighting game franchise, the many-tentacled creature is an unfathomably large, ultra-powerful, malicious god who rules over hundreds of alternate dimensions, or a multiverse if you will.
Named after a creature invoked in a story by Lovecraft's friend Robert E. Howard, Shuma-Gorath first appeared as an immortal, ancient, chaotic and all-powerful entity alongside Doctor Strange in 1972's Marvel Premiere #5, by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner.
Shuma-Gorath used to rule the prehistoric world through human sacrifice and once again gained access to our dimension through the mind of the Ancient One. To keep that from happening again, Doctor Strange is forced to kill the Ancient One. Strange eventually merged with Shuma-Gorath in order to kill the creature. After that, Strange's spirit was sent hurtling through the Multiverse before returning to his body. While the Ancient One is already dead in the MCU, Strange's adventures in that could certainly be described as 'madness in the multiverse," and that idea is certainly scary enough to add some horror to a Marvel movie.
There are some other interesting connections to note between Shuma-Gorah and the heroes who are still in the MCU. During the Venomized event, Shuma-Gorath fought Vision and Falcon. More recently, In the Infinity crossover, Ebony Maw tricked Doctor Strange into summoning a smaller version of Shuma in the middle of Manhattan. That situation was dealt with by several characters who will be joining the MCU soon, like Monica Rambeau and Blade.
After appearing in the streaming series Wandavision, the Scarlet Witch will also have a role in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In comics, the reality-warping Avenger got her mystical powers from another semi-Lovecraftian god, Chthon, who wanted to use her as his earthly vessel. Like the aforementioned Doctor Strange story, this plot shares the idea of a hero becoming one with unspeakable, unknowable evil, and Shuma-Gorath could easily fill that slot in a similar story in the MCU.
While several of the past few MCU movies have leaned more into comedy, films like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Blade seem set to lean into horror trappings. The MCU might've been fairly family-friendly so far, but characters like Shuma-Gorath could change that going forward.
Directed by Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen. The film hits theaters on May 7, 2021.