This article contains Doctor Strange spoilers.
In Doctor Strange’s earliest comic book appearances, he went up against mostly one off villains. In these early mystical stories, Strange would take on and defeat odd creatures, greedy sorcerers, and human malcontents. For readers of the day, these early Stephen Strange stories were anything but mundane, but they were also far from mythic. But when the Dread Dormammu appeared, things changed.
Now, Dormammu has finally made his way to the big screen. Dormammu is anything but a one off villain, and in truth, the ruler of the Dark Dimension can be a Thanos level threat to the entire MCU. His name (which is really hard to spell by the way) inspired dread in readers that have stood witness to the damage that the Dread One has wrought upon reality. Over the years, Dormammu has been the antagonist in some truly epic Doctor Strange stories, has almost destroyed reality by engaging in conflict with his own sister, and has been the cause of a war between two of Marvel’s most powerful superhero teams.
The name Dormammu was uttered by Doctor Strange’s arch foe Baron Mordo in Strange Tales #111 (1963), long before we ever actually saw him on the page. Dormammu was just another mystical sounding name that Strange, Mordo, and the Ancient One bandied about. Stan Lee loved names like Agamotto, Vishanti, Cyttorak, and Dormammu was just one of those awesome sounding monikers that sparked readers’ imaginations. But there must have been something about those ominous sounding syllables that inspired Lee and Ditko to introduce the Dread One himself…
Strange Tales 126-127 (1964)
By Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Listen, before the Marvel Age, comics continuity didn’t really hold together. Yeah, you had continuing stories over at DC where a character like Mon-El would first appear in Superboy before joining the Legion of Super-Heroes years later, but these types of things were few and far between. By introducing Dormammu by name only and then letting the concept fester in the imaginations of readers until the villain was introduced, Ditko and Lee solidified themselves as masters of the craft of serialized storytelling.
And after such a buildup, Dormammu didn’t disappoint, and it was clear that Dormammu was a demonic creation worthy of mention alongside the literary demons introduced by H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Let’s start with his appearance. Look at it and wonder at its terrible perfection. Steve Ditko created most of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, but Dormammu might be his most wonderfully vile creation. The flaming head, the raw power, the almost featureless burning face, Dormammu was designed to be good old fashioned nightmare fuel.
Through Dormammu, Ditko and Lee were able to world build elements into Doctor Strange that endure to this day, like the Dark Dimension, a bizarre world of profane geometry and surrealism, the beautiful Clea, a woman from the Dark Dimension who dared to rebel against her dark master Dormammu and a woman who would become Stephen Strange’s great love and a hero in her own right, and the Mindless Ones, a brutish and horrific race of unthinking rage demons that could give the Hulk a run for his money. All these mystical elements and new characters came with Dormammu, but it was the Dread One his own damned self that helped make Doctor Strange such a legendary feature.
In their first battle, Strange is utterly overpowered by Dormammu. It all began when Dormammu tried to enter the real world. The Ancient One feared the Dread One and sent his new student Doctor Strange to the Dark Dimension to defeat Dormammu. Strange overcame Dormammu’s minions, but when the flame headed demon god appeared to wage magic war against Strange, the Ancient One’s student was immediately overwhelmed. Ditko and Lee established that only Dormammu’s power held the Mindless Ones at bay. If he was to deplete his power too much, Dormammu’s barrier would crumble and the unstoppable Mindless Ones would enter the Dark Dimension.
While Dormammu was evil incarnate, he did have a sense of duty to his people. Dormammu ended the battle with Strange and swore an oath never to enter Strange’s world and never to harm Clea again. But readers were left with the uneasy fact that Doctor Strange did not defeat Dormammu, the Dread One’s own sense of duty did. Now that’s a multi-layered flame headed god king of a hell dimension!
Strange Tales #130-146 (1964-1965)
By Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
In this saga, Dormammu found a loophole to the oath he swore at the end of his first appearance. Instead of going against Strange directly, Dormammu granted Baron Mordo tremendous power. The evil sorcerer succeeded in abducting Clea, Strange, and the Ancient One and brought them to Dormammu in the Dark Dimension. Dormammu summoned his fellow Lords of the Netherworlds (sounds like a Scandinavian Black Metal festival) and swore to destroy Strange in front of his peers. Never before had so many demonic entities appeared together on a comic page.
In front of these slobbering tentacled masses of corporeal madness, Dormammu challenged Strange to physical combat. Dormammu was a way more powerful wielder of the dark arts than Strange, but Strange was a more skilled martial artist, so the good Doctor was able to overcome Dormammu’s raw power. Strange defeated the Dread One because of Dormammu’s immense ego, but before he retreated from the Dark Dimension, Dormammu banished Clea from her home world. C’mon, it ended with a wizard and a demon lord punching each other WWE style and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
That Time Dormammu Punched the Universe
Strange Tales #146 (1966)
By Dennis O’Neill and Steve Ditko
Before you can wrap your head around this one, allow us to introduce Eternity. Eternity is a character black light posters were invented for, but other than that, Eternity is the living embodiment of, well, everything. Every particle of matter, energy, light, and conceptual thought in reality exists with the corporeal being of Eternity. If our reality grew legs and walked, that would be Eternity. And reality wears a cape. Awesome.
So in this story Dormammu decided that he’s going to destroy Eternity. Dormammu loses, but imagine waking up one morning in the Dark Dimension and thinking, “You know what I’m gonna do today? Punch everything that is, was, and ever well be in its stupid big face!”
You have to give this to Dormammu, he’s ambitious.
The Avengers 115-118, The Defenders 8-11 (1973)
By Steve Englehart, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema
The Avengers/Defenders War is traditionally regarded as the very first crossover event. In it, Marvel’s two major super teams battled each other and eventually joined forces. Keep in mind, back in the day, the Defenders consisted of Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk so there were some serious power houses clashing with the Avengers.
So Dormammu joined forces with Loki to manipulate the Avengers and Defenders into doing battle. Dormammu needed both teams to help him assemble the ultra-powerful Evil Eye. When Dormammu had the artifact, he easily defeated both super teams, including his sworn foe Doctor Strange. Only Scarlet Witch stood in the way of Dormammu and ultimate victory. With one hex blast, Wanda Maximoff trapped Dormammu within the Evil Eye and the war between the Avengers and Defenders came to a close.
But guys, imagine a cinematic clash of Dormammu and Marvel’s greatest heroes. Most of the players are in place, including Dormammu’s partner in crime Loki, so make it happen Kevin Feige because this crossover defined big time storytelling in the Marvel Universe.
Giant-Size Avengers 4 (1975)
By Steve Englehart and Don Heck
Hey, we forgot to mention Dormammu has a sister. The wicked sorceress Umar first appeared in Strange Tales #150 (1966) and was created by Roy Thomas and Bill Everett. Umar has been the sometimes ally sometimes adversary to Dormammu as the two have joined together and betrayed each other countless times for the throne of the Dark Dimension. It’s like Game of Thrones with less incest and more heads on fire.
Anyway, after Dormammu is defeated by the Scarlet Witch, the Dread One and his sister try to take revenge on Wanda on the day of her wedding. That’s right, on the very day that Wanda was set to marry Vision, Umar tried to bring the incorporeal Dormammu to Earth. Most people get gravy boats off their registries for their weddings, but Vision and Wanda almost got a fiery god king of a hell world. Luckily, Wanda, Strange, the Avengers, and some of their super guests prevented Umar from bringing the ultimate wedding crasher onto the scene of these super nuptials.
Check and Mate
Thor Annual #9 (1981)
By Chris Claremont and Luke McDonnell
And then there was the time Dormammu played chess with Odin with the fate of all of reality hanging in the balance. That’s right, the one-eyed god of all things and the profane god king of the Dark Dimension got down to a game of chess with everything at stake. Umar tried to manipulate Thor into helping defeat the Thunder god’s father, but Thor resisted and the game ended in a draw.
Listen, if you can go to a draw with Odin in anything, you’re pretty badass. Sadly there were no sequels to this story. Dormammu versus Zeus in a game of checkers. Dormammu versus Thanos in Shoots n’ Ladders. Dormammu versus Galactus in a game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos. The mind boggles.
Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme 1-2 (1988 – 1989)
By Peter Gillis and Richard Case
After the demonic, mutant laden Inferno crossover, Doctor Strange was in a weakened condition. Always ready to take advantage of a hobbled foe, Dormammu possessed Strange and kicked the Sorcerer Supreme’s mind out of his body. Dormammu wanted to use Strange’s magic to make himself the supreme being in all the cosmos (hey, ambition), but the Dark One was defeated by Clea and Strange, who was possessing the body of a rat.
So from going to a stalemate with Odin to being defeated by a rat, Dormammu has had a few ups and downs in his career.
At Long Last, Victory
Guardians of the Galaxy 34-36 (1993)
By Michael Gallagher and Kevin West
You would think that Stephen Strange forever stood in the path of Dormammu’s ultimate victory. Not so fast, because when the 31st century version of the Guardians of the Galaxy (long story) traveled back to the modern era, Dormammu came with him.
Future Dormammu merged with his twentieth century self and attacked the future Guardians. Among the Guardians’ rank was an elderly Stephen Strange, who had taken the mantle of the Ancient One. At long last, future and present Dormammu destroyed the Ancient One’s corporeal body. Finally, Dormammu was victorious. Even after centuries, the anger of Dormammu would not rest until Doctor Strange laid at his feet in a heap of ashes. Of course, Strange returns in his astral form to rally the Guardians and defeat the dual Dormammu, but Strange would never know the pleasures of the flesh again thanks to the Dread One.
Web of Darkness
The Amazing Spider-Man v2, 57-58 (2003)
By J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr.
One of the coolest Dormammu appearances of the 21st century took place in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man. In this storyline, the Mindless Ones were unleashed on New York. Dormammu tricked the heroes of the Marvel Universe into opening a gate to the Dark Dimension as they attempted to stop the Mindless Ones rampage. Doctor Strange sent Spider-Man back in time to prevent Dormammu from hatching this plan.
Hey, Strange gets all timey wimey to defeat Dormammu, that sounds like a familiar beat, huh?
A Hearty Meal
Defenders 1-5 (September 2005 – 2006)
By J.M. DeMatteis; Keith Giffen, and Kevin Maguire
As we covered, the super team known as the Defenders and Dormammu have a storied history. In this mid-2000s miniseries, Dormammu and Umar devoured a council of most of Earth’s wizards. Strange escaped this sorcerer smorgasbord and reunited the Defenders to stop the hellish siblings. Plus, during this humorously toned series, Umar slept with the Hulk…so that happened.
Dormammu hasn’t made many appearances recently, but he’s popped up in the pages of Doctor Voodoo, Uncanny X-Men, Fear Itself, and SHIELD, but none of these have been dimension shattering. But that’s all about to change now that Dormammu has made his cinematic debut. So look for huge things in comics and film moving forward because the walls between reality and the Dark Dimension are getting thin and the Dread One will soon threaten humanity once again.