This post contains spoilers for WandaVision, Loki, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, as well as potential future MCU spoilers. We have a spoiler free review here.
The MCU multiverse came to be when Loki and Sylvie dethroned He Who Remains in the Loki season finale. But if the Marvel Comics references in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are to be believed, it may be ending soon, too. In the movie’s post-credit sequence, the sorceress Clea (Charlize Theron) recruits Strange to join her in the Dark Dimension to address an incursion caused by his actions. These incursions could have major repercussions for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Let’s break it all down…
Is Wanda Really Dead?
It appears that the Wanda Maximoff of Earth 616 (aka the main MCU) died on Mount Wundagore after destroying the Darkhold in all dimensions. For Wanda’s fans, this ending might seem like a betrayal of the redemption arc set up in WandaVision. Thanks to the urging of Monica Rambeau and Vision, and the revelation of meddling by Agatha Harkness, Wanda saw how her grief drove her to harm others when she controlled Westview.
These fans saw Wanda’s adoption of the Scarlet Witch title and retreat to Wundagore Mountain as a step toward healing (even if she did spend her time reading the Darkhold). But Wanda spends all of Multiverse of Madness as a monstrous killer, dying a villain instead of a hero.
But it’s important to remember that Wanda sacrifices herself as an act of heroism. When she sees the look of horror on the faces of the Billy and Tommy of Earth 838, Wanda realizes that she’s become a threat to the very people she wanted to save. Moreover, the Wanda of 838 shows unbridled heroism, the best of who Wanda Maximoff is as a mother and an Avenger. She destroyed the Darkhold to prevent anyone else from following her footsteps, dream-walking to take control of variants of themselves. More importantly, she destroyed the Darkhold so that a Wanda from another universe cannot learn to control her 838 self and threaten those children. Through her sacrifice, the Scarlet Witch stopped the evil part of herself so that the good part could live on in the form of 838 Wanda.
That convoluted, multiversal answer gets at the heart of comic book deaths. While 616 Wanda may have died, that certainly does not mean that we’ll never see her again. Superhero deaths are notoriously temporary (unless we’re talking about Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, who we’re pretty sure is staying dead), so if Elizabeth Olsen wants to return, writers have plenty of options to bring her back.
What is an Incursion?
According to the Illuminati of Earth 838, the Doctor Strange of that universe used the Darkhold when desperate for power, causing a universe destroying incursion. Although he and the Illuminati stopped the incursion, the threat was so great that the Black Bolt executed 838 Strange before he could do further damage. Later in the movie, Wanda uses America Chavez’s powers to exile Strange into a universe made desolate by an incursion. All that remains in that universe is the ruins of the Sanctum Santorum, home to an evil and broken Doctor Strange.
In keeping with the fast pace that director Sam Raimi brings to the film, Multiverse of Madness spends little time explaining the concepts of incursions. A fuller explanation comes from Jonathan Hickman’s run on New Avengers volume three. Continuations of his run on Fantastic Four, New Avengers and Avengers chronicled the end of the Marvel Multiverse, which was recreated into a new universe controlled by God Emperor Victor Von Doom in the 2015 series Secret Wars.
New Avengers #1 (penciled by Steve Epting) begins with Black Panther discovering an incursion in Wakanda. After stepping into a distortion field, Black Panther enters a landscape bathed in red, with a second Earth above him and moving closer. Before he can comprehend what has happened, a group of mysterious figures, led by an alabaster woman called Black Swan, destroys the approaching Earth, thus ending the incursion event.
In short, an incursion occurs when Earths from two universes collide. During the eight-hour window of the conversion event, one of two things will happen. If one of the Earths is destroyed, then its universe also dies, but the other universe survives. If the one Earth is not destroyed during the incursion, then both universes die.
How Did the Heroes Stop the Incursions in the Comics?
Here’s the thing. They didn’t stop the incursions. Where Hickman’s Avengers run tells a rousing tale of universal adventure, his New Avengers comics tell a horror story. As the Illuminati – Reed Richards, Black Panther, Iron Man, Beast of the X-Men, Black Bolt, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Doctor Strange – come up with new solutions, they repeatedly fail. The Infinity Gauntlet allows them to push two Earths apart, stopping an incursion, but the strain results in the destruction of the gems. Another incursion ends only because the Galactus of that universe devours the Earth before it can collide with ours, and the heroes fail to save anyone from that universe.
The ending of Multiverse of Madness points toward the most harrowing part of the New Avengers series, in which an incursion brings together Earths 616 and 4290001, modeled on the DC Universe. The Great Society (a thinly veiled reference to the Justice League) attempts to work with the Illuminati to peacefully find a way to save both universes. But when that fails, Doctor Strange calls upon a dark spell he learned from the cursed Blood Bible. His third eye opening (sound familiar?) in demonic form, Strange unleashes an Eldritch horror on the Great Society, effectively murdering the Justice League analogs of this alternate universe.
Despite the dark lengths to which they go, the Illuminati fails to stop the incursions. Their only recourse is to create a lifeboat to allow some to survive the end of the universe. The heroes on the lifeboat eventually overthrow the new universe created by Doctor Doom and Molecule Man, eventually recreating the Marvel Universe as it was. But they did so without stopping the incursions.
What Does This All Mean For the MCU?
New Avengers eventually reveals incursions to be the work of Doctor Doom, part of his plan to achieve godhood. But in Multiverse of Madness, incursions come from Doctor Strange’s use of the Darkhold. By the end of the film, a repentant Wanda destroys the Darkholds of every reality and the tower that holds the text of the Darkhold has crumbled.
But there’s no reason to think that Multiverse of Madness gives us a happy ending. As Strange walks down the street, with the Scarlet Witch apparently dead and America Chavez safe, he collapses to the ground as an obscene ringing fills the soundtrack. The camera spins around him as he looks up at the sky, a third eye open and staring in horror. What does he see here that’s so alarming? Is it possible that he’s unwillingly witnessing the incursion in the Dark Dimension that Clea later comes to request his help with?
But in the post-credit sequence, which takes place some time later, Strange seems much better. In fact, when Clea asks Strange if he’s afraid of joining her in the Dark Dimension, he opens his third eye with glee. For some, Strange’s response could be read as a heroic ending, evidence that he has overcome whatever evil plagued him and can join Clea with a new ability.
However, it can also be read as an extension of the dark ending suggested by the last shot of the movie proper. Raimi’s framing of that scene suggests that the third eye comes from Strange’s experience with the Darkhold. When combined with Clea’s warning, it becomes clear that Strange’s compromise to dream-walk into his zombie variant has created incursions that continue to threaten the universe.
Given the connections between time travel and multiple universes we’ve already seen in Avengers: Endgame and Loki, it seems likely that the incursions will only grow worse as Kang the Conqueror arrives in the MCU with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. If that’s the case, then Kang presents a far greater threat than even Thanos. Where the Mad Titan only made half of one universe disappear, Kang and the incursions could destroy all universes. Even worse, Multiverse of Madness shows that Strange will willingly sacrifice his soul and his morals to combat incursions, potentially opening the door for much worse.