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[This story contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame]
Thanos (Josh Brolin) meets not one, but two, ends in Avengers: Endgame, underscoring that — unlike the comic book source material — the Titan is unlikely to return to plague the Marvel Cinematic Universe anytime soon. That leaves a significant hole to fill for the Marvel Cinematic Universe moving forward. Who can fill the shoes of the villain who was behind the storyline that ran for seven years throughout multiple movies — and what storyline could take the place of the search for the Infinity Stones? There is one obvious answer to both questions.
2015’s Secret Wars comic book series was a big deal. At once a sequel to, and retelling of, the 1984 comic book with which it shares a name, Secret Wars was the culmination of years’ worth of stories by writer Jonathan Hickman, running through both his Fantastic Four, Avengers and New Avengers comic book series. It dealt with a very simple subject: The end of the Marvel Universe.
It’s complicated, but essentially a core group of Marvel heavy hitters — such as Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Mister Fantastic and Namor — learned that universes were colliding, and the only way to save their reality was to destroy alternate Earth’s threat to smash into their own. This storyline has cinematic potential for a number of reasons, including that it could allow fallen MCU heroes to return in alternate dimensions.
The villain at the center of the comic book entire storyline was one of Marvel’s most famous bad guys, but one who hasn’t appeared in the MCU just yet for a very simple reason: Marvel couldn’t use him before now. Victor Von Doom, better known as Doctor Doom, debuted in 1962’s The Fantastic Four No. 5 and who until this year’s Disney/Fox merger, was licensed out to Fox.
Beyond the simple, striking visual of Doom — a suit of armor covered by a deep green cloak and tunic — it’s the personality of the character that makes him truly irresistible: Self-interested to the point of parody, yet highly intelligent and a master of both science and magic, Doctor Doom is the monarch of an Eastern European country who is obsessed with the acquisition of power and likes to refer to himself in the third person on a regular basis. He has tragic origins (The lust for power stems, at least in part, to a desire to rescue his mother’s soul from Hell), but also an innate greed that consistently undermines whatever better intentions he may possess. He is, in short, a near-perfect supervillain.
There’s far more to the 2015 Secret Wars in terms of cinematic potential than merely a showcase for Doctor Doom, however. Boiled down to its basics, the over-arching Secret Wars plot is this: The multiverse is collapsing, with alternate realities colliding with each other due to the machinations of cosmic entities called the Beyonders. As attempt after attempt to prevent this from happening fails — forcing the heroes of the Marvel Universe into opposition with superheroes from alternate realities over and over, as each tries to be the dominant, i.e. surviving, reality — one last ditch attempt is made to confront the Beyonders, which leads to the destruction of the entire Marvel Universe with the exception of one sole patchwork planet made up of shards of realities and controlled by Doctor Doom, who has sabotaged efforts in order to gain godlike power. (Things get fixed, of course; that tends to happen in superhero stories.)
This story offers Marvel Studios not only the chance to up the ante from Infinity War/Endgame — last time, half of all life was ended; this time, it’s almost everything in all of existence, except for what fits on “Battleworld,” with even that a relatively barren place — but the lead-up also allows the studio to explore an idea introduced in depth in Endgame: Alternate realities. Thanks to the events of that movie, audiences have already visited at least three different realities, but what happens when more and more show up, with heroes who have to fight each other to survive?
That Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse used the potential of alternate realities, and what that can mean for alternate versions of familiar superhero characters, to great success can surely only be seen as an added benefit for executives nervous about how confusing this story might be to audiences.
Beyond the heightened scope — and multiple crossover movies — this setup makes available to Marvel, there’s an additional potential element that could prove impossible to ignore: The chance to bring back Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. or Scarlett Johansson for cameo appearances as versions of their characters from realities where they didn’t die. Considering the response that would provoke from fans, how could Marvel resist?
For now, this is all wishful thinking. Marvel has, understandably, played its cards very close to its chest when it comes to what the big picture is, post-Endgame, and so whether or not Doctor Doom, the X-Men or any other long-missing characters will appear — never mind be central to — the next epic storyline is entirely unknown. But if Marvel wants to find some way to raise the stakes from where it’s already taken the MCU to, there aren’t that many options available. Clearly, it’s time for some Doom.
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