Saturday, January 16, 2016

Darkforce, Doctor Strange, Magic, and Marvel TV

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This week the showrunners of Agent Carter, Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, revealed that the second season of Agent Carter will feature a small tie-in to Doctor Strange.  Over the course of the season, Peggy will be charged with investigating the California-based weapons company Isodyne which has been developing weapons of mass destruction.  However, one of these weapons will take an unexpected turn, resulting in the first discovery of the substance known as “Darkforce” (and with a name like that I suppose would have to be named in the ’40s!).

Okay… that just begs the question:  what’s “Darkforce”?

In Marvel Comics, Darkforce is essentially the energy of another dimension (known as the “Darkforce dimension”) which can be manipulated by certain characters to perform certain magical abilities.  Darkforce can be manipulated to produce camouflage, shapes and objects, or anything else the user desires.  Additionally, users can indirectly use Darkforce to teleport, by opening portals to and from the Darkforce dimension (such as Cloak from Cloak and Dagger).  However, use of Darkforce comes at a price:  Darkforce is inherently corrupting and can turn good characters to evil over time due to prolonged exposure.

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Agent Carter will not be the first time that Darkforce has appeared in the MCU.  We first saw a Darkforce user in season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the form of Marcus Daniels, a.k.a. Blackout, a lab assistant who was exposed to Darkforce during an experiment attempting to harness the substance (1x19).  Blackout had the ability to manipulate Darkforce to absorb energy—electrical energy, kinetic energy, and even the energy of the human body.  Due at least in part to the accident that gave him his powers, Blackout was very much psychologically damaged—which may also have been fueled by his prolonged exposure to Darkforce energy.

So having said all this, what does Darkforce have to do with Doctor Strange?

As I said above, Darkforce is a potential source of magical power, one which we could see Doctor Strange making use of.  This is perfectly in line with what has been revealed so far about Doctor Strange, that other dimensions and manipulation of dimensional energy will play a role in the movie and his powers.  However, this is also something which we really haven’t seen before in the Marvel movies—that’s where Marvel TV comes in.

Potentially, the use of Darkforce on both Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will help to build some connective tissue with Doctor Strange so the movie doesn’t feel tonally disconnected from the rest of the MCU.  After all, without at least attempting to give the magic a scientific explanation, it would not fit terribly well with the more technologically-grounded elements of Iron Man’s, Captain America’s, and even Thor’s powers (“magic is just science we don’t understand yet”).  However, if we get to see magic alongside the technological accomplishments of Howard Stark and Leo Fitz—as well as the latter’s fumbling attempts to explain magic—it no longer strains credulity when Doctor Strange walks around manipulating extra-dimensional energies like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

So now the question arises:  How can Marvel TV help to build this connective tissue and perhaps even introduce or connect magic into the MCU?

Let’s take this chronologically, starting with Darkforce’s upcoming appearance in Agent Carter season 1.  While we can’t know exactly what will happen yet, we can make some educated guesses.  Based on what the showrunners said, it seems likely that the discovery of Darkforce will be accidental in nature, the result of a nuclear weapons test gone horribly awry.  This test will likely rip open a portal between our dimension and the Darkforce dimension (something we’ve seen on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a couple times), allowing Darkforce energy (dubbed “Zero Matter” by the scientists) into our own dimension.  It’s not stated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the scientists involved in the test happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes something of a conduit for Darkforce energy, allowing him to manipulate it to some extent.

After Agent Carter season 2, I expect that Isodyne (the company introduced in Agent Carter) will continue to experiment with controlling Darkforce.  Eventually we may learn that they were responsible for the experimentation which gave Blackout his powers.  This brings us to our next confirmed Darkforce sighting in the MCU, “The Only Light in the Darkness” (AoS 1x19), in which Coulson has to stop Blackout by overloading him with gamma radiation.  By this time we have seen at least a couple different uses for Darkforce energy, at least some of which can be explained scientifically.  However, both of the Darkforce users introduced (Blackout and the Agent Carter character) are the result of lab experiments or accidents; neither of them had an innate ability.  That’s where the next character/appearance comes in.

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In doing research on Darkforce, I came across a character who would fit right in on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:  Nightfall, a new Inhuman who was part of Lash’s tribe in the comics.  Nightfall receives the Inhuman ability to manipulate Darkforce energy in order to teleport, among other things.  If Marvel really wants to build the connective tissue and start fitting Doctor Strange’s magic into the MCU before the movie comes out, they will introduce Nightfall on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in either the second half of season 3 or the first half of season 4.  She would start out as a confused new Inhuman who is discovered by S.H.I.E.L.D., which helps her adapt, trains her to control her various abilities, and places her on the Secret Warriors.  Along the way, Fitz and Simmons get the opportunity to analyze her Darkforce abilities—and the only conclusion they reach is that while she is harnessing and manipulating extra-dimensional energy, they have no idea how it works (that way it is still magic, but with a semi-scientific non-explanation thrown in for good measure).  I would also marginally increase the number of abilities she displays over time as she trains her ability:  teleportation and phasing, camouflage/invisibility, encasing targets in Darkforce, and eventually the ability to hit a person or object with solid Darkforce.  This starts to build up just what magical abilities are possible just from manipulating Darkforce.

However, over the course of several missions, Daisy and the team realize that Nightfall is starting to behave erratically, showing little regard for human life, and otherwise succumbing to the corrupting effects of Darkforce exposure.  Eventually, she may turn completely evil and join Hydra’s team of Inhumans (and other enhanceds).  This would help to establish the inherent risks associated with Darkforce magic, something which could play a role in Doctor Strange—either contributing to a character’s downfall or giving Strange a measure of inner turmoil which he must overcome.

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At this point, we have arrived at the Doctor Strange movie, which is what all of these Darkforce stories are building towards.  In the Doctor Strange movie, Marvel will have to provide some explanation for his powers—and from what we have seen and speculated so far, it looks like one of those explanations may be that the Eye of Agamotto contains an Infinity Stone.  While this may be an acceptable source for his powers, it should be fairly obvious that he can’t rely on an Infinity Stone as a long-term solution since there’s a Mad Titan waiting out there in space to take all the Infinity Stones and put them together!  Additionally, if an Infinity Stone is the only source of his powers, then that diminishes magic within the MCU a great deal.  That’s why I’m hoping/expecting that Doctor Strange will gain his magical powers from multiple sources, at least a few of which will be the manipulation of dimensional/extra-dimensional energy (which I think is what they were getting at with the early references to String Theory).  Based on the previously-mentioned comments on Agent Carter, this seems like a reasonable assumption to make, and that Darkforce (and the Darkforce dimension) will be one of the sources for Doctor Strange’s powers.

Now, if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter are both showing Darkforce—and (if AoS uses Nightfall) even people with the inherent ability to manipulate Darkforce—what is there to make Doctor Strange (the Sorcerer Supreme) so… supreme?

Two things.  First, his control of Darkforce (and other magic sources) would be much greater by the end of his movie than that of any other characters we’ve seen.  Second, I would also make him the first Darkforce user we’ve seen without some extenuating circumstance allowing him to access other dimensions.  The first two Darkforce users (Blackout and the assumed Agent Carter character) were both exposed to Darkforce in the course of scientific experiments.  The other Darkforce user, Nightfall, would be an Inhuman.  Doctor Strange, however, would be able to access Darkforce (and other dimensional energies) simply by speaking a spell, making him unique.

After Doctor Strange, I expect the floodgates to open for Darkforce and other magic users in the MCU.  The first Darkforce user I expect to see afterward is probably Cloak, who teleports by accessing the Darkforce dimension.  A Cloak and Dagger series or movie has been rumored for years now, and would focus on character dynamics which we really haven’t seen much of in the MCU so far.  Add in the major tie-in potential between Cloak and Dagger and the Netflix series, ABC series, and Doctor Strange, and I think it’s a given that a series based on them will be announced sooner or later.  Other magic users could follow on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Netflix to complement Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange in the movies.

If Marvel really wants to fit magic into the MCU, they can’t go wrong with letting Marvel TV explore it a little first.

How do you want to see Darkforce on Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?  What magical characters would you introduce on Marvel TV?  How do you think Doctor Strange will fit magic into the MCU?  Let me know in the comments!

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  1. Like you said, Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter will have both touched on this by the time Doctor Strange is released, but then next year Iron Fist will also more than likely touch on the mystical side. Jessica Jones' powers were never explained, but it is possible that those are mystical as well, probably not though.

    Though magic has been part of the MCU since Thor, he even said in Asgard magic and science are the same, so it's not like this is something new for the MCU, it's just never been front and center.

  2. It's true that Thor deals with magic, but the "magic" in Thor is categorically different from Doctor Strange's. A lot of what we see in Thor has some form of scientific explanation (Jane gives at least one in Thor: The Dark World). The kind of magic in Doctor Strange is different from anything we've seen in Thor.