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Shuma-Gorath: Marvel Comics monster, video game icon, and next big MCU villain?

image of Shuma-Gorath
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

If you're a fan of classic Marvel video games, the Disney Plus animated streaming series What If…? might be right up your alley, thanks to what now appears to be two appearances of a villain, who though still unnamed looks a helluva of a lot like the cult-favorite Doctor Strange villain Shuma-Gorath.

In the series' first episode, Super Soldier Captain (Peggy) Carter battles a seeming alien menace summoned through a cosmic portal by the Red Skull. We don't see much of the being other than a mass of writhing tentacles trying to breach Earth through the portal, however. Though unnamed in the episode, what we do see bears a resemblance to Shuma-Gorath, a Marvel comic book villain dating back to the '70s that enjoyed a pop-culture moment in thanks to his inclusion in several beloved Marvel video games.

And the tentacles are back...

Spoilers ahead for What If…? episode 4.

In the new September 1 episode titled 'What If…? Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands,' the unnamed monster returns, again seen as tentacles breaching a portal, this time acting appropriately as a sort of mystical final boss which an obsessed, grieving Doctor Strange needs to level up for centuries in order to defeat and absorb its powers.

It's also worth noting, this uber-strong Strange can only absorb a few of the creature's tentacles, as opposed to the entire thing, seemingly indicating the enormous power the full creature possesses. 

Shuma-Gorath

still from What If...? episode 4 (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Though we've so far only (maybe) seen his tentacles creep their way into the MCU, we'll take any opportunity to talk about Shuma-Gorath, one of the weirdest characters Marvel ever gave a multimedia push - and with his potential connection to rumors surrounding Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the elder evil may become more relevant than ever.

The oddity of Shuma-Gorath's Marvel Comics history goes beyond his video game stardom, to his roots which lie outside of comics, in a totally different mythos altogether.

So what's Shuma-Gorath's story, and what could it mean if he does make it to the MCU in some form, fashion, or Multiverse? We'll break it all down right now.

Who is Shuma-Gorath?

image of Shuma-Gorath

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The cosmic horror known to mankind as Shuma-Gorath made his debut in 1973's Marvel Premiere #10, after being namechecked a few issues earlier. Created by writer Steve Englehart and artist Frank Brunner, Shuma-Gorath actually takes his inspiration from two non-comic book literary sources - H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, and Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories.

The two writers often seeded connections between each others' ideas in their stories, something that plays in directly to Shuma-Gorath's history in the Marvel Universe.

Shuma-Gorath is one of the so-called 'Multi-Angled Ones,' a group of eldritch monsters who exist in a space outside Marvel's Multiverse known as the 'Cancerverse,' who enter different realities only to conquer and bedevil them.

The name Shuma-Gorath itself comes straight from Robert E. Howard's Conan tale 'The Curse of the Golden Skull,' while the concept of his appearance is inspired by the description of Lovecraft's Elder Evils of the Cthulhu mythos. In fact, the name 'the Multi-Angled Ones' is taken from a story set in the Cthulhu mythos, 'The Lair of the Star Spawn' by August Derleth and Mark Schorer.

Shuma-Gorath's Marvel history plays up both these connections, as well as the connection between Howard and Lovecraft themselves. And thanks to Marvel Comics licensing the comic book rights to Conan in the '70s (as well as in the present day), Shuma-Gorath's story ties directly to Conan the Barbarian's larger continuity. 

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In Marvel Comics terms, Shuma-Gorath predates known history, first coming to Earth in a primordial age in which he conquered the planet as a sacrifice-hungry deity. He returned again in Conan's Hyborian Age, a time period that's also been incorporated into Marvel history thanks to the aforementioned Conan license, fighting the Barbarian himself.

Shuma-Gorath's time in the modern Marvel Universe began when the entity tried to manifest himself through Doctor Strange's mentor, the Ancient One, beginning a rivalry between the eldritch horror and the Sorcerer Supreme that lasts to this day, which has gone so far as Shuma-Gorath trying to magically take over Strange's body like a parasite, and Strange being tricked into summoning Shuma-Gorath to fight other heroes in the story Infinity.

The rivalry between Strange and Shuma-Gorath has even grown to encompass Strange's other key nemesis Dormammu. In fact, Shuma-Gorath and Dormammu's hatred of each other was central to some of their last appearances in Strange's title. Shuma-Gorath, in one of his interdimensional conquests, destroyed the homeworld of the anti-magic villains known as the Empirikul, who then invade Earth seeking to eradicate all magic in the Marvel Universe and to kill Shuma-Gorath in the story Doctor Strange: The Last Days of Magic.

In the story, the Empirikul actually succeed in eliminating not just magic altogether, but in destroying the Sanctum Sanctorum, leaving Strange nearly powerless as he is forced to collect magical artifacts to rebuild his power. But this also brings the return of Baron Mordo, servant of the Dread Dormammu, who hopes to capitalize on Strange's weakness and kill him. 

It's revealed that Dormammu and Mordo are able to keep using magic, despite others like Strange and the Scarlet Witch being totally cut off, by leading the Empirikul to Shuma-Gorath.

Finally regaining his power by the tale's end, Strange banishes Dormammu to the realm of Shuma-Gorath.

Shuma-Gorath in the Marvel Universe

Shuma-Gorath

(Image credit: George Marston)

Shuma-Gorath's hatred of pretty much everything but himself and the other Many-Angled Ones (and even some of them) means that his rivalries go far beyond just Doctor Strange and Dormammu to many other heroes and villains.

In the story The Thanos Imperative, the Mad Titan was trapped in Shuma-Gorath's 'Cancerverse' along with Nova after a battle with the Guardians of the Galaxy, though both Thanos and Nova later escaped.

And in the tale Doctor Strange: Damnation, Shuma-Gorath is one of a multitude of evil beings vying to become the ruler of Las Vegas when a portal to hell opens in the city, losing out to Mephisto.

Over the years, the cosmic horror has faced down the Avengers multiple times, lost a fight to Groot the talking tree, and had his body turned into a bizarre kind of zombie powder by Arnim Zola, who attempted to use his horrid concoction to mind-control the Invaders in the story Invaders Now!.

He's even wound his way across the Multiverse, thanks to his origins in a dimension that exists wholly outside of its bounds, fighting variants of the X-Men, Thanos, and many more.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

One of Shuma-Gorath's most interesting connections, especially in terms of his MCU potential, comes from one of his earliest appearances away from Doctor Strange, in which the villainous Nicholas Scratch - AKA the son of Wanda Maximoff's comic book mentor and WandaVision villain Agatha Harkness - summons Shuma-Gorath to fight the Fantastic Four.

Weirdly, Shuma-Gorath also has an ongoing rivalry with Deadpool thanks to both of their proximity to the living embodiment of Death - with the flash-forward story Deadpool: The End even including Shuma-Gorath inviting Deadpool to Death's realm to celebrate the birth of his child (Deadpool RSVP'd "no.").

And of course, we can't mention Shuma-Gorath's place in Marvel lore without bringing up his inclusion in the old school video game Marvel Super-Heroes: War of the Gems, in which many Marvel characters battle for control of the Infinity Stones. This led to his later inclusion as a playable character in the games' spiritual successor, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds.

These video game appearances made Shuma-Gorath, a previously mostly obscure villain, into an unlikely fan-favorite and boosted his profile in Marvel Comics - potentially leading the way to his MCU debut.

Shuma-Gorath in the MCU

image of Shuma-Gorath

still from What If...? episode 1 (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

If Shuma-Gorath did make his MCU debut in What If…? episode 1 and then returned in episode 4 starring Doctor Strange, that's a pretty strong signal he/it will be seen in the MCU again - with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness being a likely live-action debut as any.

The easy connections are all there, from Strange and Shuma-Gorath's classic comic book rivalry, to the villain's origins as a being outside the Multiverse itself, right down to Shuma-Gorath's usual motivations of Multiversal conquest, which play right into the story set up by Disney Plus' Loki show.

There's also the matter of popular - but so-far unfounded - rumors that the Super Soldier version of Peggy Carter could appear in Multiverse of Madness alongside other variants of known MCU characters, which would dovetail directly with his possible appearance fighting Peggy in What If…?

Somewhat backing up the idea of a possible movie cameo is a quick scene from aWhat If...? trailer that shows Captain Carter meeting Doctor Strange presumably in a future episode.

Interestingly, the scene in question (see below) doesn't appear in Episode 4 but seems to feature the focus on the episode, Doctor Strange Supreme, as opposed to the regular Doctor Strange (you have to see the episode). 

If this scene is from another, future episode, the tentacled monster would almost certainly return as well, indicating it still has a larger role to play.

still from What If...?

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The first Doctor Strange movie ended with a post-credits scene establishing Mordo -  up until that point an ally of Strange in the MCU - as a likely new enemy whose goal is to destroy magic in the MCU following the events of Dormammu's attack in the film. That sounds quite a lot like the Empirikul, the magic-hating villains with ties to Strange, Shuma-Gorath, and even Dormammu and Mordo.

And of course, there are the comic book ties between Scarlet Witch and Shuma-Gorath, both through the aforementioned Last Days of Magic story and through their shared connections to Agatha Harkness. With Wanda Maximoff and possibly Agatha herself set to appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, those comic book roots could be even more reason to bring Shuma-Gorath in.

Whether we've seen his nightmarish presence yet in What If…? twice now or not, there are more than enough comic book connections and potential story hooks for Shuma-Gorath to find his way into the MCU eventually - especially in the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Before the upcoming Death of Doctor Strange comic book and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness film, it's the perfect opportunity to catch up on the best Doctor Strange stories of all time.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)