Whether you’ve seen Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness already or not – and if not, it’s now streaming on Disney Plus – you’re likely well aware of the involvement of the mysterious Marvel group known as the Illuminati, and you’ve probably also even gotten word about Charlize Theron’s surprise debut as Clea, warning Doctor Strange of an “Incursion.”
But what is an ‘Incursion,’ and what do the Illuminati, Clea, and the Multiverse itself have to do with this deadly and dangerous concept from Marvel Comics? The new Doctor Strange movie sets the stage for these questions and their MCU answers – as well as the ever-looming crossover event Secret Wars, which has been apparently shaping up as the next big meta arc for the MCU.
For how it all lines up – Incursions, the Illuminati, and Secret Wars – we’ll run down the comic book history of some of the wildest Multiversal concepts in Marvel Comics.
What is a Multiversal Incursion?
When it comes to the concept of ‘Incursions,’ the idea goes back to the crossover story ‘Time Runs Out’ in which a newly formed iteration of the Illuminati attempt to investigate and prevent the destruction of the Earth, as the many worlds of Marvel’s Multiverse are colliding and erasing each other from existence.
The cause of this series of Multiversal disasters remains mysterious as some of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe set their sights on preventing the destruction of the Earth-616 reality through what are dubbed ‘Incursions’ of one reality into another, causing both to become unstable and be destroyed.
Alongside the Illuminati (comprised in this incarnation of Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Black Panther, Captain America, Black Bolt, Namor, and Beast), Doctor Doom begins researching and fighting the Incursions – unlocking one of the biggest secrets of why and how they’re occurring.
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As it turns out, the Incursions are no accident – they’re the end result of a Multiversal experiment by a group of supremely powerful beings known as the Beyonders (one of whom was the villain of the original Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (opens in new tab) event in 1985). As some of the creators and architects of the Multiverse itself, the Beyonders created each of their realities, Earth-616 included, with a sort of metaphysical failsafe that they could use to destroy any reality in their purview – or even the entire Multiverse.
This ‘failsafe’ comes in the form of Owen Reese, the Molecule Man, whose personality and powers, which are derived from the very fabric of creation itself, are a Multiversal constant across all worlds and realities. Imbued with a portion of the Beyonders’ power, when the Beyonders activate the Molecule Man failsafe of a given reality, his powers become unstable and that reality crashes into the next one over, causing the Incursions.
Doom himself discovers the power of the Molecule Man, and even as the Illuminati find themselves going to battle with each other over the complex morality of trying to save their entire existence even if it means wiping out another world, Doom enacts his own plan to save the Multiverse.
Multiversal Incursions and Secret Wars
As it turns out, Doom has been onto Molecule Man and the Beyonders for some time – since he first manipulated Molecule Man into helping him defeat the Beyonder in the original Secret Wars. Bringing together Molecule Man and none other than Doctor Strange, Doom lays out his plan to confront and stop the Beyonders, using the help of Molecule Man’s powers and the magical authority of the Sorcerer Supreme.
Using his unique mastery of super-science and magic, Doom once again harnesses Molecule Man’s power for himself, entering the space between realities and facing down the Beyonders at the moment of the final destruction of all the remaining worlds of the Multiverse, Earth-616 included.
Using Molecule Man’s powers combined with Strange’s magical prowess and his own scientific and magical knowledge, Doom manages to cobble together a surviving reality from all the bits and pieces of defunct Multiverse worlds to create Battleworld, his own reality, which he rules with an iron fist (metaphorically of course).
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This launches 2015’s Secret Wars (opens in new tab), in which the remaining members of the Illuminati and a few survivors manage to sequester themselves in a kind of ark designed to shield them from being rewritten in the Multiverse, eventually emerging to battle Doom and set things right with a restored Multiverse.
But it’s not the same Multiverse that was destroyed, even though Molecule Man and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four use their combined knowledge and powers to rebuild things the best they can.
Still, there are some changes. For one thing, Miles Morales jumps from the Ultimate Universe to the core Marvel Universe of Earth-616, along with several other similar incorporations of characters from other realities into the mainstream Marvel reality. And Reed Richards’ mission to rebuild the Multiverse kept the Richards family and the Fantastic Four as a whole out of the spotlight for years, as Reed was literally sequestered in a pocket dimension and presumed dead.
But by a wide margin, the farthest-reaching remnant of the original Incursions is the death of the Multiverse and its newly reformed and remade incarnation in the current lore of Marvel Comics.
Multiversal Incursions in the MCU
So what could this mean for the MCU?
If Doctor Strange and Wanda Maximoff’s Multiversal meddling did indeed start an ‘Incursion,’ that could be the biggest clue yet that the MCU is actually building toward some version of Secret Wars in which heroes and villains from all around the Multiverse will come together for a major conflict.
In terms of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ glimpse at Earth-838 and its Illuminati, they reveal to the core MCU Strange that his ‘Variant’ from their world caused an Incursion himself, before being killed in retribution for destroying an entire reality.
But would the MCU go so far as to bring in Molecule Man and the Beyonders? So far, we’ve already met the Time Variance Authority and learned of their ‘Sacred Timeline,’ the formation of which sounds quite a lot like the destruction of the Multiverse in 2015’s Secret Wars event (though set far in the ancient past of the MCU). And of course, Kang the Conqueror who has his own cadre of Multiverse Variants is central to that story and is being set up as a major villain for both Loki season 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
With Clea officially warning Strange of an “Incursion” in the mainstream MCU timeline, it’s safe to assume that even if the exact details of what that means don’t line up between comic books and the MCU, we’re looking down the barrel of a potential Multiverse-threatening event.
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What’s more, the same movie that introduces the concept of ‘Incursions’ also gave the MCU its first Reed Richards ‘Variant’ as part of the Illuminati, signaling that the introduction of the Fantastic Four in the MCU could rely on the Multiverse to bring the heroes in – and potentially even signaling Doctor Doom as a major upcoming part of the overall story, given his own role in both 1985 and 2015’s Secret Wars.
And not for nothing, Kang is a descendant of both Reed Richards and Doom – so there’s a lot of comic book lore tied into the Multiverse, the FF, and the Incursions which the MCU could easily pull from. And of course, Strange himself was a key figure in the final confrontation with the Beyonders, so there’s plenty of room to tie all these threads together in a big crossover movie.
Whatever comes next, the MCU has been steadily building the Multiverse as a key concept in the larger story of its current phase – and with the idea of an ‘Incursion’ now on the board, that could mean that a Secret Wars-type story that brings together elements from many MCU realities is also looking more and more like a likely next step.
Want to know more about the history of characters and story points in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Then check out our guides to:
- America Chavez – the Marvel Comics history of Doctor Strange 2’s powerful new teen hero
- The Illuminati – the Marvel comics history of the super-secret superhero society
- How the Marvel Universe became a Multiverse and got the name “Earth-616”
- Wanda Maximoff the Scarlet Witch has a new Marvel comic book status quo
- The best Wanda Maximoff – Scarlet Witch stories of all time
- The Darkhold – Marvel’s book of dark magic explained
- Gargantos – the Doctor Strange 2 monster’s complicated Marvel history explained