Mephisto may be one of Marvel’s most iconic, enduring villains – and that’s no surprise considering he’s based on the archetype of the Christian devil, pretty much the most iconic ‘villain’ in religion, folklore, and in some cases, even as a metaphorical force in world history.
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Marvel’s comic book take on the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient infernal manipulator who rules over his own realm of eternal punishment through treachery and torture has had a similar impact on the history of the Marvel Universe.
Though he originally showed up in Marvel Comics as an enemy of Thor and especially the Silver Surfer, in recent years, Mephisto’s schemes and manipulations have been primarily focused on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange – two heroes who are currently front and center in both Marvel Comics and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
That connection hasn’t escaped fans either, who – perhaps true to the deceptive nature of both Mephisto himself and Marvel Studios’ notoriously misdirecting marketing department – seem to be spotting Mephisto in nearly every recent Marvel show and movie, starting all the way back in WandaVision, when he was widely predicted to make an appearance as the show’s ultimate villain.
No such WandaVision appearance came to pass, but speculation has swiftly moved to place Mephisto as the secret villain of the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home, in which Doctor Strange (or, if some fans are proved right, Mephisto disguised as Strange) uses magic to help Peter Parker make his identity as Spider-Man secret again, seemingly cracking open the Multiverse as a result.
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In fact, some Spider-fans seem to think a face-like shape on the bottom left-hand corner of the newly released Spider-Man: No Way Home poster (seen here) could be Mephisto hiding in plain sight, with some features such as arched brows and possible facial hair that could also tie his appearance to Doctor Strange.
But what’s Mephisto’s deal (pun intended) in comic books? And what’s going on between Mephisto, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man that has fans looking for the diabolical villain under every Cloak of Levitation in sight?
The answers to these questions aren’t forbidden – just somewhat hidden, and we’ll answer them all right now as we break down the comic book history of Mephisto.
Who is Mephisto?
The being known to mortals as Mephisto is one of the first demons to be birthed from the cosmic chaos at the dawn of time. As such, he has witnessed and influenced countless events throughout the entirety of Marvel history – all the way back to witnessing the so-called Celestial Progenitor die on Earth, with the effects of the Celestial’s dying vomit eventually giving rise to the planet’s large population of super-beings.
But it’s unclear if Mephisto is even the demon’s real name (it’s a shortened version of the name ‘Mephistopheles’, popularized by playwright Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus), or what he actually looks like.
Mephisto himself has admitted he enjoys playing up the religious iconography of the devil both in his appearance and his actions to prey on human fears, down to his traditionally devilish appearance, and his penchant for calling his own realm both ‘Hell’ and ‘Hades.’
Mephisto has even implied that he could be responsible for some of the Biblical and theological stories attributed to the devil in the Marvel Universe, though Marvel Comics has generally shied away from drawing too many defining lines about how or if ‘real’ versions of Christian theological figures including God and the Devil actually exist in the Marvel Universe, usually employing caveats like Mephisto’s love of tricking humans with their own fears.
In terms of the modern Marvel Universe, Mephisto made his first comic book appearance in 1968’s Silver Surfer #3 (opens in new tab), becoming a primary nemesis for the so-called Sentinel of the Spaceways, who co-creator Stan Lee wrote in a somewhat philosophical, messianic fashion befitting of a demonic adversary.
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Since then, Mephisto has bedeviled nearly all of the Marvel Universe’s most well-known characters, taking special interest in the soul of Thor time and time again in years past.
It’s that obsession with Thor that led to one of Mephisto’s first big comic book moments in the four-issue limited series Mephisto Vs… (opens in new tab) in which Mephisto took on the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers, and X-Factor over the fate of the souls of Thor and other heroes, even bringing the Norse goddess of death and ruler of her own infernal realm Hela into the fight.
Mephisto also played a key role in the recent Marvel Comics summer event Heroes Reborn (opens in new tab), in which Phil Coulson (who is markedly different in comics than in his well-liked MCU incarnation) makes a deal with Mephisto to remake reality into a world without the Avengers, with him as the President of the United States, commanding a version of the Squadron Supreme.
In that story’s finale, Mephisto met up with 615 (since Mephisto inhabits Earth-616) of his own Multiverse ‘Variants,’ apparently forming what one of the demons dubbed the ‘Council of Red’ – perhaps similar to the Council of Cross-Time Kangs, made up of hundreds of variants of the eponymous time conqueror.
Mephisto in the Marvel Universe
Two of Mephisto’s biggest recent stories have focused not on his old foes Thor and the Silver Surfer, but on two more recent targets who share their own connections with one another – Doctor Strange and Spider-Man.
Strange and Mephisto have crossed paths more than a few times over the years, as is the nature of being Sorcerer Supreme. And Strange hasn’t always come out on top.
In 2018’s Doctor Strange: Damnation (opens in new tab), Strange accidentally allowed Mephisto to bring a portion of his own hellish realm to Earth on top of Las Vegas while trying to cast a spell to repair the city after its destruction in the story Secret Empire.
Mephisto turns the city into an infernal casino (something that has become a recurring theme with the devilish villain), cheating Strange into his captivity, and subverting Strange and several other heroes into Spirits of Vengeance possessed by demons from among his legions.
In the end, Strange is freed by none other than Wanda Maximoff and Loki (who both will play likely roles in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), while a new team of Midnight Sons comes together under the guidance of Strange’s assistant Wong to help defeat Mephisto.
But Strange and Mephisto most recently matched magical wits over the fate of Peter Parker, owing to a deal Peter made way back in 2007’s Amazing Spider-Man: One More Day (opens in new tab).
In that story, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson agreed to rewrite history and give up their marriage – all the way back to the day of their actual wedding – in exchange for Mephisto saving the life of Peter’s Aunt May, and allowing Peter’s secret identity to be concealed again by the magic of Doctor Strange (more on that momentarily).
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However, earlier this year in Amazing Spider-Man #74 (opens in new tab), Strange finally bested Mephisto in his own games of chance, helping free Peter Parker from Mephisto’s manipulations and allowing him to reunite with Mary Jane.
Oddly enough, in the story, it’s implied that Mephisto’s desire to keep Peter and MJ apart is because they will one day have a child that will defeat Mephisto once and for all.
What’s also interesting to note about the interactions between Mephisto and Strange specifically is that Strange has often had to turn to strange bedfellows to defeat Mephisto.
In the classic story Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment (opens in new tab), the two titular masters of magic join forces to outwit Mephisto and rescue the soul of Doom’s mother from Mephisto’s netherworld.
Then in the aforementioned Damnation, Strange is forced to team up with Dormammu, ultimate villain of the first Doctor Strange movie, when Mephisto takes over the realms ruled by Dormammu as well as one of Strange’s other archenemies, Shuma-Gorath – though Strange eventually betrays Dormammu to Shuma-Gorath, trapping them in Mephisto’s realm.
This goes to show that, religious morality aside, Mephisto is one of the most evil and diabolical beings in the Marvel Universe on a grand cosmic level – so much so that even bloodthirsty enemies will set aside their differences to defeat him.
Mephisto in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
So far, Mephisto isn’t confirmed to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at all. However, we can’t rule out that the ultimate deceiver has already appeared hiding in plain sight, perhaps even as another character (though that may be speculation for another time).
Mephisto did appear in 2007’s Nicolas Cage Ghost Rider film, but even with all the Multiverse variants and returning actors the MCU is employing, it seems unlikely we’ll see that version of the character return – especially since Peter Fonda, who played him, passed away in 2019.
What we do know is that some of the plot points from Mephisto’s more recent comic book appearances seem to play directly into the events of several upcoming Marvel movies – most notably Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
In the case of the former, Doctor Strange uses his magic to help Peter Parker hide his identity as Spider-Man after Mysterio revealed it to the world back in Spider-Man: Far From Home (similar to how it happened in comic books), but the spell apparently goes wrong, allowing Spidey villains from around the Multiverse such as Doctor Octopus and Green Goblin to come together as a kind of Sinister Six.
A new poster for No Way Home shows off several villains and hints at others, with the confirmed Doc Ock and Green Goblin both appearing directly on the poster in some form.
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Meanwhile, a swirling cloud of sand hints that some version of Sandman (potentially Thomas Hayden Church’s Spider-Man 3 version) could be in the film. And a bolt of lightning across the image signals the return of Jamie Foxx’s Electro from Amazing Spider-Man 2, which has already been confirmed.
But it’s the image from the poster we mentioned at the top that may sort of look like a face, combined with Strange’s odd, even deceptive behavior in the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer that has fans speculating Mephisto himself could become a member of the MCU Sinister Six.
As for Multiverse of Madness, well, if Strange is impersonated by Mephisto in No Way Home, we have to believe that will come up in his own movie a little while later. Add to that Wanda Maximoff’s announced participation in the movie, and her recent possession of the Darkhold tome, and it looks like some infernal magic could be in Strange’s future.
And given the recent reveal of a council of Variants of Mephisto from around the Multiverse in comic books, there’s already a Marvel Comics concept in place to tie it all together.
Will Mephisto appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Or has he already? The devil, as Agatha Harkness said in WandaVision, is in the details – and we have to agree that it looks like Marvel Studios is gearing up to reveal Mephisto’s presence somewhere, somehow – probably when we least expect it.
Mephisto may be one of the villains fans most want to see in the MCU, but is he among the best Marvel Comics villains of all time?