Marvel knows you’re confused about comic book continuity and the MCU. In advance of November’s Doctor Strange, the publisher has been promoting prelude comics, written by Will Corona Pilgrim with art from Jorge Fornes and coloring by Jesus Aburtov. Pilgrim, who spoke with Inverse over the phone, says, “We can’t tell Stephen’s story, because that’s what the movie does, so I wanted to give readers a look at what some of the other characters were up to before the events of the film.”
Pilgrim, who has been working at Marvel since the birth of the MCU, has overseen the company’s prelude comics for Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy with a team of other creators. He says the Doctor Strange comics are just the logical next steps. The first prelude comic for Doctor Strange explores the life and changing beliefs of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), whom Pilgrim is reticent to call a “villain,” even as he appears in Marvel’s upcoming film. “Kaecilius is already damaged when we meet him in Doctor Strange, so our first prelude illustrates where he’s coming from.”
In Doctor Strange Prelude Issue #1, Kaecilius and the Masters of the Mystic Arts attempt to track down a stolen relic from the British museum. From their point of view, as with most interesting comic book “bad guys,” Kaecilius and the Masters are simply working to improve the world around them. That complex worldview is why Pilgrim avoids calling Kaecilius Doctor Strange’s villain. “People expect something in particular from a ‘villain,’” he says. When pressed on Kaecilius’s role in the film, Pilgrim is understandably hesitant.
He says toeing the line between spoiling movie developments for fans and getting people amped up to see Doctor Strange is a delicate process. “We just want to give people enough to keep them wanting more. It’s nice when we’re writing a prelude to an origin film, but it’s also harder. Comics fans read these comics and have certain expectations.”
Pilgrim’s prelude comics function like standalone stories from issue to issue. Instead of following Kaecilius further, Doctor Strange #2 follows the Ancient One, introducing a style of combat that Pilgrim says is inspired, partly, by Mads Mikkelsen’s films. When asked if Marvel’s Doctor Strange film will incorporate a similar look, Pilgrim says, “China will play into the film [as it does in these comics], but I can’t say much more than that. We were inspired by Kurosawa films, by lyrical movements, and the look of tai chai, in our combat.”
Though the Doctor Strange preview, and the latest TV spots, depict Kaecilius as menacing, we’re starting to get little snippets of Strange and Kaecilius debating their issues. Fans have already noticed these exchanges, and it appears something is brewing at Marvel. Could Mordo be the film’s actual baddie?
Find out when Doctor Strange hits theaters on November 17.