[This article contains MINOR SPOILERS for Doctor Strange.]
Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo has always been one of Doctor Strange‘s most dangerous foes. He was a master of the dark arts who was Strange’s first real antagonist, and the rivalry between them has grown only more heated in the decades since. With the exception perhaps of the dreaded Dormammu, Baron Mordo is probably Doctor Strange’s most well-known villain and is one of the more deadly to boot.
In the new Doctor Strange film, however, Baron Mordo is presented in a significantly different light. Though there are definite similarities to the classic comic villain, the movie Mordo is very much a new take on the character. To better appreciate these differences, let’s take a look at Mordo’s backstory and see if we can get an idea of where the character is headed in the future as well.
Doctor Strange’s First Foe
Baron Mordo was introduced in Strange Tales #111, one issue after the introduction of Doctor Strange himself. A nobleman from Transylvania, Mordo was a student of the Ancient One who plotted to kill his master in an attempt to force the Ancient One to reveal some of his magical secrets. Doctor Strange learned of the plot and tried to warn the Ancient One, though Mordo used magical restraints to stop Strange. The Ancient One offered to free Strange if he agreed to become his apprentice, setting Strange on the path to become Sorcerer Supreme and establishing him as Mordo’s lifelong enemy. Mordo and Strange trained side-by-side for a few years after this, until Mordo couldn’t handle it any longer and went out in search of the power to defeat Strange and the Ancient One.
There would be a few more attempts on the Ancient One’s life, but Mordo’s focus started to shift away from learning the secrets of his former master. Instead, he focused more and more intently on defeating Strange as a primary goal. He doesn’t think that Strange is worthy of being the Ancient One’s disciple (even though the Ancient One might never have taken Strange on if not for Mordo himself), and tried to murder Strange in a number of creative ways – including, stealing his body while Doctor Strange was astral projecting so that his astral form couldn’t rejoin his physical from. It was during this time that Mordo became a full-on follower of Dormammu in hopes of gaining more power and finally being able to defeat Strange once and for all.
Mordo was eventually banished from the Earth, though he found his way back afterward. He tried several more times to defeat Doctor Strange, and even found himself banished a few more times over the years.
Master of the Dark Arts
Like Doctor Strange, Baron Mordo is a powerful sorcerer and is able to use both spells and artifacts to great effect. Unlike Strange, however, Mordo also frequently uses demons and other summoned entities in his plans. He is particularly adept at taking control of others through mesmerism and hypnosis, forcing them to carry out his plans whether they want to or not. He even managed to control the Ancient One’s servant at one point, making the servant put poison in his master’s food. That plot was foiled by Doctor Strange, fueling the conflict between the two sorcerers.
Mordo is also adept at entering the Astral Plane, and is able to use a number of his abilities while in his astral form. He was controlling the Ancient One’s servant while in his astral form, and was only defeated when Doctor Strange tricked him into returning to his own body (which severed his control over the servant). He is often found searching for new sources of power, hoping to finally be able to defeat Strange and achieve is goals. Sometimes this quest for power doesn’t end well for him, as some of his summons and rituals have been shown to have unwanted outcomes.
The Dread Dormammu
Mordo first learned of Dormammu while studying ancient texts and scrolls under the tutelage of the Ancient One. Sensing his lust for power, the Ancient One forbade Mordo from trying to make contact with Dormammu. The lure of power was strong, however, and Mordo made contact with the ruler of the Dark Dimension. Dormammu typically used Mordo as a pawn in his own plans, showing little respect for the sorcerer; in fact, it was Dormammu who banished Mordo from Earth the first time because he found the Baron’s attempt to attack Doctor Strange while Strange was already fighting Dormammu to be dishonorable.
Despite the animosity between Mordo and Dormammu, the two have worked together on multiple occasions. Mordo serves Dormammu because he knows that doing so can increase his own power, and there have been a few times where Mordo has betrayed his master when other beings offered him even more power. Once, Mordo even betrayed Doctor Strange to side with Dormammu and then betrayed Dormammu when his sister Umar overthrew him and took control of the Dark Dimension. Though Mordo seemed to realize that he was dealing with powers above his head once those events were finished, he’s more recently been found to be a part of Dormammu’s plans for the Earth once again.
Dead and Back Again
The dark arts can take a toll on their wielder, and in Mordo’s case they left his body wracked with terminal cancer. The cancer eventually kills him, though he does renounce his evil ways before his death. He was given a chance to survive by his illegitimate daughter, who used magic of her own to transfer Mordo’s cancer into Doctor Strange; she hoped that he would kill Strange in his moment of weakness, ending the rivalry between the two sorcerers once and for all. Mordo was sincere in his desire to change his ways, however, and reabsorbed the cancer into his own body instead of allowing Strange to suffer with it. He struck down his daughter with a mystic dagger and transported her to another dimension to keep him from interfering, then allowed the cancer to claim him.
Seven years later, Mordo returned from beyond the grave. It wasn’t the result of some grand scheme, however; Doctor Strange was attempting to help Spider-Man, who had been trapped outside of the timestream, and in doing so somehow altered Mordo’s demise. Sadly, the resurrected Mordo didn’t seem to have the earnest desire to be a good man that the Baron had before his death; since he’s returned, Mordo’s appearances in the comics have all had him playing the part of the villain.
Mordo in the MCU
The Mordo that we see in Doctor Strange is a much different take on the character, being loyal to the Ancient One and having a high degree of personal honor. In fact, many of the negative aspects of Mordo’s backstory were given to Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius instead. Mordo doesn’t seek to overthrow the Ancient One or crave more power; instead, he actively tries to help Doctor Strange to unlock his potential and fights to keep the Earth safe from the threat of Dormammu. He’s an honorable man, and seems unlikely to use any magic or artifact that would tarnish that honor or interfere with the natural order of things.
If anything he’s too much of a purist, taking bits of new information hard as he learns that not all of the sorcerers respect the natural order as much as he does. The revelations that occur within the film chip away at him until he’s no longer able to turn a blind eye to other sorcerers so blatantly disregarding what the order is supposed to stand for. This is what causes him to finally cast aside his honor and start acting more like the Baron Mordo from the comics; he feels that everyone else has abandoned the rules, and it’s up to him to do whatever is necessary to restore order.
Baron Mordo’s Future
As we’ve seen in Doctor Strange, Mordo feels that the sorcerers of Earth are taking too many liberties and tampering with the natural order of things too much. This sets Mordo on a dark path that will likely be a major part of any sequel: He’s resolved to fix the problem of sorcerers abusing their power by doing away with the sorcerers. This will not only bring him into direct conflict with other powerful sorcerers, but will likely lead to a direct confrontation with Doctor Strange (who had developed into a close friend of Mordo’s in the film).
It’s possible that we’ll see Mordo acting more like his comic counterpart in a Doctor Strange sequel, perhaps unleashing a demon or other dark spirit on Earth to try and snuff out some of the sorcerers of the world. Even if he doesn’t call forth something from the darkness, Mordo will definitely be a darker character in his second outing. There may be some hope for redemption down the line, but that won’t be until we see Mordo break bad in a major way.