Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has long stitched together several different story threads to create, essentially, an all-encompassing, wide-ranging narrative - starting with the war against Hydra and extending to the global rise of the Inhumans, the introduction of Life Model Decoys, and, finally, the formation of the Watchdogs.
Now, the show is going even further afield by venturing into the magical and mystical corners of Marvel comic book lore. Over its first four episodes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., season 4 has introduced two key supernatural subplots: the sudden appearance of “ghosts” and the introduction of Robbie Reyes, a.k.a. Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna), a man who believes he has made a pact with the Devil himself in order to achieve retribution in his personal life.
But last night’s installment, “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire,” took the magical elements one giant leap forward, firmly establishing the Darkhold as the cornerstone of all these newfound, inexplicable events. In doing so, the show is also helping to lay the groundwork for none other than next month’s Doctor Strange, which will be the grand introduction of mysticism to the movie side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Given the importance of such an item, it may be worth our while to quickly acquaint ourselves with the Darkhold – and sketch out where it may possibly lead Marvel’s flagship television and film series.
What Is the Darkhold?
The Darkhold is a collection of all the black magic that is in existence and has been present on Earth for tens of thousands of years, if not more. The text was originally written by a demonic entity known as Chthon, who is occasionally portrayed in the comics as, essentially, Satan: a vastly powerful being that has his creations and followers forcibly removed from Earth by God’s angels. The Darkhold originally started off life as a series of iron-bound scrolls before being compiled into book form, and has since been destroyed, scattered, and reconstituted dozens (if not hundreds) of times, thanks to the fact that its pages or parchments are literally indestructible.
The Darkhold has been behind almost every single usage of dark magic in the Marvel comic universe, from the creation of its vampires (which includes Blade) and werewolves to its involvement in the popular Marvel Zombies collection of miniseries – not to mention the fact that the Marvel versions of Merlin, Dracula, and Conan the Barbarian have all had numerous run-ins with the volume over the 44 years since it was first established in the comics. Given its immortal and sinister nature, it has been referred to as the Book of Sins, and reading it usually means that the user’s soul is forfeited – or he will become a vampire or werewolf himself.
Given its extraordinary power, Dr. Strange has, at times, held the Darkhold in his possession in an attempt to prevent others from getting their malicious hands on it. Which leads us to…
How does it fit into the MCU?
Across the opening stretch of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s current season, it’s been revealed that a private contractor for the federal government, Momentum Alternative Energy Laboratory, was engaged in an experiment that attempted to create matter out of “almost nothing.” Something went wrong, and it transformed the research staff into a collection of “ghosts” that are largely invisible to humans but can still interact with them, either deliberately or unwittingly. Apparently guiding the head scientist in these efforts was none other than the Darkhold, a book which a member of the team describes as containing “all the knowledge anyone could ever need.”
The situation only gets more interesting when the supernatural characters from the Marvel Universe come into play. First there’s Robbie Reyes, whose uncle was an engineer on the project and whose superpowered form, Ghost Rider, is able to touch – and kill – the spectral versions of the doomed staff. And then there’s Dr. Stephen Strange, whose connections to the Darkhold in the comics make it likely that the book will come into play in the movie.
Though the grimoire is presumably still missing, it hasn’t stopped various individuals from attempting to locate it all across the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” reveals that two former Hydra leaders, Johann Schmidt (better known as the Red Skull, and portrayed by Hugo Weaving) and Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond), were on the hunt for it across the past 70 years, and even former S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) had pursued it, as well. Needless to say, all failed in their efforts.
The Future of the Darkhold in the MCU
The role that the Darkhold will play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from this point forward is unknown, but it’s almost guaranteed that two items in particular will be eventually addressed: (1) additional backstory will be revealed in Doctor Strange that will account for Momentum Labs’ eventual possession of it; and (2) Ghost Rider’s existence – and the fact that the supernatural entity can jump from host to host – will be partially explained by the “spells” contained in the volume.
This brings us to a point that is important to take into consideration: for all the build-up in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. about the mystic nature of these developments (Robbie Reyes repeatedly makes mention of the fact that he’s not an Inhuman, leaving Ghost Rider’s origin mysterious), the larger MCU has, thus far, consistently explained away the seemingly supernatural in grounded scientific terms. The gods of Norse mythology are all alien lifeforms that primitive man could only understand in divine terms; ancient pagan sacrificial cults were actually the first forms of Hydra in its quest to retrieve Hive; and, finally, Doctor Strange’s powers are assumed to be based on the quantum mechanical trickery that was originally spotted in last summer’s Ant-Man. There’s no reason to assume that the Darkhold and its various creations, such as (possibly) Ghost Rider, won’t receive some kind of scientific explanation, as well; after all, "magic's just science that we don't understand yet."
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with “Lockup” on Tuesday, October 25, at 10:00 pm on ABC.