Long before Freddy Krueger, Marvel Comics had their own villain in the realm of bad dreams. We’re talking about Nightmare, the dream demon who has long been a thorn in Doctor Strange’s side. In fact, we consider Nightmare as Stephen Strange’s second or third most significant baddie, right behind Dormammu and Baron Mordo. And now, certain signs point to Nightmare appearing in the MCU’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Who, or more precisely what, is Nightmare? And what are the clues that lead us to believe he is the film’s main villain? Let’s dive into the Dream Dimension and revisit Nightmare’s long history in Marvel Comics.
Who Is Marvel Comics’ Nightmare, the First-Ever Doctor Strange Villain?
Nightmare’s Comic Origins
In the comics, Nightmare appeared in the very first Doctor Strange story, 1963’s Strange Tales #110. Although born in the realm called the Everinnye, Nightmare is a demon that lords over the Dream Dimension, where the consciousness of many tortured humans wander during sleep. In Nightmare’s origin story, a troubled man came to Strange’s Sanctum for help with his dark dreams. There, Strange’s astral form entered the man’s unconscious mind, where he encountered his “ancient foe” Nightmare in the dream realm. It wouldn’t be the last time.
Nightmare’s Marvel Comics Powers and Abilities
Nightmare’s chief power in Marvel’s comics is that he can infect the dreams of powerful beings on Earth, corrupting them. He can also literally take over the bodies of others by infecting their dreams. Additionally, Nightmare has the ability to trap someone’s dream soul in his realm and torment them for all time if he chooses to. But though Nightmare is incredibly strong, even his power has limits. He once tried to ensnare the waking world into his realm, but ultimately failed. Although Doctor Strange is Nightmare’s primary adversary, because of the nature of his power, Nightmare has fought against nearly every major Marvel hero.
Nightmare has infected the dreams of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, Dazzler, Moon Knight, Daredevil, Morbius, and even Captain America. When fighting Cap, he invaded the “American dream” of many patriotic heroes. But a punch in the face from Cap defeated even the all-powerful Nightmare (don’t ask). Most recently, the X-Men’s Jean Grey psychically protected her fellow mutants from Nightmare by entering into his realm and unleashing her own psychic powers against him, thus beating him. But Stephen Strange is still Nightmare’s most formidable enemy. Doctor Strange even casts a protective spell against Nightmare before he goes to sleep each night.
Nightmare as One of The Fear Lords
Nightmare is one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel universe, and once even overtook the entity known as Eternity. A being that encapsulates the entirety of reality. As long as there are beings who dream, Nightmare can extract their fear and turn it into raw power. Because of this, he can never truly be destroyed, just temporarily defeated. Although not totally powerless outside of his own realm, in the waking world, he is definitely weaker. Nightmare is one of Marvel’s many “Fear Lords,” a group that also includes D’Spayre and the Dweller in Darkness who, in one form or another, feed on the fears of mortals.
According to Marvel, “certain demons feed not on souls but on negative emotions, such as fear.” And it is the Fear Lords that rule over these demons specifically. The Fear Lords are a motley crew that we would not want to cross. But if Nightmare does make an appearance in the MCU’s Doctor Strange 2 than it might open up a whole new world of cinematic demons. It seems that some of these demons also have crossover with the gods from the Olympic pantheon. Gods that Marvel has already begun to introduce with movies such as Eternals. Gods and mythologies seem to play a big role in the MCU moving forward, especially given the recent Moon Knight series and all the gods it features. An appearance by Nightmare in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness could signal the MCU may have a very demonic future as well.
The Dream Dimension, Nightmare’s Nightmare World, and Marvel’s Multiverse
In the comics, the Dream Dimension is an astral world created from humanity’s collective unconsciousness. There, Nightmare appears as a gangly, pasty white demon, with unkempt hair and a green costume. Nightmare wanders through this realm on his black horse Dreamstalker. Nightmare depends on mortals’ need to dream, as, without it, he would wither away. He doesn’t have much use for weapons, but he sometimes employs a mystic prod, which can create mazes that are nearly impossible to escape. Although never explicitly stated, his look may have served as an inspiration for DC’s own lord of dreams, the Sandman.
As we know, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will serve as our first real introduction to the full power of the MCU’s multiverse. We feel positive we’ll visit many Marvel realms as we explore the vast multiverse, so why not also the Dream Dimension? After all, we’ve seen many dimensions appear in Doctor Strange’s world already, including the Astral Dimension and Mirror Dimension. Nightmare’s Dream Dimension will likely fit naturally into the multiverse.
A Different Kind of Marvel Realm: Nightmare’s ’90s Nightclub
Although not quite a dimension of Marvel’s multiverse. Nightmare once brought a more mundane world under his rule. During the ‘90s, a bored Nightmare arrived in the mortal realm and took on a human identity, known as Edvard Haberdash. He opened a nightclub called Club Fear, where he would expose mortals to their worst fears. This brief diversion didn’t last and is rarely referenced anymore. But it sure would be fun if Nightmare’s nightclub made an appearance in Doctor Strange 2. We feel like Multiverse of Madness would benefit from a nightclub universe among the worlds it intends to explore.
How Might Nightmare Factor into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?
The many references to bad dreams and a nightmare world in the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness teasers are fueling suspicion that Nightmare is going to be the secret villain of that film. After all, the Dream Dimension is part of the larger multiverse. They renamed the ancient demon Shuma-Gorath as Gargantos for this film, and Shuma-Gorath has connections to Nightmare in the comics. The lord of the dream dimension once served Shuma-Gorath, but that power dynamic could be reversed for the MCU.
It’s also quite possible Wanda opened a doorway to Nightmare’s Dream Dimension using the Darkhold, either by accident or on purpose. At the end of WandaVision, we see her intently using the ancient tome, almost in a dreamlike state. Could WandaVision‘s final scenes have been teasing Nightmare and Wanda ending up in his realm. And, if so, could Nightmare have entered the Scarlet Witch’s mind while it traveled into his Dream Dimension?
On top of this, the Doctor Strange 2 teasers and trailers also keep showing Strange having recurring nightmares. In the most recent trailer, he even says “Every night, I dream the same dream. And then the nightmare begins.” Hints don’t get much bigger than that.
If Nightmare appears in the MCU, the real question is who should play him? And will they even present Nightmare as a person? After all, Dormammu was less of a person and more of a living universe. And in the first Doctor Strange movie, Benedict Cumberbatch also voiced Dormammu. Maybe the “evil Strange” we see in the trailers isn’t a variant. Maybe looking like Strange is how Nightmare manifests in the MCU. Casting Benedict Cumberbatch as Nightmare? Genius.
Of course, in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, Mark Hamill voiced him. Were Hamill to double dip as Nightmare, we certainly wouldn’t mind. But one way or the other, we have a feeling the master of the Dream Dimension will manifest somehow in the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. We’ll all know for certain when the film hits theaters on May 5.