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Ten years ago this month, the post-credits scene of The Avengers gave us the first appearance of Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, signaling to just about everyone who recognized the character what was going to happen next. Sure, a few other things happened along the way, but seeing the Mad Titan meant that the endgame (heh) of the MCU's first major Avengers-centered arc was going to involve the Infinity Gauntlet, and a very big battle for the fate of half the universe.
Things haven't been quite so cut and dried since the end of The Infinity Saga three years ago, at least not yet. Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has used some of its time to tie up some loose ends, and the rest of its time to seed some new ideas out in the world that could eventually point the way to another universe-wide, Endgame-scale event. Based on what we know so far, that universe-wide event could really go one of several directions, whether it's a new team of Avengers taking on Kang the Conqueror, a Celestial Host invasion triggered by the Eternals and their explorations out in space, or something else entirely.
Now, thanks to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we have yet another major threat to the MCU, and this one could set up a major event story all its own.
**SPOILERS AHEAD FOR DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS**
We all obviously knew going in that we were set to explore more of the Marvel multiverse with this film. It's right there in the name, after all. What we perhaps didn't expect was to hear a particular word that, to certain Marvel Comics readers, points the way to big problems for our heroes down the line. In the middle of Multiverse of Madness, while Stephen Strange is talking to the Illuminati of Earth-838, they explain to him that they summarily executed their Earth's version of Doctor Strange after he used the Darkhold to Dreamwalk (peer into and possibly manipulate other universes through the minds of other Stephen Stranges) and triggered an incursion, a collision between universes that resulted in an astronomical loss of life.
After establishing what an incursion is within the MCU, the term comes up again at the end of the film, when the newly introduced Clea (Charlize Theron) emerges from a portal and tells the Earth-616 version of Strange (aka the guy we've known since 2016) that his own meddling in the multiverse has triggered yet another incursion. Strange promptly follows her through what looks like a gateway to the Dark Dimension (her comic book home), presumably for his next adventure.
Now, the Dark Dimension is intriguing fodder for a new Doctor Strange adventure all on its own, particularly if Clea's about to introduce him to yet another plane of existence her dimension is about to collide with. It's also possible, of course, that she's messing with him, luring him into something that has nothing to do with an incursion. But because the concept was brought up in two key scenes by several major players in Multiverse of Madness, it feels like something worth exploring in greater detail. If it sticks around, it could have huge implications not just for Strange, but for the entire MCU.
Incursions took center stage in the Marvel Universe in a big way beginning with New Avengers Volume 3 #1 back in 2013. Written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Steve Epting, this issue, and the entire first arc of Hickman's New Avengers run, established incursions as a recurring phenomenon in the multiverse, and exposed the Illuminati (Doctor Strange, Namor, Reed Richards, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Black Bolt, Beast, and reluctant new member Black Panther) to the dangers of universes colliding. In the comics, once they were made aware of the incursions, and that they weren't a phenomenon that would be stopping any time soon, they were left with a horrific choice. See, in the comics, the incursion point always seemed to be Earth, and if the Illuminati could destroy the other Earth first, both universes would be saved. If they just let the Earths collide, it would kill not just both Earths, but both universes.
This horrible truth sends the Illuminati in search of a more peaceful way, but (spoilers for an almost-decade-old comic) they can't find one. They're left with no choice but to try and put off the death of their world and everyone on it by destroying alternate Earth after alternate Earth, saving the universes attached to those Earths in the process. Of course, they can't keep it up forever, and eventually time runs out, culminating in the incursion event that creates the massive 2015 crossover Secret Wars.
Secret Wars, as you've probably heard, unfolds on a multiversal patchwork known as Battleworld, ruled over by God Emperor Victor Von Doom, who's basically managed to use everyone's memory loss to create his own personal Game of Thrones. It rules.
Of course, it's always worth nothing, but especially right now, that the use of the incursion concept does not mean we're headed for a carbon copy of the last Secret Wars comics event, or even a Secret Wars event at all. The MCU is known for taking well-known comics concepts and twisting them to fit its own needs, and these incursions might be setting up something entirely different. We've got Kang in the mix, after all, and the TVA, and a host of other complications besides. But we've also now got the idea of the Illuminati to work with, and incursions, and a morally conflicted Stephen Strange who may or may not be going crazy in the face of his own encounters with the Darkhold.
Marvel Studios is playing with the multiverse in a big way, and it doesn't look like they intend to stop anytime soon. These incursions might be their way of creating a fresh conflict for a new team of heroes to solve down the line. After all, the universe is expanding, and sooner or later that expansion has to have consequences.