Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings features the MCU’s latest interdimensional monster – and here’s all you need to know about the Dweller-in-Darkness. Marvel Studios has built up a reputation for secrecy, and as a result, nobody was especially surprised when Wenwu – the MCU’s version of the comic book villain the Mandarin, played by the tremendous Tony Leung – turned out not to be the real villain of Shang-Chi. Founder of the ancient terrorist group known as the Ten Rings, Wenwu had stalked the Earth for a thousand years before he fell in love and abandoned his quest for power – for a time.
But Wenwu’s beloved wife Ying Li was murdered, and Wenwu resumed his criminal activities – unexpectedly ushering in an age of superheroes, because some of his agents captured Tony Stark in Afghanistan and attempted to get him to build weapons for the Ten Rings, leading to the creation of the prototype Iron Man armor. By the time of Shang-Chi, Wenwu had become haunted with grief over Ying Li’s death and had begun receiving strange visions telling him there was a way to bring her back. Driven practically insane by these visions, he resolved to find the mystical land of Ta Lo and open the Great Seal.
Wenwu was just a pawn of the real villain of Shang-Chi, an extradimensional entity named the Dweller-in-Darkness. The creature is a deep cut from the comics, and it’s been liberally redesigned, mixing it with another even less well-known threat. Here’s everything you need to know about the Dweller-in-Darkness.
In the comics, the Dweller-in-Darkness is one of five beings known as Fear Lords, who draw sustenance from fear on the mortal world and frequently seek to conquer this plane of existence. The most famous of these Fear Lords is Nightmare, sworn enemy of Doctor Strange, and both hail from a realm called Everinnye, described as “a universe higher than the Sixth Dimension.” Dweller-in-Darkness – sometimes called He Who Dwells In Darkness – first laid eyes on Earth some 20,000 years ago, and watched the development of sentient races with fascination and glee. The Dweller-in-Darkness found there was much fear it could harvest, but it soon learned Earth was not without its protectors.
The Atlantean sorceress Zhered-na was exiled from her homeland before the destruction of Atlantis, and she detected the Dweller-in-Darkness’ presence and (unspecified) purpose. Aided by Agamotto the All-Seeing, the first Sorcerer Supreme, she fought the Dweller-in-Darkness to a standstill and successfully plunged him into a deep slumber. Still, the creature was able to divest a fragment of his consciousness to this plane of existence and continue to work on Earth. Its power was boosted when the conflict between Eternals and Deviants built to a fever pitch, with the Celestials intervening and destroying the content of Lemuria – the basis of the legends of Atlantis. In spite of this power-up, the Dweller-in-Darkness remained in its sleep until recent times, finally emerging after some of its shade-thralls encountered Thor, Hercules, Doctor Strange, and his ward Clea.
The comic book version of the Dweller-in-Darkness is essentially a parasite, generating fear in others and feeding off it. The greater the fear, the more powerful the Dweller-in-Darkness becomes, and it is able to create nightmare beings with independent thought – so-called “Shade-Thralls” that can be killed by light, or even entities that can grow to rival its own power such as D’Spayre. It possesses phenomenal mystical power, enough to even penetrate the wards guarding Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, and it has proved a worthy challenger to Sorcerers Supreme. The Dweller-in-Darkness loves mind-games, and it has frequently used hallucinations and borrowed power to manipulate people into serving it – often promising to give them their heart’s desires, almost always breaking their minds.
Shang-Chi has completely transformed the Dweller-in-Darkness, so much so the MCU version is basically unidentifiable. Visually, the creature has been combined with another – far more lesser-known – Fear Lord, Kkallakku, who looks more like a dragon than a humanoid creature and who is served by an army of Fear-Eaters, who consume the fear of other beings and convey it to him for food. But the changes don’t stop there; in Shang-Chi, the Dweller-in-Darkness is not a Fear Lord, but rather eats souls. It can devour souls directly, or else through its Soul-Eaters, who are clearly inspired by Kkallakku’s servants.
The story of the MCU’s Dweller-in-Darkness, and his fight with the Great Protector, does have some parallels with the comic book character, though. It seems the Dweller-in-Darkness found its way to Ta Lo millennia ago, and lay waste to many of that world’s greatest cities before it was restrained by the combined power of the Great Protector and the world’s last survivors. Even they were unable to destroy it though, and instead, they sealed it away within an enchanted mountain, with the villagers of Ta Lo guarding the Great Seal to prevent it ever being released. As in the comics, the Dweller-in-Darkness remained active, somehow able to draw sustenance from the Earth and use hallucinations to trick people into trying to free it. This was the method the Dweller-in-Darkness used to persuade Wenwu to break the Great Seal.
The Multiverse will play a major role in the MCU going forward, particularly in Doctor Strange 2, which will also introduce Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, a dimension-jumping character who – in the comics – originates from a mysterious dimension called the “Utopian Parallel.” Like Ta Lo, the Utopian Parallel may well be an entirely different universe. While all attention is on the idea of alternate timelines introduced in Loki, Shang-Chi serves as a crucial reminder the MCU’s Multiverse also includes other planes of existence and even different universes. Meanwhile, the Dweller-in-Darkness proves the Multiverse has some even more dangerous predators than Doctor Strange teased – quasi-mindless creatures who feast on souls and ravage entire worlds. If the Multiverse really is breaking down, as it seems to be, then it is entirely possible creatures like the Dweller-in-Darkness will break through to our plane of reality.
Marvel’s decision to merge the Dweller-in-Darkness with Kkallakku is particularly curious because it essentially takes two of Marvel Comics’ five Fear Lords off the table for the MCU. There have long been rumors Doctor Strange 2 will feature Nightmare, the most famous of the Fear Lords, and it’s entirely possible Marvel Studios view the other four as redundant because they don’t want to repeat themselves – explaining why Dweller-in-Darkness has been changed so much in Shang-Chi.