With the addition of Disney Plus series, Marvel Studios has the opportunity to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond its films. So far, Marvel has used this as a chance to put a spotlight on and develop deeper narratives for individuals that have only been featured in the movies as supporting characters.
“WandaVision” provided an in-depth look into Wanda Maximoff, her background and her grief while leading the way to her new role as the Scarlet Witch.
Meanwhile, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” shed light on Sam Wilson and his struggles with embracing the Captain America mantle that Steve Rogers passed down to him. It offered a look at Bucky Barnes adjusting to the modern-day world sans Hydra’s Winter Soldier programming and his best friend.
The shows have also opened up the MCU to even more storylines and concepts to take on.
“WandaVision” ended with a scene of the Scarlet Witch vigorously reading through the Darkhold, a spellbook for dark magic, to help her better understand the powers she’d just recently discovered. When Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine appeared on “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” it seemingly introduced Madame Hydra to the MCU.
However, neither the Darkhold nor Madame Hydra is a foreign concept to Marvel shows. Both topics were addressed in season 4 of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” the first Marvel television show that connected to the MCU.
The Dangers of the Darkhold
The S.H.I.E.L.D. team is introduced to the Darkhold shortly after crossing paths with Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider. The agents discover that the Darkhold contains spells that can give people the power to “play God” among other things. For example, a person could create a piece of carbon out of seemingly nothing at all, which should be impossible.
Because of the immense power a person with the Darkhold could possess, it is a coveted book. In the show, Phil Coulson mentions that both the Red Skull and Nick Fury were among those who searched for the spellbook — though presumably for entirely different purposes — but no one had been able to find it.
Or so he thought.
Two scientists from Momentum Alternative Energy Laboratories, which was built on land owned by the Roxxon Corporation, discovered the book and quickly realized how special it was. Lucy Bauer saw its contents in English, and her husband Joseph Bauer saw its contents in German, his first language. The two weren’t taking turns to read it either; they were reading it at the same time. So the fact the Darkhold could simultaneously feature any language that best suits the reader(s) was telling of its potential.
The scientists used the Darkhold to develop technologies that could create matter. They believed they were creating the matter from nothing, but they were actually using energy from a different dimension to do so. They intended to use this newfound power for good, such as potentially ending starvation.
But such power also presents grave danger.
It corrupted Joseph Bauer and later Momentum Labs engineer Eli Morrow — Reyes’ uncle, who goes on to use the Darkhold to give himself the ability to create matter at will. When Morrow gains that power, he ends up murdering several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
But that’s just one method of creation that the Darkhold can allow.
Later on in the season, the Darkhold is used by a life model decoy (LMD) by the name of Aida.
Originally a digital assistant similar to Tony Stark’s JARVIS, Aida becomes an android created to assist Dr. Holden Radcliffe, a S.H.I.E.L.D. consultant. Aida is also meant to act as a model of how LMDs can be used in place of field agents, eliminating the risk of injured agents.
Knowing of the dangerous effects reading the Darkhold can have on people, Aida is tasked with reading the Darkhold to help save Coulson and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Leo Fitz from an alternate dimension, because it couldn’t corrupt her.
Except it did — eventually.
Radcliffe’s hubris causes Aida to eventually turn evil, setting him up to be harmed by his own creation. Initially, Radcliffe programs Aida in a way that sets her up to look like the corrupted one. But it was really his doing, because he wanted the Darkhold for himself. With time, Aida develops her own desire to use the Darkhold. She wants to become a human with free will, which she doesn’t have as an LMD. And she ultimately uses the book to do just that.
The Darkhold itself appears different in the two Marvel shows. The version used in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was also used in Marvel’s “Runaways” series but is not the same as the one in “WandaVision.”
In an interview with Screen Rant, “WandaVision” director Matt Shakman mentioned that, while the ABC series wasn’t used as a reference, he believes the Darkhold used in the different shows is the same. So regardless of the variance, the book’s power hasn’t changed.
Now that the Scarlet Witch has the Darkhold in her possession, she has access to powerful, potentially life-altering, but dangerous magic.
Given Maximoff’s ability to perform Chaos Magic and spontaneously create and alter reality, having the Darkhold just makes her even more lethal. “WandaVision” explicitly showed how she could already — unintentionally — be a threat. But she will now have a better idea of how to use her powers. This will make it all the more interesting to see how the book affects her.
In “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Ghost Rider ends up with the Darkhold, tasked with destroying the dangerous spellbook. Gabriel Luna, the actor who portrayed Ghost Rider, jokingly posted a tweet about his involvement with the Darkhold after the book was seen in “WandaVision,” saying, “My mattress may not have been the best hiding place.”
A World Ruled by Madame Hydra
The Framework, a virtual reality program, was a primary setting at the end of season 4. It was originally developed by Fitz as a way to train agents. For example, agents could spar with one another in the Framework, giving them necessary training and practice without actual harm.
But with help from Aida and the Darkhold, Radcliffe creates an updated version that features a complete but entirely different world.
In Radcliffe’s Framework, S.H.I.E.L.D. fell, and the U.S. is run by Hydra with Madame Hydra at the helm. But it is not de Fontaine. The “Madame Hydra” title in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is given to Ophelia, the Framework counterpart of Aida.
When implementing herself into the program, Aida puts herself into the highest position of power she can. By being Madame Hydra, she not only has the power she desires outside of the Framework, but she also has the power to give herself what she wants in reality. She makes Hydra experiment on Inhumans and create technology for her to benefit from once out of the Framework.
While de Fontaine’s exact role/affiliation in the MCU is still unknown, the general belief is that she’s Madame Hydra. She held the title in the comics and is expected to reappear in the MCU — though in what project exactly remains to be seen. Taking on the role of Madame Hydra would give her immense power and control over the terrorist organization that has seemingly been out of the picture for years.
Furthermore, whatever organization de Fontaine is affiliated with is clearly interested in Super Soldiers, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for it to be Hydra.
When she first meets John Walker, she tells him that taking the serum was “the right thing.” She also mentioned how it made him “very, very valuable to certain people.”
As detailed in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” before Dr. Abraham Erskine successfully created the version of the serum that turned Steve Rogers into the first Super Soldier, he unwillingly worked for Hydra. The Nazi-associated organization forced him to work on the serum. An ineffective version was used on Johann Schmidt, the leader of Hydra during World War II, and it gave him the appearance befitting of his Red Skull moniker.
Additionally, per Comic Books Resources, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has not ruled out the return of Hydra.
Hydra has been absent from the movies since “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” when Hydra leader Wolfgang von Strucker was killed. But the organization lived on longer in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and explored its history as a religious cult that worshipped an ancient Inhuman named Hive. But Hydra is named such and has the motto “Cut off one head and two more shall take its place” for a reason.