Why Doctor Strange's Evil Sorcerer Supreme Took Longer To Design Than Most MCU Characters In Marvel's What If

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Spoilers for the latest episode of Marvel’s What If…? -- “What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” -- lie ahead.

For the past few weeks, Marvel’s What If…? has taken audiences on a journey through the multiverse, overseen by the ever-observant Watcher. In the process, we’ve seen alternate versions of some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest moments. This week’s installment was a variation on 2016’s Doctor Strange, but this story saw the good doctor take a much darker path than that of his cinematic counterpart. This change in his morality also leads to a physical transformation for the hero and, as it so happens, this evil Sorcerer Supreme took longer to design than most of the other MCU characters on the show.

CinemaBlend recently had the opportunity to speak with Ryan Meinerding, Marvel Studios’ Head of Visual Development and What If…?’s character designer. During our chat, he discussed his work on the Doctor Strange-centric episode, his approach to the alternate version of the character. The veteran designer would explain that the process of building the evil entity was pretty involved:

I mean, that one was interesting because of all the stuff that happens to him in that episode, you know, the notion of what [Doctor Strange is] doing to himself to gain more and more power. Out of the main characters in the series, we probably went through a lot more iterations on him just because how that could be visually represented could take a number of different forms. And I think where he ends up in that show, in sort of his more monstrous form, was definitely part of that exploration early on.

What If…?’s fourth episode takes place in a universe in which Stephen Strange never lost the use of his hands in a car accident. Instead, he lost the love of his life, Christine Palmer. Her death would still lead Strange to seek out the mystic arts but, after defeating Dormammu, he would still pine for his lost love. Strange would eventually seek out ancient forms of magic and become corrupted as a result, hence the dark Sorcerer Supreme look.

During the episode, Strange learns the power of energy absorption and, in a truly unsettling sequence, he continuously feeds on the life forces of other beings. This process is what transforms him into a monster -- both figuratively and literally. Ryan Meinerding spoke more about how he and his team sought to differentiate the What If…? character from his Benedict Cumberbatch’s live-action hero:

Again, I think the north star of so many things that we’re working on is where we’re starting with the character in the MCU and then how we set that apart, right? So, you know, we were trying to look at it as looking to get sharper shapes in the cloak, make it feel more dangerous. Make his face more pale, like some life had been drained out of him and give him the dark circles under the eyes and even making his hair shapes look sharper and more dangerous, his beard a little sharper and more dangerous. … But the notion that list of things of like, pointy beard, pointier hair, pointier collar shapes... Hopefully, people just feel that the character has gone down a bad path as opposed to sort of wanting to go down that list.

Ryan Meinerding has created some of the MCU’s most iconic pieces of artwork. Those who follow him on social media have likely seen some of his original artwork, which includes both unused designs and renderings of memorable scenes. His evil take on Doctor Strange is an excellent addition to his body of work and the same can be said for What If…?’s other new designs like Captain Carter or the Star-Lord variant of T’Challa. Of course, you can see Meinerding’s work throughout the MCU movies and TV shows by streaming them on Disney+, which you can sign up for using this link.

Since the evil Sorcerer Supreme effectively destroyed his universe by the end of the episode, his future is unclear. But I’m hopeful this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him on What If…? or within the greater MCU. I don’t know about you, but I think he’d make an excellent addition to a little film called Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Catch new episodes of Marvel’s What If…? every Wednesday on Disney+.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.