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Last year's Doctor Strange was a triumph for Marvel Studios, successfully integrating magic and the dark arts into the science-based MCU. But little by little, we're getting a sense of just how much the film changed during Robert C. Cargill's rewrites back in 2015. The most intriguing clues have been concept art showing radically different versions of the Zealots — and artist Jerad S. Marantz has just given us another taste of the early Zealot designs!
Check Out The Concept Art
In the end, the Zealots simply wore dark robes. But these early designs clearly show them as formidable, leather-clad warriors. There's a none-too-subtle sense of fetishism around the design, with these Zealots looking fierce and athletic. Notice also the intriguing twinblades, which seem Indo-Persian in design, and are vaguely reminiscent of kama blades.
Still more intriguing, though, are the facial markings. In the final film, a Zealot who communed with Dormammu wound up with hollowed-out eyes surrounded by ominous cracked skin. In this early version, the Zealot's face winds up branded in the form of a helmet, a mask, or perhaps even a skull.
Another Intriguing Hint
This isn't the first sample of concept art we've seen featuring radically different designs for the Zealots. Back in November last year, we were given another fascinating design, one that seemed to associate the Zealots with Death.
This design led many #Marvel fans to suspect that, prior to Cargill's rewrites of the Doctor Strange script in 2015, the villain of the film wasn't Dormammu at all. Instead, so the fan-theory goes, it was actually Death; the cosmic avatar beloved by Thanos, the Mad Titan. Both Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok wound up going through drastic rewrites at the same time, with Hela (the Norse Goddess of Death) presumably taking on Death's role in the #MCU.
This theory was bolstered by some surprising evidence. The Doctor Strange Prelude comics clearly set up that narrative, revealing a deeper motivation for Kaecilius. We learned that he was driven to conquer death itself, never recovering from the death of his beloved wife. It was a backstory that added poignancy and depth to the character. Given communication between Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios doesn't always seem to be the best, it's possible that narrative slipped in from an early draft of the script. Meanwhile, supporting the rewrite argument, Hela and Thanos recently got steamy in the mainstream Marvel comics too! Fans wondered if this was an example of Marvel adjusting their comics to fit in with a character arc about to become a major part of the movies.
Again, notice the facial designs on Jerad S. Marantz's concept art. Don't they look as though they could almost take the shape of a skull? The Death influence may not be quite so prominent here, but it's still there nonetheless.
We'll probably never know whether or not Death was originally the villain of Doctor Strange. For now, this fantastical design is just another window into a world that might have been; one with a far more dramatic wardrobe than the final film. It raises an intriguing question: Just how many redesigns did Marvel commission for the Zealots?