Of all the incredible new concepts and characters that Shang-Chi & The Legend of the Ten Rings has brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the powerful Dweller-In-Darkness has received the least amount of attention despite its long comic book history. Additionally, the creature that appears in the comics is very different from his MCU counterpart. Not only is the comic book version of the character much more imposing than his movie counterpart, but he was also responsible for bringing together one of the most horrifying supervillain teams the Marvel universe has ever seen.
The Dweller-In-Darkness originally hails from the dimension known has Everinnye, which is also the home of the classic Marvel demon Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings known as Nightmare. In an act that would effectively make him a pariah among his own kind, the Dweller-In-Darkness followed what is known as the Way of the Shamblu by taking on a physical form. While this left him alone in the Lower Universes, it also gave the Dweller an opportunity to feed upon the fears of mankind and become a more powerful version of himself. His first appearance as “He Who Dwells Below” in 1974’s Thor #229 (by Gerry Conway and Rich Buckler) saw the villain’s plans to create a Thrall army begin, although it would be thwarted in the very next issue. That was not the end of the Dweller’s schemes, however, he soon put his next plan into motion with some help from a group of dark gods who would become known as the Fear Lords.
“The Book of the Vishanti: A Gathering of Fear Part One” (by Roy Thomas, Jean-Marc Lofficier, and Larry Alexander) from 1991’s Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #31 introduced the Fear Lords, a group of other beings who feed on fear, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings brought together by the Dweller-In-Darkness. Alongside the likes of Nightmare, Nox, and the Lurking Unknown, the Dweller sought to unleash a “Great Fear” upon the Earth. The Straw Man, an especially violent Fear Lord, objected to the destruction of the realm which he called his home and betrayed the others by alerting Doctor Strange to the threat. Although the other Fear Lords destroyed the Straw Man before he could give away their entire plan, the damage had already been done.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the Sorcerer Supreme who brought an end to the Dweller’s machinations, but another of his fellow Fear Lords. While Doctor Strange was busy battling the other Fear Lords, D’Spayre manipulated Nightmare into confronting the Dweller-In-Darkness directly, leading to a battle that transformed humanity’s collective fear into despair, giving D’Spayre the power to destroy the Dweller’s body entirely and force a retreat.
The Dweller-In-Darkness of the MCU is a pale reflection of his comic book self, although playing second fiddle to another villain in his introduction possibly had much to do with his downgrade. There is also the fact that the Dweller-In-Darkness of the comics is an especially complex and storied character that might not translate well to the MCU.
Still, the fact that this powerful lord of darkness was included in a high profile MCU film is an indication that almost nothing is off-limits for the MCU, even if the interpretation turns out to be slightly different than expected.