Dr. Strange uses the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak to immobilize Kaecilius while they are fighting in the New York Sanctum.
The bands are a flexible torso shaped device, that look like a bunch of metal ribs attached to a spine. We do not actually know whether this relic has “chosen” Strange or if it simply functions for anyone who wields it correctly. But given its immense power, it definitely qualifies as a relic and opens up the conversation about whether some relics are simply masterless.
On the name
Discussing the bands is made semantically difficult for two reasons. The first is that “they” are multiple bands joined together by a single “spine” and handled in combat like a single thing. So it needn’t be plural “Bands.” That’s like calling a shoe the Running Laces of Reebok. It is an it not a they. Also it is not Crimson. They are not actually named in the film, but authoritative source material indicates that is what these are. So forgive the weirdness, but this post will discuss the bands as a single thing. An it.
So where did it get its plural name? Comic book fans have already noted: In the books, the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak are actually a spell for binding. They are—no surprise—glowing crimson bands of energy, and used by many spellcasters, not just Strange. Here they are in The Uncanny X-Men, cast by the Scarlet Witch and subsequently smashed by Magik.
Since these are in fact, multiples, its plural there makes sense. Its reimagining as a single thing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is what has us speaking of it in the singular.
The operation of the device seems to be very simple. Upon impact with a person, the bands quickly twist and clamp to immobilize the limbs, arms, head, and torso of the person. It also covers their mouth so no spells can be cast (or instructions given to minions).
How might this work as technology?
The Crimson Bands are robotic device composed of a self-powered collection of electromagnetic metal hinges and locks, with bands that are interwoven with muscle wire to adjust to a person’s body.
En route to a collision with a humanoid body, the microcomputer scans the surface area of the person using LIDAR to create a surface mapping and body model. This allows the Bands to adjust itself midair to achieve the proper orientation. Then the primary mechanical controller snaps each band shut in sequence beginning with the torso and expanding to the extremities. As each section finds purchase, it tightens, adjusting and locking in place. The sequence takes only a few seconds and leaves the victim in a rigid kneeling position where they are immobilized to prevent any kind of action or spellcasting. The bands that cover the mouth can be removed independently to allow interrogation.
What works well
- It’s non-lethal, but still neutralizes a very powerful enemy.
- It does not require a great deal of precision. Toss it roughly toward the enemy, and it will do its best to compensate for your imprecision. “Close enough” counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, earthquakes, and the Crimson Bands.
- It probably works on a variety of humanoid body shapes and sizes.
- The ability to remove the mouth band is useful for interrogation.
Improvements: Provide a keyhole
We never see an obvious release mechanism, but there is one, as Strange discovers when Kaecilius has been freed when Strange returns to the Sanctum. We can’t exactly critique what we don’t see, but we can discuss the affordance of the function. Should it be obvious? Probably but not too obvious, less a zealot run up and quickly figure out how to free their boss. But there should be some sort of “keyhole” that will help Strange know that he needs some sort of “key” to release his prisoner and not leave him in a stress position indefinitely. So there should be the equivalent of a keyhole on the bands. And hopefully one the Cloak can explain, or Strange can figure out.
While highly effective, this artifact is not particularly useful unless you happen to be in a fight while standing next to it. It’s simply too large and bulky to carry around. So, if it could be miniaturized, it would prove more generally useful. Or maybe, since this occurs in a world with magical flight and teleportation, they could be summonable.
It seems that the Cloak isn’t authorized to use this artifact. (Why else waste all that time trying to pull Strange to it?) Authorizing the Cloak would mean additional agentive controls for dealing with, you know, groups of zealots. We also don’t know if it has a “whitelist” of people it should not immobilize, but that would be useful to prevent it being turned against its owner.
The overall shape of the bands are humanoid, indicating that they would not likely function on anything other than a being with the standard humanoid legs, arms, head, mouth, and torso. This fortunately covers most of the characters in the Marvel Universe, but there are a handful of exceptions. If it had a more micro-component based design, it might be able to reconfigure itself to help with non-humanoid malefactors as well.
Then we’d have to come up with some other mechanism to account for scaling to Rhunian, Celestial, or Faltine-sized things.