Doctor Strange #48-81 (August 1981 – February 1987)
Written by Roger Stern (#48-62, 65-73, 75), JM DeMatteis (#54), Carl Potts (#63), Ann Nocenti (#64), Peter B. Gillis (#74, 76-81)
Breakdowns by Mark Badger (#76)
Pencils by Marshall Rogers (#48-53), Paul Smith (#54, 56, 65-66, 68-69, 71-73), Brent Anderson (#54), Michael Golden (#55), Kevin Nowlan (#57) Dan Green (#58-61), Steve Leialoha (#62, 67), Carl Potts (#63), Tony Salmons (#64), Bret Blevins (#70), Mark Badger (#74), Sal Buscema (#75), Chris Warner (#76-81)
Inks by Terry Austin (#48-60, 66, 68, 70, 73), Joe Rubinstein (#54), Rick Magyar (#61), Steve Leialoha (#62, 67), Carl Potts (#63), Tony Salmons (#64), Paul Smith (#65, 69, 71-72), Mark Badger (#74-75), Randy Emberlin (#76-81), Scott Williams (#80)
Coloured by Bob Sharen (#48-49, 51-54, 56-81), Marshall Rogers (#50), Al Milgrom (#54), Glynis Wein (#55)
Spoilers (from thirty-one to thirty-seven years ago)
I’ve never cared about Doctor Strange. I always thought he was a boring character who was desperately overwritten in every appearance I came across. The only issue of his first volume that I owned was the Secret Wars II tie-in issue, because I bought all of Secret Wars II (I was a foolish child). While I didn’t hate him in his appearances in Brian Michael Bendis’s Avengers, it really wasn’t until Jason Aaron’s recent run with the sorcerer supreme that I began to feel any interest in him.
The movie that came out a couple of years ago also did nothing for me, except that it caused me to thumb through a pile of Doctor Strange comics from the 80s at a convention, and for the first time, I noticed that the covers were by people like Marshall Rogers and Paul Smith. I checked on my phone, and sure enough, many of the best artists of the 1980s worked on this book, and so I grabbed the stack, and tracked down the issues that were missing.
I decided that my starting point should be issue #48, which advertises “a new era of greatness” on the cover, and while it didn’t mark Roger Stern’s first issue, it was Marshall Roger’s. So, are these good comics, or was my childhood self right in avoiding them? Let’s find out.
Let’s look at who turned up in the title:
- Damballah (#48)
- Baron Mordo (#49-51)
- Nightmare (#50, 52-53)
- Dormammu (#50-51)
- Sir Anthony Baskerville (#50-51)
- Viscount Heinrich Krowler (#50-51)
- Adolf Hitler (#51)
- Rama-Tut (#53)
- Tiboro (#54)
- D’Spayre (#55)
- Demonicus (#56)
- Adria (#56)
- Kaecilius (#56)
- Margali of the Winding Road (#57)
- Umar (#58, 68-69, 71-73)
- Dracula (#59-62)
- The Darkholders Cult (#59-61, 67)
- The Children of the Night (#59)
- Chaynn (ruler of Kobar; #65, 70)
- Tymon (wizard of Kobar; #65, 70)
- Kerwin Havelock (#65)
- The Mindless Ones (#67, 71-73)
- Captain Orini (Captain of Umar’s Guard; #69, 71-73)
- The Beyonder (#74)
- Mephisto (#75)
- Iuriale (#76)
- Khat (#77)
- Ecstasy (#78)
- Urthona (#79-81)
- Urthona’s unnamed warrior (#79)
- Brother Voodoo (#48)
- Sgt. Nick Fury (Howling Commandos; #50-51)
- Cpl. Dum-Dum Dugan (Howling Commandos; #50-51)
- Gabe Jones (Howling Commandos; #51)
- Izzy Cohen (Howling Commandos; #51)
- Dino Manelli (Howling Commandos; #51)
- Invisible Girl (#53)
- Human Torch (#53)
- Mr. Fantastic (#53)
- The Thing (#53)
- Aged Genghis (#57-58)
- Dr. Doom (#57)
- Jimaine Szardos (#57-58)
- Hannibal King (#58-62, 67)
- Scarlet Witch (#60)
- Edwin Jarvis (#60)
- Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau; #60)
- Frank Drake (#61-62, 67)
- Blade (#61-62, 67)
- Jessica Drew (no longer Spider-Woman; #67)
- The Shroud (#67)
- The Black Knight (Dane Whitman; #68-69)
- The Black Knight (Sir Percy of Scandia; #68)
- Invisible Woman (#75)
- Mister Fantastic (#75, 81)
- Franklin Richards (#75)
- Cloak (#78)
- Valkyrie (#80)
- Sara Wolfe (Strange’s business manager and social secretary; #48-49, 53, 55-61, 63, 65-67, 69-72, 74-81)
- Wong (Strange’s servant; #48-50, 52-58, 60-64, 66-67, 69, 71-72, 74-77, 79-81)
- Clea (Strange’s apprentice; #48-54, 58, 67, 69, 71-74)
- Morgana Blessing (#48-53, 56-58, 61, 65, 71, 79-80)
- Lady Pamela Hawley (#50-51)
- Arnie Green (#66, 77)
- Rahl (one of Clea’s rebels; #67, 69, 71-74)
- Victoria Bentley (#68)
- Synth (one of Clea’s rebels; #69, 71-73)
- Myrra (one of Clea’s rebels; #72)
- Topaz (#75-81)
- Enitharmon (weaver; #78)
- Rintrah (#81)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- Stephen Strange and his business manager, Sara Wolfe, are at the bank when a pair of gunmen bust in to rob the place. Strange uses his astral form to scare them and then entrance them (which he should have done first, so they wouldn’t have shot up the place). A woman comes into the bank at the same time as the cops, and is somehow able to see Strange even though his spell was supposed to hide him. Later, Strange hangs out with Wong and Clea, when Jericho Drumm, Brother Voodoo, appears out of the fireplace. This is his first meeting with Strange, and he tells him how he fought Damballah to rescue his brother’s loa. He held Damballah’s wangal, the totem of his power, in a safe in his Louisiana mansion, but it was burned down by Damballah’s worshippers. Voodoo has come to Strange for help in retrieving the wangal, especially now that Damballah has come to New York. It turns out that Voodoo is wearing the wangal, and Damballah’s spirit flees him, taking Voodoo’s brother’s loa with him. Strange tracks Damballah, who inhabits a pet store snake. Strange tracks him to Central Park, and uses his astral form to search, leaving his body in a horse-drawn cab. Damballah inhabits Strange’s body, but Stephen returns and they fight on a mystical plane. Damballah flees to Harlem, where his followers await, and when Strange shows up, he realizes he has to rescue the followers. He sends his cloak to protect his friends, as Damballah has gone back to Strange’s brownstone. Clea holds the spirit back, but it is the cloak and Eye of Agamotto that constrains the spirit. When Strange arrives, he performs a spell that seals Damballah in the wangal, and restores Voodoo’s brother to him. Voodoo leaves through the chimney, and Strange sends Wong to pay for the cab he took to return home.
- Strange and Clea’s astral bodies cavort in some dimension, while a shadowy figure watches them. After their “tantric” exercise (which ended in a final surge of… light), Strange goes to his study to meditate and check in on many other realms. He is interrupted by Sara Wolfe, which means he doesn’t notice a pink astral vine come out of his orb. Sara tells him that he has a phone call; it is Morgana Blessing, the woman from the bank the day before. The astral tendril is some mystic way for Baron Mordo to tap Strange’s phone (he’s the shadowy guy from a few pages before). Blessing, a writer, wants to get Strange to consult on her next book. He is about to turn her down when Mordo sends a jolt of energy down the line to intrigue Strange. He heads to her Soho loft (n a one-piece white jumpsuit as civilian clothes!), while Mordo also travels to the already gentrified address. As Strange and Blessing flirt, Strange sees Mordo’s reflection in one of the mirrors. Weird magic stuff happens all around her apartment, and Blessing and her cat fall into a portal to another world. Strange goes after her, followed by Mordo, and they battle, although Mordo is able to catch him and Blessing. Clea, studying in Greenwich Village, feels uneasy and goes looking for Strange. After talking to Sara, she goes to look at his orb, and is contacted by four people from her home dimension, who tell her that Dormammu has left his throne in his sister Umar’s hands, and that they think the time is right to rebel. Clea turns them down, since they never helped her, and she closes off Strange’s orb, missing a call from him. Strange escapes Mordo’s clutches, and confronts him head-on. Again, Mordo is triumphant, but then Blessing’s cat attacks, and it turns out to be Strange. With Mordo defeated, they return to Blessing’s apartment, where Stephen wipes her memory of what just happened. Weirdly, she remembers some of it. She finds her cat on the ledge of her terrace, and then we see down on the street that some garbage men find her actual cat, dead, in a garbage can. As Blessing and the cat watch Strange leave, we get confirmation that the cat is actually Baron Mordo!
- Issue fifty opens on Stephen being surprised by Nightmare confronting him in the Dimension of Dreams. After some villainous boasting, Strange uses the light of Agamotto to drive Nightmare away. He’s surprised by how easy that was, and thinks back to how his current predicament, which has to do with saving two people, began at his house in Greenwich Village. He remembers Morgana Blessing coming to an appointment with Stephen. He introduces her to Wong and Clea, before going to another room with her to examine her possible sorcerous tendencies. Clea, perhaps a little jealous, is surprised to see a cat come out of Morgana’s bag. The cat turns into Baron Mordo, and he captures Clea and immobilizes Wong. Stephen hears Clea’s telepathic cry, and confronts Mordo, who captures Strange in a magic bubble. Stephen turns it into a conjurer’s sphere, which begins to drain Mordo’s powers. He grabs Morgana and Clea and disappears. Strange, now free, begins to track Mordo, but is fooled by a false trail he’s left. He then begins to meditate, and is able to locate Morgana in the past. She’s in a London pub in 1943 where Nick Fury and Dum-Dum Dugan are in a bar fight. Stephen arrives, and uses a spell to return things to order, although it doesn’t affect the barkeep. Stephen goes to Morgana, who is sitting with Lady Pamela Hawley, a volunteer nurse and Fury’s girlfriend. It turns out that Morgana has lost her memory, and Stephen, recognizing Fury (who his spell somehow shaved, for reasons I do not understand), talks to Pamela to figure out what’s been going on. Apparently Morgana called Pamela by name. The men are called back to base, and having put Pamela in a trance, Stephen figures out that Mordo made Morgana the focus of his spell, which put her into a state of shock. He leaves her with Pamela and goes to find Mordo, who has made Stonehenge into some sort of vortex. Strange follows him in, where he goes through a series of images of his future, before arriving at the feet of Dormammu, who has Clea captive, and who is working with two sorcerers, Sir Anthony Baskerville and Viscount Heinrich Krowler. He says that he will conquer to Earth.
- The two 1940s sorcerers, Baskerville and Krowler, talk while walking around Baskerville’s castle on the coast. We learn that they’ve snuck Nazis into England, and are preparing to bring Dormammu to Earth and to help the Nazis take over England. We also learn that Krowler is Mordo’s grandfather (I’m starting to think that Mordo’s first name is Baron, that it’s not a title), and that he cast a spell so he would learn all of his knowledge as he acquires it, but that refers to the young 1940s Mordo, not the one who has just come to them through time. They check in on Dormammu, who is angry at Mordo, and so crushes his body and turns his soul into a pile of scribbles he gives to Baskerville, telling him to put it in someone else’s body. Dormammu also tells Krowler, after Baskerville leaves, that he is going to be possessing him. Dr. Strange, travelling in his astral form, goes to see Adolf Hitler, to ascertain how involved he is in Dormammu’s plans; he isn’t, really. He then travels to check on 1940s Dormammu, and disguises himself as the Ancient One to do battle with him. Baskerville decides to kidnap Morgana, who is staying at his neighbour, Lady Hawley’s estate, so he can have Mordo possess her. He kidnaps Pamela too. The Howling Commandos are sent to investigate reports of Nazi’s at Baskerville’s castle, and they infiltrate the place and start fighting. Morgana begins to be possessed by Mordo, which makes her look all squiggly. As he takes control, Fury and Dugan bust into the room. Baskerville runs with the women, and Fury gives chase. They go through a portal that places them in a church in London, where a number of mystics are about to summon Dormammu. At the same time, the Luftwaffe begins to bomb London, providing the carnage needed for the summoning spell. Krowler, wearing a weird half-Dormammu mask, begins to prepare Clea for a sacrifice. Fury arrives through the same portal, sees that Dr. Strange’s body is under Baskerville’s control, and begins fighting the other robed mystics. Fury is subdued, and Mordo, in Morgana’s body, prepares to kill Clea. At that point, Strange feels that something is happening to his body. There is a weird couple of pages that focus on the love that people feel for each other – to prove her love for Fury, Pamela kisses Strange, although Fury can feel that kiss. Morgana exerts herself over Mordo, recognizing that Clea loves Strange. Strange’s astral self channels younger Dormammu’s powers into the emerging older Dormammu, just as Morgana makes Mordo attack him in the physical plane, which gets rid of him. The church is bombed, but everyone is okay, although Fury’s shirt is all ripped up now. Strange returns to his body, Morgana gets control of hers, and we see that Krowler has lost his mind. Strange makes Fury and his friends forget that he was there before sending them back to Baskerville’s. He and Clea have a talk about how it was her spell that connected everyone’s love, and Clea thinks about how she knows that Morgana loves Stephen, and that if that love is pure, she should step out of the way. This was a convoluted comic.
- Back in the present of 1982, Strange and Clea stand over Morgana Blessing at the hospital, where she is sleeping. Clea admits that she does not love Strange with the same intensity that Morgana does, but Strange dismisses her feelings. Clea also talks about how she didn’t reveal to Strange that Dormammu had left his kingdom. Morgana’s family and personal physician arrive, and just after Clea leaves, mystic lightning comes out of Morgana. Strange calls Wong, and after he arrives, he charges him with watching a candle while Strange searches for Morgana’s psychic essence (because it seems she is getting weaker). He finds Nightmare, who tells him that a shard of Morgana’s soul has broken off, and is travelling back through her former lives. If it reaches the dawn of mankind, humans will never dream again, and Nightmare will die. Nightmare sends Strange to Inquisition-era Spain, where a woman named Gitana watches him arrive. Strange is drawn to the inn where she lives or works (it’s suggested that she’s a prostitute), and after throwing herself at him, Gitana drugs Strange. When he wakes up, he’s a prisoner of the Inquisition. He gets away, but is slow from the drugs, and has a hard time finding a place to hide. He eventually finds the inquisitor and Gitana, who are lovers, looking at his clothes and amulets. Strange fights, but keeps losing concentration. The inquisitor, about to strike Strange with a hot poker, mistakenly kills Gitana just as Morgana’s soul shard arrives in her. Nightmare calls Strange back, angry at his failure, and sends him to Ancient Mexico, where he meets a Mayan or Incan priestess named Taba. He assumes she is one of Morgana’s past lives, and while she sleeps, he tries to probe her. Instead, he ends up in her dreamscape, fighting against her, while Nightmare tries desperately to guide Strange towards the real past life, the woman’s servent. It soul shard arrives, and it’s too late for Strange to grab it. Nightmare is angry, Strange questions his poor decision making, and in New York, we learn that Morgana is slipping away.
- The Statement of Ownership for 1981 lists the bi-monthly Doctor Strange as having an average press run of 227 000, with newsstand returns of 126 000.
- Nightmare continues to be upset by his situation, and when he asks how he ended up here, a creature calling itself Gnit appears to narrate the backstory. Strange arrives in Ancient Egypt, landing on the Sphinx, and entering it through a hidden door. Inside, he finds high-tech equipment, and ends up blasted by forcebeams. Gnit explains to Nightmare that Strange is being affected, on a subconscious level, by Clea’s emotional turmoil. In New York, Clea explains what’s going on to Sara Wolfe. Strange is placed in a futuristic sarcophagus by some robots, but his astral self gets out before it seals. Exploring, he finds the pharaoh’s chamber, and is surprised to see that the Fantastic Four are his prisoners. The Pharaoh, Rama-Tut, who will eventually become Kang the Conqueror, narrates his backstory and declares that he will make Sue Storm his queen. Strange recognizes that one of the handmaidens, who is upset by Rama-Tut’s pronouncement, is an earlier incarnation of Morgana Blessing, and follows her. A machine scans Strange’s body, causing his astral form to fall apart. Later, after he’s pulled himself back together, he reveals himself to the handmaiden, telling her that he needs her help freeing his physical self. She agrees. Strange flies out to the Nile, where the Thing is being made to row on one of the pharaohs boats. He turns the Thing back into Ben Grimm, which gets him out of Rama-Tut’s mind control. Ben heads for the throne room where he attacks Rama-Tut, and before Strange’s spell fades, manages to free Sue, who then frees Johnny. Rama-Tut escapes. This provides the distraction Strange needs to lead the handmaiden to his body. She frees him, and Rama-Tut shows up, capturing them in a laser trap before fleeing. The Fantastic Four also arrive, but by then, Strange and the handmaiden have escaped. Strange casts a spell on the girl just as the soul-shard arrives, which allows them to see all of the girl’s future lives. They watch Rama-Tut fly off, and the Fantastic Four return to their time. The girl declares her love for Stephen, but he leaves anyway, returning to Morgana Blessing’s hospital room just as her parents try to get Wong to snuff the candle Strange left him with. Morgana is restored, Nightmare is happier, and destroys the Gnits (I forgot to mention that they multiplied). As Strange returns home, he sees Clea about to leave. She tells him that she is returning to the Dark Dimension to lead her people’s rebellion, and that basically they are through. Strange appears more upset by this than Wong expected, and heads upstairs in his house.
- Issue fifty-four ended up being mostly a fill-in issue, which has something to do with Michael Golden not being able to finish his art in time. Instead, we have Paul Smith drawing a framing sequence for a story written by JM DeMatteis and drawn by Brent Anderson. Strange is brooding over Clea’s departure, because he loves her a lot. He remembers a day they spent in Washington Square Park together, where they were interrupted by a young man needing Strange’s help before his guru steals his ego away from him. Strange helps the man, confronting the guru with Clea’s help, although it turns out that the guy is really the pawn of Tiboro, an ancient being who wants to rule the Earth. Strange is able to reverse the flow of Tiboro’s disciples into him, reverting him to a stone statue. Clea jokes about how she wants Strange to grow his moustache as long as some of the young men that followed the guru. Back in the present, Strange tries to travel to the Dark Dimension to help Clea, but isn’t able to, since he’s lost his focus. He feels lonely and sad.
- Michael Golden drew issue fifty-five, and it is a beautiful comic. Stephen is despondent over Clea’s leaving him, and has been brooding for seven days, refusing even food. He wishes he had never learned magic, and is taken on a strange journey by Dakimh the Enchanter, a typical old wizard who shows him, Scrooge-like, what would have happened if he weren’t the sorcerer supreme. The Ancient One would still live, but Mordo would still be his disciple. Strange also imagines that he is a psychiatric patient, where his doctor, Dr. Keem, proves that he is simply believing he is a popular character from novels, movies, and comics. This includes a visit to meet Ted Tevoski (an anagram of Steve Ditko) and Les Tane (Stan Lee). Eventually, as Dakimh overplays his hand, Strange rejects despair, and Dakimh is revealed to be D’Spayre. They fight in the sanctum, which alarms Sara Wolfe and Wong. D’Spayre overplays again, trying to get Strange to believe that Clea is in danger, and Strange is able to banish the evil character. When Sara and Wong come to check on him, Strange asks for something to eat.
- With issue fifty-six, Paul Smith begins his run, which predates his classic run on X-Men. A video crew arrives at Strange’s home, and meets Morgana Blessing there. She has brought the crew to interview Strange. Everyone is surprised to see him arrive in his full outfit. He recounts his whole life, from being an arrogant surgeon through his journey to the Ancient One and his conflict with Baron Mordo. He also explains why he set up in New York, and how Wong came to serve him there. He tells them about his abilities and how Clea, his disciple, has recently left him. He also reveals that he’s known all along that the video crew are actually old foes of his – Demonicus, Adria, and Kaecilius, who all used to work for Mordo. They attack, but are easily parried. They split up and run around his house, but Strange has the house trap them in a single room. He confronts them in his astral form, and while he fights the two men, Adria finds and tries to use a globe, which actually pulls all three of them into the Purple Dimension, whatever that is. Strange feels a brief pang of guilt, but kind of blames the house for their fate. Returning to his body, he talks to Morgana about why Clea left, and they agree to take things slowly between them.
- Kevin Nowlan is the guest artist for issue fifty-seven, and his early work is nice, but he does get a lot better later in his career. Strange and Morgana are sharing a meal on a Village patio when Stephen gets recognized by some guy who thinks his girlfriend should be his new apprentice. Returning home, Strange sees a few dozen people outside his brownstone; it turns out that word is out that he’s looking for a new apprentice to replace Clea, although he has not spread that information. He magics the crowd into dispersing, but this is a global things. In Polynesia, people are discussing him. A wizard called the Aged Genghis, in the Himalayas, sends a would-be disciple to Strange. Even Doctor Doom, in Latveria, discusses this with a local “gypsy” woman. A man named James Mandarin, who Strange knows, breaks into his house to apply for the apprentice job, and they learn that another crowd has gathered outside. A woman named Jimaine Szardos, the daughter of Margali of the Winding road, appears in the house as well, demanding the right to be Strange’s apprentice. He decides that he will gather all of these people in one place, to put an end to this problem. Sara rents him out a bar, and a few days later, they gather the would-be apprentices. Jimaine behaves aggressively, and when Strange humiliates her, her mother, Margali, shows up and challenges Strange. He tries to teleport them to another realm, and they end up taking everyone in the bar with them. They fight, and it looks like Margali is going to win, but Strange manages to snatch her wand and send it away. Immediately Margali is transformed to an old woman, and she is thankful. It turns out that her wand has been controlling her for ages, and was maneuvering to take over Strange as well. He sends everyone back to the bar; Jimaine returns to a more normal appearance, and Strange breaks the wand. He does, however, worry about who told everyone that he was looking for a new disciple.
- I guess Dan Green is the new artist on this series, and don’t know what was supposed to happen to Paul Smith’s run. It’s a pity, but Green is still a very good artist. Strange travels (astrally) to the Himalayas to meet with the Aged Genghis, a pretty senile old wizard, and discovers that he started the rumour that Strange was looking for a new disciple. Returning to New York, he has a chat with Jimaine Szardos about her mother and how Strange has helped them free of the curse of the wand her mother had. The two Szardos women leave, and Strange spends some time looking into the Orb of Agamotto, and thinking a bit about Clea. In the Dark Dimension, we see that Clea is plotting her revolution, and insisting that the conspirators who brought her home obey her. Umar, the new ruler of the Dimension, and Dormammu’s sister, sits on her throne, and using a spell, discovers that someone of her flesh and blood rises against her – she deduces that this must be Clea. Wong and Strange work out together by sparring, and Sara Wolfe enjoys watching Wong. After they are done, she talks to Stephen about her dead friend Douglas Royce, who was murdered by demons. She has received a letter from his lawyer, summoning her to Royce’s apartment, but only after dark. Strange decides to accompany her, rescheduling dinner with Morgana Blessing to do so. When they arrive at Royce’s apartment, Strange recognizes that the lawyer is a vampire. After a brief tussle, we learn that he’s actually the investigator Hannibal King, and that he wants Strange’s help, because Dracula has been resurrected.
- Hannibal King and Doctor Strange discuss Dracula. Strange learns that he faced Drac with the Defenders but didn’t remember it because of something to do with Mephisto and the six-fingered hand. In Chicago, Dracula rises from his coffin surrounded by his followers. He has plans to become truly immortal, and flies off, while his acolytes then restore the Children of the Night, a pair of indigenous evil-doers in New York. Hannibal, Stephen, and Sara continue to talk. Hannibal talks about how his investigation into some cattle mutilations in Wisconsin led to him meeting Douglas Royce, who was living in the area. He thought that Royce was doing the killings, especially when he found him standing over a dead cow, but it turned out to be the Children of the Night, who they scared off (after using the type of racially-charged language that is now only apparently acceptable if you are President of the United States). Royce and King found the Children’s lair, but King left to go to England, and later, Royce was killed. Strange tells him about how he fought the Children after that murder, and sealed them away (although we know they are back). King then talks about how he’s heard that Dracula and his people are looking for the Darkhold, an evil mystic book. As they talk, the Children of the Night, in animal/human hybrid form, attack. Strange pushes them all through a mystic portal, leaving Sara behind, and they fight in another dimension for a while. In order to defeat them, King has to transform into a werewolf form (which is not a typical vampire thing to do, right?) and almost kills the male creature. When it starts to speak about the Darkhold, it falls apart, and its sister explains that this is part of the spell on them, before she too falls apart. Strange and King return to Earth, and head to Strange’s house. In Chicago, the Darkholders know that the Children failed, and want to let Dracula know about it.
- The Statement of Ownership for 1982 lists Doctor Strange as having an average press run of 241 000 with newsstand returns of 118 000, which is an improvement on the year before.
- Dracula’s people go around New York gathering a small army of homeless and thugs, to serve as Dracula’s new army. Doctor Strange pays an astral visit to the Scarlet Witch at her home in New Jersey, where she lounges about in her costume. He asks her about the Darkhold, since she was the last person to own it, and she explains how it is evil, and at Avengers Mansion. He asks her to join him there, and she calls Edwin Jarvis to let him know to be watchful. Strange, still in his astral form, searches Avengers Mansion and confirms that the Darkhold is safely tucked away. Dracula, meanwhile, meets with his cult and an AIM scientist they enthralled, and learns of the secret submarine entrance into Avengers Mansion (which Roger Stern would go on to make use of in his long Avengers run which was beginning around this same time). Strange returns to his sanctum to talk with Wong and Sara just as Hannibal King arrives. Dracula’s army, including a ton of rats, attack Avengers Mansion. Most aren’t able to penetrate the building, but some do and are engaged by Captain Marvel, one of my all-time favourite Avengers. Strange and King arrive outside and begin to fight, as Dracula pries open the submarine entrance and makes his way into the mansion. As Strange seals off the main entrance and King keeps fighting physically, the Scarlet Witch arrives in her car and turns the tide of the battle. Strange puts all the humans to sleep, and they check in with Capt. Marvel as she finishes off the last intruders. As they bring one another up to speed, they realize that Dracula must be in the submarine bay. Strange confronts him, and Drac is surprised to see that there are three Doctor Stranges. They keep Dracula from proceeding, and we readers see that the real Doctor Strange is actually in the vault trying to put some spells on the Darkhold (did I mention that this is a book?). His illusions fail and Dracula realizes he’s been fighting King, Monica, and Wanda, and defeats them. He makes his way to Strange just as the sorcerer supreme teleports the Darkhold away. This angers Dracula, and he tries to hypnotize Strange. Capt. Marvel arrives, with the others, and Dracula realizes he has lost this skirmish, choosing to teleport away. Later, after everything is cleaned up, Strange tells King that he teleported the Darkhold to Baron Mordo’s empty castle in Transylvania, figuring that the local evil would mask it. He tells King they have to go there.
- A pair of Darkholders have Strange’s house under surveillance, and are watching a homeless man pick through his trash. They see Strange get into a car, and after verifying his identity with a conjure stone, dispatch a car to follow. Another Strange comes out, and they send a second team after him. The men following him confront him on a train, and it turns out that Strange has used Sara Wolfe as a decoy, mystically disguising her. She has a conductor chase the Darkholders away. The first Strange we saw is on an airplane, and we learn that this is Morgana Blessing, again working as a decoy. Somehow the men following her also had tickets to be on the same flight, but Strange had prearranged that a sky marshal be onboard, and he arrests the men for having knives. Clearly, this story was written at a time when searches on airplanes were either minimal or nonexistent. The real Strange, disguised as the homeless guy, takes out the two Darkholders that were surveilling him, and then goes to a closed shop, where he meets up with Wong, Hannibal King, Dracula’s descendant Frank Drake, and the vampire hunter Blade. The agree to work together to get the Darkhold, and to use it to wipe out all vampires world-wide. They fly together on a Concorde to Europe (I don’t know why Strange doesn’t just teleport them). In Boston, Dracula meets with his inner circle of Darkholders, and explains how the first vampires were created by someone using the Darkhold in Atlantis. Before the city sunk, the vampires infected the rest of the world. Dracula wants the Darkhold so he can become immortal (we learn that the Darkholders have already made it possible for him to be active in daylight). He learns that his surveillance team was foiled, and sends out a telepathic message worldwide, asking his followers to be on the lookout for Strange. An older man in a bar in Romania reports in that he’d seen Strange. Our hero and his new friends are in a heavily-loaded truck driving towards Mordo’s castle. King doesn’t mind that Strange is going to get rid of all vampires, himself included. When they reach the castle, Mordo’s old defenses don’t stop them. They are attacked by animated suits of armor, and while the others fight them, Dracula arrives in Italy on an American fighter jet whose pilot he commandeered. Strange makes his way to the Darkhold, which is alive enough to try to keep Strange away from it. Finally, he is able to put a sphere around the book, and everyone begins to prepare for Strange’s spell. Just then, a Soviet jetliner flies over the castle and crashes – the only figure to emerge is Dracula, who must have stolen the Soviet plane in Italy.
- Steve Leialoha replaces Dan Green on art for the end of the Dracula story. Issue sixty-two starts with a recap of what’s been going on, as Dracula reflects on everything he’s done to reach the point where he thinks he can get the Darkhold from Strange. As he flies towards Mordo’s castle, Strange mystically seals all but the front door, so his companions can hold off the vampire and give him time to prepare the ritual that will destroy all vampires. Dracula appears inside the castle, having seeped in as mist, and begins to fight Strange’s friends. A few of them deliver killing blows, but Dracula is stronger than ever, and shrugs them off, knocking them all out. He finds his way to Strange, who appears to have been entranced by the Darkhold as he holds it. When Dracula tries to take the book from Strange, he also becomes frozen, and their battle shifts to the astral plane. Strange and Dracula fight, and Strange’s friends gather around their frozen bodies, and begin the ritual that Strange taught them. Strange and Dracula continue to fight, and the ritual begins to work. We know this because Hannibal King feels unwell. Strange drags Dracula back to the real world, and the suddenness of the transition shocks him. Strange, holding the Darkhold, continues the incantation, and Dracula melts away like a Nazi at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. King collapses, and the men begin to work on him, giving him a full blood transfusion using supplies they brought. As Strange works to save him, we see other vampires around the world being destroyed by the waves Strange’s spell has sent rippling out. King survives, feeling alive for the first time in years, and everyone goes to watch the sun rise.
- Carl Potts, who became the series editor a couple of issues back, takes over all of issue sixty-three, writing and drawing the whole story, which is a fill-in issue. Strange and Sara Wolfe go out for the night to see a performance/workshop put on by Akira Nitobe, a Japanese master of the art of Kiai-Jutsu, a martial art that uses a “soul-scream”. On the way to the show, Strange stops to help a kid who is being chased by three local tough guys. Strange makes their clothes disappear, so they run off, but so does the kid he helped. At the show, they see Nitobe use his art, and Strange is interested enough to invite him and his daughter, Akiko, back to the sanctum for a chat. Akiko sends them on ahead, and when she shows up later at the sanctum, it is after she was viciously beaten and raped. They take her to the hospital, and Strange starts searching for her attacker. Nitobe wants to accompany him, but can’t fly, so they split up. He calls to check in on his daughter and learns that she has died of her wounds. Strange finds the attacker, and takes Nitobe to him. Nitobe wants to kill the guy, and Strange has to step in to protect him. Nitobe’s an actual match for Strange, using his art to punch through his mystic shields. With the buildings in the neighbourhood shaking from Nitobe’s attack, Strange shunts the two men, the attacker they are fighting over, and the dumpster he is hiding in into another dimension. At this point, Strange realizes that the attacker is the kid he helped earlier, which throws him off enough that Nitobe is able to knock him out. Just as Nitobe is about to kill the kid, Strange comes to (he was actually kind of faking), grabs him, and calms him down. They return to Earth and hand the kid, who is quite rich, over to the police. The next day, Strange learns that the kid was released, as he is the cousin to a UN Ambassador, and somehow got diplomatic immunity. I guess the moral of this issue is never help someone, because they might just rape your new acquaintance’s daughter.
- Ann Nocenti and Tony Salmons step in for another fill-in issue. This is one of Nocenti’s earliest writing gigs, but her offbeat voice is already clear from the jump. This is Salmon’s first Marvel book, and he does a great job of introducing a more expansive 80s vibe to the book. A beautiful woman named Adrienne comes to see Strange, trying to seduce him, and claiming that her home is haunted, and that it is affecting her father, the famous artist Claude Van Moor. Strange is intrigued, and goes with her to her very oddly designed home. Van Moor has fallen into madness, but it’s not long before Strange recognizes a number of cute spirits around the house. Adrienne admits that she had a step-mother she hated, who was killed in a car accident after they’d argued. Strange begins to be lulled into madness by the spirits, and has his astral self knocked out of his body, but he recovers, and traces their power to Van Moor, who is drawing more spirits into existence. Strange manages to push the spirit of his dead wife out of Van Moor, and things return to normal.
- Roger Stern returns with issue sixty-five, and brings Paul Smith back with him! Morgana Blessing is at a demonstration being run by Kerwin Havelock, a magician who we quickly learn is a fraud after he fakes a spiritual cleansing on some guy in the audience who is actually a plant. He manipulates some society type into hosting his next workshop at his home in Connecticut, and when he learns that Morgana wants to write an article about him, he invites her to come. Strange visits another plane using his astral self, where he stops an unnamed barbarian king from planning an invasion of Earth, although after he leaves, the king continues to show interest in going there. Back home, Sara tells Strange that she finished his taxes, and Morgana arrives for lunch. They talk about Havelock, and when Morgana mentions the incantation that he uttered, Strange becomes concerned. He goes to visit Havelock, and when the charlatan dismisses his concerns, Strange reveals himself, using the Eye of Agamotto to learn that Havelock learned the incantation when shipwrecked on an island inhabited by an old mystic woman. Havelock’s accomplice smashes Strange in the head with an ashtray (oh, the 80s, when bludgeons like this were in every room), and they move to get rid of him. Hurt, Strange falls out the window, but uses his cloak to float home. Sara finds him on the roof and ministers to him. The next evening, Morgana arrives at the workshop with her father, who we quickly learn is actually Strange in disguise. He has a concussion, and therefore is struggling to function, but when Havelock begins to use the same incantation that he’s been using for a decade (which, really, he could have just made up multiple versions of, since it’s just a typical rhyming nonsense thing), a portal opens and demons from the Planes of Pohldahk start streaming forth. Strange pushes them back, and wipes the memory of that night from everyone there, except for Havelock, whose memory he has kept intact as a form of punishment.
- Strange flies himself to Long Island to play golf with Morgana Blessing’s father, although that’s a bit of a ruse, as he’s really there to investigate the claim made by three Eastern monks that their reincarnated Lama is in the region, but has eluded them. While looking around the eighteenth hole, Strange comes across a young man who triggers his mystical amulet. Having sent the monks to meet Strange, Wong and Sara don’t have anything much to do, but Wong rejects Sara’s offer of going to see a movie. Strange hangs out with Arnie Green, the young man, and learns that he can see through his mystical disguise, and can even activate the Eye of Agamotto. Strange also learns that Arnie has always had good luck, never waiting in line, and always pulling the correct change out of his pocket. When the monks arrive, Arnie knows one of them by name, and is able to identify his former incarnation’s possessions. An assassin outside fires an arrow at Arnie, hitting a mirror, and Strange gives chase. When Strange catches the assassin, he reveals that he was not aiming at Arnie, but at one of the monks, who was going to do him harm. That monk, Danu, has knocked out the other two with nerve pinches, and approaches Arnie with a knife when Strange busts in. Danu tries to take Arnie hostage, but Arnie uses abilities he didn’t know he had to free himself. The assassin, Jigme, stands over Danu and is about to kill him when Arnie stops him. Arnie explains that he was purposely reborn in the West to better understand the modern world, and Danu recognizes him and is forgiven. Later, the group prepares to fly back home, and Arnie tells them that he’s bringing cable TV and pizza to the monastery.
- Paul Smith only lasted two issues before Steve Leialoha had to return and draw (and ink) issue sixty-seven. Strange watches Jessica Drew, the former Spider-Woman, as she chases and catches a couple of guys, in San Francisco, and is helped by the Shroud. This doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the issue, but maybe Stern is just wrapping up a plotline he left dangling in the Avengers. Strange watches Wong rebuff another of Sara’s gentle advances. He then gets a telegram which causes him some concern, and he goes to a secret room to make sure that the Darkhold is still secure. In the Dark Dimension, a guy named Rahl captures a flying face named Asti, and leaves it with a message for Umar. Rahl then slips into the realm of the Mindless Ones, barely escaping them before being given admission into Clea’s hidden fortress, where she talks about being Stephen’s student. In Boston, Dr. Strange pays a visit to Hannibal King, who sent him that telegram warning that the Darkholders are on the move. Basically, some weird stuff has been happening in Boston that King has been investigating with Frank Drake and Blade. Strange goes to join those two men at a hospital where they are standing guard over a pair of mindwiped Darkholders. Strange is just about to glean some of what happened to them when a man tosses a gas bomb at them. He then makes off with the two zombified cultists, and takes them to the church where the remaining Darkholders are holed up. They plan to sacrifice these two as part of a ritual that will bring an other-dimensional vampire to Earth that they will be able to control. Strange and King interrupt their ritual, but as the Darkholders have assumed the strength of many of their fold, they hold them back while the last Darkholder almost completes the dark rites. It turns out that Drake and Blade were posing as the kidnap victims, although the ritual is still completed when the Darkholder sacrifices himself. A very ugly creature begins to cross into Strange’s dimension, but immediately falls apart. Strange seals the portal. Later, at a club, Strange explains that his anti-vampire spell from before also works on vampires coming to Earth from elsewhere.
- Paul Smith returns, as Strange is summoned to England by Victoria Bentley, who is perhaps an old flame of his, and is now looking after Dane Whitman, the Black Knight. It seems he’s just returned to the present after having lived in the body of one of his ancestors in the past for a while. Dane’s not right in the head. Strange stops him from berating a local vet who doesn’t know how to treat his ailing bat-winged horse. Strange checks in on Valinor, and recognizes that whatever spell has given him wings is the problem, and removes all magic from the beast, turning him back into a regular horse. Whitman, angry, draws his sword on Strange, but the vet knocks him out with a shovel. Strange examines him, and learns of the fighting he did in the past. Strange goes to the basement of Whitman’s castle, which Bentley bought while he was away, and consults with the spirit of his ancestor, Sir Percy, whose spirit resides in an enchanted coal brazier. Sir Percy explains that there is a curse on the sword. Whitman arrives, holding a dagger to Victoria’s throat. Strange returns his ebony blade to him, and mysically moves Victoria out of the room. Strange transports him and Whitman to a different plane, where they begin to fight, Strange using a staff of flames. Really, Whitman is fighting an image Strange has conjured. Umar watches this from the Dark Dimension, and thinking that Strange is behind Clea’s rebellion, hits him with a mystic jolt. This causes the image Whitman was fighting to fade, and now Strange and the Black Knight begin to battle for real. Strange sends him to a realm of madness, where Whitman is confronted by the reality of what the sword is doing to him. He rejects it, and Strange transports him back to Earth, where the sword is now buried in the brazier. Whitman grabs the sword and uses it to destroy the Brazier of Truth (it’s hard to type that without laughing a little), which now frees Sir Percy’s spirit. He tells his descendant that the curse that affected him, Sir Percy, is lifted, but that the ebony blade is still enchanted and that Dane must use it carefully so that he doesn’t receive any other curses himself. Victoria comes to see what’s up with the men, and Strange explains what happened.
- Strange and the Black Knight have taken a luxury cruise liner from England to America, giving Dane time to exercise, which he does by running around the decks in very short shorts. Strange hangs out in his room, and speaks to Dane with his astral body. A sea monster appears a ways off from the boat, and Strange cloaks the vessel in fog and goes to fight it. It turns out to be an illusion made of seaweed, sent by Umar to mess with Strange. In her throne room, she condemns two of Clea’s rebels to death after she can’t penetrate their psychic shields. Strange heads to his home (astrally), where he can’t use his Orb of Agamotto to peer into the Dark Dimension. He does notice that Wong and Sara aren’t talking to each other. He returns to the cruiseship, and gives Dane a quick examination. They talk about how all the women on the boat find them attractive, and Strange doesn’t believe that to be the case. Just then, the ship’s doctor, a beautiful woman, comes to invite him to dinner with her. In the Dark Dimension, the two rebels are taken to the realm of the Mindless Ones, but just as they are about to be tossed in, Rahl, Clea’s other rebel, shows up to fight, with the result being that the three rebels and the captain of Umar’s guard, are thrown into the Mindless Ones’ zone. Of course, this is an illusion, and they go to Clea’s base, where we learn that the captain of the guard is her father. On the boat, Strange talks to the doctor and receives a message in his coffee cup from Clea warning him that Umar is after him. Just then lightning strikes around the ship, and Strange goes to check on it, knowing that Umar is responsible. They yell at each other, and she sends water elementals to fight him and to attack the people on the ship. Strange tries to help, but is almost overwhelmed when the Black Knight jumps in, allowing him time to complete a spell. Everything returns to normal, and Strange decides to join Clea’s fight.
- In preparation for going to the Dark Dimension, Strange feels that he needs to disguise his aura. To that end, he conducts a ritual that will bring him in contact with the powers of Satannish, a very dangerous ritual that is interrupted by knocking at the door of his study. He almost succumbs to these powers, but barely beats them back, further delaying his mission. Annoyed, he opens the door to discover Sara, there to tell him that he has visitors from the Pentagon. General Hoyt Emerson and Lieutenant Olson are there to tell Strange that lately the military has had weapons and tanks go missing, replaced by ornate swords and weird war creatures. While they talk, Sara receives a call for the General, who is upset to learn that now one of their nuclear missiles has disappeared. Strange gets a location from the General’s mind, and astrally visits the site, where he recognizes a spire from Kobar, the realm he visited a few issues back. He returns to his home, and tells the General he will manage the problem. Strange transports himself to Kobar, where he finds the people making weapons based on those of Earth. Their leader, Chaynn, wants his people to make replicas of the nuclear missile he has. Strange arrives and engages in battle with the mystics working for Chaynn. He notices that one of the entranced missile crew is doing some work on it, so he stops him. The missile is damaged and collapses, pinning Strange under it. As Chaynn prepares to continue his plans, the missile makes a strange sound and explodes. For three pages we see the destruction this has wrought on Kobar, but then we learn that it is a vision shown to Chaynn by Strange. Sickened, Chaynn can’t understand why Earth would have such weapons. Strange returns to his home, and lets the General know that Chaynn won’t be stealing any more weapons from them, as he thinks humans are mad. Bret Blevins drew this issue.
- Issue seventy-one, which features Paul Smith’s art again, opens with a teacher in the Dark Dimension narrating the story of how Dormammu and then Umar came to power, explaining how the mystic class that opposed them were shunned as silent outcasts. The teacher doesn’t know that Umar is listening to her tell this story, and the queen joins in, telling the children to beware of Doctor Strange. In New York, Morgana comes to have lunch with Stephen, but Sara explains that she forgot to cancel it. Stephen has been in a secret, massive, part of the house preparing to slip into the Dark Dimension without his usual aura, so that Umar won’t know he’s there. He leaves, and we learn that he instructed Wong to clear things up with Sara, although that doesn’t happen then. In some other reality, Strange uses magic to make his hair grow, and he hides his cloak of levitation inside a hollowed out staff. In the Dark Dimension, Clea continues to try to interrogate her father, but she can’t get past his psychic defenses. In a village, Strange walks around disguised as one of the Outcast. A pair of rebels run past him yelling anti-Umar slogans. They are chased by guards whom more rebels ambush. As they fight, one of the guards recognize the woman, Synth, who they thought they’d executed a few issues before. Strange steps in, still disguised, and helps the rebels defeat their enemies. They run off, still shouting slogans. They move through the house of a man named Saftur, who Synth no longer trusts, and make their way through a portal to the Mindless Ones’ realm, and then into Clea’s hidden base. They tell Clea and Rahl what happened, and Strange appears in the room, still disguised. Clea is happy to see him, but confused by his presence. He explains that he’s there to help, especially since Umar already thinks he is helping. He also says he wanted to see if he still has feelings for Clea, and they embrace.
- The Statement of Ownership for 1984 lists an average press run of 230 000, against newsstand returns of 107 000.
- Strange and Clea’s rebels target a kind of tax collection day, where magical energy is drained from citizens of the dark dimension. While the rebels, led by Rahl, engage the guard, Strange, still disguised as an outcast, takes the magical spheres gathered by the tax collector. As they return to their base, avoiding the Mindless Ones, Strange and Rahl talk about how most of the people in the Dark Dimension are not unhappy with Umar’s rule. Clea is happy that the mission is a success, and Strange watches her with pride while she plans her next move with her top people. Strange checks in with Wong, who is sitting in a park, and when Wong returns to the house, he informs Sara (who probably doesn’t have much reason to be there with Strange being gone for a week now) that while he feels close to her, he has cannot act on it because he is promised to someone else. Umar is angry that she can’t find Strange on Earth. The rebels continue to plan, and discuss the fact that they haven’t learned anything useful from Orini. Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto on the man, and learns that he had been Umar’s lover, and that she is in fact Clea’s mother, which is news to her. The rebels make plans to attack a caravan of Umar’s, using intelligence they got from Orini. After all the rebels have left, Clea goes to confront her father, untying him so they can talk. He moves to attack her. The rebels attack a caravan of covered wagons, which is supposed to be carrying some sort of magic crystals. Instead, it is full of extra troops, who use magic carpets to summon some weird anemone-like monsters. Strange is pulled out of the battle, which does not go well for the rebels. Strange is confronted by a gathering of outcasts, who want him to stop impersonating them. They tell him that the rebel attack failed. Umar learns that the rebels attacked the caravan, and is surprised to see Orini show up with an unconscious Clea.
- Umar uses a gemstone to broadcast across her entire dimension that she has defeated Clea and the rebellion, although she admits that Strange is still on the loose and needs to be caught. Strange sees this message from where he’s spending time with the Outcasts, and gets angry with them for not wanting to help. He gives them a speech, and then takes off his disguise and puts his cloak back on. The Outcasts pledge to join him. In Umar’s palace, Orini talks to Umar, and discovers that the rebels have been placed in stasis in a dungeon. Orini tells Umar that Strange was not involved in the rebellion until she attacked Earth. The Outcasts arrive outside the palace, with Strange their captive. The palace is guarded by a G’uranthic guardian – a big cyclopic creature that scans them and reveals that Strange is not actually a captive. Strange stops the guardian, and he and the Outcasts penetrate the palace. Clea, who is not as captive as she appears, speaks to Strange astrally, telling him where the rebels are. Asti warns Umar of the attack, and Orini reveals that he has actually been Clea all this time. Mother and daughter begin to fight, and Clea sends a spell into the broadcast gem. Strange and the Outcasts reach the imprisoned rebels and begin to revive them just as Umar and Clea’s fight is broadcast across the dimension. People everywhere learn that Umar is Clea’s mother, and that she doesn’t care about them, as she dissolves the barrier that keeps the Mindless Ones at bay. The rebels and Outcasts move to stop the Mindless Ones, while Rahl and Strange head to the help Clea. Clea sends them away, claiming that it’s her fight alone. Umar gets the upper hand while the Outcasts and rebels are successful at pushing back the Mindless Ones. Strange joins them and restore the barrier. The people are angry, and want Umar brought down. This weakens her, as she drew power from their obedience, and she realizes that Clea was showing the world everything that was happening. Clea attacks again, destroying the palace. One of the Outcasts begins to speak, which is proof that Umar’s spells are done. We see that Clea now has the flames of regency around her head.
- Issue seventy-four is the first written by Peter B. Gillis, who is about to take the book over from Roger Stern, starting with issue seventy-six. It’s also the first issue drawn by Mark Badger, who was announced as the new regular artist. As well, it’s the only issue in this stack that I’d read before starting this column, as this is the Secret Wars II tie-in issue, and that event was responsible for my sampling the entire Marvel line that year. In the Dark Dimension, Clea addresses her people, is nice to a barber who speaks out of turn, and admits to Stephen that she is uncomfortable being the ruler of a land so lacking in individual freedom. Together, they banish Umar and Orini using a spell, and as they kiss, Strange feels observed by a force he doesn’t recognize. He tells Clea that as much as he is flattered by her offer to stay in the Dark Dimension as her consort, he must return to Earth. Strange leaves, following the energy trail of the being he sensed. It leads him to his own sanctum, where he finds the Orb of Agamotto opened, and Wong and Sara entranced. He frees them, and worried about their wellbeing, has Wong prepare him lunch. They tell Stephen that a strange being, who we know to be the Beyonder, came looking for Strange, and then used the Orb. When surprised by its power, he fled. Strange tracks him to a bar, where he’s gotten himself drunk. He wants Strange to enlighten him, and afraid of his power, Stange decides to share with him his past. They visit Strange as a doctor, then as a drunk in the bar he just left, before travelling to Strange’s time with the Ancient One and his fight with Mordo (I think this is the third time in this stack that this story has been retold). Basically, the lesson that Strange wants the Beyonder to learn, in a very wordy, roundabout way, is that the path to happiness involves personal sacrifice for the wellbeing of others. The Beyonder fixes (badly) the bar he’d trashed and flies away. Strange muses on hope and stuff, but again, it’s not very interesting so I skimmed a bit. I can see why, after buying this as my first Doctor Strange comic, I didn’t keep with it.
- Issue seventy-five is Roger Stern’s last issue, and also ties in with Fantastic Four #276 and 277, and Rom #65 in ways that aren’t very clearly explained. Mephisto has Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman in Hades (is that how his realm is usually referred to?), and Strange has gone to rescue them, while some other mystic stuff is happening to the sun. Strange is surprised to find Mephisto more powerful than ever, and sees that young Franklin Richards is encased in a crystal. Reed figures out that Mephisto is afraid of Franklin, so he has Strange free him. Franklin blasts Mephisto, and after a space platform stops what’s happening with the sun (this is a big Dire Wraith storyline in Rom), Mephisto loses his augmented power, and Franklin wipes him out. This causes Hades to undergo great upheaval, so Strange magics the Richards away. We see that a stoney female figure emerges from the destruction, kills a demon, and starts wandering around. Back home, Strange goes to talk to Sara, who is upset. She explains how her feelings for Wong have changed, and how he rebuffed her. Wong appears and explains that his family placed him in a marriage contract years ago, as is traditional in their family, as is serving the Sorcerer Supreme. Sara thinks this is nuts, and storms off. In Connecticut, some kids playing outside the destroyed former home of the Richardses see the stone woman emerge from the ruins. She causes a car wreck, and draws Stephen’s mystical attention. He investigates, and when he uses the Eye of Agamotto on the creature, hears a woman’s voice asking to be saved. Strange pursues the creature, which he learns has an adverse reaction to water. Dunking her in a pool causes the rock to melt away, leaving a woman. Later, back at the sanctum, the woman, called Topaz, wakes and she and Stephen discuss the fact that some of her soul is missing.
- Normally, when a book changes hands after a long run, I’d finish one column and start another, but Peter B.Gillis’s run on Doctor Strange isn’t all that long, so I’m just going to continue. A sorceress in another realm, named Iuriale, is dying. She casts a spell to save her life, which targets a New York doctor, Darryl Berenson. He’s entranced by some flying snakes, which lead him to buy an occult book. Ignoring his wife, he studies this book, feeling more alive than ever before. At Strange’s, the woman named Topaz explains her past as an empath who hung out with Jack Russell, before being taken to Hades with Dracula. There, she lost the empathic part of her soul, which now causes her to feel no joy. To prove this, she kissed Strange, just as Berenson’s wife comes to the sanctum. The Bererensons knew Strange when he was a medical doctor, and she convinces Stephen that he needs to help her find her husband. He goes to their house, where he sees a mystical tree growing out of a pentagram in Berenson’s study. He tracks his old colleague, and finds him just as he is about to summon Iuriale to Earth. She arrives, and has to battle Strange to make it fully into our realm. Berenson stabs Strange with a broken bottle, but despite his wounds and Iuriale’s magic snakes, he is able to stop her from stealing the man’s essence. Berenson is bereft that Iuriale is gone. Strange tries to comfort him, and leaves him with some cops to take to the hospital. When Strange returns home, he finds Berenson’s wife crying with Sara – it seems that Berenson stole one of the cop’s guns and shot himself dead, calling for his otherworldly love. This was a very wordy comic.
- In Kamar-Taj, Arnie’s ordination is interrupted by a young novice who has come to warn everyone that the Indian army is on the way, as a response to increased tensions with China. Arnie shouts out a curse, which appears to affect a particular candle. Strange broods over how Topaz’s kiss made him feel, and how he hasn’t really loved the women in his life. He thinks about trying to restore Berenson’s life, but then realizes that is not the solution to his self-doubts. He goes to the kitchen where Topaz, Sara, and Wong are watching the UN address of the Indian Defense Minister. He suffers an attack, and is found to have his mouth filled with military medals (which Topaz finds funny). Strange goes to the hospital where the Indian man was taken and joins his old colleague in the operation room. Only Strange can see that a creature named Khat is there to kill the minister. Strange stops him, but Khat goes to attack the other patients in the hospital. Strange argues with Khat, who causes him to doubt himself. In this way, Khat is able to pull Strange to his realm, where he is confronted by even more self-doubt, and where Khat ends up shredding much of Strange’s cloak. Ultimately, by embracing his own pain, Strange is able to defeat Khat. Back at the hospital, Arnie communicates with Stephen mystically, and they agree that they each have a lot to learn about themselves.
- Strange does not know how to fix his cloak, which causes him a lot of frustration. He performs a spell that he thinks works, and as he finishes, Topaz comes to see him, again acting impulsively because she lacks the part of her soul that allows for self-regulation. Strange takes her to his Chamber of Extrospection, where he places her in front of a mystical mirror, to search for her soul. Their work is interrupted when Sara calls to Strange; the items in his study are flying around on their own, because his cloak can no longer contain its levitation. He has no choice but to return it to its town state. In Marseilles, France, Cloak (of Cloak and Dagger) watches as first responders deal with a woman who has died in the street, a victim of both a car accident and a weird new drug. Cloak stops a drug dealer from selling this new drug, which is legal in France still, to some kid, and learns from the dealer that his supplier is named Ecstasy. Strange does some research, and learns of an ancient weaver named Enitharmon, who might be able to help him fix his cloak. He travels to his realm, and the weaver, who looks like a dinosaur, agrees to help him. Cloak goes to Ecstasy’s place, and when he absorbs her into his darkness, he gets turned inside out, and disappears. Strange, looking around Enitharmon’s place, finds some curtains that lead to a darkness dimension. He hears noises that sound like a person in trouble, and enters the darkness to investigate. He sees a light in the distance. This turns out to be Ecstasy, who is now naked but for a clingy shadow-outfit, and who has taken Cloak’s abilities from him, making him feel the same way people he draws into his cloak feel. Strange rushes to him, but Ecstasy hurts them both. Ecstasy talks about how Cloak hurts people, and he begins to feel bad about all he’s done. Again, Gillis is playing on the self-doubts of these heroes, and Strange takes a while before figuring out what to do. He shines the light from the Eye of Agamotto on her, and this pushes the darkness out of Ecstasy. Strange opens a portal back to Earth, and Cloak takes her, now unconscious, through it. Strange fights against some sort of darkness storm before going through the portal himself, and now they are all back in France. Cloak has been restored, and Ecstasy threatens to charge them all with trespassing. The heroes leave.
- On some distant planet, a warrior defeats other warriors in an arena. His lord, who goes unnamed, tells him that there is a soul on Earth that has touched him, and that he wants to destroy the sorcerer he sensed there. Strange returns home from France, and Wong tells him that Topaz has been difficult. Wong notices that he puts off helping her again, and insteads helps her to sleep. He goes to check in on Sara, who is on the phone with Morgana Blessing making excuses for him; he interrupts to arrange a date. He tells Wong and Sara to take the night off. He meets with Morgana and they chat briefly about how Strange doesn’t listen to music. Topaz goes to the Chamber of Extrospection again, and looking through a portal, sees the unnamed alien. At the restaurant, the warrior (who also doesn’t seem to have a name) attacks, wanting to kill Strange. His spells don’t work on the warrior, so Strange uses a magicked-up butter knife to enter into battle. Wong and Sara talk briefly as Sara leaves for the night turned down by him again. Topaz reaches to the alien, which causes the sanctum to be wrapped in blue light. This distracts Strange, who sees it from across the city, and he gets impaled by the warrior’s staff. His astral self escapes his body, and he feels he has no choice but to join with Morgana, which causes her to dress like him. She grabs his amulet and sword, but cannot get the amulet to work. She starts to fight the warrior, with Strange’s guidance, but he is too much for her, and hits her in the side with his weapon. Strange, through Morgana, uses dark magic to give the warrior to Satannish. Morgana rushes back to the sanctum, just as the whole building is transported away. Sara comes to Morgana just as she collapses in pain. We see that Strange is loaded into an ambulance, but the driver doesn’t think he’s going to make it to the hospital.
- Strange is rushed into the hospital and taken straight to surgery. Morgana is also taken to the hospital, accompanied by Sara. Strange’s astral form appears to her, and they talk about what happened. Strange enters Sara’s body and directs her to find where he is being operated on. In the sanctum, Wong stops Topaz from going outside, and shows her that they are surrounded by demonic warriors. They break into the house and capture them. Sara speaks to the doctor about to operate on Strange, and makes it so he can see Stephen’s astral form. They agree to work together, allowing Sara to come into the operating room. When magical bacteria attack the doctor, Strange banishes it. On the alien world, Wong and Topaz are taken to that world’s ruler, Urthona, who explains that he has the other half of Topaz’s soul, and that he is going to use the weapons and tools in Strange’s home to become the Dormammu of this universe. The surgery on Strange is almost finished, but then a mystical plant thing is revealed by the Eye of Agamotto coming out of Strange’s heart. Strange, speaking through Sara, insists that he must perform this surgery, as it was one of his specialties when he was a doctor (even though, at that time, he didn’t practice magic and I always thought he was a neurosurgeon). As he begins, Sara’s hands begin to shake, and he has to give up. At that point, his soul begins to be drawn towards a light, and his Defenders colleague, Valkyrie, dressed in Arthur Adams-style Asgardian gear, tells him it’s time for him to die. He rejects this and fights his way back to the physical plane, claiming his love for his friends, but when he tries to merge with the doctor in charge, he is rejected and almost sent back towards death. He perseveres, and the doctor allows him to merge with him so they can perform the surgery together. With the the help of the Eye, they are able to complete the operation. Strange returns to Sara and they discuss how they will track down the sanctum, Wong, and Topaz. They are confronted by a hairy creature.
- The Statement of Ownership for 1985 states that Doctor Strange had an average press run of 221 000 copies, with average newsstand returns of 97 000.
- Issue eighty-one opens in a spaceship, where we see that Strange’s body is in a stasis tube, and a creature that looks like a green hairy minotaur, wearing Strange’s cloak and Eye, is piloting. As it turns out, this guy is Rintrah, the apprentice of Enitharmon. He’d come to return Strange’s fixed cloak, and he and Strange agreed that he’d be a good vessel for Strange’s astral body so he can go after his house and friends. This angers Sara, who storms off, feeling left out. After visiting Reed Richards to borrow a Skrull ship, they set out to track the sanctum’s energy. Urthona, who has Wong and Topaz tied up, senses Strange is getting close, and tries to use some mystical talons to kill him. Strange, in Rintrah’s body, fights back, and they approach Urthona’s spot. The two sorcerers begin to fight, but when Urthona has a hard time gaining the advantage, he has Wong killed. While Strange is reeling from that, Urthona summons a lot of demonic bats to surround Rintrah’s body. Rintrah sends his astral form out, giving Strange complete control of his form, so he can use the Eye to destroy the bats. Rintrah goes to Strange’s body, in the spaceship, and uses it to get to Topaz, while the other two sorcerers continue to fight. Topaz wants Rintrah (who she thinks is Strange) to reunite her missing soul pieces, so he gives them to her, just as Urthona notices him. Strange has to decide between depleting his energies in stopping Urthona from hurting his friends, even though he will probably lose in the long-run, and taking a break to recover his strength. He attacks, and that gives Topaz time to recover. Strange makes a desperate play, and uses his magic to destroy all of the items that Urthona plundered from him, except, it seems, the Darkhold. Upset, Urthona teleports away with that book, while Strange returns to his body and sees that Wong is still alive (that really needed to be better explained). Strange is exhausted, and Topaz cradles him.
And that was it. With that weird ending, the series was cancelled, without even so much as a box telling readers that there wouldn’t be another issue. I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes that led to the combining of this book with Cloak & Dagger in Strange Tales two months later, but it seems like there wasn’t really enough time to properly advertise and promote that book. It’s obvious that sales, at a paltry average of 124 000, would have been a big part of this story (never mind that it would be one of Marvel’s top books today).
Anyway, I do have a few issues of Strange Tales, which continued Gillis and Warner’s run, but I don’t have much interest in revisiting them right now, nor do I want to hunt down the ones I’m missing.
Strange did fall on hard times after Stern left the title, taking with him the rotating cast of A-list artists. Stern’s Strange was a pretty solid Marvel adventure comic. The one-off stories were often very weak, but the two big storylines – the one about Dracula and the one about Clea’s revolution – were handled very well. I’d expected a lot more dry, vaguely trippy stuff when I started into this stack, but Stern showed pretty strong restraint in indulging in the more psychedelic aspects of the character.
In typical 80s Marvel fashion, his focus on Strange’s relationships nicely covered the fact that Strange himself is not the most developed of characters. We know that he used to be very selfish, and that now he’s not, but we really don’t get to know a lot about him in Stern’s comics. Sure, he’s upset that Clea left him, and later he’s intrigued by Morgana Blessing, but she slowly disappears from sight until such a time that Strange needs a reason to leave his house, and then she’s always available for a date. I would have liked to get to know Stephen a little better, but at the same time, he’s not quite as dull as I thought he’d be (that was Gillis’s job, apparently).
I’m not sure what ever happened to Sara Wolfe, but I did find her slow-burn interest in Wong to be kind of interesting. I’m not sure why Strange would have ever needed a full-time secretary, which is why she’s probably not around any longer, but it was good to have someone normal hanging out in the sanctum to occasionally provide some perspective.
After Stern left, the writing in this book fell off precipitously. His first issue, the Secret Wars II tie-in, was also the only one of these comics I’d read before starting on this column, and I can understand why my younger self was not too impressed with or interested in reading this comic. Gillis, at this point, kept things very wordy, and seemed to endlessly cycle back on having Strange examine his doubts. It got old quick, although I see that Gillis was the writer through the Strange Tales run, and into the next Doctor Strange relaunch. That’s the kind of thing Marvel does today…
Art-wise, this was a very impressive pile of comics. Marshall Rogers. Paul Smith. These are two of the greatest pencillers in the business, and it shows here. Almost all of the other artists that worked on the book – Golden, Leialoha, and Warner chief among them, were very talented and representative of a great era in Marvel’s history. It was the artist list that drew me to this title in the first place, and it’s what made me glad I came here.
There aren’t a lot of total gems here, but there are some very good comics. I remember the Dracula storyline as having far-reaching consequences in the Marvel Universe (too bad things couldn’t have stayed vampire-free, just so Jubilee could be normal again). I like how Strange interacted with the Black Knight, and aside from the Beyonder, was from time to time, a key part of the Marvel Universe.
Next up, I want to tackle a DC run that I’d missed the beginning and ending of, but for a while in the middle, I really enjoyed. I might back up a bit and look at the titles that came before it, depending on what I find when I dig into my longboxes.
If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.
If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you can follow these links for trade paperbacks or e-books that encompass some of these issues.
Doctor Strange, Vol. 4 (Marvel Essentials) (v. 4)
Doctor Strange vs. Dracula: The Montesi Formula (Doctor Strange (1974-1987))
Doctor Strange: Into The Dark Dimension (Doctor Strange (1974-1987))
Doctor Strange: Don’t Pay The Ferryman (Doctor Strange (1974-1987))
Tags: Doctor Strange, Retro Reviews