Doctor Strange #38-40
Issue(s): Doctor Strange #38, Doctor Strange #39, Doctor Strange #40
I've been looking forward to these issues. I first encountered the Fear Lords in realtime in Kieron Gillen's excellent Journey Into Mystery series, and was surprised to learn that the cabal of Marvel's fear entities had appeared before. This story doesn't have the Gaiman-esque quality that Gillen's story did, but i wasn't really expecting it to. And i want to say something that i try to say every so often (although probably not nearly often enough), that even when a story isn't all that great, it should be appreciated for laying the groundwork for better stories that come later (not that later necessarily equals better, to be clear). The idea of getting the various entities in the Marvel universe that represent fear together is an idea that is both a little cheesey and geeky cool. Roger Stern and Ralph Macchio did a more subtle version of this in Doctor Strange #32-37, but it took the unabashed continuity lover Roy Thomas (aided by Lofficier, who seems to function as a research assistant) to gather every such character even from such unlikely places as Marvel Comics Presents and Dead of Night and weave a story about them.
The story is disappointing mainly because it doesn't depict the fear entities as real avatars of fear. They come across as too petty, full of Thomas' usual dialogue tics, with any distinction in personalities getting buried by verbosity and exposition. And they're not petty like, say, Greek gods; their motives are indistinguishable from ordinary super-villains. And their backbiting and scheming dooms them right from the start, so we never get to see the awesomeness of a group of fear gods engaged in something awful and terrifying.
The story begins with Strange finally giving Rintrah some on-page attention and training, but they are interrupted by one of the people being tested at the Steven Sanders Psychic Metaphysics Institute. The man is having waking nightmares, and attempts to jump out a window. Before Strange can investigate much further, odd things start happening with a daytime horror television show that Rintrah is watching.
Strange and company are then attacked by Nightmare, who helpfully announces that the Fear Lords have an agenda.
After the brief attack, Nightmare issues a warning. The only question is whether he's employing reverse-psychology or reverse-reverse-psychology.
Nightmare sends everyone back to Earth, and then more strange things start happening on TV.
This turns out to be the work of Scarecrow, who is now calling himself Straw Man.
As we saw in the Book of Vishanti back-ups leading up to this story, Straw Man is really a good guy, and he warned the other Fear Lords not to mess with Earth or he would retaliate. Warning Dr. Strange is part of that. We'll also learn that Straw Man lifted a spell that caused Strange to not remember the Fear Lords.
But while Strange and Clea are visiting Straw Man, another Fear Lord, the Lurking Unknown, attacks. Straw Man jumps in first and is set on fire.
D'Spayre also shows up...
...but Lurking Unknown doesn't want his help, so D'Spayre leaves.
Strange and Clea are able to defeat the Unknown, causing him to shrink.
The rest of the Fear Lords bicker amongst themselves while planning their next move.
When Strange returns to his home, he takes the portrait of the Straw Man that was in the Straw Man's office with him. Strange and company then discover that the outside world is covered in pitch darkness (although it's not really depicted that way; sorry Geof Isherwood, but a couple of blank panels might have been better than what you've done there).
Strange and friends go out to investigate and are attacked by Nox. Nox is the only Fear Lord that wasn't a pre-established character, but in Doctor Strange #32 she did get some retroactive history when it was said that her children Phobos and Deimos were killed by Hercules and Thor. She brings them back from the dead to fight Strange, Clea, and Rintrah.
Meanwhile, Kkallakku the Fear Eater summons his brethren to attack the crowd.
Strange absorbs the fears of all the civilians, making himself the Fear Eater's most tempting target.
Strange is able to banish the Fear Eaters and then he helps Clea and Rintrah finish off Nox's sons. Nox is driven off by light from the Amulet of Agamotto. Meanwhile, Nightmare and D'Spayre get together to gripe about Dweller in Darkness.
And then D'Spayre goes to confront Dweller, but he's chased away.
Dweller then engages in his final plan, which is to cause everyone to have nightmares. This enrages Nightmare, since it's an encroachment on his domain.
So what we end up with is a kind of four way battle, with Dweller In Darkness and Nightmare pausing in their battle against each other to take out Dr. Strange, and D'Spayre trying to find a way to take advantage of the situation. But Daredevil is also brought in as a guest star for issue #40, on the dubious grounds that he's the Man Without Fear. I've expressed my feelings about writers taking that phrase literally before (he's called that because he's a blind guy that leaps from buildings; it's not a super-power!), but Thomas & co. did make a point in the Vishanti back-ups to say that Dweller in Darkness was secretly behind the origin of Mr. Fear, one of DD's villains. So i guess he does have some experience with fighting supernatural fear.
Daredevil is out trying to deal with the general problem of everyone having Nightmares, but something guides him to Dr. Strange's house, and after getting there, it jumps out of his head and re-activates Straw Man using the portrait (which Daredevil can apparently see, although maybe he's just guessing based on the image having flashed in his head).
At this point D'Spayre has become the main threat in the three way Fear Lord fight, thanks to everyone's fear turning to despair.
Both Nightmare and Dweller flee. It turns out that Dweller In Darkness' body is really just an android. He's really just a squid-head. A later lettercol response confirms that the Dweller's body wasn't literally an android ("that was meant strictly in the adjectival sense of being 'robot-like', not to indicate that it had mechanical parts").
Then Daredevil and Straw Man show up to help Strange against D'Spayre. D'Spayre tries his usual despair attack on Strange, but Strange is able to resist, and D'Spayre is wrapped up in some Crimson Bands of Cytorrak. Daredevil turns out to not be the Man Without Despair, but we knew that.
As i said at the top, basically an underwhelmingly average comic story that nonetheless has some cool concepts.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 79,417. Single issue closest to filing date = 117,835.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showClea, D'Spayre, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Dreamstalker, Dweller In Darkness, Fear Eater, Imei Chang, Lurking Unknown, Nightmare, Nox, Rintrah, Roadkill, Sara Wolfe, Splatt, Straw Man, Wong
I think Splatt, Roadkill's...sidekick? pet?...shows up again, so you may want a tag for it as well.
This is probably D'Spayre's greatest moment, playing Nightmare and the Dweller against each other. I love that twist.
Posted by: Thanos6 | January 22, 2016 2:13 PM
Added Splatt. Thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 22, 2016 2:26 PM
The backstory that Nox is the real mother of Phobos and Deimos instead of Venus is is probably an attempt to make the myths work with the Marvel version of Venus (back when she was still one character and indisputably the mythological goddess); at this point in time, it would have com across as out-of-character for Venus to have an affair with Ares, especially after their clash the old Sub-Mariner series.
Turning the Dweller-in-Darkness into a standard ranting loon, and worse, a little goofy squid-head on an artificial body just utterly destroys the sense of menace that Stern and Macchio built up around the character.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | September 16, 2016 10:46 PM
One thing that puzzled me about this was Daredevil "seeing" the painting of the Scarecrow. I don't think it was ever explained how a bind man could know what the subject of the painting was. Oops, I guess.
Posted by: matthew baugh | January 2, 2017 12:16 PM
The painter's brushwork used a heavy impasto so there was a heavy relief to the surface that DD could discern allowing him to make out much of the image. Plus the different pigments absorbed different amounts of light and heat so he could perceive patterns of light and dark, at least "seeing" black and white.
But no... "Oops!" is right, I think.
Posted by: Ubersicht | January 2, 2017 1:28 PM
To be fair, it IS a magical painting- it's possible that everyone present, even a blind man, somehow knows it's a scarecrow.
Posted by: Michael | January 2, 2017 1:42 PM
I think they mentioned that in a later letter column; DD "saw" the painting in his mind thanks to magic.
Posted by: Thanos6 | January 2, 2017 7:33 PM
Comments are now closed.
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