Doctor Strange #79-81
Issue(s): Doctor Strange #79, Doctor Strange #80, Doctor Strange #81
The plot features a powerful new demon sorcerer named Urthona, who has become aware of Dr. Strange and our dimension thanks to the mirror that Strange had Topaz briefly peer into last issue. Urthona had already come into possession of Topaz's soul, and in this issue he sends a minion to Earth to attack Strange in what we'll learn is really just a distraction, but one that is nearly fatal.
Meanwhile, Topaz is still feeling the effects of her missing soul, acting overly emotional and like a "caricature of everything I find -- difficult in Western women", according to Wong. Wong is somewhat annoyed that Strange, who has just returned from his accidental trip to Europe and is now going out on a date with Morgana Blessing, is yet again delaying his investigation into a cure for Topaz. Strange also orders that Sara Wolfe and Wong take a break and leave the house, but Wong doesn't leave right away.
While on his date with Morgana, Urthona's minion arrives.
The minion is resistant to magic, so Strange is forced to take a somewhat more physical approach (after, granted, magically enhancing a butter knife).
Morgana suggests contacting the Avengers, but Strange just tells her to run.
However, as mentioned, the minion's attack is just a feint. The real danger is back at Dr. Strange's home, which Urthona pulls to his own planet (not necessarily "dimension" as we'll see later). When Strange is distracted by that, he is impaled by the minion's spear.
That's not the end of it though. Strange uses his astral projection to take control of Morgana's body to continue the fight.
However, Morgana is too "impure" to use the Eye of Agamotto (because she hasn't undergone Strange's years of training, not because there's something immoral about her)...
...and her body is also injured in the battle.
With that, Strange turns to darker magicks, calling on Satannish.
Strange's turn to black magic will be an ongoing plot for Gillis' run into the Strange Tales issues.
Issue #80 is largely about Dr. Strange's struggle for survival on the operating table. The spear Urthona's soldier used was coated with a kind of magical poison that transforms bacteria into large physical threats...
...so Dr. Strange has to borrow another body, this time Sara Wolfe's, to assist the surgeon in the operating room.
As Sara, Strange falters when attempting to step back into his role as a surgeon...
...and he soon finds himself being pulled away. It'll be confirmed in Strange Tales #5 that this really is the spirit of the Defender called Valkyrie, not just a generic valkyrie or a symbolic representation.
Strange mentions someone named "Alice", and nearly goes with Valkyrie, but does resist and return to his body, where the surgery is ultimately successful.
Almost immediately after that, Strange and Sara are approached by Hairy Scribble Man.
Also in issue #80, Wong and Topaz find that Dr. Strange's house in Urthona's realm are overrun by his warriors, and they are captured.
And Gillis does a great job establishing Urthona as a Dormammu level threat.
Chris Warner's art, and the fact that the guy looks like a Predator, helps too.
Next issue, Hairy Scribble Man turns out to be a bull-man named Rintrah, and apprentice of Enitharmon the Weaver.
Rintrah was sent to deliver Dr. Strange's newly repaired Cloak of Levitation. But Strange saw Rintrah as a better host for his astral form than Sara, and so he switched bodies. Sara didn't take that well.
In Rintrah's body, Dr. Strange next went to Mr. Fantastic to borrow a spaceship. That must have been an interesting conversation.
The spaceship that Strange borrows is said to be "the ship he had taken from the Skrulls". Couple problems with that. First, ROM already borrowed that ship and then returned to Earth without it. Second, the entire Baxter Building was destroyed in Fantastic Four #278-279, including all of Reed's equipment. Maybe when ROM was done with the saucer, he put it on autopilot and it eventually made its way home, but not until after the Baxter Building was destroyed.
Anyway, Strange's plan is to take Urthona by surprise by traveling to him by technological rather than mystical means.
The fact that Strange can get there by "conventional" means, plus the fact that Urthona talks about becoming "this universe's" Dormammu, indicates that Urthona's planet is somewhere in our universe, and not in an alternate dimension.
Urthona goal in taking Strange's house was access to all of the magical artifacts in it including (but not limited to): "the Books of Vishanti and of Eibon -- the Orb of Agamotto himself -- the two gems that are one, the Veil of the Purple Dimensions, the Scrolls of Hoary Watoomb -- down to the fabled Darkhold itself".
Strange's plan to take Urthona by surprise doesn't work all that well, and Urthona strikes out at the Skrull saucer from space. But Strange, still in Rintrah's body, manages to launch an effective counter-attack.
Urthona doesn't know what Dr. Strange is supposed to look like, so he's not surprised to find himself fighting a bull-man. I'm not sure how readers might have reacted, though. It's not too different than Beta Ray Bill, actually.
I personally like Rintrah. He could have looked less like a minotaur; he should have just looked more alien without representing anything recognizable on Earth, because i suspect that despite a number of appearances he didn't really take hold as a character because Dr. Strange having a man-bull around seemed a bit goofy to some readers. But i like the fact that he's an apprentice mage, someone that can talk about Strange's abilities from a knowledgeable point of view while still recognizing Strange as a (or the) superior mage, and he actually serves as a fun point of view character. And unlike, say, Clea, Strange is not likely to date this guy. Rintrah will remain in the series and be an apprentice to Dr. Strange long after Peter Gillis is off the title.
While fighting Strange, Urthona realizes that even with all his magic items taken away, Strange is still the better magician, so Urthona resorts to attacking his hostages, and does something really nasty to Wong.
He also releases the bat-like "Dark Hunger of the Night" from the Darkhold whose "thirst for vengeance" rival's Strange's after the attack on Wong.
These are pretty clearly the vampires that Dr. Strange used the Darkhold to destroy in Doctor Strange #62. Not necessarily the vampires themselves, but perhaps the demon souls that enable people to be vampires or something like that.
Strange is distracted by the attack on Wong and unable to concentrate, so Rintrah sends his astral form to inhabit Dr. Strange's body, and uses it to tend to Urthona's prisoners, and restores Topaz' soul.
Urthona meanwhile taunts Strange about his unwillingness to use black magic.
Strange ultimately retaliates by destroying all of his magic artifacts.
(We'll learn later that they aren't really destroyed. Actually, my reference above to the destruction of the Baxter Building and all of Mr. Fantastic's equipment is apt.)
The Darkhold, however, can't be destroyed, and Urthona teleports away with it. And it turns out that Wong isn't dead. But Strange's victory is pretty clearly not a happy one.
It's a pretty epic story. Urthona is built up as a credible threat, and Strange is hard pressed in his victory. Chris Warner does a nice job with Urthona's alien soldiers and the magic battles. And Strange's conversations with Rintrah are fun. Unfortunately, the momentum from this story is slowed by the format of the dual-story Strange Tales issues, but Dr. Strange's solo series here ends on a high note (quality-wise, not thematically!).
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 122,638. Single issue closest to filing date = 157,057.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Doctor Strange arrives back from Europe (via plane) at the beginning of issue #78. And issue #81 leaves him on Urthona's planet. We'll see the aftermath of that in Strange Tales #1. Really, any context free Dr. Strange guest appearance needs to take place before Doctor Strange #77 or well into the 1987 Strange Tales issues. Speaking of context free appearances, Mr. Fantastic's appearance here (in flashback, but still during this story) is one.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (13): show
The Book of Eibon is another Lovecraft reference.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 19, 2014 5:49 PM
The Marvel Appendix argued that the Skrull ship was actually Kurrgo's ship. That still raises the question of how it survived the destruction of the Baxter Building.
Posted by: Michael | January 19, 2014 6:21 PM
Fun, fun issues. I agree with everything you said. These Gillis issues were very good, and the art was amazing. I was very disappointed to see the title go. Strange Tales had a spotty distribution at my newstand, so despite liking both Strange and Cloak & Dagger, I was never able to pick up anything more than a couple of issues.
Posted by: Chris | January 19, 2014 9:35 PM
That Strange Tales run of Dr. Strange stories were easily some of my favourite Dr. Strange stories.
Urthona is another reference to William Blake's mythopoeic writingss, which now makes three during Gillis' run, by my count.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | January 19, 2014 10:37 PM
That said "Urthona and Rintrah are both a reference to Blake" originally. I don't know how that edited itself....
Posted by: ChrisKafka | January 19, 2014 10:41 PM
The Book of Eibon is another Lovecraft reference.
Eibon is a fictional sorcerer created by Clark Ashton Smith. He first appeared in the short story "The Door to Saturn"
He was a sorcerer and priest of Zhothaqquah (Tsathoggua). He is renowned as the writer of the Book of Eibon, a tome that, among other things, chronicles Eibon's life, and includes his magical formulae and rites of Zhothaqquah (It is introduced in Smith's tale "Ubbo-Sathla").
Posted by: PB210 | January 20, 2014 7:21 AM
Not quite, viz the Book of Eibob.
The Book of Eibon was written by the Hyperborean wizard Eibon, created by Clark Ashton Smith in the tale "The Door to Saturn." Smith carried it this into some of his non-Mythos stories, making one of his Averoigne tales's character, Gaspard du Nord, the translator of the elder Book of Eibon from Latin (in which language it was called the "Liber Ivonie") into 13th century French under the title "Livre d'Eibon."
Lin Carter in 'Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Mythos' adds: "In a later story, 'Ubbo-Sathla' (which introduced the dark divinity of that name and first appeared in Weird Tales of July 1933), Smith invented two quotations from this collection of dark and baleful myths, of liturgies, rituals and incantations both evil and esoteric" and notes that: "Another Hyperborean story, 'The Coming of the White Worm,' which was not published until 1941, was actually presented as an entire 'chapter' from the Book of Eibon!"
Posted by: PB210 | January 20, 2014 7:24 AM
PB210, good to know someone knows their fictional esoterica!
One of the things I liked about Urthona is that he is a mystic character, but he lives on another planet on our dimension. It means magic transcends the Earth, something inherent in the female Dire Wraiths, but I think it works here a lot better than in ROM.
One thing that is interesting is what this means about the nature of magic in the universe. Did Urthona's planet have similar demiurge and elder gods like Earth did? Is that something relatively rare in the cosmos since most planets appear to be more science fiction oriented than occult oriented?
It is also good to see another "mortal" mage take on Dr Strange. Baron Mordo was neutered long ago and hasn't been a threat in ages. Seeing Dr Strange best Dormammu on a regular basis really tarnished the horror he is supposed to represent. Urthona makes a good compromise.
Posted by: Chris | January 20, 2014 9:29 PM
I remember buying a copy of issue 79 based solely on the cover, which displayed a severely impaled Dr. Strange. Typically, the art on the covers outclasses what is on the inside, but I recall being really impressed by the depictions of the various demons. No idea why I didn't continue buying the title, because the story was pretty good as well.
Posted by: Cringe Worthy | October 13, 2015 10:34 AM
I was surprised to really enjoy Gillis' run on Doctor Strange (at least the ones from #74-81, so far). I know it'll be considered heresy to some, but I think a very competent and worthy successor to Roger Stern on the basis of these issues. The Beyonder one wasn't great but it's a Secret Wars II crossover, so I am pretty willing to overlook that.
#74-81 were recently collected in a trade called Doctor Strange: Don't Pay the Ferryman. Although the trade does that dick-move Marvel often do with their trades where they list big name authors before the main author. Roger Stern gets top billing despite writing one issue in it.
The Valkyrie appearance seems bizarre. At this point we all know she was dead (also courtesy of Gillis) and she appears here in a completely different costume and there's no mention of her being dead in the issue. I know Gillis has plans for the dead Defenders, but giving her a new costume here seems like a decision that just added to the scene being presented confusingly. I'm guessing Strange Tales will explain it a bit better, but without that context, the whole thing makes virtually no real sense.
Posted by: AF | January 17, 2016 4:07 PM
Chris Warner was the best artist on 'Alien Legion' after the original, Frank Cirocco.
Posted by: Oliver_C | June 21, 2016 11:48 AM
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