Doctor Strange #5-8
Issue(s): Doctor Strange #5, Doctor Strange #6, Doctor Strange #7, Doctor Strange #8
We'll delve into that in a bit, but it's worth noting that this is the first Marvel universe book that Roy is writing in partnership with his wife, Dann (the partnership started while Roy was at DC). Of their writing relationship, Roy writes in an introductory essay on the lettercol page in issue #5:
Dann and I write the DOC plots together; I do most of the actual scripting, though calling upon Dann for aid and inspiration, perhaps even a spot of dialogue from time to time.
The biggest difference between this and earlier Roy Thomas writing is the scripting, so at first i thought maybe Dann was scripting, but by the above quote that seems to not be the case.
The essay also explains that artist Butch Guice was able to come on board for this series despite concerns about hitting a monthly deadline on a 28 page book by adding a 5 page back-up Book of Vishanti feature in each issue beginning with issue #6. Those issues are co-written between Roy Thomas and Jean-Marc Lofficier and (for these issues), drawn and inked by Tom Sutton.
One last bit of set-up before i finally begin talking about the issues. I was a bit disappointed to see the cover of issue #5, with Clea's head in Strange's crotch, after all the work that's been done to establish Clea as an equal to Strange. It turns out Clea is barely in this arc. We will definitely get some weird cheesecake from Butch Guice in these issues, but Clea is not restored to a role of subservient pupil to Doctor Strange.
That said, Thomas does meet my expectations in one major regard, and that is restoring Strange to a pre-Gillis status quo. This was probably inevitable, but it's done very thoroughly. Strange starts off saying, "I've been away but I'm back" and i take that to mean that in more than just the sense that he's been traveling in other dimensions (it's actually been a few issues since his dimensional travel from the Gillis run anyway). There's also some commentary on Strange's looks, with Stephen saying that he needs a shave and a haircut and noting that he's put on a lot of muscle recently.
You'll notice a bit of flippancy in the above scans ("woeful whatshisface"), and there's similar silliness coming from the threat in the mirror.
The skull is replaced by Clea, who had been trying to get through to him.
Stephen over-confidently responds that whatever is going on, he can handle it better knowing she's safe...
...and that's the last we see of her ("I didn't even get a chance to tell Clea how gorgeous she looked in that new outfit.").
Strange then heads out to find Sara Wolfe, who is on her way to the Stephen Strange Memorial Metaphysical Institute that Gillis set up. Strange is getting ready to undo the spell that makes everyone think he's dead, and you'll see (among the flirty jokes) that the eyepatch situation is getting set up to be undone as well (is there also a crack at Wolverine in there?).
Steven accompanies Sara to the Institute where they are testing someone claiming to be a magical adept. Dr. Strange spots him as a fake, and it nearly brings Sara to tears.
Steven then says that "despite" her Cheyenne heritage, Sara doesn't have any magical potential.
Then on the way out he gets a mystical warning from "Brother Voodoo's maiden aunt".
Having run out of modern ethnicities to insult, Strange then goes to the Met to clear his thoughts, and is given another warning by an Egyptian statue.
If this was all a precursor to an attack by someone like the mischievous Ikonn, i would say that the Thomases (i'm focusing on Roy since he wrote that he was doing the scripting) was just not doing a great job being funny. Not everyone has the knack for it, but these types of jokes would be tolerable if it was in service of characterization. But as we've already seen, the quips are coming from all quarters, and the main threat here is not the sort to ever have used humor before.
Anyway, one thing that Roy Thomas seems to have liked about Gillis' run was Rintrah, because he brings him back.
Rintrah's master, Enitharmon the Weaver, has decided that he's done teaching Rintrah, so he's sent him to go serve under Dr. Strange. Before Strange can decide if he wants to accept him, he finds that it's Baron Mordo who's been taunting him. Mordo comments on Strange's updated vernacular even as he makes quips himself.
Humor is subjective. And i admit that i give, for example, Peter David a lot of leeway with characterization if it's in the service of some good jokes. But i find Thomas to be just trying way too hard and failing miserably at being funny while also missing the mark entirely in terms of how any of these characters have been characterized in the past.
Strange has lost his respect for Mordo after the many times he's defeated him, but Mordo turns out to be stronger this time for some reason.
And it turns out to be because he's sold his soul in return for more power (this storyline is bannered as "The Faustian Gambit"). First Mordo says that he's sold Strange's soul, and he traps Strange in a little sphere. But Strange calls on the power of Dormammu, banking on the hope that Mordo isn't working for Dormammu again...
...and that spell of reversal puts Mordo in the sphere. But then Mordo reveals three things. First, he's somehow managed to trap Sara Wolfe's soul in the sphere along with him. Second, he really did sell his own soul, not Strange's. And third, he sold he soul twice, once to Satannish and once to Mephisto.
The idea is that Satannish and Mephisto are both going to show up to claim Mordo's soul, and if Strange doesn't do anything to stop them, at a minimum Sara will die and most likely the world will get destroyed as the two devils battle.
Now, this is a cool set-up. I've lamented that Marvel never managed to replicate the success of DC's Vertigo line with a character like Dr. Strange, which should have been entirely possible. And here's a scenario that would have worked well in a book like Sandman or Hellblazer. Unfortunately, there isn't going to be any clever negotiating or subtle tricks. Satannish and Mephisto are going to show up and pound on each other until Dr. Strange is powered up by Agamotto to stop them. And Baron Mordo doesn't really seem to have thought this through either. He originally figured Strange would find a way to stop the devils while weakening himself and then he'd beat up Dr. Strange while he was vulnerable, and instead he becomes increasingly panicked (and whiny!) when it turns out Strange's victory isn't assured. I love the clever wordplay and "letter of the law" style tactics that are used in a lot of smarter stories with mortals dealing with demons, and i was hoping for something like that here. Instead the story relies on the cool factor of a fight between Mephisto and Satannish, which, granted, is indeed cool but it's the most basic kind of plotting.
We'll get to all that. But first, issue #6 inexplicably opens with this.
That's Wong's fiancee, Imei Chang, being scared after opening a door and seeing Rintrah.
Old fashioned cheesecake from Guice, focused on a character that so far hasn't been treated as being as a "sexy" character.
Then, Dr. Strange tells Rintrah to go find the empath Topaz so the two of them can go find Sara Wolfe's body since her soul is trapped with Mordo. So first there's the weird but funny scene where Rintrah can't catch a cab while disguised as a little boy, so he instead decides to become Howard the Duck.
And then we get to Topaz and... ok, what's going on here?
Seriously. WTF is this?
Meanwhile, speaking of ducks, the Sons of Satannish are the first to show up to try to claim Mordo's soul, and i guess because they are finishing each other's sentences, Strange makes a reference to Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
On Mephisto's side, his, er, daughter, er, Mephista, shows up.
Despite the similar boots, there's no explicit connection made with Satana in these issues.
Strange does speculate that Mephista's mom would have made a "real fun date".
But he's unable to get her to recite her origin.
Satannish himself shows up next.
As i mentioned, Mordo starts getting nervous.
Being unable to stop Satannish brings Mephista to tears, and she teleports herself and Strange home to daddy, who also makes dating jokes and Strange makes narration about Mephisto being big enough to "kick an angel where it hurts".
The tone of this book is just really weird, you guys!
On the one hand, i really want to give Roy Thomas kudos for evolving past his early expository and unnecessarily descriptive dialogue ("Now... while my senses are stunned... the robot grasps me in a grip of iron!"). But i find what it's evolved into to be off-putting in its own special way. That Howard the Duck scene was pretty good; maybe that's what this incarnation of Roy Thomas should be writing.
Trapped by Mephisto, Dr. Strange realizes that he can escape through his Eye of Agamotto. There's a reference to the story where he once traveled through the Orb of Agamotto and came out the Eye. The Orb is supposedly destroyed at this point, but Strange has no other way out of Mephisto's realm, so he figures escaping into the Eye is still his best bet. Now, that Orb story was at the height of 1970s psychedelia, so going back there means the return of the hooka smoking caterpillar.
That caterpillar, it turns out, is Agamotto, or at least a manifestation of him.
He changes to a more monstrous form and then claims he's drawing inspiration for his look from Strange's memories of Alice In Wonderland and EC Comics.
Agamotto is apparently lonely, and he wants to keep Strange in his world as a playmate. He did the same thing to Silver Dagger until he escaped. Agamotto notes that Silver Dagger has changed in personality; this is i assume a fix for his out of character appearance in Marvel Team-Up #77.
I find the goofy look(s) on top of the new Roy Thomas scripting style to be very off-putting for the first on panel appearance of one of the mysterious Vishanti.
After a long battle inside Agamotto land...
...Strange eventually convinces Agamotto to let him leave by threatening his hookah, which is apparently actually a powerful artifact. And the fixes/reversals keep on coming. It turns out that Agamotto actually has the Orb and all of the other talismans that were supposedly destroyed during Strange's fight with Urthona.
This whole story is a farce. I thought Urthona was a cool character that could have been a nice addition to Strange's rogues gallery. It's annoying seeing him dismissed as a loser here (admittedly, by the flippant Agamotto, but this reversal is definitely taking all the impact out of the way Strange defeated him as well as the entire Strange Tales run where Dr. Strange dealt with the effects of losing the talismans). I did have some problems with the idea that Strange's powers were so wrapped up in his talismans, but Roy Thomas is not addressing that in any way and in fact he's buying into it; he's just restoring the talismans so that Strange can have all his toys again. And to have it all done with a casual shrug is extra annoying. It's also worth noting that all of the Fantastic Four's equipment that was destroyed when the Baxter Building blew up was/will be (it's a retroactive story) restored in the exact same way in a back-up in Fantastic Four annual #22.
Agamotto restores Dr. Strange's missing eye as well.
The eye is taken from Silver Dagger.
During the fight, Agamotto had referred to the battle between Satannish and Mephisto as "Tyson vs. Tyson".
That will turn out to be a clue for how Strange should stop them. Along those same lines, we see a demon asking Satannish if it's true that he and Mephisto are really the same being.
Meanwhile, Mephista is happy that Strange got away from her father, because she finds him "interesting".
And Mephisto decides to travel to Earth to confront Satannish directly.
I've shown Baron Mordo getting nervous, but here's when he really starts getting wimpy.
This actually ties into the Book of Vishanti back-up features that are running in these issues, which show Mordo's origin. I'm just going to cover them as a flashback in this entry, since i think they're most relevant to these issues. They show a Mordo neglected by a father too interested in sacrificing virgins.
Mordo's mom killing his pop.
And Mordo finding out about it.
Much later, while he's apprenticing with the Ancient One, he returns home to kill his mom.
So now that we know that Mordo had a troubled childhood, well, for now he decides to set Sara Wolfe free.
In the meantime, Mephista had arrived back where Rintrah and Topaz were keeping Sara and Mordo's bodies, so that she could destroy them. She doesn't allow anyone to take liberties with her appendage...
...but when Dr. Strange comes back from Agamotto's dimension to stop her, she says that she's going to cut him up and use him to pleasure herself. Bro-ther.
Strange is able to defeat Mephista easily this time because he has all his talismans back.
Mephisto and Satannish, meanwhile, are engaged in a barf match...
...which is causing a plague of toads and other apocalyptic signs on Earth.
To stop them, Dr. Strange has Topaz use her empathy powers on Mephista, and they learn that all of Marvel's devil entities diverged from the same primeval concentration of evil.
Combined with the Tyson vs. Tyson hint, Dr. Strange realizes that this means he should go and threaten Mephisto and Satannish that he'll merge them back into one entity if they don't quit fighting. And so they do.
When Strange releases Mordo's soul, Mordo proves to still be a villain despite the side he showed to Sara.
With that all over, Strange takes a walk outside and finds out that J. Jonah Jameson's Now magazine has published a special feature based on an upcoming tell-all book by Morgana Blessing.
That's a lead in to next issue which we'll cover in a separate entry, but one thing to point out now: the text on the cover of the magazine is altered between this issue and its appearance on the cover of issue #9. Here's a better look at the one from issue #8 here, on the back inside cover.
You'll see that Marvel bullpenner Gregory Wright's picture is replaced with the UPC code, but more substantially the reference to Oliver North is replaced with Nick Fury and Cybil Shephard is replaced with the Wasp.
One last notable thing i'll mention about the Baron Mordo back-ups is that he had an encounter with Dracula once...
..but he was really just rescuing his town's virgins for his own purposes.
In some ways this was still very much a Roy Thomas story. It's clear he did his research, with references to Englehart's Doctor Strange run, Silver Dagger's Marvel Team-Up appearance, DeMatteis' consolidation of Marvel's devil characters in Defenders, and even a gratuitous nod to Nightmare's daughter in Alpha Flight. I also do like that Thomas is at least engaging with Gillis' previous run on the title even if it's only to jettison the majority of it. But the overly flippant script feels like Thomas trying to hard to not be himself. Again, i don't know how he evolved while at DC. But the attempts at humor fall flat in addition to seeming way out of character for just about everyone. And the story isn't helped by Butch Guice, who has gone from the beautifully detailed and dense work on the early issues of X-Factor to the big splash panels here full of mild cheesecake and just weird poses in general.
There's still a lot here to like. The overall plot outline is pretty cool, and Guice's cosmic/magic art is nice. I just can't get over the scripting!
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Issue #9 will open not long after this ends, with Strange having gotten a couple hours of sleep before waking up to rant about Morganna's book. A devil entity calling itself Satannish appears in Hulk #356-359, which were published concurrently with these issues. The creature does not use the classic Satannish form used here, but the MCP tracks it as the same character and i will too. We'll find out in Doctor Strange #30 that Satannish becomes bonded with Topaz in this arc, so he probably shouldn't appear elsewhere until issue #30, meaning that the Hulk issues should come prior to this (if necessary we can rule that a powerful entity like Satannish can appear in multiple places at once, but i'd prefer not to). Any appearances of Topaz between this arc and issue #30 should also include appearances by Satannish and Mephista (OMG, spoiler alert!).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (11): show
So gross, Roy.
Posted by: Robert | September 30, 2014 8:01 PM
Things get complicated with respect to Strange's eyepatch. In Fantastic Four 333, he's eyepatchless. In Atlantis Attacks, he's wearing his eyepatch. The problem is that Atlantis Attacks takes place after Fantastic Four 333. Doc's also got an eyepatch in New Mutants 77 but don't get me started on the confusion about when that issue takes place.
Posted by: Michael | September 30, 2014 9:19 PM
Here's another problem- how did the Darkhold wind up in Agamotto's realm? Urthona escaped with it.
Posted by: Michael | September 30, 2014 11:33 PM
Personally, I love the sense of humor displayed in this run. This to me is my perfect voice for Dr. Strange.
Posted by: Thanos6 | October 1, 2014 8:41 PM
Was Mordo hanging out with Agamotto? Because his master plan is totally ripped-off from "The Producers."
Posted by: ChrisW | July 19, 2016 11:19 PM
In general I have the same view of Roy Thomas as Fnord does, but I always enjoyed these issues and find them to be the work of a completely different person to most other Roy Thomas... The humour is not amazing but I don't hate it the way Fnord does, and I vastly prefer it to the melodrama I usually associate with 60s Roy.
I am a fan of the Gillis (& Stern) run but I had good hopes for this run when I first read these issues, unfortunately for me the shark is jumped very quickly with the vampire brother story, and it never really recovers (or gets better) from that. Not helped by the art either, again I wouldn't have recognised Guice as being the same guy who drew X-Factor, but at least here there are only a few panels where the "tracing from catalogues" makes the art static. But again, Guice's art never seems to be as good as this again for the rest of his run, and he's then replaced by some fairly poor artwork in my recollection.
So, I won't make any great claims for this story, but I enjoyed it and for me it was easily the highlight of the run.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | October 31, 2016 4:42 PM
Talk about "sexing up" a character! Topaz is drawn like she's getting ready for the "Playboy's Ladies of Sorcery" photo spread!
Posted by: Brian Coffey | May 21, 2017 9:10 PM
Comments are now closed.
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