Characters Appearing: Agamotto, Aged Genghis, Dr. Doom, Dr. Strange, Hoggoth, Jules St. Thomas, Khalid Inshallah, Mephisto, Oshtur, Zarrko the Tomorrow Man
Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment
Issue(s): Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment
One Christmas, for some strange reason i decided to not open one of my presents. I decided i would save it and open it later in the year. And then later in the year i got chicken pox and i decided that was a good time to open it. It was a cool GI Joe figure (possibly Dr. Mindbender?), but having it while i was suffering through chicken pox made it extra awesome.
What does this have to do with a Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom graphic novel? Well, you see, it's a metaphor. In this metaphor, the 1990s are chicken pox, the "strange reason" is a continuity consideration, and the awesome GI Joe figure is this story. In other words, how great is it that at a time when the average story is so terrible i can barely read it all the way through, i still have this holdover from one of Marvel's top 80s writers waiting for me?
In addition to really nice writing by Roger Stern, this graphic novel has great art by Mike Mignola and Mark Badger (who inks and colors). Mignola started off doing a short run on Hulk and Alpha Flight (during the period where the two books switched creative teams) but subsequently did mainly one shots and special projects for Marvel (and DC, including Cosmic Odyssey with Jim Starlin). Mark Badger similarly has only done a few things at Marvel (most relevant to this issue are a few issues of Doctor Strange). Their styles are similar enough that Badger inking Mignola looks a lot like what i think of as Mignola generally, but the end result is very nice. A kind of atmospheric impressionism that still is very clear and detailed.
This story would be important even if it were terrible, because it brings to an end Dr. Doom's quest to free his mother's soul from Hell. This has been an ongoing concern for Dr. Doom since 1971. It's interesting to see something like that being brought to a close, especially after a lot of seemingly significant changes from Roger Stern's era had been reversed by this point (the destruction of the Savage Land, the wiping out of all vampires, the loss of the Skrull's shape-shifting powers). Dr. Doom's quest to save his mother's soul was a powerful part of his character, giving him a sympathetic aspect without threatening to make him a good guy. As evidence of its value, i'll note that the reason i've pushed this issue 2 years forward in publication time is because Marvel was still doing stories based on that aspect of Doom just prior to this. So it seems pretty daring to close off the possibility of future stories in this area, especially since, compared to things like the Skrull's shape-shifting (which, in retrospect, obviously would be reversed), it's not really possible to undo this story. Once Doom's mother's soul is free of Hell, having it wind up there again (or revealing that this story was all a sham) would be incredibly contrived.
The story begins with the Aged Genghis, the ancient senile wizard, having a rare moment of lucidity. He recounts to his apprentice the fact that Dr. Doom once visited him, and in fact it was he that sent Doom to the Tibetan monks that created Doom's armor. Note that Stern and Mignola are going with the idea that Dr. Doom was not really disfigured, at least after the initial accident at college but before he put on his armor.
Doctor Strange arrived at the Aged Genghis' temple soon after Doom left, with Genghis noting that if Strange had arrived a little earlier, it would have changed the destinies of both Doom and Strange.
When the flashback is over, Aged Genghis tells his apprentice that the Blessed Time of the Vishanti is upon us, and he leaves his cave and sends a mystic summons heard to magic users around the world. Including Dr. Doom.
Dr. Strange arrives at the meeting place in Aged Genghis' message to find that a number of mystics have already arrived.
It's interesting to see that none of the wizards are characters that we've seen before. There are a number of "major" characters like Jennifer Kale, Amanda Sefton, or Baron Mordo who might have been included here, and you can find more obscure characters if you go through Doctor Strange's comics. Everyone here is new, and of these characters, only a couple will appear again, and even those in a minor way (Maximum Security #3). Most surprisingly is the fact that one of the characters, Tareva, that never appears again is an Atlantean; you'd think that would just be catnip to a writer of the Namor series or something.
It's also worth noting that according to this story, Dr. Strange is not universally acknowledged as the Sorcerer Supreme, and indeed the purpose of the contest that Aged Genghis is arranging is to fight for that title. Since Strange was granted the title of Sorcerer Supreme way back in Marvel Premiere #10 and has been acting in that capacity ever since, it's very polite of him to not protest when he finds that he has to fight for the title with a bunch of strangers here.
The comment about destroying all the vampires is also interesting. Strange did that in Doctor Strange #62, and that confirms, at least, that this story is meant to take place in present day continuity. But thanks to Dr. Doom's continuity, this takes place so late that by the time of this story, vampires are back again (per Doctor Strange #14-18). It may very well be that word of the latter story hasn't gotten out yet, or perhaps that's why the mages are questioning that and the fact that Strange is Sorcerer Supreme.
Before the contest begins, there is of course one more contestant to arrive.
And now Aged Genghis summons the Vishanti.
Note that there are no goofy caterpillars making pop culture references among the three.
An objection is raised to Dr. Doom's inclusion. Doom answers it by disabling his armor's offensive weaponry and his forcefield. But, note, not all of his armor's capabilities.
The contest is about freeing Aged Genghis from a crystal formed by the Vishanti. The first to attempt to do so, Jules St. Thomas, has his magic turned back on him and he's paralyzed.
Three more wizards attempt a coordinated attack, but their magic is also repelled, causing an explosion of mystical energy that the contestants have to dodge or block. We see Dr. Doom recording and analyzing all of this action.
The contest gets complicated when all of the paralyzed contestants begin to fight against the remaining mages.
Soon it is down to just Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom, with Doom putting to use the moves that he's just learned.
With all of the other contestants defeated, Doom turns on Strange, but Strange is able to easily dispatch him.
Strange then learns how to free Aged Genghis by using his astral form and the Eye of Agamotto (carefully, to avoid having Agamotto's power turned back on him). It turns out that he just had to ask Genghis to step out. The Vishanti say that the lesson is that "calm and circumspection are as much a part of greatness -- as raw power and celerity".
So Dr. Strange is (again) the Sorcerer Supreme, even though he modestly states that all he wants to be is a Master of the Mystic Arts.
It turns out that since Dr. Doom also evaded the power of the crystal, Dr. Strange is required to grant him a boon. Dr. Strange almost refuses, saying that he won't help Doom in his plans of conquest, but Doom says that he wants Strange to help him rescue his mother, and Strange agrees to return with him to Latveria for that purpose.
Stern captures what i think is one of the best aspects of Doom. He is a dictator, but at the same time he has been a boon to his people and they love him for it even while they're being commanded to do so.
It's a nice set of contradictions that i think a lot of writers fail to depict, instead treating him like a generic dictator.
Another nice aspect is this sequence where Doom says that he doesn't "beg", in response to Strange asking him why he never asked him for help.
After an expanded recounting of Doom's origin and "weeks" of preparation...
...the two Doctors are ready to make their way to Hades on Midsummer's Eve.
And they find Mephisto.
As they fight against Mephisto's hordes, Mephisto is surprised to see that Dr. Doom is actually co-operating with Strange. In one key moment, we see Doom swallow his pride when Strange starts giving him direction ("Quickly -- add your power to mine!"), with a narration panel saying that Doom defers "any resentment of the order". But eventually Mephisto separates Doom from Strange, and begins to tempt Doom.
Doom rejects the offer to give him the power to conquer the world ("The world is mine for the taking if I so desire! I need no such 'gifts' from you!"). But an offer to barter for his mother's soul (seemingly) gets a more positive response, and Doom (seemingly) betrays and captures Strange for Mephisto.
In return, Mephisto creates a new body for Doom's mother and puts her soul in it. But Cynthia Von Doom immediately has questions.
And she refuses to "be party to a betrayal", and turns back into the stone statue that Mephisto created, calling Doom a traitor.
But suddenly, Dr. Strange breaks free, thanks to a device that Doom planted on him.
Strange and Doom's attack on Mephisto only holds him back temporarily, and Strange realizes that there is only one way to "win". He cracks open the stone shell around Cynthia Von Doom's shell, freeing her soul. And her rejection of her son's methods have redeemed her from any use of dark magic while she was alive, so her soul is now pure, and Mephisto is unable to retain it.
Knowing that killing Strange and Doom now would only ensure that he never gets their souls, he sends them back to Earth. Doom immediately sends Strange away. The victory for Doom is tempered by the fact that he had to make his mother think that he was unworthy of her love, which may or may not have been his plan all along.
A great character study of Dr. Doom. It's probably my favorite Dr. Doom story. I don't want to take anything away from Mike Mignola or Mark Badger, both of whom are a huge part of why this issue is awesome. But my main thought reading this as part of the 1991 year in my project is wondering how the hell Marvel let Roger Stern walk away.
Quality Rating: A
Chronological Placement Considerations: Even though this was published in 1989, Larry Hama wrote a story in mid 1991 (Avengers #332-333) with Doom still trying to rescue his mother. So this would have to take place after that. It also needs to take place after Doom is back in Latveria, after Fantastic Four #350. Based on the placement, the Boris appearing here is really Zarrko the Tomorrow Man in disguise. "Weeks" pass during this story.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
I had no idea this even existed until Wizard made mention of it back in the day. I immediately sought it out and it became one of my favorite stories involving any of the three major characters involved. Similarly to your situation with this project, at the time I was burnt out on the 90s comics I was struggling to keep reading for the sake of my cherished collection. To read something this good while most of Marvel's output was garbage was refreshing. It was going back and finding things from the past that I'd missed that kept me into comics as the gap between my tastes and what Marvel was putting out widened.
Posted by: Robert | October 19, 2015 2:02 PM
I've been to a lot of conventions and comic stores across the US and have always found this book to be hard to find. Like Robert, I also remember Wizard hyping it up back in the day so I bet that's why it was so scarce.
Posted by: Red Comet | October 19, 2015 2:27 PM
This is my personal favorite Marvel work from the late 80s.
Unlike fnord and Michael, I'm no continuity expert and accept the placement, but I'll just note that from the perspective of real-time collecting, it feels quite odd for this to be coming after IG.
"how the hell Marvel let Roger Stern walk away": yeah.
Not many comics bring the term "Shakespearean" to mind, but this is one.
Posted by: Instantiation | October 19, 2015 2:36 PM
Stern was the best writer in my opinion. I can only imagine that ego in Marvel's management allowed him to walk. That and the poor taste of readers not knowing just how good Stern was. Mindlessly buying Punisher and Wolverine dreck written by hacks rather than the good stuff by Stern.
My only complaint is that is should have featured all "name" sorcerers, Jennifer Kale, Brother Voodoo, Baron Mordo, etc. How much fun would that have been?
Posted by: kveto | October 19, 2015 4:20 PM
Fantastic review, brother.
This book is just as good as I thought it would be. Your review nails it.
Roger Stern was hands down my favorite writer during my formative years in reading comics.
I forgot that I have this book. This weekend, I'm going to read this multiple times.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | October 19, 2015 7:50 PM
Worth mentioning that Stern set this story up back in Doctor Strange #57 (Feb. 1983), when Doom learned that Strange was without a disciple. Doom thinks about how he will someday try to wrest secrets of sorcery from Strange on his own terms. That same scene was also presented almost word for word a few months later by Byrne (with his own art instead of Kevin Nowlan's) in FF #258.
But because Doom is apparently killed in FF #260, Stern had to delay the story he had in mind. Then once he settled on Mignola as the artist he wanted, there were further delays because of his busy schedule. So the story was years in the making, and that no doubt helped in terms of the refinement and quality.
The 2013 reprint of "Triumph & Torment" includes Doc Strange #57 as well as the seminal Conway/Colan Doom story from Astonishing Tales #8 (along with some Sub-Mariner stories that are related only in that Mignola drew them).
Intended or not, I hear in Doom's line about the world being his for the taking an allusion to the other exceptional graphic novel about him from the late 80s, "Emperor Doom."
Perhaps my favorite line, though, and certainly a revealing moment in terms of Doom's complex character, comes after he (seemingly) betrays Strange. It exemplifies that odd mixture of arrogance, nobility, and honor that made him so fascinating. Standing over Strange's unconscious form, he tells some of Mephisto's demons lurking in the background: "He is not to be touched by the likes of you!" (The panel appears above.)
Posted by: Instantiation | October 19, 2015 7:59 PM
Great GN, and one I was only able to read by borrowing from a friend. I could have bought this when it came out, but I foolishly picked another GN on sale and intended to buy it later at another time. I was an idiot.
But not as much as Marvel for letting Stern go as you said.
Posted by: Chris | October 19, 2015 9:33 PM
Indeed a great story. I would never have thought to buy it, but my Dad did. [I'm literally right now proofing a book of comic book essays I've written, and go into a lot of detail about all the great comics he bought which I had no interest in at the time. Heck, I'm not the one who started buying "Dr. Strange."]
The question of Dr. Doom as a dictator is not easy to work out, and it's easy to see why different writers treat it in different ways. In the scene here, it looks like Stern's trying to accommodate both sides. Strange is positive that the incident was performed for his behalf, and it almost certainly was, but he senses nothing but sincerity. In "JLA/Avengers," Aquaman sees Doom being praised by crowds who are only cheering because they're held at gunpoint, and is outraged that a monarch would do such a thing.
In the real world, we have, well, look at the news. North Korea, Syria, Libya, etc. Not exactly Latveria's Eastern European culture, but enough to form parallels. "Emperor Doom" (that hasn't been posted, has it?) would take a different approach, that Doom actually is a good ruler.
A Doom that has to rule a country would be a far different Doom than your standard raving lunatic leader. I'm not as big a Stern fan as other posters, but he can do some very good stories, and this was definitely one of them.
Posted by: ChrisW | October 20, 2015 7:20 PM
And frankly, I like the notion that most the magicians summoned by Aged Genghis are unknown, even to this day. They do their work in secret, because that's what they do. The literal meaning of "occult" is "hidden."
Posted by: ChrisW | October 20, 2015 7:22 PM
ChrisW, yeah Emperor Doom has been posted. It's in 1985.
Posted by: Robert | October 20, 2015 8:03 PM
Really? Way cool, dude, I'm totally there!
Posted by: ChrisW | October 20, 2015 8:19 PM
[Yes, I'm being ironic.]
Posted by: ChrisW | October 20, 2015 8:22 PM
One of the little details of this story I like is the appearance of Cynthia's soul as a moth. The same imagery was used for a soul in Satana's first appearance.
Posted by: Mortificator | October 20, 2015 11:39 PM
Comments are now closed.
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