Marvel Premiere #4-10
Issue(s): Marvel Premiere #4, Marvel Premiere #5, Marvel Premiere #6, Marvel Premiere #7, Marvel Premiere #8, Marvel Premiere #9, Marvel Premiere #10
Issue #4 especially reads like a Lovecraftian horror tale, with a man named Ethan Stoppard sneaking into Dr. Strange's house to beg him to come and help his girlfriend Beth, who has not responded to Ethan in weeks after returning to their hometown of Starkesboro.
When Strange discovers Ethan in his house, he admonishes Wong pretty harshly...
...although he does immediately apologize for it.
Ethan is seen here, spilling out his guts to Dr. Strange while the latter concentrates on a hot dog.
The town is a creepy and quiet town, and the people all have strange features...
...and eventually Strange finds evidence of occult worship...
...but by then it is too late and the town, including Ethan, rises up against him.
Issue #5 unfortunately does not maintain the same level of quality as the creative team is completely replaced. The creepy townspeople instead become quite goofy looking.
Storywise, we do learn more. The townspeople actually worship a lizard-creature called Sligguth, but it is a harbinger of Shuma-Gorath.
The town was formed "centuries ago" by a band of fisherfolk that pulled the inverted and snake-entwined cross out of the river and quickly corrupted everyone.
While Strange fights Sligguth...
...Clea is contacted in a dream by Umar and told about Doctor Strange and the Ancient One (who is fighting similar forces of ancient evil elsewhere, and getting kidnapped by the unspeakable Shadowmen of sunken Kaa-U.
She contacts Wong and they travel to the town.
Meanwhile, Strange calls upon the Vishanti for help.
They refuse to help directly, but they lift the evil aura in the town that was preventing Strange from using his powers fully. The battle with Sligguth is still difficult but Strange eventually prevails, only to next have to defeat Ebora, the evil priestess.
The reaction in the lettercol (published in issue #7) to the art, by Sam Kweskin using the pen name Irv Wesley, is brutal, and there's a response apologizing for it:
The overall reaction of Marveldom Altogether to Marvel Premiere #5 might best be summed up in four words: you didn't like it. Or, better yet, two words: we goofed.
Despite the wonky art in issue #5, the story has a kind of authenticity about it thanks to the Lovecraftian elements. When people are running around shouting "N'thagn Fanthugh! Xtharthic Cnthorak!", you have to take it seriously.
In issue #4, Wong checks in with the Ancient One while Strange is away, using the Iris of the All-Seeing Oracle.
The reason he's using the Iris instead of the Orb of Agamotto is because it's currently broken. Clea restores it in issue #5. Don't ask me when it broke. I'm sure i should know.
As Luke Blanchard notes in the comments, it's probably from a sequence in issue #3, although i thought that sequence was part of a dream.
Like #5, issues #6 through #8 are all written by Gardner Fox, best known for his work at DC. Unlike #5, they are also an interesting showcase for talented pencilers, including Frank Brunner (more on him below), P. Craig Russell, and then Jim Starlin. They continue the Lovecraftian theme, unfortunately to the point of tedium. Look, a couple of issues of Lovecraftian nods is very cool. But seven issues is really pushing it, and it gets very repetitive. Strange goes to a town, finds the locals in the thrall of and/or menaced by an unknowable horror, rescues them, and finds another clue leading to Shuma-Gorath. When people in the lettercols start pointing that these stories are almost direct rip-offs of Lovecraft stories (issue #4 is very similar to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"), the response is:
Maybe the credits should have read: Based on concepts created by Robert E. Howard, who was, in turn, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft."...
That's interesting information, but it doesn't really address the correspondent's specific complaint about "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", which was written by Lovecraft. I may be paranoid, but the response seems designed to assure the Lovecraft estate that Marvel wasn't infringing on any copyrights. Marvel was publishing Conan at this point so i guess they had the rights to works by Howard, but not Lovecraft? In any event, if Howard is getting an acknowledgement in the credits, so should Lovecraft.
The complaints continue in subsequent lettercols.
Now, you can't object too much when you've got Dr. Strange wielding a giant cross like a battleaxe...
...but i was noticing that Strange was getting a lot more physical in these issues than he normally does. And his magical powers are constantly being suppressed. I wonder if that was about forcing him into the role of some character from whatever
Each issue features some horror that turns out to be another minion of Shuma-Gorath. You've got the N'Gabthoth, the Shambler from the Sea.
Dagoth, guardian of sunken Kalumesh.
Blondine, the blond lady (is that Lovecraftian?).
Don't worry, she's a reincarnation of an ancient priestess.
Kathulus, the living planet (admittedly high concept, but it's not like Marvel didn't already have a living planet of its own).
The other thing about having a planet-sized threat is it's difficult to depict it properly, which is why you see Strange talking to a plant above.
Starlin does a nice job in issue #8 recapping all the Lovecraftian threats we've met so far...
Starlin's art is really nice and shows the Ditko influence.
Craig Russell's (no P. yet in the credits) art, seen above in the Dagoth and Blondine scans, is decidedly more old fashioned looking. A lot of it looks like something out of a Silver Age horror story. Which in some ways fits the plot pretty well, but Dagoth is not nearly unknowably horrible enough. He's kinda cute, really. The picture showing Blondine's lineage is a good hint of where Russell will go, though.
Issue #9 begins the Steve Englehart/Frank Brunner run on Dr. Strange (Brunner also inked #4 and drew #6). It is generally held as a high point in the series. Brunner's art to me seems not too different than a somewhat more cartoony Gene Colan's, although he's more apt to throw in some psychedelic weirdness ala Steve Ditko (although that may just be a factor of drawing Dr. Strange).
Brunner was more involved in the plotting than the credits indicate, according to Englehart's website.
The run begins with Dr. Strange destroying Kathulus, the no-longer-living planet.
He then follows the trail to the Living Buddha.
The Buddha holds the Ancient One, kidnapped by the Shadowmen of Kaa-U earlier in this story.
While fighting off the demons, something strange happens to the Ancient One, and we finally (hence the title of the final issue) meet Shuma-Gorath.
After being tormented by visions of his past foes, Strange finally sees the true form of Shuma-Gorath, in his first on-panel appearance.
He's a Cthulhu-esque one-eyed purple squid monster. I like him because he (bizarrely) appeared in Capcom's Marvel Super Heroes fighting game, and so this whole arc is kind of worth it in the end, for me.
Strange defeats Shuma-Gorath by destroying the Ancient One's ego...
...which actually allows the Ancient One to expand and become one with the universe.
With the Ancient One's death/ascendance, Dr. Strange becomes the Sorcerer Supreme.
Cameos by Baron Mordo and Victoria Bentley during the fight with Shuma-Gorath.
I'm probably not being fair to Brunner's art...
...but while there's a lot to appreciate, my overall impression is a muddled sloppiness. Same with the story. Here we have the first Shuma-Gorath, the death of the Ancient One, and the really significant fact that Dr. Strange is now Sorcerer Supreme. But after many issues of build-up, it's all wrapped up very quickly in one issue.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: Issue #4 more or less continues directly from #3 since Ethan Stoppard's silhouette is seen at the end of that issue. This arc takes place between Defenders #6-8. Next issue is largely a reprint issue but there is a framing sequence that takes place after this story.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Dr. Strange: A Separate Reality TPB (#4-8 are originals)
Inbound References (8): show
According to Kurt Busiek, Shuma Gorath was originally supposed to be an underground city, not a monster. The scans you posted seem to contradict that.
Posted by: Michael | March 15, 2013 7:49 PM
Yeah, the first mention of Shuma-Gorath is in issue #5, in that scan after i wrote "harbinger of Shuma-Gorath". Before that, in issue #3 Nightmare spoke of a "he" that he was working for. In issue #4 the Ancient One describes a "cosmic obscenity that slumbers" that the various cults they are about to fight are waiting for.
Even in the original REH story, according to Wikipedia, "a dying magician named Rotath invokes the 'iron-bound books of Shuma-Gorath' in a curse against humanity".
Posted by: fnord12 | March 16, 2013 2:17 PM
Shuma-Gorath's first mention at Marvel was in one of the few original stories in the monster reprint anthologies(Chamber of Chills, I think). No superheroes were involved in it.
I've read nearly everything Lovecraft wrote, and outside of the name Shuma-Gorath, nothing else comes from Howard. Sure, Howard did write some Cthulhu Mythos stories, but not a huge pile of them. I've read somewhere that Shuma-Gorath was intentionally yanked from Howard as a fig leaf to shield Marvel from copyright violation charges from the Lovecraft estate(though I can't remember the last time the Lovecraft estate ever sued anyone in that regard; I doubt they were paying any attention to comics).
Never mind Sam Kweskin; Fox's work here got its share of critical brickbats as well. Big chunks of "Shadow over Innsmouth" were indeed outright lifted for early issues. The quickness of Englehart's wrapup was probably intentional--chances are he was instructed to put a quick end to something that had ran waaaaay too long and was going nowhere, and to clear the deck at the end.
I saw #10 reprinted in the first Dr. Strange Marvel Treasury in 1975 at 5 years old, and at that size it was utterly mind-blowing. It's likely best appreciated in that format.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 16, 2013 5:48 PM
And: so one of the Vishanti is Andy Warhol with combed wig?
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 16, 2013 5:51 PM
The vishanti are no longer together as revealed in new avengers
Posted by: doomsday | July 4, 2013 1:37 AM
features an earlier mention of Shuma-Gorath, by about one month in Journey Into Mystery 1, October, 1972 : Dig Me No Grave
Posted by: PB210 | August 25, 2013 8:36 AM
Greg Theakston admitted in Comics Interview that he was one of the Crusty Bunkers, and "ghosted" some of the Brunner pages.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 6, 2013 6:33 PM
Ancient Lovecraftian tentacle monster/Marvel fighting character and Steven Strange eats a hot dog. All in all, a successful arc.
Posted by: Ataru320 | August 4, 2015 12:24 PM
Oh my, I only ever saw the first issue of this story but MP #4 scared me to death when I was 9 years old. I wondered for years if Dr. Strange was actually killed by whatever was in the Labyrinth in the next issue. Soooo creepy: the visuals, the concept of the town draining his powers, Ethan's sudden degeneration and betrayal. Great stuff.
Posted by: Dave Burns | February 2, 2016 8:55 AM
I just got done reading this in the Doctor Strange Epic Collection Vol. 3 "A Separate Reality." The color reconstruction makes the art on nearly all the issues look gorgeous, even the really bad art in the second chapter to take place in Starkesboro.
One thing that kept bothering me in the Gardner Fox-penned issues was his insistence on over using the word "necromancy" when referring to Strange's power. I thought hhe was misusing it --doesn't that refer more to talking to the dead than to white magic? And Fox uses it over and over in his portions of the story.
That aside, this was a good batch of issues.
Posted by: Jeff | December 21, 2016 10:49 PM
There's a bit in #3 where Strange in his spirit form contacts the Ancient One using a large, red crystal ball. He finds himself trapped in the room, and throws the crystal ball, causing an explosion. Despite the issue's twist end, the references to the Orb's destruction might be to that.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | December 22, 2016 12:19 PM
If I'm not mistaken, Marvel Premiere #5 marks the first time the Vishanti are depicted visually. The designs will later be taken up by such greats as Mike Mignola (in the superb "Triumph & Torment") but they originate here under the pen of Sam Kweskin. Are they his legacy to the Dr. Strange strip? Or was he reproducing another artist's designs?
Although Kweskin's art was unpopular at the time, it succeeds in giving me an unsettling feeling, which suits this particular story. Those bizarre Starkesboro faces on the splash page of #5 call to mind the regressed sub-humans in Lovecraft's creepy story, "The Rats in the Walls." Like Jeff above, I've been enjoying these issues in the "Separate Reality" Epic Collection volume.
Posted by: Chris Z | June 26, 2017 12:35 PM
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