Characters Appearing: Dr. Strange, Immortalis (Mortigan Goth), Spitfire
Mortigan Goth: Immortalis #1-4
Issue(s): Mortigan Goth: Immortalis #1, Mortigan Goth: Immortalis #2, Mortigan Goth: Immortalis #3, Mortigan Goth: Immortalis #4
At the time Paul Neary took over the editorial reins of Marvel Comics UK, a lot of proposals did not fit in to what was to become 'the Marvel Comics UK sub-universe'. Ideas that were harder edged and grittier - matter of fact some of them were even humorous, poetic, or downright sexy - and one thing that united them all was the quality of writing as well as the outstanding art by their creators. Hence an imprint for mature readership with sound adventure stories and top notch artwork!
In a sense this feels like another attempt - see what i wrote for Hellstorm #1-3 - to replicate DC's Vertigo line, and that's reinforced by the presence of Mark Buckingham on art. Buckingham previously worked with Neil Gaiman on Miracleman and was an artist for Hellblazer. Nick Vince we've seen before; he was the regular writer of Warheads. I've said that i think the concept of Warheads was good but that it wasn't executed very well. Paired with Buckingham's much cleaner art, Vince really does achieve a nice Vertigo-esque style story and shows how the genre/style might have worked in the Marvel universe.
The seemingly more high-minded goals for this imprint doesn't make it immune to the lures of the 90s. The same page i quoted from above also touts issue #1 of this series as featuring "a red foil-stamped cover similar to that of Spider-Man 2099 #1"!. Whooo, be still my beating heart!
From the introductory quote, it sounds like the Frontier books were separate from the Marvel (sub-)universe. That's definitely not the case with this book, which features Dr. Strange (and other characters) and makes good use of Strange's continuity, past and present. I have not read the other Marvel Frontier books, except for the first issue of Dances With Demons which i found incomprehensible. The MCP does include listings for all of the other Frontier books, but they do not appear to feature any Marvel universe characters and the Frontier characters do not appear in other Marvel books (Mortigan Goth, on the other hand, will appear years later in the Wolverine: Best There Is series). I also don't see any evidence that the Frontier books were written as a cohesive universe (or sub-universe). Bloodseed seems to take place entirely in the/a past, for example. They all seem to be independent stories, which makes sense based on the introductory text.
As for Mortigan Goth (whose last name may be a little too on the nose), his origin is that he won a chess game against Mephisto in 1349 during England's plague, and won immortality.
Goth later learns that this is part of a scheme by Mephisto. The game delayed Goth from getting home in time to stop his sister from being hanged (accused of killing her baby, who really died from the plague). Mephisto then makes Goth watch while a priest named Nicholas de Bellrais (whose eyebrows made him destined to be evil) tricks a group of people into pledging their souls to Mephisto in return for giving de Bellrais immortality.
In trying to stop de Bellrais, Goth gives up his soul to Mephisto.
But he screws up the bargain. He just replaces his soul for the villagers. So Mortigan Goth is immortal, but Mephisto has his soul. And de Bellrais still gets to be immortal (since Goth just swapped his soul for the villagers') and it doesn't prevent the mislead villagers from dying from the plague, and in fact de Ballrais convinces the villagers that Goth has prevented them from being saved from the plague, so they stone Goth and bury him (Goth can still be injured and knocked out, but he very slowly heals and eventually wakes amongst the dead).
We'll later learn that although de Ballrais gained immortality, his soul is also imprisoned in hell and his body is occupied by a demon.
By 1965, he had an association with Dr. Strange. Seeing him call Strange a "child" was a little grating. Strange may not be immortal, but introducing Mortigan Goth by having him question the decisions of the Ancient One ensures that we'll think of him as arrogant (which may be the point).
Note also Goth's warning about vampires. Goth will later reveal that he didn't have any specific premonition (and in fact doesn't seem to have any actual powers), but he was aware that the Book of Vishanti had information on vampires, and he thought it was predictable that Strange would use that information unwisely - which he later did when he turned his brother into a vampire.
But Strange walked away from that encounter thinking that Goth did have a special understanding, and he now wants to find Goth again to get help now that he's lost his powers. So he contacts Jacqueline Falsworth, aka Spitfire. It turns out that Goth spent time on the Falsworth estate, and even has a wing reserved for himself there.
On Strange's way there, he's attacked by - well, they say it's a vampire.
Spitfire comes out to repel the vampire with a cross, and takes the injured Strange - two cracked ribs and a concussion - into her manor. Strange says that in addition to seeking Goth for his own state, he needs to question Goth because "the other immortals" say that Goth is hunting down and killing them.
Goth, meanwhile, is in San Francisco. There's been an earthquake, and he's trying to rescue a man named Tony.
Tony dies, but lives on as a ghost that will accompany Goth for the rest of the story. They're contacted by Dr. Strange's astral projection, who summons them to England.
Strange wants to question Goth about the immortal killings first, but Goth wants to deal with the vampire situation first and continues to not show Strange much respect.
The vampire turns out to be a friend of the Fallsworth's named Katherine. Goth knew her in the 1940s when they were both staying at the Falsworth manor. Katherine fell in love with Goth, but found out that he was immortal, which he said meant that they couldn't be together. But also living at the manor at the time was Baron Blood...
...and he convinced her to allow him to make her into a vampire so that she could be immortal too.
Goth nonetheless rejects her love, even though she avoided killing people when drinking their blood. She later managed to bite him, but his immortal blood had the unexpected effect of curing her vampirism. And that would have been the end of it if Dr. Strange's purge of all vampires on Earth wasn't reversed. She became a vampire again at that point. Goth now refuses to try and give her another transfusion, saying that it couldn't be guaranteed that she wouldn't revert to vampirism again. So he wants to kill her. He reasons that Katherine had already lived out a full human life at this point anyway.
So they go after Katherine...
...and this time it's Spitfire that gets bit. But her Human Torch blood has a different unexpected effect.
They then have to behead all the children that Katherine made into vampires.
And now we get to the immortal murder plot. It turns out the murders were being committed by Mortigan Goth's soul, which is why people thought Goth was behind them.
"Just a year ago", Mephisto became annoyed that people that he's granted immortality to are no longer serving him. So he broke their contracts and sent Goth's soul to kill them.
A lot of issue #4 is spent showing the soul's tribulations in Hell before Mephisto releases him/it. And so there isn't a lot of room left for when the soul confronts Goth. This is the final page of the series.
That does seem to be the intended ending. Another book, Bloodseed, was put on permanent hiatus after two issues, but that seems to have been due to deadline/creator capacity issues, not sales. This series was said to be a 4 issue mini from the beginning, and issue #3's final page told us that we were coming up to the conclusion. So i guess the idea is that we conclude open-ended, with Goth having lost an eye and knowing that his soul could return to kill him at any time. After some great, clear storytelling all the way through, it's a weird way to end. Not even a The End blurb. I flipped through the remaining pages (ads) several times trying to make sure some pages didn't get stuck together or something.
Aside from that, though, this was an enjoyable series. It's a nice clear read, in contrast with much of the output from Marvel and especially Marvel UK at this time. It makes good use of Marvel continuity around vampires. Mortigan Goth himself doesn't come across as all that interesting, but he's coupled with the ghost of Tony, who provides point of view and subtle humor.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Fitting in some Dr. Strange appearances after Doctor Strange #50 and before Infinity Crusade.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
All the Marvel Frontier series have minor ties to the main Marvel universe. Children of the Voyager is mentioned in the Marvel Atlas, Dances with Demons in Civil War Battle Damage Report, and Bloodseed in the Mystic Arcana handbook.
Posted by: zuckyd1 | October 28, 2016 2:53 PM
I've never even heard of this miniseries. Sounds interesting. The artwork is certainly nice. Maybe I'll try to find these back issues.
Nick Vince probably did intend for Mortigan Goth to be an arrogant, unlikable character. That's something I have noticed about British comic book creators: they are much more willing to write protagonists who are supposed to be unsympathetic jerks. Likewise, British audiences appear much more willing to accept those sorts of characters. Judge Dredd immediately comes to mind; no one really considers him to be a hero, much less likable, but he's one of the most popular features in the 2000 AD anthology series.
In contrast, I remember when Christopher Priest introduced the character Triumph in Justice League. The character was something of an @$$hole, and most readers blew their tops, thinking that there was something wrong with how Priest was writing the guy, because in their minds a superhero wasn't supposed to be an arrogant, unlikable jerk. People couldn't wrap their heads around the idea that a member of the Justice League could actually be conceited & egotistical.
Posted by: Ben Herman | October 29, 2016 10:57 AM
I feel that the (deliberately) unsympathetic protagonist has arrived in American superhero comics. Some of Iron Man's stories over the last several years spring to mind, for example, as does a good chunk of Brian Bendis's take on Daredevil. It's just that current superhero comics tend to treat such characters as tragic figures rather than the "effective bastards" of the Brit comics tradition.
Still and all, Mortigan Goth doesn't strike me as a character who'd fit well into either mold as an ongoing protagonist. His lack of personal power means he spends the miniseries mostly talking other people into doing the heavy lifting, and despite his arrogant pose of knowledge he gets pretty much everything wrong from start to finish. Mephisto plays him in the past and the present, his unwillingness to provide even a temporary cure to Katherine forces the issue of destroying her, and he ends the story in the usual position of the Faust figure, not the Byronic Manfred he seems to imagine himself.
All of this is, as fnord points out, quite deliberate, but it doesn't make him compelling enough to warrant much follow-up. He more an intriguing experiment in writing a protagonist who's ultimately wholly unsuited to the role, even taken as an antihero. (But hey, who knew Doctor Strange could swing a mean an axe long before Jason Aaron came along?)
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 29, 2016 2:00 PM
There's also a 9-page story with Mortigan in Marvel Frontier Comics Unlimited #1 by the same creative team. Not sure where it would end up chronologically (particularly since this series does a lot of century hopping). It's set in "1993" though and he still has both eyes, so before or even in the middle of this.
Posted by: AF | November 10, 2016 10:13 AM
Never heard of this. It looks interesting, and, yeah, a whole lot like Vertigo. That panel of Dr. Strange beheading vampires by the dozen totally looks like something I'd expect to see in a Neil Gaiman book (and, as it happens, in 1602, Strange being beheaded himself is a major plot point).
What really sticks out to me here, though, is using Spitfire of all people. With her white hair, in a book with Strange, she could easily be mistaken for Clea. When I was paging through the images, I certainly made that mistake at first.
Posted by: ff3 | February 22, 2017 6:22 AM
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