The Book of Vishanti

Today’s post concerns the sixth Marvel Treasury Edition, from 1975.  Again, this is a recent addition to my collection. I was never a great fan of  Doctor Strange as a kid. In fact, despite some Counter Culture fashionability,  Strange has never been the most successful property for Marvel. He hasn’t held his own regular title since the Nineties and in more recent years has been a rather ineffectual Avenger.

This Treasury signals that it’s not the kiddie fare of last issue’s Hulk with its Eastern mysticism meets-Art Nouveau cover. If the Sixties Strange represented psychedelia and Raga-Rock,  Frank Brunner’s cover is Prog. We’ve moved from the Byrds to Yes.

It’s worth noting that there’s no scholarly introduction here – ironic given the trippy themes of the material.

The End–At Last: this 100-page collection begins with Ditko’s cosmos-shattering clash between the flame-faced Dormammu and Eternity, the personification of the universe. This Daliesque combat is just so much more abstract than Kirby’s super-gods. We also discover that the platinum blonde mystery girl is named Clea.

The Origin of the Ancient One: I first read this Bill Everett tale in the b/w Terrific comic of the mid-60s. The rivalry with  Kaluu and the ravaging of the idyllic land of Kamar-Taj is a typical Marvel Cain and Abel story. The fact that I found a yellowing scrap of Terrific in my dad’s garage in the early 70s gives it the potency of a Hyborian scroll.

Barry Takes a Trip!

The End of the Ancient One: this is another tale I first read in a 60s Power Comic- Fantastic, this time. Here, Marie Severin depicts another unforgettable cosmic entity, the freaky Lovin’  Spoonful- sorry, Living Tribunal. Not for the first time in this tabloid, the Ancient One passes the torch to his disciple.

To Dream–Perchance to Die: Dan Adkins supplies a workaday attempt at psychedelia.  This clash with the dream-demon Nightmare is very close to everyday superheroics and isn’t really deserving of a place in this edition.

Face to Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo:  surely this short from the dawn of Strange’s career should have been  the first feature in this tabloid?  Ditko draws on the culture of the Theosophists and and Beatniks for a colourful tale featuring the brutish European villain Mordo.

Pulse-Pounding Pin-up: a two-page spread by Brunner that belongs next to Che  and Eric Clapton on the bedroom wall.

The Cult and the Curse: some of Colan’s magnificent work from the late Sixties as Strange undergoes the transformation that made him resemble the Golden Age Vision.

I have to admit that this is my favourite look for Strange although it was short lived. Interestingly, he was now the Master of Black Magic, as he had been in his earliest days. Presumably,  that was more potent in the morbid Dark Shadows era.

Finally, Shuma-Gorath! We end as we began with Frank Brunner and the climax of a story arc folding overtly Lovecraftain elements into the series. Shuma-Gorath,” the Cosmic Obscenity” is clearly Cthulhu, the alien Elder God who once ruled the Earth. Interestingly, Shuma was created by Robert E. Howard and is mentioned in one of his Kull stories. Thus the cosmology of the Howard adaptations is subtly tied into the Marvel Universe.

Here, the entity has occupied the mind of the Ancient One. Doc Strange has to destroy his mentor’s ego so the Ancient One can become one with the Universe. Heavy.

It’s a typical Bronze Age trope: a metaphor for acid trips, meditation and self-help. It’s the same journey that Englehart’s Mantis undertakes  and one that backfires on  Len Wein’s JLA villain Libra.

I would have skipped the Adkins story to feature some of the gorgeous Barry Smith art that kicked off the storyline in Marvel Premiere. By the way, the haunted streets of Starkesboro remind me of Nairn’s seafront Fishertown!

I might also have been inclined to include more of the Stephen Sanders stories or more Ditko done-in-ones.  However, this is a surreal and potent compendium of comic art, redolent of incense cones and Roger Dean album covers burned by “bombers”.

Unlike DC’s Super-Specs ,which tended to be showcases for Golden Age characters, Marvel appeared to be using this format as a showcase for art as we’ll see with the next Treasury.

Coming soon: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


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