Strange Days

Back in the days when WH Smith stores were John Menzies outlets, I bought toys. comics and books from them religiously ( as I said back in https://materioptikon.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/barbarians-of-blackpool/)

I was browsing in Elgin’s almost-deserted WH Smith store yesterday afternoon and found a copy of Dr. Strange: Way of the Weird.

Way weird

Aaron and Bachalo were responsible for one of my favourite mutant books of recent years, Wolverine and the X-Men, so I knew I would enjoy their eclectic, psychedelic take on Strange and their assault on magic itself. My only reservation is that  the narrators of most modern Marvel series have the same snarky, Brian Bendis voice and it is a little repetitive. However, Aaron takes the concept of the price of magick, really putting Strange through the wringer and Bachalo’s art is creepily quirky.

I wonder if this take will inform the new Cumberbatch movie? Isn’t it amazing that another character whose sales flagged and led to cancellation in the Sixties will be a box-office smash this autumn?  Yet The Master of the Mystic Arts had vanished beyond the Purple Veil in 1969.

Dr Strange Undying Ones

I loved this unearthly version of Strange as a kid ( even though he’s really like the Golden Age Vision…and the Silver Age Vision, come to that.) But Roy Thomas, Gene Colan and Lovecraft wasn’t selling. The saga of Dr. Strange was wrapped up, seemingly for good, in Sub-Mariner (Feb 1970) and Incredible Hulk (April 1970) ; the latter saw him retire from magic in the new identity of physician Stephen Sanders.

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Apparently, the 5th issue of Marvelmania magazine announced plans for a “split-book” for Dr. Strange and Iceman, of all people. Marvel had launched two similar titles in 1970 and I had loved them both as a kid.

Astonishing_Tales_Vol_1_2

AA 4

I was mad about the Inhumans and this pre-Fourth World Kirby story ( bought in Glasgow, that Babylon of the Moderns) was just what I wanted in a comic then.

I was too young, however, to connect Astonishing Tales and Amazing Adventures with older split-books in the collections of other village kids, which I had read when they’d visited . Nor did I realise how they had been springboards for solo series.

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This is one of my favourite 60s Marvel comics!

Like Doc Strange, the X-Men fell out of favour in the 60s. The title stopped telling original stories in March of 1970, actually going on hiatus until becoming a reprint title in December of that year.

Iceman

Iceman, however, was the guest-star in the January 1970 issue of Spidey’s own Marvel-lous mag and I suspect this comic was intended to test the waters for a split-book. Clearly Stan et al saw Bobby Drake as the breakout character from the original mutant band- but we know, with hindsight, that it turned out to be the bludgeoning Beast!

Unlike Iceman, Doc Strange’s first strip for the proposed split book appeared in print in Marvel Feature 1, the debut of the Defenders, in December 1971. It’s a Thomas/Heck story which returns Strange to his pre-1969 regalia.

But what might that never-published “split-book” be like? Which creative teams would steer it?

Firstly, I think Strange Tales was the obvious title to revive for the book; it was the original home of the Master of the Mystic Arts. But since the “super-hero” version of Doc Strange had been undone, perhaps Stan would look again at DC’s “mystery” line of 1969: The Witching Hour and the Phantom Stranger:

phantom.stranger-03

We’re daydreaming, remember, about the days before the Comics Code change of 72. I think a Dark Shadows vibe of ghosts and witches might have been the route taken. Initially, I’m picturing a Roy Thomas/Neal Adams strip but maybe Mike Friedrich and Ross Andru two or three months later?

Similarly, Stan might look to the “Relevance” trend at DC and the protest movement, reflected in youth-oriented titles:

Teen_Titans_v.1_25

An Iceman strip dealing with peace rallies and disaffected youth  by Gerry Conway and Gil Kane would have felt contemporary but Don Heck, whose collaboration with Tom Palmer in the X-Men/Sunfire story was so striking, is another probability. Strking out from Westchester, I think Iceman would be a very hard sell, without a guest-star of his own. For his debut, I’d revisit the first encounter of the Human Torch and Iceman in the original Strange Tales:

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In addition to the boys’ first opponent, the Barracuda, I imagine old X-men villains like Blob, Unus, Mastermind and the Vanisher would make a return appearance- maybe we’d even see the Lorna Dane/Alex Summers relationship blossom ( as we finally would, retroactively,  in John Byrne’s Hidden Years series).

But I rather suspect that Iceman would vanish from a revived Strange Tales, and it would become a solo book for Doc Strange, as Astonishing Tales did for Ka-Zar.  The youngest of the original X-Men always seemed to work better paired with the Angel and has only really become interesting in his own right, coming out as gay in the Bendis X-Men.

However, I still wonder what would have made the split books more successful in the very-early Seventies and which characters might have been paired up to sell them? Feel free to share your thoughts on such pairings: Captain Mar-Vell and the Silver Surfer? Black Panther and the Prowler? Falcon and SHIELD?

Coming up: Savage Sword of Conan in the 90s

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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2 comments on “Strange Days

  1. kid Robson says:

    Torch and Iceman would’ve been ideal for a split book, being opposites of each other, and Doctor Doom and Doctor Strange would be another belter, both being ‘doctors’ and involved in the mystic arts.

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