So, here we are just over five years later, with the 300th post on a blog- more often about old comics than not- which I originally started a year after moving to Elgin. Now, three months after moving back to Glasgow and a mere six weeks after picking it up from the sorting office, today’s tricentennial post concerns the 1979 Fireside book Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts.
I had actually planned to buy this book for Christmas about a year ago but only got round to reading it last night. It’s an ebay purchase and in beautiful condition. Not only are the adventures of Doc Strange among my oldest recollections of Silver Age Marvel (primarily from 60s issues of Fantastic), he is probably the supernatural star of the Big Two whose comics I’ve read most. Perhaps DC’s Dr. Fate , Swamp Thing and Etrigan the Demon are fairly distant rivals unless we count Tomb of Dracula- but that’s rather blurring horror/monster comics with magic-users.
This is a slim book by necessity, since most of the stories were from the split book Strange Tales, which Doc shared with the Human Torch. As has become my wont lately, I’m dividing this review into three sections.
The first are the early adventures of Doc Strange, when his costume consisted of sombre shades of blue. This look is the one I’ve come to like best for the Sorceror Supreme. This early period also sees Doc depicted as of Asian origin: Kurt Busiek has made quite a case for this on Twitter. While it supports stereotypes of Orientals and “Celestials”, it is in keeping with Dr. Droom (subsequently Doctor Druid) the progenitor of the series.
Face to Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo: I think this is the second Strange Tale and it introduces the sinister Mordo, who launches an attack on The Master ( the original sobriquet for the Ancient One. The spirit combat between the two adepts is more akin to Tibetan philosophy ( and Beat poetry) than the Lovercraftian tropes of Dr. Fate
Return to the Nightmare World is a sequel to the very first Strange Adventure (!). The Shadow World is a riot of stylish symbolism and the surreal. The face of the gaunt and evil Nightmare is always in shadow. How daring to introduce abstract villians that represent human consciousness- it’s a development of Jungian horrors like the Joker or Two-Face.
Beyond the Purple Veil: burglars who try to steal a mystic gem have to be rescued from slavery by the tyrant of the Purple Dimesion, Aggamon ( NOT Agamotto, apparently)
The House of Shadows: a live tv broadcast from a haunted house leads Strange to discover the house itself is actually an intruder from another “space-time continuum”. On some levels, Strange Tales (!!) can be read as science fiction. Here, in this clash with technology, the doctor is depicted as a silent, brooding figure reminiscent of the Phantom Stranger
The Challenge of Loki: I read this story again last summer in Galloway in the 1979 Marvel Summer Special. George Bell’s inking makes Ditko look less ornate and more cartoony; more like his 70s work on Machine Man or Captain Universe.
These episodes are all unconnected save the Nightmare rematch. This is a contrast to the next cycle: three stories from the epic battle between Strange and the Mordo/Dormammu team.
The Hunter and the Hunted sees Strange on the run from his enemies in Hong Kong. It’s a pulp thriller that reminds me of the Englehart/Ditko Djinn story- I only ever saw one episode of that in Coyote.
Face To Face At last With Baron Mordo reworks the title of the very first story in the book in a colourful clash that I first read in an issue of Marvel’s Greatest Comics: one which also reprinted the first appearance of the revamped Black Widow.
A Nameless Land, a Timeless Time pitches Strange into a dimension ruled by Shazana. Her good half-sister is a bit too much like Clea while Shazana joins the ranks of despots like Tiboro and Tazza. I really would have liked to see the story that introduced Eternity instead.
I think I first read The Wondrous Worlds of Doctor Strange, from a Spider-Man annual, in the Fantastic summer special. Unusually, it’s plotted and drawn by Ditko and like the last story, the occult landscapes are astonishing. Spidey seems exceptionally sanguine about being banished to an unknown dimension…
Stan’s last Strange tale, While the World Spins Mad is drawn by Barry Smith. It’s a blend of Art Nouveau and psychedelic imagery in the vein of Smith’s final Conan stories. Smith is a perfect replacement for Gene Colan as a master of mood but with an extra dimension of exoticism. This comic relaunched Doc for the Seventies.
I would have like to have seen a whole volume depicted to the Dormammu/Mordo saga – or the inclusion of the Lovecraft homage which was the last issue of the blue-visaged Strange of my childhood. Nonetheless, this gorgeous book is one of the most enjoyable Fireside reprint collections, none of which I owned in the 70s because I’d seen most of the material too recently in the British weeklies.
Coming up in the winter of 2017: the battle diaries of Stephen Strange’s co-star, Nick Fury; the earliest Simonson Thor sagas; Byrne’s Superman revisited; Skull the Slayer and Deathlok the Demolisher.
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