I'll be reading through the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Dr. Strange stories as originally published in Strange Tales #110-146. So, let's begin:
Strange Tales #110 - "Dr. Strange Master of Black Magic!"
Cover Date: July 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
We are introduced to a "new" type of superhero, Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic. His look is similar to what many of us expect with a handful of differences--for instance, he's wearing gauntlets of some sort, and there's no Cloak of Levitation.
Our story opens with a man who cannot sleep as nightmares overtake him every time he tries. He's heard of Dr. Strange through whispers and rumors, and plans to see him. There's some really nice utilizaion of shading along with a limited color palette that sets the mood of the story nicely.
The next day, the man visits a place in Greenwich village. The door is answered by what appears to be a bald Asian gentleman, but no name is given. The man tells him he's there to see Dr. Strange despite the fact that the Dr. doesn't know him, but the Asian man says that Dr. Strange knows all. He bids the man to enter.
The man meets with Dr. Strange. He tells Strange that he has the same dream over and over again every night, and it's driving him crazy. Dr. Strange askss him to tell him more, and the man describes the dream: a figure bound in chains stares at him. Dr. Strange says that tonight he will come visit and find out what's happening. The man asks him how, and strange responds that he will do so by entering his dream.
Later that day, Strange says it's time for him to visit the Master. To do so, he sends forth his astral form, and we watch it travel across the world. Eventually, it reaches a cave somewhere in Asia where Strange visits his master, an aged man. He tells Strange that he senses danger and he must be cautious, as his days are numbered and one day Strange will take his place in the battle against the forces of evil. Strange tells him that he will be careful, and the master tells him to go as he's tired, but to rely upon his amulet if danger should threaten.
That evening, Strange goes to visit the man. He tells the man to sleep, and the man does so. Once he does, Strange projects his astral form into the man's dream. Inside the dream, he finds the figure bound in chains. As the figure torments the man, Strange asks it why. The figure replies that the man knows why. The figure explains that he is the symbol of every evil he has done, and that is why he is in chains. He tells Strange to ask a man who he refers to as Mr. Crang if he doesn't believe him.
At this point, a dark figure riding a horse shows up. He seems to know Dr. Strange, and he tells him that he has entered the dimension of dreams for the last time. Strange identifies the figure as Nightmare, his ancient foe. Nightmare tells him that he knows the rules of sorcery--anyone entering a hostile dimension must be ready to pay for it with his life.
Back on Earth, the sleeping man awakes. He understands now that the root of his problem is Mr. Crang, and that Dr. Strange has heard everything. He gets a gun from his dresser and approaches Strange's body, planning on killing him.
Nightmare gloats as he and Strange watch this scene play out. Strange beseeches his master for help. The master hears his pleas and concentrates. Back in the man's apartment, Dr. Strange's amulet glows until it opens up into an eye, which shoots out a ray that hypnotizes the man. In the confusion, Strange escapes from Nightmare and manages to return to his body. Nightmare tells him that he'll get him next time.
Back in the man's apartment, Strange takes the man's gun and commands him to speak the truth. The man reveals that his dreams were caused by the many men he'd ruined in business. Apparently, Crang was the last one that he'd robbed, leaving no evidence for Crang to prosecute him. He says he'll confess now.
My rating: 7/10
It's obvious here that there are a lot of details that Lee and Ditko were working through for this character, and there's a lot we'll see over this reading project. This particular story reads very much like a Golden Age backup comic--I found it amusing that they chose to name one of the antagonist's victim but not the antagonist himself--so the drama isn't exactly at a fever pitch.
That being said, the star of this comic--and the others in this project--is clearly Steve Ditko. His creativity shows through here, especially with his depictions of the dream world. At the same time, you can also feel that there's much more on the horizon.
Randy Jackson said:
Strange Tales #123 - "The Challenge Of Loki!"
My rating: 8/10
For the first time in a while, Strange gets an adversary that's not only more powerful than he, but one who also had him beaten. He does manage to out think Loki, but it doesn't save him, and it makes him much more vulnerable, which is good.
In the early Thor stories, Loki is more of a nuisance than a real threat. Thor has about the same level of difficulty dealing with him as Strange has had with Mordo up to this point.
Dr. Strange would guest star in Journey Into Mystery 108, which came out a month after this story, but there's no reference to him meeting Loki before.
Something I've also noticed over the last few stories is that Strange isn't calling on the Ancient One for help anymore, which is good. I think it weakened him as a character, and the more he's able to stand on his own two feet the better.One other observation: Marvel had a ton of high quality, legendary artists working for them during this time period. That being said, not all of them were great drawing every character. I think Kirby drew possibly the worst Spider-Man I've ever seen, and I can't say much better about Ditko's Thor. He's just lacking the majesty of Kirby's Thor, as Kirby's Spider-Man looked too bulky and lacked the fluidity of Ditko's.
I thought Thor looked a little off on the splash page, but I liked Ditko's rendition of him in the rest of the story. I also thought Ditko drew a fine version of Loki, sneering and menacing.
Strange Tales #128 - "The Dilemma of the Demon's Disciple!"
Cover Date: January 1965
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
Returning home from his last mission against Dormammu, Dr. Strange is surprised by an insistent knocking on his door. He answers the door to find an anxious man there. The man tells Strange that he was a disciple of the Demon, but managed to escape. He tells Strange that the Demon is extremely powerful and that he needs to stop the Demon from attempting to rule the world.
In the Demon's lair, the Demon is quite angry that his disciple has escaped. A spell reveals his whereabouts. He sees the man with Dr. Strange and vows to defeat Strange as he's more powerful.
Back at the Sanctum Santorum, the disciple disappears from out of his clothes. Using the Eye of Agamotto, Strange attempts to discern his whereabouts, but the Eye fails. Strange can feel the evil magic and realizes that he's seemingly powerless.
Back at the Demon's, the disciple is imprisoned, to be released--never! He then masks his spells so that Strange can't track him.
In the Sanctum, Strange realizes that the Demon has released his spells in an attempt to outsmart him. Strange vows to stop him. He uses his amulet to animate the disciple's clothing and uses that to track him.
Inside, the Demon discovers that Strange has located him. He calls upon the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak to bind Strange in a trap. The bands close around Dr. Strange and get smaller and smaller until Strange is entrapped in a large ruby gem small enough to fit in the Demon's hand. Calling upon the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, he tries to remove Strange from existence, only to fail.
We find out that Strange has sent his astral form forth to study the Demon's books and notes, trying to discern a strategy for fighting him. The form of Strange the Demon sees is merely an illusion created by Strange as a distraction. He returns to his body.
Back in the gem, Strange begins his counter attack. He releases himself from the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, and then he and the Demon fight. The Demon attempts to trap Strange in the Shades of Seraphim, but Strange counters with the power of the Vishanti. They continue to fight.
After a long stalemate, the Demon thinks he's come upon Strange's major weakness: his unwillingness to hurt people. He won't use his power to it's fullest capacity. He decides to go all out and throw all of his power at Strange at once. He does so, and Strange easily dispels his attack. Strange counters by using the light of his amulet to destroy the Demon's powers of darkness.
Having seemingly defeated the Demon, Strange orders him to take him to his disciple. The Demon isn't quite done though. He opens a trap door, intending for Strange to fall into a dungeon. However, he hasn't accounted for the Cloak of Levitation. He captures the Demon, then extracts his disciple from the pit where he'd been imprisoned. Afterwards, Strange places a spell of forgetfulness on the Demon that shall one day be lifted, and that on that day the Demon shall realize that there will always be someone who can beat him, and that he must renounce his magic when he awakens, otherwise he'll have to answer to Dr. Strange.
My rating: 5/10
They might as well have used Baron Mordo for this story--at least he would have come up with a strategy that had a snowball's chance in hell of beating Strange. The Demon obviously did zero research on Strange in terms of what powers he had access to, as he kept playing into Strange's hands over and over again. At least Mordo, with some foreknowledge of Strange, might have had a chance. The other thing that made no sense was that the Demon kept saying over and over again that he was more powerful than Dr. Strange, yet kept running away. I would think that bravado like that would have led to a more direct confrontation. The story is pretty weak.
What saves this from being a complete letdown is Ditko's art. He does a great job of depicting the powers at work here, and the fight scene is really nice to behold. His work with facial expressions is quite nice as well.
Randy Jackson said:
Strange Tales #124 - "The Mystery of the Lady From Nowhere!"
My rating: 6/10
I should have liked this more I think, but it just never felt like the stakes were that high. It's one of the limitations of having a story where magic is readily available and more or less easily used. The sequence with Strange attempting to return to the present is meant to be fraught with tension, but since the amulet can do pretty much anything, the tension fizzles flat.
One other thing I found problematic, and which I think there was time to explain, was where was Zota getting this technology? Did he create it? Was it supposed to be something that was available in ancient Egypt? If anyone has been reading my reviews for a while, you know I hate these unexplained aspects of a story.
I found this one really boring. Too much time spent on bit with the candle and the fake tension about Strange getting trapped in the past. I wish they would have condensed that and addressed Randy's points. And the lady turns out to be Cleopatra? Ok, that might have been interesting if there had been any interaction at all with her and Strange, like Cleopatra and Iron Man in Tales of Suspense 44.
By this point she must be wondering why this kind of thing keeps happening to her.
Randy Jackson said:
Strange Tales #125 - "Mordo Must Not Catch Me!"
My rating: 3/10
Wow, another Baron Mordo story. Who'da thunk it?
This is just...I dunno, I guess I just expect much more. This has the feeling of something written for small children in an attempt to explain how the magic works.
Once again, Mordo is barely a mosquito attempting to chew on Strange's shoulder. He really shouldn't be used again unless and until they can figure out a way to actually make him a threat.
I agree with all of that. Just bad.
Randy Jackson said:
Strange Tales #126 - "The Domain of the Dread Dormammu!"
My rating: 8/10
Now this is more like it; we have a credible threat of immense power, we begin to see just what the Ancient One has been grooming Strange for, we have a budding romance (assuming Strange survives), and Ditko gets to go bonkers drawing another dimension.
'Strange Tales #127 - "Duel With the Dread Dormammu!"
My rating: 8/10
This is a nice conclusion to our first clash with Dormammu, as the plot is simple but there's no wasted space within. There's some really nice work from Ditko with his depiction of this otherworldly dimension. It's nice, solid and tight, and the conclusion works nicely too.
This was a really well done story all the way around. Ditko goes crazy with the artwork and I found myself just staring at panels long after I had read the dialogue, which is not something I usually do. I don't know if it was the extra pages or not, but the pacing finally felt right after being a bit off in the last few stories. You're absolutely right about no wasted space. It also helps that there's room to flesh out Dormammu, who gets more development here than, say, Zota and even Mordo in his many appearances to date. It's nice to have a foe for Strange that makes him break a sweat for once.
Interesting he orders the Demon to give up magic the first time he even hears of him, but never made that sort of demand to Mordo who's attacked him numerous times. Did the Demon ever appear again or was he really scared off?
What happened to the Tiboro story?
I oopsed. I'll come back to it.
Ron M. said:
What happened to the Tiboro story?
So I goofed last time in terms of the order of stories. Let's backtrack to the correct sequence of issues. I'll repost #130 after this.
Strange Tales #129 - "Beware Tiboro! The Tyrant of the Sixth Dimension"
Cover Date: February 1965
Writer: Stan Lee & Don Rico
Artist: Steve Ditko
Strange is besieged by reporters on one of his rare public appearances. They want him to come on TV's "Twelfth Hour" show to talk about black magic, but he refuses. The TV show airs without him, and the hosts discard him as an authority on the supernatural. They choose to move forward without him.
The hosts declare that black magic is purely fictional. To prove this, they produce a small statue of a so-called "screaming idol". They explain that it was excavated in Peru, but that it is only a pagan idol. They say that if Dr. Strange believes it has magic powers, they oppose him. They also lament that he isn't there so they can disprove his theories.
Suddenly the power in the studio goes out. The power outage is isolated to that studio. When the lights come back on, the hosts of the show are gone and only the idol remains. A search turns up no one. They decide to call Dr. Strange. He flies to the studio using his cloak of levitation.
When he arrives at the studio, he tells the men there to darken the studio so that he might reproduce what happened. Using his amulet, he can see a technician fall victim to the idol's aura. He places a shield around the idol, then asks for a room where he can meditate. He then uses his magic to consult the Ancient One. He shows the Ancient One the idol, and asks if he knows anything about it. The Ancient One tells him it is the idol of Tiboro, "lord of the seething volcano, evil ruler from the dim, dead past! If his idol has finally appeared, it means Tiboro is ready to strike!" He gives Strange a quick history lesson about Tiboro, telling him that he used the power of lightning to create an ectoplasmic ray with which to rule the world. Somehow, the civilization that worshiped him died out, but apparently he's back. The Ancient One then tells him that the strain of mental communication has tired him out. Strange pledges to deal with Tiboro.
In order to meet with Tiboro, Strange removes the shield from the idol, and it quickly takes him to Tiboro's sixth dimension. Tiboro isn't happy to see him, as I guess somehow he heard about Strange's exploits. He'd hoped to not have to deal with Strange yet, but realizes he has to now.
Tiboro tells Strange that the Earth needs him to rule, as they are doing a poor job of it themselves. Strange tries to keep him talking in hopes that he'll reveal the source of his powers (didn't the Ancient One say it was lightning?). He somehow manages to get Tiboro to drop his electro-plasmic wand before the fight begins. In deference, Strange discards the cloak of levitation. He realizes the fight will be hand to hand.
They brawl. Using the skill of the Seraphim, Strange manages to dodge all of Tiboro's blows while striking him himself. Tiboro quickly realizes that strange is wearing him down and that he needs to try a different tactic.
Tiboro claims it's time for them to fight with black magic. He attacks, but Strange is able to deflect his assault. However he's missing his cloak now. He attempts to activate it mentally while Tiboro grabs his wand. He manages to activate his cloak and uses it to bind Tiboro.
Tiboro tells Strange that he underestimated him, but that he still believes mortals are doomed. Strange tells Tiboro that he's the one who's doomed as man will survive "the despotic ambitions of such as you!" He then removes his cloak from Tiboro, boasting that his "senses are strong enough to meet your every challenge!" Tiboro responds by lifting his wand and telling Strange he's going to use the spell that conquered a deceased world for him once and will so again. That's right, it's time for the Totality spell!
Strange easily takes his Totality spell and asks for more. Tiboro continues to attack, but Strange is able to deflect his attacks. Tiboro has used up his power and plans to attack Strange physically. Strange tells him that he still has power left and uses it to create a shield from the ground that surrounds him. Tiboro attacks, and smashes his shield, but finds Strange nowhere to be found. Strange calls out from behind, and tells Tiboro that it was all an illusion, as he still has all of his powers. He demands Tiboro's surrender. Tiboro's almost ready, but he raises his wand one more time. Strange paralyzes the wand with his magic, and Tiboro surrenders. He tells Strange that if he detects further decay of civilization he'll be back, stronger than ever. Strange tells him to release his prisoners, and Tiboro does.
Back in the TV studio, one of the producers is holding the idol. He notices the shield. Suddenly the shield grows bigger and he drops it. Figures appear within, and it's Strange and the men that were kidnapped by Tiboro. The hosts realize that everything that happened was due to magic, and they want to put on a show depicting what happened so they can prove black magic exists. Strange says no. He casts a spell of forgetfulness over the men, and everything goes back to the way it was before the blackout.
My rating: 5/10
The biggest problem with this story is that once again, an opponent is really no match for Dr. Strange. Tiboro, for all the build up about him, seems to be at most an inconvenience for Dr. Strange. Actually, I find it quite amusing that Dr. Strange was less fearful of Tiboro than the Ancient One.
Oh yeah, sweet art by Ditko. It's the saving grace.
Strange Tales #130 - "The Defeat Of Dr. Strange!"
Cover Date: March 1965
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
As we can see, Baron Mordo is negotiating with someone from...elsewhere. The voice from the other side offers Mordo the power he needs to beat Dr. Strange. Mordo agrees.
At the Ancient One's castle, he and Strange are meeting. Three shapes materialize outside the castle. It's Mordo and his disciples. Mordo casts a spell that allows them to move around the castle undetected until they reach the chamber where the Ancient One and Strange are. They then attack.
The Ancient One blocks their attack with a mystic shield, and tells Strange to run. Strange refuses, knowing that the attack is too strong. He attempts to help, but finds Mordo's attack too strong himself. Even his amulet cannot hold the attackers at bay. Strange then uses the light from the amulet to temporarily blind his attackers. During the confusion, Strange and the Ancient One escape through a secret door. Strange destroys the bridge from the secret door to their destination to slow down his attackers. He wonders where Mordo's new powers come from.
Mordo releases his astral form and follows through the door. He's powerful enough now to fly in his astral form(I thought that in the astral form everyone could fly?) and he attacks Strange again. Strange is able to elude him by hiding behind a ledge.
Elsewhere, we see a hand in a green glove. It's owner is stating that he can no longer supply Mordo's power. He's the only one powerful enough to send his spells across dimensions to help Mordo, but now he needs to rest. He feels that Mordo has had more than enough time to beat Strange. Finally we get a full shot of the owner of the green gloved hand and--holy cow, that's Dormammu's music! Using a loophole in his agreement with Strange, he isn't attacking directly, but by giving Mordo more power, Mordo can attack on his own. Once Strange is out of the way, Mordo can take over this dimension as well.
Now that he's recovered his strength, he contacts Mordo to find out how he destroyed Strange. He's not happy to find out that Strange eluded him, and calls Mordo a bungler. Mordo tells Dormammu that he can't speak to him that way, and that Strange only escaped temporarily. He plans to go after him immediately. Dormammu sends spirits from his dimension to help with the search.
Strange has taken the Ancient One to a secret Tibetan cave to recover. He dresses up some rags to resemble the Ancient One in hopes of leading Mordo away from him. He heads towards the China sea and detects one of the spirits searching for him. The spirit informs Mordo, and Mordo casts a spell to all practitioners of Black Magic to inform him if one of them sees Dr. Strange.
Strange is in Hong Kong. He knows he's being followed, and he goes to visit the only one he can trust--one Sen-Yu, who sort of reminds me of Dr. Sivana. Sen-Yu apparently is the keeper of the Ancient One's wealth. He promises Strange that his house is Strange's house, and his life if need be. After explaining that the Ancient One saved his life once he tells Strange to rest. It's not easy, but eventually Strange falls asleep.
The next day, Sen-Yu gives him a passport, money and new clothes. Strange changes into normal human clothing, and folds up his cloak of levitation, hiding it inside his suit jacket. Sen-Yu asks why he has to leave, and Strange tells him that he can't put him in jeopardy by staying there. He tells Sen-Yu to stay alert, as he may have other need of his services.
As Strange walks around town, he's noticed by some ne'er-do-wells who inform Mordo. Strange continues walking, but suddenly realizes that he's been found. He's confronted by another magician, who plans to pry all of Strange's secrets for himself before turning him over to Mordo. Strange casts a spell that makes people see multiple versions of himself. The magician's men get caught up trying to find the real Strange while the magician casts a spell that allows him to determine which one is real. Strange warns him that finding him isn't the same thing as beating him. He quickly casts a spell that causes the magician to lose his ability to speak.
While he's fighting the magician, one of his men comes up from behind him. Displaying some pugilistic skills that he likely never will again, Strange knocks him out with a straight right. However, the odds become too great, and Strange resorts to using the cloak of levitation. He then casts a spell that paralyzes his attackers until he is gone. However, the magician is still able to think, and therefore able to contact Mordo. Mordo sends all of the spirits there and tells Dormammu that it is almost ended. Strange escapes into the night.
To be continued...
My rating: 7/10
This is much better. Even if it is Mordo again, at least it's a Mordo that actually has a chance of beating Strange. Teaming up with Dormammu makes so much sense as well, since Dormammu does have the raw power to augment Mordo's own.
The only problem, however, is that it's Mordo. Giving him all of that power is similar to giving the Red Skull the Cosmic Cube. We know he's going to screw it up in the end, so some of the tension is lessened. Still, this is much more entertaining than the Demon.
With this instalment the series shifts from one-part stories (with one two-parter) to the never-ending-adventure format.