Friday, August 17, 2012
1984 - Doctor Strange #65
Doctor Strange #65
Writer: Roger Stern
Artist: Paul Smith
By Jef Willemsen
Roger Stern has enjoyed a long, rightfully celebrated career as a writer for both Marvel and DC. The secret to his success lies in his encyclopedic knowledge of and fierce love for the genre, combined with a respectfully rebellious attitude towards it that prevents getting tied down by it. This results in stories that feature recognisable characters (re)acting in familiar ways without feeling stale and predictable.
During the 1980s, Stern proved his worth on popular books like Captain America, Spider-Man and the Avengers… But he also wrote a fair share of Doctor Strange solo stories, that showcased his understanding of the sorceror supreme.
Stern’s strengths are on full display in Doctor Strange # 65, a done in one tale that seems almost pedestrian compared to what the good doctor usually deals with. You won’t find an impending galaxy crunching in this issue, nor will the fate of time and space hang in the balance. Stern doesn’t need all of that to deliver 22 pages that distill the quintessential Doctor Strange.
The issue opens with Doctor Strange’s ladyfriend Morgana Blessing attending a seminar by one Kerwin Havelock… A self proclaimed mystic who offers enlightenment through magic.
Using his ‘magic’, Kerwin cures the sceptic audience member, burning away his doubts, insecurity and agression. The crowd goes wild and Havelock gets swarmed by people who are willing to pay good money to receive a similar cure. Unfortunately, it sounds a little too good to be true, as Havelock reveals after his performance.
“I gotta hand it to you, Kerwin, this is one cozy little racket!”
Quite true! After all, who would believe a failed actor like Havelock would actually wield any magic to speak of? As a flashback reveals, he picked up all his fancy incantations from an old woman everyone thought was mad. Thinking Havelock harmless as well, Morgana cheerfully relates her experience over lunch to Doctor Strange whose mood shifts from slightly bemused to rather concerned when he hears about Havelock’s magic spells.
Apparently, that little old lady wasn’t quite so mad after all, but an actual sorceress who called on mystical entities and places of power… Among them, the planes of Pohldak. By repeating her lines verbatum, Havelock had unknowingly been chanting a summoning spell for close to a decade. His efforts had inadvertenly created an eldritch bridge linking Earth with the demon rich Pohldak plains.
Doctor Strange tried to warn Havelock, even attempting to prevent him from ever performing ‘magic’ again. But before he could complete his enchantments, Havelock’s men brutally assaulted him. Almost getting knocked out, a seriously injured Strange fled the scene… Time for plan B.
Yup, that’s Stephen Strange using his magic to infiltrate one of Havelock’s seminars for gullible rich people seeking enlightenment. He isn’t in the best of shape, after the earlier assault left him with a concussion that barely made him capable of performing this relatively simple illusion spell.
Concussion or no, Strange was still forced to action when Havelock invoked Pohldak during his seminar. Due to a rare stellar allignment, the outerdimensional demons finally managed to open a portal to Earth and answered Havelock’s call. Needless to say, all hell broke loose…
It goes without saying that Strange did help, using his mastery of the mystic arts to sever the creatures tentative connection to Earth and banishing them back from whence they came. All’s well that ends well, but there was still the little matter of Havelock…
Some might say forcing your enemy to suffer for the rest of his life isn’t very heroic. The least Strange could have done was wipe Havelock’s memory as well. Yet, its exactly this approach to the character that makes Stern such a great Strange writer.
You see, Doctor Strange creator Steve Ditko never envisioned the character to be your typical spandex clad superhero. In fact, his earliest appearances show Strange as a master of ‘black magic’… A pretty fair indication Strange’s notions of good and bad aren’t necessarily dictated by common human morality.
Sure, Strange had vowed to protect mankind, but he never fought conventional criminals. Most of his rogues galery consists of macabre, metaphysical menaces... Heck, he even fought a haunted house! That’s bound to give you a somewhat different outlook on the concept of justice.
Stern took this approach to heart, but managed to keep Strange likeable and human despite all the otherworldy shenanigans he had to deal with. If you want to see how such a dichotomy is accomplished? Look no further than Doctor Strange #65.
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An avid fan of Chris Claremont and Marvel comics in general, Jef Willemsen blogs about the many, many, many times Chris Claremont has resorted to mind control in his 40+ years in the business. Check out his reviews at: http://clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com