Monday, May 28, 2012

FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH FOR DOCTOR STRANGE!
DEATH #4: “DOCTOR STRANGE HAS 'MAGIC POWERS'.”

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As detailed in the prelude to this series [HERE], I listed 5 fatal errors that modern Marvel has crossed in their portrayal (a betrayal?) of Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts.
Previously, I shed a light on the erroneous memes:
Error # 1: Dr. Strange is the "Chosen One" [HERE].
Error # 2: Dr. Strange is/was an Alcoholic. [HERE].
Error # 3: Dr. Strange is a Contemporary Man. [HERE].
Now, I delve into the fourth of these fatal missteps:
ERROR # 4: 
“DOCTOR STRANGE HAS ‘MAGIC POWERS’.”


Doctor Strange has (or had) one of the greatest, purest, most apropos origins (and abilities) ever to grace any fictional character.
That is, until someone decided to screw it up (multiple times and in ever worsening ways).
PART IV : BALANCE OF POWERS
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As a sorcerer, Doctor Strange has NO powers. As such, he can not be “de-powered” (in the traditional sense). He has only knowledge. And knowledge is something that can not be taken away. It can be lost. It can be forgotten. But what once learned can never be un-learned.

Unfortunately, this doesn't negate the fact that many writers seem to think that Doctor Strange has POWERS which can be taken away, lost, stolen or absorbed. If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times; *

 Doctor Strange does NOT have POWERS! He has KNOWLEDGE! 

And that knowledge allows for him to know how to manipulate the mystical energies of the universe.

The very notion of “magic powers” would have the underlying truth that “powers” are inherently a part of the wielder. That means, they are – if not congenital and born-in, then they are at least – embodied.
Spider-Man wasn’t BORN with spider-powers, but they have become a part of his genetic make-up and as such, are embodied. They are a PART of him. The same goes for mutants. It can also be true for anyone for whom a power was once from an outer source (like a power-ring) but thru extensive usage have been absorbed.
Magic, while not necessarily exempt from this potential, does not typically work in this way.

Just the other day, I was re-watching the 1963 Roger Corman “adaptation” of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. In it, three rival sorcerers (“magicians”) cast various spells against one another in a sort of mystical combat.

One, a minor magician (Dr. Bedlo as played by Peter Lorre), required the use of various magical tools in order to work his magic.
The other two (Vincent Price as Dr. Craven and Boris Karloff as Dr. Scarabus), however, needed only to make gestures in the air.

While the objective of the evil magician (Scarabus) was to learn the mystery of – and then steal away – the secrets of the good magician’s (Craven) prestidigitation, it seemed that even they required knowledge in order to perform such feats. One aspect of the story was how Dr. Craven had no knowledge of how to transform Dr. Bedlo back into a human, from the raven form into which he had been changed. A recipe for a potion was required, which luckily Bedlo could dictate.

Knowledge is required, but manual manipulation of mystical forces is possible once learned.

While this isn’t totally germane to this discussion, there have been numerous sources that believe that this film quickly became an inspiration for Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in their depiction of Dr. Strange and his magical abilities. (Seriously, check out the scene where Dr. Craven casts mystic shields to block magically created daggers, and their similarity to the “shields of the seraphim” become readily obvious.)

To my dismay, this "Magic powers" meme is one that has been touched upon in the course of Doctor Strange's published career more than once, so maybe I can't fault current writers, like Brian Bendis, for adding to the mess.

Many times we have seen villains (be they mortals, madmen or malevolent mystics) attempt in (and at times somehow partially succeed with) stealing or draining away Doctor Strange’s “magic powers”.
Some sought to funnel his abilities into their own bodies, others with the use of some power-dampener or outside artifact made claim that Strange’s “powers” would no longer work.

All of these are erroneous, as Strange’s abilities might be able to be blocked (either by counter-spells, or spells of negation which would pre-empt Strange’s ability to cast his own magic) or hampered (a gag and some manner of binding to his hands and wrists would help to prevent much – but not all - of Strange’s arsenal), but his magic can not be stolen – at least not without the draining of his mind.
For it is within the mind – the brain – of a Sorcerer that the true power resides. That power is knowledge!

Years of study, discipline, meditation and technique were required for Strange to perform any serious level of magic. Some spells might be fairly simple, merely requiring the memorization and rote repetition of a phrase to make happen, but most others - that place him at the level of “Master of the Mystic Arts” - would need to require much more.

In the realms of magic there are usually three types of “magic user” with varying levels of ability. This does not include beings who are comprised of magic: faeries, genies, djinns and the like, as they are typically not magic users, per se, but are magical entities in and of themselves. The three types of “magic user” are:
Possessors of Magical Items, Magically-Enhanced Persons, and Magic Wielders.

- POSSESSORS of MAGIC ITEMS – basically use the energies or spells woven into a specific item. Their powers are localized within the item itself (or the item is a conduit to an outer source) and not a part of the user. This type of magic CAN be stolen, simply by taking the item in question.
Typically with the exception of rare cases, most magic items are sought, found and used by “Magic Wielders”, since it typically requires knowledge OF the item for the person to seek it out. However, accidents happen and sometimes an innocent person may find a magic item. This usually ends poorly for the finder as they are unprepared for the ramifications of that possession.

- MAGICALLY ENHANCED – Means that the person is operating via a permanent (or temporary) spell or enchantment that enables a person to utilize whatever energies bequeathed them by the original spell-caster.
Juggernaut is one such Magically Enhanced individual, as his powers stem from the spell placed upon a Crimson Gem by the entity Cytorrak. Once touched, the spell transferred the power from the Gem (and ostensibly, Cytorrak) to Juggernaut. Such power can typically only be negated by the original spell caster.

- MAGIC WIELDERS – These are persons, such as Doctor Strange, who can utilize magical energies from the three main sources of magic (which I will now detail).

As can be found in many resources (some officially published by Marvel) there are (traditionally) only THREE sources for magical power for MAGIC WIELDERS in the Marvel Universe:
PERSONAL energies, UNIVERSAL energies and EXTRA-DIMENSIONAL energies.
Each source of energy yields a slightly different form of magic, although it is easy to achieve the same result using different sources. Most magic-wielding characters have more than one source that they have learned to tap into.


- PERSONAL ENERGIES – These come from the personal energies and reserves of an individual’s body/mind/soul.
This energy fuels any power or spell that affects the caster himself or a willing subject; trances, astral form, thought projections, physical alterations, and so forth can all use personal energy.
Such magics require but a thought from the wielder to utilize, but can bear a physical strain as the tapping of such powers can weaken the user – eventually even to the point of death. However, via proper training and meditation a sorcerer can more efficiently utilize these energies with little loss of strength. 

- UNIVERSAL ENERGIES – These are gained by tapping this universe’s ambient magical energy and channeling it for the desired effects.
It is used for spells and powers affecting the world outside the sorcerer, and as such may require gestures to harness and direct.
Teleportation, eldritch bolts, illusions, and so on tap the energy fields of the universe, using the magician as a focus, and like Personal Energies, the utilization of these can be physically demanding upon the wielder.


- EXTRA-DIMENSIONAL ENERGIES – These are used by tapping beings or objects of power dwelling in mystical dimensions, tangential to our own. This form of energy is the least wearing upon the user. These energies are usually reserved for powerful spells, groups of spells, or to plead for things that the being or aspect called upon would and/or could provide. The dimensional energies are usually gained by the recitation of spells, either ritualized ones found in various mystical texts or by original spells invoking extra-dimensional assistance, possibly requiring sacrifices or promises and are those bestowed upon a sorcerer from an other-dimensional Entity. These Entities must be entreated by the sorcerer properly and usually with respect, as an entity could, at best, refuse to imbue the magician with the requested power, or, at worst, could simply destroy the upstart. If calling upon an extradimensional being it is important to remember that the magic-wielder makes himself known to the being he is calling, and often to other magic-wielding beings powerful enough to monitor the use of dimensional energy.
Some of the magical entities sorcerers can call upon include, but are not limited to, the following: Agamotto, Oshtur, Hoggoth, the Vishanti (which is Agamotto, Oshtur and Hoggoth united), the Faltine, the Seraphim, Dormammu, Watoomb, Cyttorak, Raggadorr, Valtorr, and Ikonn.
Basically, when you see Doctor Strange saying, “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth” (or something like that) he is entreating an entity to empower his spell (or is calling upon an entity’s standard response; such as the “Crimson Bands of Cytorrak” or “Mists of Morpheus” or “Images of Ikonn”) and is thus using Extra-Dimensional Energies.


Doctor Strange, due to his years of study and practice, has learned how to manipulate and control these various types of energies. His studies and journeys to other realms and dimensions has also taught him the proper methods and respectful protocols of requesting usage of greater (Extra-Dimensional) energies from the higher powers of any number of the nigh-eternal extra-dimensional entities, should the energies Strange requires be such as might exist beyond the natural ebb and flow of Personal or Universal resources.

Certainly, he is able to wield those fundamental mystic forces that exist and swirl in and around us all often to more than amazing results, but there are often times that more power is required to achieve a desired task and only an entity can provide it. Thus, sometimes Dr. Strange must supplicate himself to powers higher than he is for much of his mystic might.

Thus Marvel is limited in the manner by which they can reduce the “powers” of Doctor Strange.
For Strange the only simple way of reducing his power is to take away his talismans and items of power, since these have been acknowledged to add to his magical stores of energy.
Such power CAN be taken away – as was the case when the Eye of Agamotto was seemingly destroyed (I say seemingly, because I don’t believe it’s really gone forever. For more on the saga of Agamotto and his Eye(s) check out this EPIC post [HERE]).


Along with the Eye of Agamotto, Marvel also has taken away much of the rest of his items of power, such as the Book of the Vishanti (a veritable encyclopedia of magical knowledge and spells) as well as most of the other items he had long maintained within his Sanctum Sanctorum.
This was done by stating that Stephen Strange was no longer worthy of being the “Sorcerer Supreme”, the highest ranking magic-user in the Marvel Universe.
By taking away Strange’s mantle of ‘Sorcerer Supreme’ and robbing him of all the various articles of power that he possessed, modern Marvel seeks to weaken Strange (or at least make him a less “omega”-level powerhouse). This is really the only acceptable manner in which to drop his overall abilities, since he still possesses the knowledge of much of his spells, as well as his ability to commune with those nigh-infinite cosmic/otherdimensional entities that supplement his stores of power.

But, it would seem that Marvel has sought to remove those beings as well, as the fabled Vishanti – long the highest of beings in the mystical hierarchy of powers-that-be of Marvel magic – have been reported destroyed (also discussed in the EPIC post linked to above, but linked to for convenience [HERE]).

However, there should still be many other extra-dimensional entities to whom Strange could entreat for assistance. Nothing to the contrary has been officially stated in any form within canonical reference, but still, Strange doesn’t venture forth to seek out these entities.
This is despite the continued calling of their names in some of his spells. Brian Bendis has consistently even had Strange call upon the Vishanti (either as a whole or their individual entities) to empower spells that he has cast. This is even AFTER Bendis has stated that the Vishanti are no more. If that were the case, the spells should die stillborn, since there would be no one from whom that power would be granted. (Yup. I talk about this as well in that EPIC post [HERE]).

This is all seemingly being attributed to the 5,000 year long "War of the Seven Spheres" (which Dr. Strange was a participant) with its effects now being felt. (I discuss ALL this as well in that aforementioned EPIC post [HERE]. Seriously, after you read this, go check it out!)


Other writers, like Jeff Parker in the pages of Thunderbolts and Hulk, have gone above and beyond to play by Marvel’s new rules, without falling back on the tropes of calling upon the same old entities.
I detail my love for Parker’s treatment of Strange in another post [HERE].

After years of power growth and loss, and complaints by Editorial bigwigs that Dr. Strange is too powerful and his magic is too limitless; with the two-fold strike against Dr. Strange of losing his talismans and his gods, Marvel has finally managed to reduce him to a level that they believe is more manageable.
Not that I believe they are truly correct in their assumptions of same – my reasoning for which I will discuss at length in the next post.

His abilities stem from his being a learned man who knows how to manipulate the eldritch forces of the dimensions and have them do his bidding, while sometimes assisted by some mystic artifacts that may possess some innate powers themselves. While, as has happened recently wherein some of the entities which Strange entreats for mystical energies may be denied him, as long as Strange has an inquiring mind and the knowledge of how magic works, he will ever be its Master. That is one of the most important constants of his character.

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·        I have written other posts over the years about this very subject matter. If you have any interest, greater depth on this (or at least different angles of this) discussion can be found at a few of those source posts:

“Who Is Dr. Strange?” [HERE]


“Knowledge Is Power That Can Not Be Denied” [HERE]


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Return with us for another installment of this series as we examime...

ERROR # 5: “DOCTOR STRANGE; NO LONGER 'SORCERER SUPREME' IS NOW AN INEPT MAGE.” 

4 comments:

emrys said...

I certainly agree with much of what you say. I also think the "loss of mystic objects/power" was handled extremely well with Strange Tales vol 2 1-19 (and a few of the Dr. Strange Master/Mystic Arts books that led up to Khat and Urthona).

When I was a kid and reading that series, I imagined that all of Strange's tools led to him having a larger amount of power to draw upon (for example, true ownership of the Book of Vishanti and Wand of Watoomb automatically conferred some sort of additional power--sort of how in Harry Potter, Harry was the "true owner" of the Elder Wand which ended up underperforming for Voldemort--not that I want to sully the much more sophisticated world of Dr. Strange with HP). When those items became unavailable to him, and since they really weren't destroyed (although some MUST have been destroyed to allow a few previously locked-up entities to be free), I imagined they were put under the proper ownership of Agamotto. I would argue that both the location of the objects, and the transfer of ownership, led to Strange being underpowered for that series.

Separate issue: I think one of the more frustrating things is that Dr. Strange is also the whole dimension's Sorcerer Supreme. If he's not guarding all that, who is? Down with Bendis!

Rich

Tony said...

Great post. I think precisely this misunderstanding of Strange's abilities nearly derailed the book when Marv Wolfman took over from Steve Englehart. Wolfman seemed to think that, by becoming Sorcerer Supreme, Strange had "absorbed" the Ancient One's "powers" and was now supremely powerful, like a "god," so he had to be "de-powered" immediately. Luckily Roger Stern soon came along and set the record straight.

I could see someone devising a way to "steal" Dr. Strange's "power" by blocking or diverting the energy being sent by extradimensional entities, preventing it from reaching Strange to empower his spell. Maybe they could then use that energy for their own purposes (though they would certainly incur the wrath, one would think, of the entity whose energy was thus stolen.) I would think that would have to be done on a spell-by-spell basis, though.

I've always thought that if Doctor Strange was really the Sorcerer Supreme of our entire dimension, he did a spectacularly bad job of it. He spent most of his time on Earth! What about the billions of other planets in the universe? Is he supposed to police all the sorcerers in the Kree, Skrull, and Shi'ar empires as well? How could he possibly have time to deal with minor nuisances like Kerwin Havelock or Mister Rasputin? The whole idea is ridiculous. Being Sorcerer Supreme of Earth is a big enough job. Since each planet apparently has its own gods derived from its own demiurge, it would make sense that each planet has its own magic and, thus, its own Sorcerer Supreme.

Anonymous said...

Having recently reread the early seventies story where Dr. Strange takes up his identity again after giving up his powers I had much the same reaction. To go from simply stopping his practice of magic to having no "powers"--and then regaining them by an energy jolt from the Ancient One didn't make any sense. I assume it was to ready him for a new role in the Defenders, but, still.
-Fraser

cease ill said...

I came over to say I'd like the weaknesses to come from some disturbance in the cosmic forces behind the powers ---what a story line you could have, as one power after another packs up on Doc because of pan-universal strife!

I just wish your site had more Gerber goodness! Not that it doesn't have TONS of other stuff, mind you. I've corresponded with Plok and Nathan Adler; would you care to add my integr8dfix.blogspot.com to your honor roll? Between that and Be Chill Cease ill (which has and will have more ruminations on sincere mysticism) I even have more Man-Thing material you might enjoy. http://integr8dfix.blogspot.com/2011/02/headmen-saga-defenders-31-by-steve.html I have a Defenders story in which you may find a very pleasurable interpretation of the good Doctor, too. Thanks for this blog; it reminded me of many things, not the least of them, that rip-roaring Earth trek featuring noirish Stephen on the lamb from Baron Mordo!

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