Saturday, June 30, 2012



What does THIS mean?

You'll find out... soon!

But in the meanwhile, if you've missed any part of the
here are links to the rest of of the series.

Sunday, June 24, 2012



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]
Error #4; Dr. Strange has 'Magic Powers' [HERE]

Now, I delve into the fifth of these fatal missteps:

ERROR # 5: 

Doctor Strange has (or had) been one of the most adept, accomplished and capable heroes ever to grace any fictional universe. He constantly showed how someone could truly rise above themselves and become something far greater.
That is, until someone decided to screw him up (multiple times and in ever worsening ways).



For anyone unfamiliar with the now 49-year history of Doctor Strange and his many adventures as Marvel Comics’ Master of the Mystic Arts, reading any recent issue of a comic wherein Strange might appear, the neophyte reader would instead be introduced to a self-pitying, incompetent, shell of a man – short of ability and long of excuses – for all intents and purposes… a novice.
This is a shame; a loss for the reader as well as the character, as such was not always the case.

For years, Marvel Editorial - led by then-Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada – alleged that Doctor Strange was a veritable Deus ex Machina; Strange was far too powerful and his magic nearly limitless for him to ever be truly in peril. Yet, instead of altering their writing of him AS a Deus ex Machina, and/or bringing back many of his more powerful nemeses, and/or ceasing to continuously place him in low-level mundane “super-hero” adventures, in an attempt to supposedly rectify his “all-powerful” status, Marvel has seen fit to strip Strange of his mantle as “Sorcerer Supreme” – the title granted to the most worthy wielder of magic within the Marvel Universe – and with it much of his mystic might. This hermetic-arts hobbling was accomplished via the removal of Strange’s most oft-used fail-safes. These would be his supposed badge of office, the fabled Eye of Agamotto, and his “god” Agamotto himself (with the supposed loss of other entities of power whom, along with Agamotto, comprised the Vishanti – the highest level of mystic might that a sorcerer could entreat for aid and power). 
(For more on this series of events, I wrote an extensive post parsing its every angle [HERE].)

With that two-fold strike against Dr. Strange, Marvel, it seems, have finally managed to reduce Strange to a level that they believe is more manageable.

Unfortunately, Strange’s new level is far below par and rife with personal pitfalls and magical missteps, as the “new and improved” Dr. Strange is being portrayed as performing his mystic duties in a manner best described as less “adept” and more “inept”, less “blindfolded, with both hands tied behind his back” and more “eyes gouged out, with both arms torn out at the shoulder-socket”.

In Strange’s tales gone by, it wouldn’t be uncommon for Stephen Strange to utter the phrase, “Curse me for a novice!” This he would state when he was more or less angry at himself for making a rookie mistake. However, in the hands of modern Marvel scribes, this has become his default setting.

In trying to make him less omnipotent, Marvel overcompensated drastically and rendered him impotent - unable to do much at all.

In trying to make him less omnipotent, Marvel overcompensated drastically and rendered him impotent - unable to do much at all.

Would that I was exaggerating the extent of his necromantic neutering, but sadly, that is not the case. For a better idea of how lame he has become (and by lame I mean both figuratively and literally – since he has been so significantly handicapped), feel free to check out any of the Nominations for “Worst Doctor Strange Appearance” in my past few annual “Sanctum Awards”. You will read short synopses of issues/arcs wherein Strange was handled like a chump. 
Check them out 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.

For your convenience, I’ll merely give a few bullet points of some of the worst offenders here and now, but for the full effect, make sure to check out the old “Sanctum Awards” posts at your leisure. I may also give links to reviews of the issues referenced in case anyone wants to delve deeper.

• Strange casts ONE spell & faints - "totally spent".
Examples: Amazing Spider-Man # 555 and Giant Sized Astonishing X-Men # 1

These two examples are made even more egregious by the fact that while he was already being portrayed as “weakened”, they predate his giving up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme.

• Strange behaving as a dejected, mopey, sad-sack.
Examples: Nearly any issue of New Avengers.  Specifically, v1 #51-54 (“Search for the Sorcerer Supreme” arc), v2 # 1-6 (“Possession” arc), #7 and more.  Also Defenders v4 # 1 & 4

In Avengers, Brian Bendis tore Strange down with little done to rebuild him.
In Defenders, Matt Fraction has made Strange into a lonely old man afraid of living and dying alone.

• Strange conveniently laid low and swept off the playing field or treated as a D-list hero.
Examples: Giant Sized Astonishing X-Men # 1, Doctor Voodoo mini-series, Incredible Hulk(s) # 618 – 620, Fear Itself “event”, Avengers vs X-Men “event”’, many, many, many more…

All too often it seems to be the common practice that Doctor Strange is too random or powerful a piece who has to be taken off the board before the battle even truly begins, lest he wiggle his little finger and magic the problem away. This is usually done either by having him “off world” and out of contact, or incapacitated (all too easily – usually from a bonk to the head) early in the altercation.

• Strange casts ineffective or failed spells.
Examples:  Several New Avengers / Defenders etc. examples, but none worse than Fantastic Four # 600

There have been other instances, but this one was especially heinous as Strange causes the deaths of untold number of humans and Kree due to his screw-up. This was made even more offensive, as besides having Strange perform as a novice, making such a rookie mistake as he would never have done before, he was never shown afterwards showing any remorse or self-recrimination.
My blistering analysis of this event can be found [HERE].

• Strange portrayed as inept.
Examples: Far too often the past few years, ie: New Avengers (too many issues), Defenders v4 #4, Illuminati (issues of their mini as well as in appearances in other titles), Fantastic Four # 600... but most recently in Avengers vs X-Men # 3 (Magik KO’s Doc in Limbo –off-panel).

While I am willing to give benefit of the doubt that Illyana Rasputin (Magik) is supreme in the Limbo dimension, wherein she is the darkchilde, and maybe Strange was not up to the battle due to his recent “depowering”, I am unwilling to accept that Strange would be so totally bested simply because Illyana (as quoting Strange’s account of the battle) “switched places with (him) and that she took (him) out of his element.”
Since when is ANY other dimension not Strange’s element? Since when would a likeness-swap confuse Doctor Strange? That sad fact is that it made so little sense, that the entire encounter took place off-panel. It just couldn’t be done without stretching suspension-of-disbelief to the max. Especially as at any other time in Strange’s career, no matter how weakened or “depowered”, he would be more than able to defeat demigods within their own dominions. That’s kinda his thing! Dormammu, Tiboro, Tazza, Lectra, Umar, Nightmare, Shazanna, Nebulos, etc… Often he is outmatched by foes of superior strength and power, but he manages to overcome via strategic ploys. Brain over raw power winning the day. Those days seem to be gone.

• Strange using less-than-heroic methods.
Examples: New Avengers v2 #22 (Torturing via psychic water-boarding), Defenders v4 # 4 (Imprisoning a minor foe’s astral form – apparently dooming his body to death).

As I stated in my review of Defenders v4 # 4, I am fine with a “darkening” of Dr. Strange, as the mystic arts should be less “brightly colored lights and hand-waving”, but only if this direction is stated outright. Otherwise, a few examples of this here and there merely strike the reader as an aberration of character.
My review of Defenders v4 # 4 can be found [HERE]

I could go on like this for awhile, but I think you get the idea.

As I stated, with Strange thus laid low, Marvel believes that by removing the title and trappings of being the Sorcerer Supreme, Strange can now be portrayed as being less-than-adept, not that I believe they are truly correct in their assumptions.

One reason being that Marvel’s numerous errors made in this attempt further complicate matters and contradict from writer to writer – appearance to appearance. For while, in his “demotion”, along with the loss of his title and certain resources for mystic energies, Marvel seems confused as to what Strange can and can not do; whether or not he retains prime magical resources.  For instance: flight. Strange has lost his oft-worn Cloak of Levitation – another item bequeathed to Brother Voodoo when the latter was granted the status of Supreme Sorcerer (along with a name change to Doctor Voodoo), yet Voodoo never wore the garment. It was not on his person when he met his tragic/heroic “end”, which also seemingly destroyed the Eye of Agamotto as well as Agamotto himself. When last seen, the Cloak was just standing in the corner or Voodoo’s own Sanctum; so, why doesn’t Strange use it? 

Instead, he walked around in plain clothes until very recently when he now sports a new super-hero costume. Also curiously contradictory is that when in his plain clothes stage, he didn’t have the power of flight (a hover here and there was shown but no airborne antics were portrayed). Yet now, in his new costume, he seems to be able to fly just as well as he did when he required the use of the Cloak. To even further muddy up the flight question is that even when he did use the cloak, it was not well known that he did retain some mystic ability to levitate; the cloak merely negated his need to utilize personal energies to accomplish this. So now that he is flying around in his new costume, is it that he is willing to expend the energies to do so, or has he acquired a new source of magical levitation? My only guess could be the wrist gauntlets that he has been wearing, which as of yet have been given neither an origin nor a purpose.

But while we are at it, in examining Strange’s new status as low-end sorcerer, why not question why Strange doesn’t utilize the multitude of other mystical objects he has acquired over the decades? When his mansion was last destroyed (after the “Marvel Civil War” – a detailed write-up of that event can be found at this old post [HERE]; a part of a series detailing the many instances wherein the Sanctum has been destroyed and rebuilt), it was alluded that the government forces took possession of his inventory, and yet not too long thereafter it was shown that Strange had retaken possession of his Sanctum, seemingly with those artifacts still within, but there have been few mentions whatsoever thereafter of his articles of power. In some instances, he is now seen using generic items or spells, to much the same result as if he were using his old stand-bys. But by doing this, it’s just as if he is now shopping in the generic aisle of “Wizard Mart”, wherein his new “no-name” items are doing the same things as his old “brand name” articles – or merely producing never-before-seen items from the back of his magic closet.

Much like how he is seen both calling upon the same old principalities to empower his spells (as well as those with whom he should not be able since, like Agamotto, are supposedly no more), and still other times he is shown transposing older or spells long-hidden-from-the-eyes-of-man to mixed results. In some instances, he is shown pulling the proverbial dove from up his sleeve, while other times, he merely ends up with rotten egg on his face. (For more on the discussion of how Doctor Strange’s “powers” are in question, see the previous post in this series [HERE])

All this just seems to be Marvel’s ignoring the history and personality of the character, for even without the availability of the Eye of Agamotto – or even Agamotto himself, if Stephen Strange still possesses the knowledge of his vast multitude of spells, surely he could and would still rise to the level of Sorcerer Supreme and combat against many of the greater mystical evils that threaten our world. The title of “Sorcerer Supreme” has nothing to do with being the most “powerful” magic user, for on several occasions, Dr. Strange was in weakened states while still possessing the honorific. However, as the most worthy adept, he was able to perform the duties of the mantle.

In fact, Stephen Strange has fallen low before. Many times. The difference between then and now is that then, he was able to rise up again – reaffirming himself to his cause and making right whatever failing he may have encountered. Then, he was able to be a hero. Now, he is barely recognizable as being the same character, and in many instances is so in name only.

Luckily, not all writers portray Doctor Strange in such a bad light. Jeff Parker still stands as one of the few Marvel writers who can make Strange work wonders and not fall back on old tropes. Allowing Strange to operate within his new paradigm all while allowing him to experiment with new methods – or break out unseen “old tricks”. This, Parker manages without falling into the pitfall of portraying the mystic failing – or acting like a failure.

Formerly a man of majesty and mystery, Doctor Strange has been remade into something lesser. Much like the powerful “Winter Warlock” being reduced to the wimpering “Just call me… ’Winter’.” (from the classic Rankin-Bass Christmas claymation classic; “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”), with his loss of ability and mystique, Dr. Strange now hangs around with the street-level New Avengers as just “one of the guys”.

This current direction is a wrong turn down a dead end. Doctor Strange has been shown as a minor mystic before (even during his tenure as Sorcerer Supreme). He has on odd occasion undertaken the role of “occult detective” and “paranormal investigator”, investigating minor incidents like haunted houses and spirit-possession. But in nearly each instance it seemed out of place; if it weren’t done as a favor for a friend or as the necessary first step in a bigger overall adventure.
There’s simply no good to be had in making Doctor Strange into a "street-level" magician, unless Marvel wants to totally remake the character in the image of being a "John Constantine"-like member of the Hollywood-mystic "trenchcoat brigade".

However, in order to debate Marvel’s logic, we need to examine their thought processes (or at least as far as their published stories will allow) as to why and how they caused Strange’s fall.

Is his loss of the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme merely because he no longer feels “worthy” of it?

That is indeed what it seems to be the case, as since it was bestowed upon him – unofficially – by the Ancient One and then later – officially – by the Vishanti, it would need to be revoked BY them, or else abdicated by Strange himself.

But why would he feel so unworthy – especially when he has both failed in his appointed task as well as sunk to far lower depths on other previous occasions?

According to the Joe Quesada / Brian Bendis edict, it would seem, Strange feels that he “failed totally” in his dealing with the “House of M” – a failure which weighed heavily upon him, as he believes that the Scarlet Witch’s reality-altering hex is exactly the kind of scenario against which the Sorcerer Supreme is in place to protect.

Strange also feels unworthy because he was forced, during the “World War Hulk” incident, to steep himself in dark magicks by ingesting the essence of the demon, Zom, and using those foul energies which ultimately corrupted him.

Of course, Strange’s usage of Zom was to combat a more urgent destructive force which threatened the Earth. It was a case of dark magic used to serve the need of good intentions, but once used, spiraled out of Strange’s control so that he needed to re-center himself in the use of white magics.

If those are the reasons Marvel editors and writers give for why Doctor Strange believes himself unworthy then they all must have short memories… for Dr. Strange has done exactly those things before!

• Doctor Strange has “failed” before in his appointed task - on numerous occasions - to far, far worse end-results than a mere temporary altered-reality.

However, let’s begin with just that.

- Back in Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts series (issue 23-28 [but # 25 is all you “need”]), Strange, (while “not-in-his-right-mind”,) messed with the cosmic wheel of change, thus transforming our dimension to one of chaos. Not only did this cause the Earth to then be populated with people turned into animals (Doctor Strange’s alternate form being a wild boar [“Dr. Stranger-Yet”]), the very laws of physics to be cast horribly askew, and the totality of the universe to be so altered that the spirit of the Ancient One (who had long since become one with the universe), was cast out of the afterlife, depositing him back on Earth – in the flesh.
Strange screwed up as far as one could possibly, but in reaffirming himself to his cause, was still able to defeat his far more powerful foes (the Creators and the In-Betweener) to make things right.
(An account of this event can be found in this old post [HERE])

• Doctor Strange has even caused – or at least failed to prevent – the destruction of the world!

- During Strange’s tenure within the pages of Marvel Premier, Stephen was unable to prevent – and fairly hastened – the destruction of the world by the sorcerer, Siseneg (issues 12 – 14). While in fact Siseneg DID indeed succeed in bringing about the cosmos’ end, it was forestalled and made right in part by Dr. Strange’s wisdom and sage council – not by his far weaker magic.

• As for Dr. Strange being reduced in “power” but still persevering to not only relearn new forms of magic, but to also rise back to the heights of “Sorcerer Supreme”, we have several instances from which to choose. (In fact, the “many depowerings of Dr. Strange” is a subject that has long been on the “to-do” list of this blog, as there have been more than most other sites’ similar lists even recount.)
Three such instances were in the pages of the Doctor Strange; Sorcerer Supreme title:

- First (in issues 48 -50), where Strange had to emancipate himself from all of the mystic entities that grant him power, thus depriving him of ALL of the Extra-Dimensional Energies ( a description of which can be found in our previous post [HERE]), and causing his magic to be “weaker” than a novice. However, he still retained his mind and with it the means of outmaneuvering a reborn Dormammu (who was then at the zenith of his powers).

- Strange had to endure another power loss later (in issues 60 – 75) as he was beset upon by ancient evils and a former Sorceress Supreme, Salome – who forced him to abdicate his title and much of the power derived from the destruction of his Sanctum (yes, another of those aforementioned destructions of his home – a recounting of this incident can be found [HERE]). He countered this by the creation of a new earth-magic and used this to combat the far more powerful foe, thus saving the earth and reclaiming his title.

- He then had to do so again (in issue 80) after he had fought in the 5,000 year long “War of the Seven Spheres” (I discuss the War deep in the middle of this old post [HERE]). Upon his return, he was forced to create an even wider source of power, one calling upon the enhanced energies of the cosmos and utilized that new power until he was later able to mend his ties to the vast mystic principalities from whom he had previously emancipated himself.

But not all such instances were in that single title.

- Still another occasion even involved his being forced to utilize blacker magics in order to achieve the greater good. This was in the epic story arc (starting in DOCTOR STRANGE : MASTER OF THE MYSTIC ARTS # 75 (although if pressed, you could jump to issue # 79 and start there) continued to the end of that series with # 81, then continues in his next (shared) title; STRANGE TALES v2 from # 1 - 19. It then continued into Doc's new title; DOCTOR STRANGE : SORCERER SUPREME in issues # 1-2 (but technically doesn't fully wrap up until issue # 4) wherein Strange lost nearly all of his talismans of power, set free all of the ancient evils upon the world and had to resort to black magic, killing human hosts and even a case of ritual human sacrifice in order to defeat a succession of ever-escalating and far greater evils.

Even after THIS, he was able to slowly regain his purity and abilities (and later still his talismans) and all the while retaining his mantle of Sorcerer Supreme.

So you see how Strange’s current situation, with him at a loss of powers and principalities upon which to call and without benefit of either title or tools should still be more than a match for any potential problem to present itself and even if not rising back to reclaim his title, should still be able to perform the duties of same.

• However, let us not forget that Doctor Strange performed at well-above-average level LONG BEFORE he was ever granted the title of Sorcerer Supreme. There is NO reason for his current lame-duck status, just because he is bereft of Cloak and Eye.
Even at weaker “power levels”, and facing far more powerful foes, Doctor Strange had long been able to find means to defeat those mystics, monsters and manifestations who would threaten the safety of our world – often by out-thinking them.

- One such occasion, which also shines a light upon modern Marvel’s false assumption that it is impossible to place Strange in any real danger, was (in the pages of Strange Tales v1 # 156 – 163, much like the already-discussed Strange Tales v2 story arc which followed a similar pattern) in the case of Strange being beset by a series of ever-escalating (or at least rapidly-alternating) dangers.

Cycling through foemen of huge power levels like the time-tested menace of Dormammu, Strange then faced the new threat of Kaluu (the friend-turned-foe of Strange’s master, the Ancient One). After defeating Kaluu, the menace of Umar (previously never-before-seen sister of Dormammu) managed to accomplish what Dormammu hadn’t; arriving on and beginning the destruction of Earth! This caused Strange to summon the far more dangerous power of the demon, Zom to lure into battle Umar. After Umar’s departure, the imbalance of power put in place by the sheer magnitude of Zom’s evil caused the nigh-all-powerful Living Tribunal to threaten Earth should Strange not be able to right the cosmic balance. This caused Strange to come into battle with Mordo, whose recent return had also presented him with the acquisition of great stores black magic. Strange hoped to sway his old foe to battle alongside him, only for Mordo to cast the embattled Strange into another realm where he was confronted by the menace of Nebulos whose power staff presented him with godlike energies. Strange gained the staff from Nebulos and journeyed back to Mordo, and used it to protect himself from Mordo and then cast his old nemesis into another dimension, before returning to confront Nebulos. However, as soon as Nebulos retook his staff, the Living Tribunal arrived and a great battle of cosmic giants ensued. However, Nebulos’ staff enabled the evil being to fight the Living Tribunal to a stand-still. Strange was able to steal Nebulos’ staff, defeat the evil entity and then, with the bequeathing to him/it/them of the staff, garnered the good will of the Living Tribunal.
With thanks, the Tribunal sent Strange off in the next stage of his quest (searching for his female friend; Victoria Bentley, who was hidden away in a lost dimension).

This next leg of his journey caused Strange to confront a totally different manner of foe – a scientific one - thus changing up the manner of evils with whom Strange would do battle.

You see, that old Strange Tales v1 story arc, much like the one from the second Strange Tales volume, showed that all it requires is a grander stage upon which for Doctor Strange to perform. Trying to keep him sequestered within the small confines of the “super hero” world is like keeping a giant octopus in a goldfish bowl - it can be made to fit, but it won't thrive.

But one need not always go to ever-larger threats in order to place Dr. Strange in true peril. One of the closest times he came to utter defeat was at the hands of a trio of minor adepts.

Again, back in the classic Strange Tales v1 by Stan Lee ad Steve Ditko, (issues #142-143) Doc has to escape from these deadly foes, who have him helpless: blind & powerless, as his head and hands are encased in magically-enchanted irons! He needs to utilize the full extent of his strategic mind and what few bits of mysticism that remain his in order to escape and turn the tide of battle!

This story, and ones like it, prove that even in a smaller arena, with foes of lesser power and ability, Doctor Strange can be placed into jeopardy... IF the writer is good enough.
Otherwise, we have what is published today: a man who bemoans of his lost inabilities and shortcomings, while beset by street-level criminals.
To compound the problem, trying to portray a man, who has seen the things that Strange has, as an insecure and woe-besotted man only shows a deep misunderstanding of the character.

Strange, a man who has lived and mastered two entire lives of experience; his years as a great surgeon as well as his years as mystic pupil-turned-master, has proven himself to be beyond the level of angst and worry that he is presently portrayed as exhibiting.

However, this mishandling seems to be the only way that modern Marvel can get a grip on such a grand character. Instead of finding writers who can elevate their sights up to a higher plane, the powers-that-be find it easier to bring the character down to their level.

This also adds to the dilemma shown in recent years, wherein anyone - with little or no training, as long as it serves the easy needs of a writer's story - can perform the magic that it took Doctor Strange years to study, practice and master, with naught more than a magical item, or some simple instruction and an “I love you” gesture.  We’ve seen the likes of Reed (“I don’t understand magic”) Richards (Fantastic Four # 500) and “natural-ability-possessing” Casey Kinmont (“Strange” v2 mini series) be among those who have done just that. This only makes Doctor Strange seem like even more of an inept mage today.

Before the modern-era of Joe Quesada / Brian Bendis with the recent additions of Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman, Doctor Strange hasn't ever been this inept. At least not as blatantly.

Certainly, there have been classic adventures, written by the likes of Stan Lee/ Steve Ditko, Steve Englehart, Roger Stern and Peter Gillis (among others) where Doctor Strange has made grievous errors - resulting in terrible consequences. However, in each of those previous tenures, his chroniclers allowed him the ability to rectify those errors, and in doing so, rise and advance his spirit and ability to the next level.

This current crop modern Marvel scribes neglect to truly connect with Stephen Strange; by-passed his history, ignored the true essence of his character - and even worse, lost all sense of his heroism.

A lot of these new problems are derived from Marvel’s inability to parse a mystical hero, instead continuing to try and force Doctor Strange’s multi-dimensional peg into the square hole of “super hero”.

But much like the “super-hero” stories upon which the Marvel Universe was founded, in many tales from early in his span as a mystic, Doctor Strange would battle against entities and demons far stronger and more powerful than he; able to prevail because he usually was able to out-think his opponents - using brains instead of raw power.

Such is the very nature of someone like Stephen Strange; when faced with an uncertainty or a danger, it is faced head-on and overcome!

No novice he.


With the advent of a feature film on the horizon as well as a new, “Season One” oversized, origin re-visitation hardcover written by Grek Pak and illustrated by Emma Rios, I hope and pray that these projects won’t make any of the same missteps presented in my series.

I want to thank you for enduring my 5-part treatise on what is going wrong with the depiction of Doctor Stephen Strange. 

But before you think the subject TOTALLY closed...

--- UPDATE---

Come back NEXT installment for a SPECIAL EDITION 6th ENTRY!
 I can hear you now... 
"Entry number SIX in a series of the "Five Fingers of Death" for Doctor Strange?... what could THAT be about...?"

All will be made known...

...and NOW it will... 

# 6 - The 6-Fingered Hand [HERE]