Friday

OMU: Doctor Strange -- Year Three

Following the departure of creative force Steve Ditko, the fortunes of Doctor Strange went into a slow decline, and his series was cancelled less than three and a half years later. The artists who followed Ditko, including Bill Everett, Marie Severin, and Dan Adkins, could not match the inventive quirkiness of the series’ early years. The comic developed a new visual appeal after being taken over by the art team of Gene Colan & Tom Palmer, but it was not enough to save the book. Part of the problem was certainly the constant tinkering with the premise by writer Roy Thomas, who finally derailed the book by trying to make Doctor Strange into a more standard superhero type. Suddenly, the occult expert with an international reputation began obsessing over having a “secret identity.” He was then transformed into a muscleman in a skin-tight blue costume and mask, and through the most contrived plot imaginable, was granted a retroactive secret identity as Dr. Stephen Sanders. The reason given was that he inadvertently blurted his name out to a crowd while dressed in his new costume—as though a bunch of New Yorkers wouldn’t assume “Doctor Strange” was just a “superhero name” like Doctor Spectrum or Doctor Fate. Curiously, his new costume made him bear a striking resemblance to the Golden Age Vision, though with a different color scheme. One wonders if it was an attempt by Roy Thomas to pretend to be working on one of his favorite characters of that bygone age. In any case, I believe these issues do not represent an accurate portrayal of what “actually” occurred in the Original Marvel Universe—especially since these elaborate changes were all brushed aside when Doctor Strange ultimately returned. Instead, I would say that Roy Thomas took certain liberties with what happened in order to boost the comic’s flagging sales. The true picture of the next twelve months in the character’s life emerges below.

Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.


We now continue… The True History of Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts!


January 1964 – Doctor Strange returns from an extended vacation to spend several quiet weeks of study and meditation in his Sanctum Sanctorum in New York’s Greenwich Village, attended by his faithful manservant Wong. He feels rested and refreshed, and ready to spend another year protecting the earth from all manner of mystic menaces.

February 1964 – One day, while alone in his meditation chamber, Doctor Strange suddenly senses a powerful aura of evil. Almost immediately, the Orb of Agamotto rises from its container and emits a shimmering luminescence that captures his gaze. Suddenly, Strange’s mind receives a mystic cry for help from Clea, and the moment his thoughts turn to rescue, he finds himself bodily transported into the Dark Dimension. After encountering numerous perils, Strange finds himself face-to-face with the new ruler of this domain, the unspeakable Umar, sister of Dormammu. Feigning benevolence, Umar explains that Clea has been captured by the rampaging Mindless Ones, and only Doctor Strange can rescue her. However, although the coldly beautiful sorceress at first tries to charm Strange, he is not fooled and evades her attempts to trap him. He then leaves her castle and battles the numberless hordes of the Mindless Ones, only to discover Clea is not among them. Certain that Umar is hatching some nefarious plot, Doctor Strange releases the Eye of Agamotto from his amulet in order to spy on her. In doing so, he soon learns of her plans for interdimensional conquest, as well as where she seems to have imprisoned Clea. Undaunted, Doctor Strange enters the hellish Dungeon of the Doomed to search for her, but finds instead the mysterious being called Veritas, the embodiment of truth incarnate. For its own inscrutable reasons, Veritas leads Strange back to the castle and helps the mystic mage overcome its defenses to confront Umar in her inner sanctum. When Strange tries to use Umar’s own mystic screen to locate Clea, the evil sorceress hurls a spell of death at the helpless girl. Doctor Strange races to overtake the spell and prevents it from striking Clea, causing it instead to be hurled back upon Umar, who is nevertheless merely stunned and weakened.

Strange presses his advantage, and, with the aid of his mentor, the Ancient One, he escapes Umar’s wrath and brings Clea to Earth for the first time, materializing in the Ancient One’s remote retreat in the Himalayas. However, the strain of her ordeal has proved too much for Clea and she has lapsed into unconsciousness. The Ancient One realizes that the only way to truly protect Clea from Umar’s revenge is to subject her to the dreaded Spell of Vanishment. To Doctor Strange’s sorrow, the spell is cast and Clea fades from sight. Distraught over the girl’s fate, the master of the mystic arts vows vengeance on Umar, but the Ancient One forcibly restrains him, revealing that Umar has followed him to Earth, where she has already begun to wreak havoc. In a desperate gamble, the Ancient One sends Doctor Strange into a timeless void to free the one being with the power to defeat Umar, the monstrous Zom, who has been imprisoned for many ages within a mystic amphora by the power of the being known as Eternity. Meanwhile, the Ancient One keeps Umar occupied and leads her to Stonehenge, where Doctor Strange soon arrives as well, with Zom in hot pursuit. Upon seeing Umar, whom he recognizes as Dormammu’s sister, Zom forgets about Doctor Strange and attacks her, seeking revenge for Dormammu’s role in his imprisonment. Realizing she is no match for Zom, Umar flees to the safety of the Dark Dimension.

Doctor Strange and the Ancient One find that, while their gambit was successful, they now must deal with Zom, who suddenly vows to destroy all life on Earth. As Zom attacks them, Doctor Strange can only watch in horror as the Ancient One sacrifices himself, allowing his body to be merged with one of the mystic stones. As he fades away, the aged sorcerer passes his magical powers on to Doctor Strange, greatly amplifying his mystic might. However, before he disappears completely, the Ancient One manages to draw his pupil’s attention to the whip-like lock of hair atop Zom’s head. Deducing that it is somehow the source of Zom’s power, Strange severs it, although in the process the Cloak of Levitation is nearly incinerated. Zom howls in anguish and rage as black energies coruscate around his body. Alarmed, Doctor Strange uses the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto and discovers a great awakening of evil suddenly spreading across the globe, unleashed by the severing of Zom’s forelock. The despairing Zom announces the inevitable coming of the Living Tribunal, and is suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness. The monster turns away from Doctor Strange, who tries and fails to revive his lost mentor.

Suddenly, Doctor Strange receives a telepathic call for help meant for the Ancient One, coming from the team of mutant adventurers known as the X-Men. Despite being in the middle of a crisis of his own, Strange senses their need is genuine and feels he cannot turn his back on them. Thus, his astral form slips away from Stonehenge and flashes across the ocean to the X-Men’s headquarters in Westchester County, New York. There, the intangible sorcerer learns that they are in the midst of a battle with an unstoppable villain called the Juggernaut, whose power is derived from the magical Cyttorak Ruby. Doctor Strange quickly outlines a plan to the young heroes, and, after teaching a certain spell to Cyclops and Marvel Girl, he teleports the two teammates to what remains of the ancient Temple of Cyttorak in Korea. Unable to remain any longer, Strange returns to his physical body in time to witness the sudden materialization of the bizarre three-faced being called the Living Tribunal.

After casually causing Zom to be consumed in mystic flames, the Living Tribunal announces that, because of Doctor Strange’s actions, the earth must be totally destroyed before the evil that has been unleashed can threaten the Worlds Beyond Worlds. The golden giant reveals to Doctor Strange that he has upset a delicate cosmic balance between good and evil, and the results could be catastrophic to all sentient life. At that very moment, as the Living Tribunal demonstrates through psychic visions, all across the globe, minor mages and mystics are gaining dangerous new powers and feeling the evil in their hearts subsuming all goodness. Despite the seeming hopelessness of the situation, Doctor Strange remains undaunted and tries to convince the Living Tribunal to give him a chance to correct this problem which he has unwittingly caused. Only when he demonstrates his magical prowess by restoring the charred remains of the Cloak of Levitation does the Living Tribunal grant a reprieve, causing a giant hourglass to materialize in the midst of Stonehenge, to mark the time allotted to Doctor Strange before the destruction of the planet.

Thus, Doctor Strange returns to New York City as fast as he is able, though he loses valuable time making the transatlantic journey. Once he reaches Greenwich Village, however, he is stunned to discover that his Sanctum Sanctorum has vanished, leaving only a deep hole in the ground surrounded by police barricades. He soon finds a terrified Wong hiding in a nearby alley, and the manservant reveals how Umar caused the entire building to disappear during her rampage through New York. With tremendous effort, the master magician is able to counter the spell, and the Sanctum finally rematerializes. Doctor Strange flies at once to his meditation chamber to consult the all-seeing Orb of Agamotto. The crystal globe reveals the chaos spreading around the world as black magic runs rampant. Gathering together his most sacred scrolls, Doctor Strange spends the entire night studying them, desperately searching for a solution. Finally, in the pre-dawn blackness, he casts a powerful spell that produces a radiant sphere of pulsating light, which he then follows around the world to a remote mountain range in Transylvania. There, in a hidden cavern, Doctor Strange discovers a huge assembly of corrupted mystics, all engaged in an obscene ritual. Too late to stop it, Strange can only watch in horror as a form materializes within a nimbus of energy—the form of Baron Mordo, now freed from his imprisonment in a nameless limbo.

Revealing himself, Doctor Strange tries to convince Mordo of the imminent threat to all life on earth, but his age-old nemesis merely orders his multitude of minions to kill him. Strange weathers their uncoordinated attacks until he is able to free their minds from the dominance of Mordo’s chief disciple, thus leaving them all confused and disoriented. Then he turns his attention back to Mordo, forcing the villain to listen as he explains the earth’s dire predicament. In a near panic, Mordo tries to escape the doomed planet by retreating to another dimension, but Strange prevents it, for only by working together can they save the earth. Immediately, Doctor Strange begins performing a spell of exorcism on Mordo’s followers, drawing out of them the raw essence of the evil power, which manifests itself as an incandescent flame. Since the malevolent force must be contained within a living form, Strange transfers it into Mordo’s body, and Mordo, feeling a surge of strength as the flame enters him, finally agrees to cooperate. They siphon off the fiendish energies from the multitude and channel all of it into Mordo, thereby increasing his own evil power a thousandfold. Reveling in his newfound might, Mordo strikes down Doctor Strange, then banishes him to the extradimensional World of a Million Perils.

For a time, Doctor Strange drifts in the mind-boggling chaos of the alien dimension, bereft of memory and sense of purpose. Gradually he tumbles downward, plagued by menacing monsters, until finally plunging into a vast ocean. Eventually, he finds himself washed up on a lonely shore, his mind slowly clearing. He then climbs up a rocky crag and surveys the uncanny landscape stretching out before him. He realizes he must find a way back to Earth quickly, before the sands of the Living Tribunal’s hourglass run out. Sensing a controlling intelligence behind the many dangers on this nightmare world, Doctor Strange decides his best course of action is to set off in search of it. Shortly, though, he is startled to hear a female voice screaming in the distance. Swooping to the rescue, the mystic mage is shocked to discover the hapless woman is none other than Victoria Bentley, whom he met a year and a half ago during another of Mordo’s schemes. However, after destroying the monster that threatens her, Doctor Strange learns that it was not Mordo who drew Victoria to this world, but a giant, semi-humanoid being calling himself Nebulos, Lord of the Planets Perilous. The bizarre Nebulos hands Doctor Strange his Staff of Polar Power, and as soon as he has grasped it, Strange finds himself transported back to Transylvania, just outside Castle Mordo. Finding Baron Mordo inside, Doctor Strange launches a furious attack, and, during the raging battle that ensues, realizes that the Staff of Polar Power is absorbing all the magic energy that Mordo hurls at his opponent. Frustrated, Baron Mordo unleashes the full fury of his newfound power, but it only leaves him vulnerable. Seizing his chance, Doctor Strange banishes Mordo to an endless void between dimensions.

Not wasting a moment, Doctor Strange uses the power within the staff to teleport himself back to Stonehenge. Unfortunately, the mystic hourglass is still there, with the last few grains of sand running out. Worried, Doctor Strange attempts to use the staff’s power to banish the hourglass from Earth, but is merely struck down by a shockwave that carries him back to Nebulos. When Doctor Strange demands to know the whereabouts of Victoria Bentley, Nebulos states that he has hidden her away to use as a hostage, to ensure that Strange surrenders the super-charged Staff of Polar Power to him. Suddenly, the Living Tribunal appears before them, announcing that Doctor Strange was indeed successful in saving the earth, though the evil power still exists, locked within the Staff of Polar Power, and must be eradicated. The Living Tribunal immediately attacks Nebulos, trying to wrest the staff from him, and Doctor Strange fears that if Nebulos is destroyed, he may never find Victoria. As the two titans battle, the World of a Million Perils itself begins to be torn apart. Thus, in a last act of desperation, Nebulos prepares to unleash all the evil power within the staff upon the cosmos. Realizing he has no choice, Doctor Strange swoops down and seizes the staff from Nebulos just as an avalanche of rock buries him. Alighting nearby, Strange surrenders the staff to the Living Tribunal, who is impressed by the mortal’s courage and determination. As a reward, the cosmic judge transports Doctor Strange to the alien world where Victoria Bentley is trapped.

Materializing on a bizarre jungle planet inhabited by giant creatures, Doctor Strange tracks Victoria to a high-tech fortress buried deep inside a series of caverns, where he learns she is being held prisoner by a man calling himself Yandroth, Scientist Supreme. A holographic projection of Yandroth informs Doctor Strange of his lascivious intentions toward Victoria and his plans for interplanetary conquest, challenging the magician to pit his sorcery against Yandroth’s mastery of science. Doctor Strange takes up the challenge and enters Yandroth’s vast laboratory complex. Despite Yandroth’s sophisticated technology, Strange is able to trick him and gain the upper hand, although he is distracted when Yandroth unleashes his giant robot, Voltorr. Doctor Strange easily confuses the robot’s sensors and it starts destroying Yandroth’s complex, so the villainous scientist decides to cut and run, managing to stay a few steps ahead of Doctor Strange as he grabs Victoria and heads for his teleportation chamber. Strange is once again held up by the rampaging robot, which he finally reduces to a heap of tangled wreckage. However, he arrives too late to prevent Yandroth’s escape. Adjusting the controls on the alien machine, Strange attempts to divert them to Earth and then follows after them, using Yandroth’s device himself.

Doctor Strange appears back on Earth, finding himself once more at Stonehenge. To his utter astonishment, he sees the figure of the Ancient One coalescing from the air and stones until his human form is restored. The Ancient One reveals that he allowed Zom to merge his physical being with the stones so that he could transfer his occult powers to Doctor Strange, giving him the extra strength he needed. When the cosmic balance was restored, the spell binding the Ancient One was shattered and he was able to reconstitute his corporeal form. Strange then fills his mentor in about Yandroth and Victoria Bentley, who they fear may have been stranded in some netherworld, never having reached their destination. In order to investigate the matter, Doctor Strange bids his Cloak of Levitation to carry them across the continent to the Himalayas, where they descend upon the Ancient One’s retreat. At once, they consult the sacred tomes stored in the Ancient One’s vaults, though the aged master grows faint with weariness. Together they recite an incantation that causes the image of Victoria to appear in the fire flaring up over a mystic brazier. Thus, they discover she is indeed floating in limbo, being drawn into the fearful Dream Dimension, which Yandroth has somehow conquered.

Unable to save Victoria from a distance, Doctor Strange physically enters the Dream Dimension. There he is plagued by prehistoric monsters and a party of marauding Vikings, as well as Yandroth and his deadly ray gun. Victoria and Yandroth eventually become separated, and Doctor Strange uses the Cloak of Levitation to capture the power-mad scientist, though he struggles fiercely. Meanwhile, the Vikings, who are on horseback, attempt to run down Victoria and capture her. Doctor Strange realizes he cannot subdue Yandroth and save Victoria, and must therefore make a fateful choice. As Yandroth unholsters his gun, Doctor Strange releases him from the cloak, sending him tumbling down into an infinite abyss. Strange acts quickly to banish the phantom Vikings, and then, with the assistance of the Ancient One, he returns both himself and Victoria to Earth, appearing together in the temple of the Ancient One. Strange realizes that Victoria’s mind, unable to cope with all she has seen, has suppressed the memory of it from her consciousness. Attended to by the faithful Hamir, all three of them take a much-needed rest.

March 1964 – Doctor Strange and Victoria Bentley remain at the Ancient One’s retreat for over a week, recuperating from their ordeal. During this time, Strange learns that Victoria had been one of the multitude of corrupted mystics that freed Mordo from his prison, for she had taken up the study of the occult on her own after their first meeting, when Strange had refused to take her on as his disciple. Thus, she had been infected by the black magic that swept the globe, and fell in with Mordo’s minions, although she had struggled against their mental domination. Following Mordo’s banishment, she had returned to England, whereupon she found herself whisked away by Nebulous. Feeling somewhat guilty, Doctor Strange tries to help her deal with the psychic scars left by her traumatic experiences. Finally, the Ancient One casts a spell that returns her to her home in England. Strange remains at the retreat, ruminating on the events that led him from being an arrogant surgeon to a master of the mystic arts. However, his reveries are interrupted by a desperate cry for help from his aged mentor. He races to the Ancient One’s bedchamber only to find him in a death-like sleep. Hamir arrives as well, and the two men try to divine what has befallen their master. Doctor Strange suspects the hand of his ancient enemy Nightmare, no doubt freed now that Yandroth has been defeated. Unable to waken the Ancient One, Doctor Strange attempts to have his astral form slip into his teacher’s mind, but at the crucial moment of vulnerability, he is attacked, transported back to the Dream Dimension, and imprisoned. Finally, Nightmare reveals himself, embittered that it was the hated Doctor Strange who defeated the usurper, and a battle of spells ensues. Once again, Doctor Strange overcomes Nightmare, who retreats, enabling Strange to break free. The Ancient One wakes from his slumber and reveals that he allowed himself to fall prey to Nightmare, knowing that Doctor Strange would triumph over their foe, and in the process overcome the doubts that had plagued him since the battle with Zom.

For a month, Doctor Strange is kept busy scouring the world to ensure that all the effects of the great awakening of evil have been put right, and deals with the many minor mystics whose ambition got the better of them. All the while, his thoughts dwell on Clea and her sad fate.

April 1964 – Doctor Strange returns home after a visit to the Ancient One’s retreat, determined to do whatever is necessary to seek out Clea and rescue her from the spell of everlasting vanishment. In his meditation chamber, Strange recites an incantation and thereby calls forth the spectral herald of the demon Satannish. The herald conjures up an image of the banished Clea, proving that she still lives, but refuses to divulge her location, saying he fears the wrath of “He Who Waits.” Ready to search to the ends of the cosmos if need be, Doctor Strange remembers the Ancient One’s admonishment that Clea could only be rescued if he acts in consort with another female, one with whom he shares a mystic rapport. Convinced that Victoria Bentley is the only suitable candidate, Strange uses the Orb of Agamotto to contact her at her family estate in England. He senses her willingness to speak with him, and, driven by a growing sense of urgency, casts a powerful spell to teleport her to his Sanctum Sanctorum. After he explains the circumstances, Victoria solemnly agrees to help, and so Doctor Strange immediately opens a mystic portal into a psychedelic universe called the Realm Unknown.

As they begin to traverse the incomprehensible landscape, the portal to Earth closes behind them. Suddenly, a glowing sphere appears and pulls the terrified Victoria inside it. Finding his spells useless against the mysterious sphere, Doctor Strange allows himself to be drawn inside as well. Within the sphere, the mage finds a vast universe, where he is drawn into mystic combat with a terrifying phantasm—an armored, skeletal warrior with flaming hands. As they battle, Strange feels himself growing weaker and weaker, until at last a menacing voice announces that the phantasm has served its purpose. The creature is consumed by its own aura, leaving nothing but ashes, and Doctor Strange realizes that both the glowing sphere and the sinister warrior somehow drained off much of his mystic might. Then, suddenly, the monstrous form of Dormammu appears, seemingly grown to gigantic proportions. Behind his demonic adversary, Strange sees both Victoria and Clea sealed inside transparent spheres of arcane energy. However, as Dormammu seizes Doctor Strange in his enormous hand, the mortal magician learns that it is he who has changed size, diminished by the draining of his magical energies. Although Strange manages to slip out of Dormammu’s grasp, he quickly finds himself encased within a chunk of crimson crystal. Dormammu then relates to his captive the story of how he escaped the cataclysm that followed his attack on Eternity, finding himself marooned in the Realm Unknown, which he soon conquered. Then, by a cruel twist of fate, Clea materialized in the selfsame realm under the spell of vanishment, thus inspiring Dormammu’s schemes for revenge. Now, the flame-headed fiend leaves his three helpless prisoners in the care of a grisly guardian and goes to invade Earth’s dimension with a horde of demonic Dykkors.

Once Dormammu has left the scene, Doctor Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to smash out of his crystal prison, and then turns it on the mace-wielding guardian. Deducing that the creature is animated by his own stolen power, Doctor Strange uses the Eye to draw the mystical energies back into himself, causing the guardian to crumble to dust. With his strength thus restored, Strange then frees Clea and Victoria from captivity. His joy at being reunited with Clea is short-lived, though, as Doctor Strange knows he must yet find a way to defeat Dormammu. But first, he casts a spell which transports the two women to the relative safety of Earth. Then, the master of the mystic arts hurries to the awesome Doorway to the Dimensions to confront Dormammu and his inhuman hordes. When Dormammu arrives, now accompanied by his sister Umar, Strange challenges him to single combat. Dormammu is at first disposed to let the Dykkors merely rend his human opponent limb from limb, but Umar goads him into the duel. Thus, Dormammu summons a mighty Maelstrom of Madness, which sweeps Doctor Strange into its swirling vortex. The sorcerer manages to cast a counter-spell which disperses the maelstrom, only to find himself beset by magic chains composed of living energy, which wrap around his body in order to crush him to death. In a desperate bid, he sends a telepathic message to the minds of Clea and Victoria on Earth, telling them to use the Orb of Agamotto to focus in on Umar, and thereby to plant a suggestion in her brain that if she frees Doctor Strange, he may thwart Dormammu’s plan to escape the Realm Unknown, thus leaving her as ruler of the Dark Dimension. The gambit is successful, and Umar shatters the mystic chains. Doctor Strange then races to the Doorway to the Dimensions, which Dormammu has already succeeded in prying open slightly. Seizing his chance, Strange hurls himself at his foe, knocking them both through the gateway. The two opponents appear high in the earth’s atmosphere, almost directly above the Sanctum Sanctorum, and the interdimensional gateway slams shut behind them, preventing any of the Dykkors from crossing the boundary. A furious battle ensues in the clouds, appearing to the people below to be a sudden electrical storm. Dormammu is shocked to find himself sorely weakened—in fact, he is no match for Doctor Strange, which, as the mortal magician reveals, is due to the oath Dormammu had sworn never to enter Earth’s dimension. Frustrated, Dormammu retreats to the Dark Dimension, vowing to reclaim his kingdom and wreak vengeance upon Doctor Strange.

Exhausted, Doctor Strange descends to his Sanctum Sanctorum, but is startled to find a stranger in his home, for which he is completely unprepared. It takes only a moment, however, to recognize the man as his former medical colleague, Dr. Charles Benton, whom he has not seen in fifteen years. Dr. Benton tries to convince Strange to give up his senseless devotion to the occult and to become a consultant to his medical practice, thereby being of service to humanity once again. His patience sorely tried, Strange excuses himself rather brusquely, and Benton storms out. The weary sorcerer is in no mood to appreciate the irony of Benton’s comments. He finds Clea and Victoria and assures them the danger is passed, though it is clear Clea cannot return to the Dark Dimension, and must remain in exile on Earth.

While Victoria lingers in the background, Strange determines that he must arrange for Clea to have a place to stay, and appropriate attire for her sojourn on Earth. He books a suite in a nearby luxury hotel until he can make more permanent arrangements. Later, as the couple walks through the moonlit streets of Greenwich Village, Clea finds it difficult to adjust to this strange new world, so different from the Dark Dimension. After a brief altercation with some yokels, Strange gets Clea settled into her well-appointed room. However, he receives a message from Wong, delivered by the hotel staff, that he has received a most urgent telegram. As he is leaving, Clea stops him and kisses him tenderly, claiming to have somehow learned of this earthly custom. Doctor Strange is disturbed by his reaction to this show of affection, and leaves without another word.

He returns to the Sanctum Sanctorum, where Victoria is waiting. The telegram turns out to be from a European mystic named Lord Nekron, who insists Strange meet him at his castle in England, and to wear his sorcerer’s garb. Intrigued, Doctor Strange arranges to accompany Victoria back to Great Britain. They make the transatlantic flight by conventional aircraft, leaving that very night. During the flight, Strange broods about his feelings for Clea, and hers for him. Once in England, Victoria insists on accompanying Doctor Strange to Lord Nekron’s estate, and he is too distracted to argue. They drive there in one of Victoria’s cars. When they finally arrive, Lord Nekron, himself in a sorcerer’s garb, invites them in to a banquet he has prepared. Doctor Strange’s suspicions are borne out when Victoria grows faint after drinking a glass of wine, of which Strange refused to partake. Brazenly, Lord Nekron reveals that he had made a pact with the demon Satannish precisely one year earlier, under the terms of which Nekron will receive eternal life and everlasting fame if he can find a mortal mystic willing to take his place as Satannish’s slave. Nekron then transports Doctor Strange to a pocket dimension of his own making, intent on tormenting Strange until he agrees to surrender himself to Satannish. However, Doctor Strange casts a subtle spell that speeds up the passage of time within Nekron’s domain so that his allotted hour passes too quickly. Satannish appears and claims the hapless Nekron as his own. Before disappearing back to his own realm, though, Satannish warns Doctor Strange that he has other followers on Earth, and tells the sorcerer to beware. Then, the demon dissolves the pocket dimension, and Strange finds himself back in the castle with Victoria. The pair returns to Victoria’s apartment in London, where they say their goodbyes. Then, Doctor Strange journeys home within a mystic sphere.

May 1964 – Doctor Strange procures an apartment in Greenwich Village for Clea to live in, and sees to other mundane matters necessary for her to take up residence in New York. He passes her off as a daughter of foreign royalty, and arranges to support her financially by his own means. But although Wong has purchased an entire wardrobe for her, Clea prefers to wear the outfit she had on when she arrived, as a reminder of home. In the weeks that follow, Strange helps Clea make the difficult adjustment to life in a dimension so alien in nature to what she has always known. In fact, he is so focused on Clea that he neglects to follow up on Satannish’s warning, or indeed, any other matters as well.

June–August 1964 – Doctor Strange and Clea spend the summer traveling the world, as he shows her the sights of her new home. Clea comes to feel more comfortable in this dimension, and finds her love for Stephen Strange deepening. For his part, Strange also grows increasingly fond of Clea, but has difficulty giving free rein to his emotions. Still, as they get to know each other better, he becomes more affectionate towards her, and his earlier infatuation slowly evolves into something more genuine. They spend some time in the Ancient One’s retreat as well, and she gets to meet the aged wizard properly. After speaking with Clea at length, the Ancient One gives them his blessing. Finally, the couple returns to New York to focus on exploring what the great city has to offer. However, Clea begins to notice that the longer she is away from her home dimension, the weaker her own mystic powers become.

September 1964 – Doctor Strange takes Clea to the impromptu wedding of Janet Van Dyne, the Avenger known as the Wasp, to a mysterious adventurer known only as Yellowjacket. Before the ceremony, which is being held at Avengers Mansion, Doctor Strange mingles with the other guests, many of whom he met last year at the Richards wedding. Present are Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, the Black Panther, the Vision, the Black Knight, Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Thing, the Human Torch, Crystal, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, the Angel, the Beast, and Iceman, as well as Nick Fury, public director of S.H.I.E.L.D. The reception immediately follows the brief exchange of vows. However, when a giant python erupts from the wedding cake and attacks the Wasp, the Avengers ask the guests to step outside while they investigate. Within half an hour, the police arrive to escort the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime off to prison. Though the mansion has been trashed, the party resumes, and the guests are startled to learn that Yellowjacket is none other than the Wasp’s old beau, Henry Pym. Clea is fascinated by such human rituals, and Strange finds he enjoys explaining them to her.

A week later, Doctor Strange takes Clea on a stroll through Central Park to enjoy a glorious autumn afternoon. As the novelty of Earth’s dimension has worn off, Clea finds she is having trouble adjusting to her new life, and when she impulsively levitates herself into the air, Strange must use his own magicks to bring her down to earth and cloud the memories of the startled onlookers. He then hails a cab to take Clea home, as the attempt to use her waning mystic powers has exhausted her. During the drive through town, Doctor Strange senses a dangerous spell being woven around the vehicle, and slips out in his astral form to investigate. Suddenly, the wraithlike sorcerer is beset by strange rings of negativistic, nihilistic force, though a simple spell disperses them. As he drops Clea off at her apartment, he reassures her about her fading powers, but then hurries back to his Sanctum Sanctorum to consult the Book of the Vishanti in hopes of discovering who was behind the attack.

After many hours of study, Doctor Strange concludes that the warning he received from Satannish months ago has been confirmed at last—the demon’s servants seek to destroy him. Suddenly realizing he has left Clea vulnerable by neglecting to erase the cab driver’s memory, Strange flies to her apartment building using the Cloak of Levitation. Unfortunately, he arrives too late; the hapless cabbie sits ensorceled and Clea is nowhere to be found. With the help of a magic spell, Doctor Strange learns from the cab driver that Clea was abducted by three men calling themselves the Sons of Satannish, and he soon catches up to them in a rain-slicked alley. Unfortunately, Clea is no longer among them, and the evil trio manages to trap Strange in a cube composed of ribbons of nihility. By the time he breaks free, his attackers have fled. Doctor Strange escapes a second trap as he returns to his Sanctum Sanctorum to once again consult the Book of the Vishanti. Then, after several more hours, Strange is surprised when Clea casually enters the room, claiming to have escaped her captors. Before she can explain further, Strange is distracted by a phone call from the persistent Dr. Charles Benton, still offering his former colleague a consulting job. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Strange sees Clea is about to attack him with a sword. With a mystic pass, he freezes her in her tracks, and then calls upon the Eye of Agamotto to discern his entranced lover’s orders. Sure enough, the mystic light reveals that a cult called the Sons of Satannish had sent her to kill him and take the Book of the Vishanti back to their hidden lair. Strange decides to let her leave with the book so that he may follow her to his enemies. However, as a precaution, the mage first invests most of his mystic might into the Cloak of Levitation and packs it into a non-descript parcel, then creates an illusory one around his shoulders. He then casts a similar spell upon his enchanted amulet, so that neither artifact will fall into the hands of the evil cult should their combined might overpower him. Additionally, he weaves a third spell around the Book of the Vishanti that will transport it to the safety of the Ancient One’s retreat after a suitable length of time.

Thus prepared, Doctor Strange follows Clea as she takes the book across town to a lonely cemetery, where she magically passes through the closed doors of a mausoleum. Before he can pursue her, Strange is distracted by a large tombstone bearing his name, clearly prepared for his imminent death. Undaunted, he allows his astral form to slip inside the mausoleum, where he finds only a staircase leading down to a series of catacombs. A simple spell compels his physical form to lumber slowly after him as he explores the subterranean passageways. Finally, Doctor Strange confronts the assembled Sons of Satannish, as well as their masked leader, who calls himself Asmodeus. The wraithlike sorcerer overcomes their first attack and quickly rejoins his physical form in order to be at his peak strength. Nevertheless, he proves no match for the cult’s diabolical Crystals of Conquest, and he and Clea soon find themselves at the villains’ mercy. As Strange predicted, Asmodeus confiscates the illusory cloak and amulet before exiling his two prisoners to a perilous alien dimension. Though seemingly helpless as they are beset by mind-boggling menaces, Doctor Strange reveals to Clea that he still possesses the true Amulet of Agamotto, and then uses its mystic eye to draw to him the real Cloak of Levitation. With his full mystic powers thus returned to him, Strange easily tames the dangers of this nightmarish realm. However, he discovers that his return to Earth has been blocked, for Asmodeus has mystically stolen his very face and form, doubtless to try to trick the Ancient One into surrendering the book to him. In order to circumvent this obstacle, Doctor Strange weaves a spell which transforms his body into a near-featureless blue humanoid, an imposing, muscular figure recognizable only by his crimson cloak and golden amulet. Wearing this new aspect, he and Clea are able to rematerialize in the cemetery, and then, as she returns to her apartment, Doctor Strange flies with all haste to his mentor’s retreat in far-off Tibet.

Upon arriving, the altered Doctor Strange sees that what he suspected has indeed come to pass. Asmodeus, wearing Doctor Strange’s normal aspect, has already gained possession of the book from the unsuspecting Ancient One and is searching out a particular incantation. A fearsome battle ensues, one which comes to a sudden, unexpected end when Asmodeus suffers a massive heart attack, his mortal body unable to cope with the strain of channeling so much mystical energy. He collapses to the floor and reverts to his true form, but before he dies he manages to utter the spell he risked so much to find—the dreaded Spell of Fire and Ice. Grimly, Doctor Strange unmasks his adversary, and is astonished to find he is none other than Dr. Charles Benton. The sorcerers have little time to ponder this turn of events, though, for the Ancient One reveals that the purpose of the Spell of Fire and Ice is to release upon the earth two Asgardian monsters: Ymir the Frost Giant and the fire demon Surtur, imprisoned ages ago by the omnipotent Odin. With but a single hour to prevent this catastrophe, Doctor Strange regains his true form as well and tries to mystically locate the rest of the Sons of Satannish, hoping that they may know how to reverse the spell. Unfortunately, he merely discovers that Asmodeus banished them all to the dismal dimension ruled by Tiboro, a malevolent entity whom Strange battled over a year and a half ago. Realizing that he will need the aid of another mystic to safely journey into Tiboro’s realm, and knowing neither the Ancient One nor Clea are up to the task, Doctor Strange sends out his astral form to once again contact Victoria Bentley in England.

He finds Victoria hosting a masquerade party at her family castle, and in attendance is the Britain-based Avenger called the Black Knight, whom Strange remembers seeing at the Pym wedding last week. He decides to enlist the sword-wielding hero’s help in the coming battle with Tiboro, and after breaking up the party, he explains the dire circumstances. Thus, once he has established a psychic link with Victoria, Doctor Strange and the Black Knight vanish into a blinding vortex of mystical energy. Within the vortex, Strange’s astral self merges with his physical form, and so the two heroes soon reach their destination. They confront Tiboro, who has made the wayward Sons of Satannish his prisoners. Armed with his enchanted Ebony Blade, the Black Knight proves to be an effective ally, and following Tiboro’s swift defeat, he and Doctor Strange liberate the cult members and take them back to Earth. Once there, Doctor Strange determines that most of them possess no mystical power of their own, and so he merely erases what little occult knowledge they have and lets them go. Soon, the only one left is Asmodeus’ former deputy, who calls himself Marduk. He readily agrees to help the heroes counter the Spell of Fire and Ice, saying they will need a certain artifact contained in the cult’s lair beneath the cemetery. Having lost much time already, the unlikely trio journeys there straightaway, the Black Knight carrying Marduk upon his winged horse while Doctor Strange flies behind them. But, having reached the deserted lair, Marduk proves his treachery when the artifact in question turns out to be one of the Crystals of Conquest, from which he fires a blast of eldritch energy that strikes down the Black Knight. Doctor Strange unleashes a mystic bolt that lays Marduk low, and the enraged sorcerer then intimidates the hapless cultist into explaining how the crystal might defeat the monstrous menaces from Asgard before they destroy the earth. After placing Marduk in a trance, Strange hastily sends his astral form to contact the Black Knight’s team members at Avengers Mansion.

In the team’s Fifth Avenue headquarters, Doctor Strange finds only Hawkeye, the Black Panther, and the Vision. Though a smaller contingent than he had hoped for, the sorcerer asks for their help, and, recognizing him from the wedding, the three heroes agree at once. While the Vision remains at the mansion, Hawkeye and the Black Panther follow the ectoplasmic Doctor Strange back to the cemetery in one of their Quinjets. There, they discover the comatose form of the Black Knight, and, after learning the cause of his condition, the three men carry him back to the medical facilities at Avengers Mansion. While the team’s high-tech rejuvenator device is effective up to a point, they discover the Knight needs a simple operation in order to survive. With no time to find another doctor, Strange realizes he must perform the operation himself, despite his nerve-damaged hands. Sweating profusely, the mighty magician struggles to control the tremors in his hand as he wields a simple scalpel. Though it proves to be a grueling challenge, Doctor Strange is ultimately successful, and the Black Knight makes a quick recovery. The Vision reports to the others that bizarre natural phenomena have been reported worldwide, such as volcanoes erupting through the ice in Antarctica and snow falling in the jungles of central Africa. Time has run out, and the Spell of Fire and Ice has done its work. And so, the Black Panther and the Vision jet to Africa to battle Ymir while Hawkeye and the Black Knight take on Surtur in Antarctica, all in order to give Doctor Strange time to gain mental control over the Crystal of Conquest so that he can use it to send the two monsters back from whence they came. Finally, the threat is thus ended, and so a weary Doctor Strange deals with the cultist called Marduk and then returns home.

Several days later, Doctor Strange is woken from a fitful afternoon nap by Wong, who reminds him that he has a date scheduled with Clea that evening. As he gets dressed, Strange broods on the dream he was having, in which he encountered Nightmare, his ancient foe, who taunted him with hints of a sinister plan that somehow involved the cosmic being known as Eternity. Fearing trouble to come, he opts to wear his sorcerer’s garb, merely disguising it with a simple spell. As he walks through Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange is startled by an unseasonable snowstorm, which turns out to be part of a mysterious global disruption in weather patterns. Sensing that the phenomenon is not sorcerous in nature, he decides to take the opportunity to introduce Clea to the winter wonderland that Times Square has suddenly become. An atmosphere of revelry has settled over the neighborhood as the jaded New Yorkers take the bizarre weather in stride. In the milling crowd, Strange bumps into newspaper journalist Tom Wolfe, a recent acquaintance. Clea decides she finds the snow enchanting. However, the festivities suddenly turn into sheer panic at the stroke of midnight, when gigantic dinosaurs suddenly materialize over the city, on the rooftops, and in the streets, bringing with them chaos and destruction. Sensing the hand of Nightmare in the disturbance, Doctor Strange casts off his illusory garments and uses his mystic powers both to attack the creatures and to protect the fleeing crowds. When an ad hoc army of warriors from various eras and cultures suddenly materializes, Strange makes another mystic pass to prevent them from joining the fray. One by one, Doctor Strange deals with the prehistoric menaces as the crowds flee in terror, until the danger is passed. However, his attention is suddenly drawn upwards as the image of Nightmare materializes in the sky, revealing to Doctor Strange alone that Eternity is his prisoner, which enables Nightmare to send time out of joint. He threatens to destroy the earth in this manner unless Doctor Strange meets him in a battle to the death. Strange agrees, but Nightmare forces him to wait one hour, hoping to gain a psychological advantage.

Grimly, Doctor Strange heads to Clea’s apartment, to which she returned when the dinosaurs appeared. He tries to shield her from the dire situation he faces, but she knows him too well to be fooled. Nevertheless, they make their way slowly back to the Sanctum Sanctorum, savoring what may be their last moments together. As they enter the dwelling, Wong, too, senses the imminent threat, but Strange refuses to divulge its nature. Then, locking himself in his study, the master of the mystic arts prepares for the coming battle. Suddenly, he feels himself beset by arcane energies which begin to pull him bodily into Nightmare’s domain. Quickly, the sorcerer conjures a psychic shell in his likeness to serve as a temporary tether to Earth’s dimension. Within moments, he finds himself physically within the Dream Dimension, facing the hordes of hellish creatures that Nightmare unleashes against him. Strange overcomes them easily, realizing that his enemy is merely toying with him. Finally, Doctor Strange goads Nightmare into showing himself, and as he does so, he reveals the bound form of Eternity behind him. The mortal magician then unleashes the Eye of Agamotto to cast its searing light upon Nightmare, but the demon has readied a counter-spell which turns the mystic eye back upon Doctor Strange, thus immobilizing him and causing his body to be wracked with pain.

While Nightmare gloats over his apparent triumph, Strange’s astral form slips free into an adjacent dimension—the Crimson Cosmos, in which the Juggernaut has been trapped since the sorcerer aided the X-Men against him seven months earlier. Quickly locating the marauding villain, Doctor Strange leads him into the Dream Dimension, promising him passage back to Earth. Predictably, the Juggernaut attacks Nightmare in order to reach Strange, whose physical form remains trapped by the mystic eye. His possession of the magical Crimson Bands of Cyttorak makes the Juggernaut a match even for Nightmare, and their battle gives Doctor Strange the opportunity he needs to get free. Then, creating an illusion of himself in front of Eternity, Strange tricks his brawling enemies into accidentally freeing the cosmic being from his bonds. Eternity mocks the evil pair’s foolish ambition before banishing them both to an unnamed limbo. Doctor Strange realizes that Eternity could have freed himself at any time, but allowed Nightmare to imprison him so that he might recuperate from his devastating battle with Dormammu. The mystic mage can only laugh, as Eternity dispatches him at once back to his Sanctum Sanctorum, where Clea and Wong are relieved to have him home safe.

Wong immediately presents Doctor Strange with a telegram that arrived during their tense vigil, while he and Clea watched what transpired in the Dream Dimension through the all-seeing Orb of Agamotto. The telegram is from Strange’s erstwhile medical associate, the famous neurosurgeon Kenneth W. Ward, asking Strange for assistance with an urgent yet unspecified matter. Although he has not seen Ward in over 15 years, Strange feels he cannot ignore a plea for help from his former mentor. Thus, the next night, Doctor Strange makes his way to Ward’s brownstone in Boston, Massachusetts. He is greeted by a butler and two burly bodyguards, and their odd manner makes him immediately suspicious. One of the bodyguards then escorts Strange into Ward’s darkened bedroom, where he is shocked to find the adventuresome Ward confined to a wheelchair, a frail shell of his former self. Ward mutters incoherently, and even though the sorcerer uses the invisible Eye of Agamotto, the elderly surgeon cannot even remember why he sent the telegram. The meeting is ended and the butler leads Strange to a guest room and locks him in. Convinced that his former friend has been victimized by evil forces, Doctor Strange drops the illusion disguising his sorcerer’s garb and uses the Cloak of Levitation to secretly return to Ward’s room through the window. Now unobserved, he is free to strip away the spell ensorceling Dr. Ward, and the man, a long-time collector of occult antiquities, relates his tale of a recent expedition to the Himalayas, where he unearthed the bizarre idol of the Nameless One. Ward brought the idol home, but, after translating the terrifying inscription on the object’s base, he realized he was out of his depth. Aware that his former friend had since become an occult expert, Ward sent Stephen Strange the urgent telegram. Before he can explain further, the three servants burst into the room, revealing their true forms as demons, saying that they seek the idol, which Ward has hidden somewhere. Sensing his foes’ weakness, Doctor Strange stalls them until he can rip down the heavy curtains over the window, allowing the morning sunlight to flood the room. The creatures begin to disintegrate in the light of day, but as they do, they warn Doctor Strange to beware the wrath of the Undying Ones. As Strange turns back to Kenneth Ward, he finds him dead, the strain of resisting the creatures’ spells having proven too much for his mortal body.

In the weeks that follow, Doctor Strange searches for the mysterious idol with no success—it is somehow shielded from all mystical detection. In the process, however, he learns all he can about the Undying Ones, a race of extradimensional demons who once held dominion over the earth while they themselves were ruled by a fearsome creature known only as the Nameless One. Eventually, these demons had withdrawn from the earth, and finally lost contact with our dimension completely a thousand years ago. However, it seemed they were now preparing to return, using the hidden idol as a gateway between the dimensions. In fact, the more Doctor Strange learns of the Undying Ones, the more his sense of urgency increases.

October 1964 – Doctor Strange determines that the idol must be hidden somewhere near Ward’s residence, but fears the demonic agents of the Undying Ones would surely be watching the property and would easily detect the presence of a sorcerer. Thus, he decides to enlist the aid of a powerful, non-magical ally. After considering his options, the mystic mage selects the enigmatic Sub-Mariner as the most suitable candidate. Strange locates Prince Namor in his undersea realm of Atlantis and contacts him telepathically, explaining the nature of the threat and instilling in him an irresistible urge to find the idol, guiding him first to Boston and then to Ward’s home. After battling one of the demons, Namor discovers a clue left by Ward, which leads him to a large statue standing in a nearby cemetery. Using his superhuman strength, the Sub-Mariner lifts the statue away and finds the idol half-buried in the dirt below it. Before Namor can reach the object, though, Doctor Strange reveals himself and snatches it. They re-enter Ward’s house, but, unfortunately, while Strange is further explaining the situation to Namor, a demon disguised as a house cat reaches the idol and opens the dimensional gateway. To the heroes’ horror, the gigantic Nameless One himself, a multi-winged, two-headed monster, leaps through. The Sub-Mariner attacks the demon king immediately, while Doctor Strange uses his spells to keep the amphibious Namor at his peak strength. But then, though the Sub-Mariner succeeds in driving the Nameless One back through the gateway, his own momentum carries him through as well. Without a second thought, Doctor Strange grabs the idol and follows them into the dimension of the Undying Ones.

On the other side of the dimensional gateway, the mortal magician comes face-to-face with the numberless hordes of the Undying Ones, who are ready to mount their invasion of the earth. Realizing the Sub-Mariner doesn’t stand a chance against such an army of demons, Doctor Strange sacrifices himself to save both Namor and the earth. With a bolt of mystic force, he drives Namor back through the gateway to safety, then seals the portal behind him. With the idol now in their own dimension, the Undying Ones’ link to Earth is broken. The demon horde descends upon Doctor Strange, and though he battles bravely, he soon falls under their sheer weight of numbers. Even after his inevitable defeat, the demons make sadistic sport with his battered body for quite some time. Utterly broken, Strange is at last dragged before the Nameless One, who rages at him about their invasion plans having been delayed, for if they miss the crucial conjunction of cosmic forces, they will have to wait another thousand years to try again. A glimmer of hope burns in Strange’s heart as he realizes all is not yet lost. And so, for what feels like an eternity, Doctor Strange is mercilessly tortured by the demons as they seek information on alternate routes to Earth, but he valiantly remains silent. In his indescribable suffering, he clings to the faint hope that if he can only withstand the torture until the critical time has passed, he will at least have bought the human race one more millennia of existence, though his agonizing death is assured.

The Nameless One keeps Doctor Strange trapped within a structure made of poles of ethereal force, which levitates over an infinite abyss, and from which there is no escape. Though he has revealed nothing to his inhuman tormentors, he knows they are pursuing other avenues to penetrate the dimensional boundary, and his pain-dulled mind teeters on the edge of ultimate despair. His heroism, his determination, his ideals have all been stripped away, and even his instinct for self-preservation has begun to falter. Every moment of his wretched existence is seared by immeasurable agony. Finally, through the blood-red haze, he sees an unexpected sight: the incredible Hulk has suddenly materialized atop the poles of ethereal force, along with a young blond earthwoman and a monstrous creature in black armor. The mysterious girl seems to have some knowledge of the structure that entraps him, and she climbs into it, willingly taking his place. Thus, Doctor Strange is suddenly expelled from the trap, held aloft by his Cloak of Levitation. Before the demons realize what’s happening, Doctor Strange frantically casts a spell that transports himself and the Hulk back to Earth.

They materialize on the street outside the Sanctum Sanctorum, and Doctor Strange realizes that the cosmic conjunction has passed and the Undying Ones’ plans are ruined. Then he sees that the Hulk has changed back to his human alter-ego, Bruce Banner. Knowing the Hulk played some part in his liberation, the weary Strange helps the semi-conscious Banner into the house. When they have both regained some of their strength, Strange provides Banner with fresh clothes to replace his tattered trousers. But Strange changes into a normal jacket and tie as well, and tells Banner that, since the Undying Ones have been locked out of Earth’s dimension for many human lifetimes, there is perhaps no more need for Doctor Strange, the master of the mystic arts. He decides instead to seek out a life as a normal man, perhaps working as a medical consultant. Then, as a grateful Banner takes his leave, Strange orders a bewildered Wong to board up the house and return to Tibet, for his services will no longer be required. Doctor Strange has been utterly traumatized by his recent experience, even though his conscious memory of it quickly fades, and he flees Greenwich Village as fast as he can. As evening falls over the city, he checks into a hotel, where the Ancient One soon contacts him. Strange rejects his aged mentor and angrily renounces his mystic heritage. Deeply saddened, but aware that his pupil’s decision is genuine, the Ancient One strips Stephen Strange of his magic powers.

Feeling completely hollow, Strange begins to build a new life for himself, as far from the occult as he can get. A few routine inquiries with former medical colleagues reveal that Dr. Charles Benton’s offer of a consultancy was indeed genuine, in the event he had been able to lure Strange away from the mystic arts. Now, following Benton’s death, his medical group is badly short-handed, and Strange is able to convince Benton’s partners to take him on. Though the discussions are difficult, Strange is able to use his former reputation, and, ironically, Benton’s own recommendation, to obtain a position as a medical consultant. Like a man possessed, he devotes his every waking hour to his new occupation. He avoids Greenwich Village like a plague and refuses to see the heartbroken Clea, nor will he even speak to her. Soon, New York’s medical community is abuzz with the inexplicable return of Dr. Stephen Strange.

November–December 1964 – Strange eventually finds a nice apartment several dozen blocks from his old neighborhood and checks out of the hotel in which he had been staying. He spends his money recklessly. He begins drinking and smoking again, and even resumes his former womanizing, trying to dull the nightmares that torment him each night. But everyone he meets senses that this is a man on a downward spiral. And despite his undeniable brilliance as a medical consultant, his colleagues shun him, disturbed by the haunted look in his eyes. Plagued by insomnia, Strange begins wandering the city streets at night like a ghost. For although he refuses to admit it to himself, the man who was once the great Stephen Strange feels nothing but misery to the deepest depths of his soul.


Notes:

February 1964 – Doctor Strange resumes his battle against the forces of darkness in Strange Tales #151, most of which is given over to an extended recap of all that has come before. The action really gets started in the following issue. He lends a hand to Cyclops and Marvel Girl in Uncanny X-Men #33 before dealing with the fallout from his fight with Zom.

March 1964 – With issue #169, the book was re-titled Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts, and ceased to be a “split book.” Doctor Strange now occupied the full 20 pages, as favorable business conditions allowed Marvel to greatly increase the number of titles they published each month. The inaugural story was a detailed retelling of Doctor Strange’s origin by Roy Thomas & Dan Adkins. Confusingly, Strange Tales resumed publication over five years later, beginning with another #169. This new incarnation featured serials starring Brother Voodoo, the Golem, and Adam Warlock before settling into reprinting some of Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange stories, until finally being cancelled again.

September 1964 – The wedding of the Wasp and Yellowjacket is featured in Avengers #60, in which Doctor Strange merely makes a cameo appearance. The sorcerer’s new look debuts in Doctor Strange #177. He joins forces with the Black Knight in the following issue, and the story then continues in Avengers #61. Curiously, the Avengers make no mention of Strange’s altered appearance. Later, Doctor Strange’s big date with Clea, during which he runs into noted author Tom Wolfe, is depicted in Doctor Strange #180. Although the original story claims it is New Year’s Eve, this is merely a topical reference. The snowstorm is actually part of the global weather chaos caused by the Sagittarian doomsday machine seen in Hulk #109. The mystery of the Undying Ones begins to unfold in Doctor Strange #183. However, the title was summarily cancelled at that point, and readers were left hanging.

October 1964 – The storyline was picked up three months later in Sub-Mariner #22, in which Doctor Strange makes the supreme sacrifice. The conclusion followed soon after in Hulk #126, at the end of which Doctor Strange suddenly quits, with no real explanation given. And so, bereft of an ongoing series, he went into character limbo for over a year and a half, until being resurrected to serve in the Defenders, as seen in Marvel Feature #1. What he did in the interval is touched on in a somewhat crude back-up story in that comic by Roy Thomas & Don Heck, though it remains largely an Untold Tale of the Original Marvel Universe. Incidentally, several threads from the Undying Ones saga are woven into the early issues of the Defenders series.






Monday

OMU: The Darkhold

In honor of Halloween, I decided to present an essay on the Darkhold, the most evil book of black magic in the Marvel Universe. This essay is adapted from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Update ’89, and has been extensively revised and corrected to reflect the research I did untangling the book’s history for my previous Werewolf Chronology. As usual, we here reference only the Darkhold that existed in the Original Marvel Universe. Any subsequent appearances of the tome are considered non-canonical for my purposes. The following essay covers the history of the Darkhold from its creation until it was finally removed from the earth. Kudos to Peter Sanderson and the staff of the OHotMU for writing the original version so many years ago. Here, at last, is the Darkhold’s true history.


THE DARKHOLD


The Book of the Darkhold is a volume of parchments, transcribed eons ago by the demonic Elder God Chthon, containing all of the arcane knowledge that he had amassed through the millions of years he spent learning to control the dark mystic forces of the cosmos. Chthon was one of the major Elder Gods created by the Demiurge as the first life forms on Earth. When the wars among the Elder Gods threatened the evolution of organic life on Earth, the Elder Goddess Gaea gave birth to the first of the newer gods, Atum. In his form of Demogorge, Atum destroyed most of the Elder Gods, who had degenerated into demons. To protect himself, Chthon decided to flee the earthly plane. Before doing so, he created the Darkhold, transcribing his mystical knowledge upon parchments, to serve as his touchstone with the earthly dimension. Chthon managed to escape into a nether dimension before Demogorge could slay him. When the Darkhold passed into the hands of intelligent beings at some later date, Chthon would have an indestructible medium through which to manipulate earthly pawns, as well as a talisman that could one day be turned into a dimensional portal for his return to Earth.

Since Chthon wrote the Darkhold long before human beings evolved on Earth, it was not written in any human language. Presumably, Chthon imbued the parchments with magic that would enable any sentient being with mystic potential to see the Darkhold as written in a language he or she could comprehend. However, any mortal who reads the Darkhold risks becoming corrupted by it and even becoming the slave of Chthon himself. Only mystics of great skill and will power, such as Dr. Stephen Strange, Earth’s current sorcerer supreme, and men of deep and strong religious faith, such as the members of the Montesi family, have proved to be able to resist being corrupted or mentally dominated by the book.

The Darkhold was first discovered by human sorcerers of pre-cataclysmic Atlantis, who then founded a cult known today as the Darkholders. Seeking vengeance on their enemy, Kull, king of Valusia, the Darkholders used the spells contained in the scrolls to create the first vampires. The Darkholder Varnæ, who was dying, volunteered to be a subject of this spell and thus became the very first vampire. However, Varnæ and the other vampires turned against the Darkholders, slaying most of them. The surviving members of the cult managed to remove the Darkhold from Atlantis before the continent sank in the Great Cataclysm.

It is not known who possessed the Darkhold during the Hyborian Age, but it fell through a succession of hands over the following millennia, including those of Babylonian savants, Egyptian priests, and Hebrew scholars.

In the sixth century AD, the parchments found their way to Britain, where the sorceress Morgan Le Fey had them bound into book form for the first time. It was at this time that the work was first named the Darkhold. Morgan used the book to summon Chthon back to the earthly plane for the first time, but discovered that Chthon was too powerful to be compelled to do her bidding. It took the sorcerous might of Morgan and her new band of Darkholders to repel Chthon from the mortal plane. A renegade Darkholder named Magnus then stole the Darkhold, placed it in a tower, and wove an intricate spell whereby no one of evil intent could enter. The great wizard Merlin called upon the early Christian Church to put an end to the menace of the Darkhold. The Church sent St. Brendan, a monk skilled in white magic, to the tower. An apprentice sorcerer named Modred misguidedly entered the tower and had his soul corrupted by Chthon. But St. Brendan intervened, using white magic to seal the Darkhold in a mystic globe. He then entombed Modred, who remained in mystical suspended animation until recent years. Brendan tore apart the Darkhold and scattered its indestructible parchments throughout Europe in the hope that no one would ever reassemble them.

However, in the middle of the twelfth century, a corrupt Spanish monk named Ælfric gathered together most of the scattered pages of the Darkhold. Ælfric was burned at the stake for heresy, and the Church took possession of the Darkhold parchments he had collected. They were given into the keeping of Paolo Montesi, a young priest appointed by Pope Eugene III to be curator of the Church’s library of the occult in Rome. To prevent anyone from falling under Chthon’s power, Pope Eugene decreed that Montesi, who had proved able to resist the Darkhold’s evil influence, would be the only priest authorized to handle the Darkhold scrolls. Furthermore, the Pope gave Montesi a special dispensation permitting him to marry and sire children, whom he would train to eventually take over his work as custodian of the Darkhold. Pope Eugene also had the scrolls re-bound into a single volume, which was officially named the Book of Sins.

Varnæ, now the leader of Earth’s vampires, knew that the Church sought a means of exterminating his kind and that the Darkhold would provide the means to accomplish this task. Hence, Varnæ and a host of vampires invaded Rome, seeking to kill Paolo Montesi and steal the Darkhold. The vampires were driven off, but Varnæ succeeded in murdering Montesi. But by this time Montesi’s infant son, Giacomo, had been born, and years later he took over his father’s work as custodian of the Darkhold. It was Giacomo who translated most of the Darkhold into Latin, and most sorcerers from that time who have used spells from the Darkhold have derived them from this Latin translation. Also, Giacomo discovered that the spell to destroy vampires was contained in one of the Darkhold parchments missing from the Church’s collection.

In the mid-fifteenth century, Varnæ perished and Dracula became ruler of Earth’s vampires. Shortly afterwards, Dracula learned of the Darkhold and that it threatened the existence of all vampires. He forced the gypsy thief Murgo to steal the Darkhold from the Vatican Library in Rome. Murgo obtained the volume containing the original parchments, but the Latin translation was left behind. However, the sorcerer Cagliostro, king of the gypsies, murdered Murgo and took the Darkhold for himself.

For over four hundred years, neither Dracula nor the Montesis could locate the Darkhold. There was a rumor that in the mid nineteenth century it was in the possession of the British vampire Lord Ruthven, who spent much of his time in the Greek islands. At some point, it then came into the possession of the Indian sorcerer Taboo, who managed to procure the last remaining pages and finally reassemble the complete text. In the process, he had to have the volume disbound and put back into scroll form.

In Constantinople shortly after World War I, Taboo sold the Darkhold scrolls to the occult scholar Baron Gregor Russoff of Transylvania, who had them once again bound into book form. Russoff copied most of the Darkhold’s text into the diary in which he recorded his mystical experiences. However, possession of the Darkhold triggered Russoff’s hereditary tendency towards lycanthropy and turned him into a werewolf.

Leaving the original Darkhold in his ancestral castle, Russoff brought the copy in his diary close to where the earthly essence of its demonic author had been imprisoned, Wundagore Mountain in Transia, when he and his wife took up residence there. After the High Evolutionary’s Citadel of Science was constructed on the site, Russoff agreed to live there in hopes that a cure for lycanthropy could be found.

About a decade afterwards, the sorcerer Taboo planned to change his son Algon into a superhuman warrior using the Spell of Changes contained in the Darkhold. Thus, the pair journeyed to Castle Russoff in Transylvania to make use of the book. Through means of black magic, Taboo drove from the castle its occupant, Baron Gregory Russoff, the son of Gregor. After locating the original Darkhold in the castle’s library, Taboo prepared Algon for his transformation and began to recite the spell. However, Gregory Russoff had rounded up a mob of villagers to retake the castle. They succeeded in smashing down the door and storming the chamber where Taboo was at work. Encumbered by Algon’s now-comatose body, Taboo barely managed to escape capture. Picking through the ransacked room, Gregory Russoff found the Darkhold and became intrigued by it. He began to study the ancient tome, and soon succumbed to its evil power. Like his father before him, Gregory’s reading of the text triggered his familial curse and transformed him into a werewolf. A few years later, Gregory was shot by a mob of villagers using silver bullets and killed. The Darkhold was then shipped to his widow, Laura, who had moved to the United States, and put into storage along with most of his other possessions.

Meanwhile, on Wundagore Mountain, Gregor Russoff came to believe that Chthon would free him from the curse of being a werewolf, and so he used the Darkhold spells in his diary to try to bring Chthon back to Earth. However, the High Evolutionary, his Knights of Wundagore, and the sorcerer Magnus fought Chthon. When Russoff, forced by Magnus, used the Darkhold spells to banish Chthon back to his own dimension, Chthon struck Russoff dead. Dracula, who had suspected Russoff owned the Darkhold and had observed these events, planned to seize the book himself. However, unbeknownst to him, the diary was returned to Russoff’s widow Maria, who carried it back with her to Transylvania, where it was shelved in the library at Russoff Manor.

Some fifteen years later, Laura Russoff’s second husband sold the Russoff estate, including the original Darkhold, to an American named Miles Blackgar. Gregory’s son Jacob, known in America as Jack Russell, had inherited his father’s lycanthropic curse and stole the Darkhold back, believing it contained a spell for curing him. Jack Russell then lent the Darkhold to Father Ramon Joquez, a priest, in the hope that he could find and decipher this spell. But due to weaknesses in Joquez’s religious faith, he became possessed by the spirit of Ælfric, which had been trapped within the Darkhold. Ælfric was defeated by the Jack Russell werewolf, and Joquez, mortally wounded in the battle, died. Afterwards, Russell was unable to find the Darkhold and assumed it had been destroyed.

Some months after, Jack Russell and his girlfriend Topaz traveled to Transylvania, where they discovered the Russoff Diary. However, Dracula stole the diary from them, only to have it taken from him in turn by the vampire hunter Rachel van Helsing. Dracula recovered the book, which he called the Second Book of Sins, but threw it into the snows of a remote peak in the Alps, believing no one would ever find it.

However, the voluminous notes that Joquez had made while working with the original Darkhold were sent to Monsignor Giuseppe Montesi at the Vatican. Joquez’s notes included a transcription of the long-sought spell for the destruction of vampires, which has since become known as the Montesi Formula. Dracula learned of Montesi’s discovery, however, and slew him. Giuseppe was succeeded by his brother, Vittorio, who remains curator of the Vatican’s occult library to this day.

The original Darkhold had not been destroyed, but was instead brought to Wundagore Mountain by unknown means, where it fell into the hands of Modred the Mystic, who had recently been released from suspended animation. Modred then captured the mutant Scarlet Witch, who had been born there in the Citadel of Science during the battle between Chthon and the Knights of Wundagore. Chthon then took demonic possession of the Scarlet Witch, but her teammates in the Avengers managed to free her and re-imprison Chthon’s earthly essence in Wundagore Mountain. The Avengers took the Darkhold with them back to Avengers Mansion in Manhattan.

Later, a cult of Darkholders used their magic to increase Dracula’s own powers. Dracula attempted to steal the Darkhold from Avengers Mansion, but Earth’s sorcerer supreme, Doctor Strange, teleported it to Castle Mordo in Transylvania. There, Strange and his allies—Blade, Frank Drake, and the vampire Hannibal King—used the Darkhold’s Montesi Formula to finally destroy Dracula and all other vampires on Earth (save for King, who was returned to normal human life) and to create a spell by which vampires could no longer exist in Earth’s dimension. Due to his vast power and mastery of the occult, Stephen Strange is the only person ever to use the Darkhold physically in casting spells without forfeiting his soul to Chthon.

Doctor Strange then kept the Darkhold in his Sanctum Sanctorum until the entire house was stolen and removed to the planet Gevaltu by the alien sorcerer Urthona. Following a battle with Strange, Urthona used the Darkhold to transport himself magically to a place of safety, taking the book with him.


First Appearance: Marvel Spotlight #4

Final Appearance: Doctor Strange v.2 #81


Notes:

When Dracula killed Giuseppe Montesi in the Vatican Library, he also destroyed the copy of the Montesi Formula that had been transcribed by Father Joquez. However, Montesi had already made photocopies of all Joquez’s notes, put them into an elaborate binder, and shipped them to Quincy Harker in England. Realizing the danger of possessing a copy of the Darkhold’s spells, Harker’s associate Rachel van Helsing placed it in a high-security vault within Pendrammon Castle in Cornwall, a site that was anathema to vampires. Some years later, Dracula’s daughter Lilith used the X-Men in a scheme to seize the binder and use the Montesi Formula to destroy her father. Her gambit was unsuccessful, and the photocopies were destroyed when Pendrammon Castle crumbled into the sea.

The Montesi Formula would not automatically destroy every vampire on Earth, or Lilith would have been committing suicide by reading it. Rather, as Giuseppe Montesi realized, the “short form” of the spell could be used to destroy a single vampire, whereas the “long form” of the spell cast by Doctor Strange annihilated all vampires. Only a sorcerer with the requisite skill could successfully cast the “long form” of the spell, and even then, anyone less than the Sorcerer Supreme would in so doing sacrifice his or her soul to Chthon.

Chthon was one of the Elder Gods of the Earth, and as such was very much bound to the planet Earth, despite his immeasurable occult knowledge. By the same token, the earth was the focal point of Chthon’s mystical sphere of influence. When the Darkhold was taken to the far-distant planet of Gevaltu, it was so far beyond Chthon’s sphere of influence that the power of its spells would have been reduced to negligible levels. Much to Urthona’s disappointment, he would have found the infamous Darkhold had become just another book of spells.

When many of Doctor Strange’s stolen artifacts were returned to him, his disciple Rintrah thought one of the books to be the Darkhold. As this occurred in the last OMU issue of Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme, Rintrah’s assumption remains unconfirmed.

It is worth noting that, from the outside, the Darkhold would not appear to be particularly ancient, since its binding (cover) dated back only to the early twentieth century.


Previous Issue: Werewolves by Night!



Friday

OMU: Werewolves by Night


The genealogy of Marvel’s resident werewolf, Jack Russell, has always been a bit muddled, and the Marvel Universe’s so-called “sliding time scale” has only made the situation worse over the years, by constantly stretching the interval between “today” and certain established points in history, until whole generations suddenly pop into existence to fill newly-created voids. However, within my timeline for the Original Marvel Universe, such complex ongoing revisions are rendered unnecessary, and at long last a clear picture of Jack Russell’s family history can emerge.

For many years it was unclear whether there was a distinction between “Gregory” and “Gregor” Russoff, Jack’s most immediate progenitor(s), both of whom were werewolves during the first half of the twentieth century. Even when it was finally established that they must have been two different characters, it remained uncertain which of them had done what in terms of family history. Attempts to clarify the issue often only muddied the waters further, especially since there was even confusion about how many Books of the Darkhold there were and who had which one when. With the recent publication of the first volume of Essential Werewolf by Night, I decided the time had come to sort it all out once and for all. As usual, plugging the stories into my OMU timeline made all the difference. The resulting chronology traces the history of the family curse from the original affliction of Jack’s ancestor to its manifestation in Jack himself.

Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.


Finally… The True History of the Russoff Werewolves!


1795 – After more than a decade away from Transylvania, Dracula returns to his castle in Borgo Pass, having been driven out of France by the chaos of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. However, he finds that several local noblemen have taken advantage of his long absence and encroached upon his lands. Only Grigori, the Baron Russoff, refuses to relinquish his claim, and Dracula’s threats do not intimidate him. In fact, the Baron swears to kill Dracula if he makes a move against him. Unable to brook such insolence, Dracula stalks Grigori’s wife Louisa, the Baroness Russoff, and murders her.

Upon his wife’s death, a distraught Grigori sets out to get his revenge. Well aware of Dracula’s vampirism, Russoff storms Castle Dracula in the middle of the day, finds his victim sleeping in his coffin, and drives a wooden stake through his heart. The vampire’s body immediately crumbles to dust, leaving only a desiccated skeleton. Grigori then dumps a sack of garlic cloves into the coffin, seals it shut, and heaves it over a balcony into the river far below. Then, fueled by rage and grief, Grigori begins destroying whatever valuables he can find in the ancient castle, intent on smashing anything Dracula may have cherished.

In the midst of his rampage, he hears a female voice coming from behind a thick wooden door, held shut by a heavy beam. Realizing the fiend has been keeping a prisoner in the castle, Grigori manages to lift the beam away to open the door. Within the room he finds a beautiful young woman who calls herself Lydia. She relates the harrowing tale of her victimization, and Grigori vows to protect her. She is grateful, and they set off together on foot through the forest towards Castle Russoff.

As they walk, however, the sun sets and the full moon rises, triggering a terrifying transformation in Lydia. Too late, Grigori discovers that she is a werewolf. She attacks him, but he manages to fight her off, as she is greatly weakened from her long imprisonment. However, he suffers numerous bites and scratches.

Soon after, to his everlasting horror, Grigori finds himself transformed into a werewolf as well. Though he is able to hide this fact from his grown children, he begins keeping a diary to record his tormented thoughts.

Some months later, after killing a village girl named Valeria Ptacek, the Grigori Russoff werewolf is nearly captured by a mob of locals, but is wily enough to evade them. Upon returning to his human form the next morning, he makes his way back to his lonely castle. Eventually, Grigori dies and his son becomes the new Baron Russoff. Although his decedents are mystically marked by the curse of lycanthropy, it remains dormant in them since his children were born before he was afflicted.

1895 – One hundred years later, Gregor Russoff, the great-great-grandson of Grigori, is born, the eldest son of the current Baron and Baroness Russoff.

1900 – Gregor’s future wife, Maria, is born to another family of the Transylvanian aristocracy.

1917 – When his father is killed during World War I, young Gregor becomes the new Baron Russoff. He and Maria are married.

1918 – Their firstborn son and heir, Gregory Russoff, is born.

1920 – Their second son, Philip Russoff, is born.

1921 – An avid student of the occult, Gregor purchases the Darkhold scrolls from the sorcerer Taboo in Constantinople and has them bound into book form. Once he is back home in Transylvania, Gregor begins translating the text. In the process, he transcribes much of the contents into his ancestor Grigori’s diary, his discovery of which years earlier had inspired his fascination with the occult. He also uses the diary to record his own ruminations and insights. However, his studies of the evil tome cause him to fall under the power of its original author, the demonic Elder God Chthon. The ancestral curse of lycanthropy is thus activated, and Gregor begins turning into a werewolf with each full moon.

Gregor is able to hide his terrible secret from his wife Maria and their two sons, but it causes a growing rift in the family. Furthermore, he begins spending more and more of their money on his dark pursuits, searching desperately for a cure, which brings financial hardship to the family.

1923 – Upon learning that Dracula is searching for the Darkhold, Gregor sets up a telescope in a secret room in their manor house, with which he can observe Castle Dracula off in the distance. He becomes paranoid that someone may discover that he possesses the vile book, for, so far as he knows, only he and Taboo know its current location, and a man like Taboo is not to be trusted.

1928 – Gregor finally becomes too paranoid to feel safe staying in Transylvania. And so, leaving their two sons in an exclusive boarding school, he and Maria close up the castle and move to their estate in the small neighboring country of Transia, a large tract of land which includes Wundagore Mountain. Gregor leaves the bound scrolls of the Darkhold hidden in the castle library, but takes with him his diary, into which most of the spells have been copied.

1929 – Needing more money for occult books and manuscripts, not to mention living expenses, Gregor sells most of the family’s Transian land to the British scientist Jonathan Drew, whose wife had recently inherited an adjoining estate. Months later, Gregor is infuriated to learn that the land he sold contains uranium deposits worth a fortune, and that Jonathan Drew has become a very rich man.

1930 – Gregor discovers that Drew and his associate, Herbert Edgar Wyndham, are constructing a vast scientific research facility in a remote area on Wundagore Mountain, the same area he prowls during his monthly transformations into his lupine form. In fact, the werewolf is spotted a few months later by Drew’s wife, prompting Drew and Wyndham to try hunting him down. However, they are not successful.

1931 – After stalking the inhabitants of the Citadel of Science for many months, the Gregor Russoff werewolf finally kills Merriem Drew. Four weeks later, he tries to kill Wyndham as well, but is driven off by the rising sun. Another month later, the werewolf attacks a group of Wyndham’s subterranean worker drones, but Wyndham, now wearing a protective suit of silver-plated armor, manages to trap the werewolf in a holding cell. When Gregor eventually reverts to his human form, Wyndham offers him a deal: if he allows Wyndham to fully study his affliction, then Wyndham will take full responsibility for caging his lupine form. After some consideration, Gregor accepts the offer.

Gregor reveals to Maria that he has a “sickness” and is going to stay at the Citadel of Science for treatment. Before withdrawing completely from the outside world, Gregor arranges for his eldest son, Gregory, to assume the baronetcy upon his maturity. Maria informs the boys of their father’s decision, also that she will remain in Transia to be near him and that they will return when he is cured. However, although she remains living in the house nearby, Maria will never see her husband again. Gregory and Philip continue to visit their mother on their holidays from school.

Gregor takes up residence at the Citadel of Science, helping Wyndham put the finishing touches on the facility after his subterranean workforce deserts him. Gregor brings with him his diary containing the Darkhold spells to continue his studies of black magic. Wyndham, meanwhile, continues to develop the technology he needs to study the evolution of life.

1936 – Upon reaching the age of 18, Gregory becomes the new Baron Russoff and returns to their ancestral castle to live. Nevertheless, Maria still hopes for her husband to be cured and to return to her.

1938 – Uninterested in the trappings of the Transylvanian aristocracy, Philip decides to go to college in the United States of America.

1940 – Transylvania is dragged into World War II, getting caught in the crossfire between the Nazi and Soviet armies. However, although Gregory is completely unaware of its presence, the evil aura of the Darkhold keeps the German soldiers away from Castle Russoff.

1941 – On Wundagore Mountain, Gregor Russoff observes as Wyndham perfects his genetic accelerator, which he then uses to transform animals into humanoids. One of his first creations is a cow-woman he names Bova. He continues to create his so-called “New Men” out of a wide variety of animals, dubbing himself “the High Evolutionary.” Gregor believes Wyndham has gone mad and thinks his experiments are an abomination of nature, yet decides to remain in the safety of the citadel until a cure for his werewolfism can be found.

1945 – While in graduate school, Philip Russoff meets an American girl named Laura, and they date for a few months. However, they ultimately decide to just be friends. Meanwhile, World War II comes to an end.

1946 – One night, Gregory is magically driven out of Castle Russoff by the sorcerer Taboo, who has come to use the Darkhold to transform his son into a superhuman warrior. However, Gregory uses his authority as a baron to round up a mob of local villagers to take back the castle. They succeed in smashing down the door, stopping the sorcerer’s incantation, and chasing him from the castle. Burdened by his son’s now-comatose body, Taboo barely manages to escape capture. Then, picking over the ransacked chamber, Gregory discovers the Darkhold and becomes curious about it. He begins to study the ancient tome, and soon succumbs to its evil power. Then, as he reads of the origins of lycanthropy in the Darkhold under the light of the full moon, the latent werewolf curse inherited from his ancestors is activated, and like his father before him, he is transformed into a werewolf. Unfortunately, the active curse will be transferred to his descendents as well.

Gregory soon devises a way to imprison his werewolf self within the castle tower on each night of the full moon. Only occasionally does he fail to lock himself away in time, in which case his bestial alter-ego terrorizes the countryside.

Having earned his degree, Philip brings his friend Laura with him to visit Transylvania on her summer vacation, for he still has feelings for her and hopes to rekindle their romance. However, when he introduces her to his brother, Gregory, they hit it off immediately. Before long, Gregory and Laura have fallen madly in love and decide to get married. Gregory’s mother, Maria, journeys from Transia to attend the wedding. After the wedding, Laura, now Baroness Russoff, leaves school and moves into the family castle. Somewhat dejected after seeing his former girlfriend marry his brother, Philip moves back to America permanently, settles in California, and even Americanizes his name to “Russell.”

1947 – In September, Gregory is overjoyed when Laura gives birth to their son Jacob Russoff. He often plays with the baby and says nice things to him.

1948 – In England, the spirit of a sixth-century sorcerer named Magnus possesses Jonathan Drew and causes him to return to Wundagore Mountain. After seventeen years, Gregor Russoff barely remembers Drew, who now tries to convince Wyndham to cease his experiments before he inadvertently frees the demon Chthon, who is trapped within the mountain. The High Evolutionary scoffs at such talk of the supernatural. However, he agrees to Drew’s plan to instill a sense of honor into the New Men by training them in the ways of medieval chivalry. In the months that follow, Gregor speaks with Jonathan Drew at length about Chthon and the threat the demon poses, as well as the incalculable magic power he possesses.

Meanwhile, after two years of an idyllic life, Laura becomes pregnant again. By this time, she has begun to grow suspicious of the three days and three nights each month that Gregory spends locked within the castle’s tower. He convinces her that he devotes that time to his “studies.”

1949 – One night, a few months later, a bolt of lightning strikes the castle tower, shattering its wall and freeing the Gregory Russoff werewolf. Wandering into the nearby village, he kills a carpenter. Knowing that Baron Russoff is a student of arcane texts, a group of village men come seeking his aid and meet with the Baroness. The Baron’s unexplained absence arouses their suspicions. The following night, a hunting party tracks down the werewolf and kills him with silver bullets. As he dies, the werewolf reverts to the form of Gregory Russoff, and the villagers turn their wrath upon the Russoff family.

Widowed and disgraced, the pregnant Laura takes Jack and flees Transylvania, returning to the United States. She contacts Philip Russell in California, who is glad to help. When she reveals that Gregory was a werewolf, Philip agrees to help protect the family name, acting as trustee to the Russoff family holdings, which young Jack is due to inherit one day. Soon, Laura gives birth to her daughter Lissa Russoff. Spending so much time together, Philip and Laura find their former romance rekindled, and the two eventually fall in love.

1950 – On Wundagore Mountain, Gregor Russoff comes to believe that only Chthon can free him from the werewolf curse, and so he uses the Darkhold spells in his diary to attempt to summon the demon to Earth. However, at the critical moment, the spirit of Magnus possesses Gregor and forces him to read the Darkhold’s Ritual of Banishment. Chthon is cast back to his own dimension, but at the last moment he lashes out with a bolt of evil energy that kills Gregor instantly. Magnus returns to Jonathan Drew’s body and buries Gregor Russoff on the mountain.

Soon after, Maria is informed by an emissary from “Dr. Wyndham” that her husband has died. The emissary presents Gregor’s locked diary to her, which she carries with her as she finally returns to Russoff Manor in Transylvania. Then, leaving her husband’s diary behind, she immediately travels to Castle Russoff, where she learns that her son Gregory is dead, and the rest of the family has left for the United States. To her horror, Maria is accused by the local villagers of consorting with Satan to mother a werewolf. They drive her from the village, preventing her also from returning to Russoff Manor. Thus homeless and friendless, Maria wanders the woods for weeks until she stumbles into a Gypsy camp. The Gypsies take pity on her and offer her a place among them. She subsequently spends over 15 years with them, and eventually begins to study the black arts of sorcery.

In California, Philip and Laura are married, and Laura decides to Americanize the children’s last names to “Russell” as well. As they grow up, Laura’s children remain unaware that their stepfather is also their uncle. Philip has most of Gregory’s possessions, including the entire contents of the castle library, shipped to Los Angeles and put into storage. In the process, Laura takes the opportunity to read through many of her late husband’s books and papers.

1951–1961 – Jack and Lissa enjoy a normal childhood at their beachside house in Westwood, a suburb of Los Angeles, but Laura is haunted by her fears of the children inheriting their father’s curse.

1962 – A clandestine group of unscrupulous business executives, who refer to themselves as “The Committee,” hires a top detective agency to find them a real live werewolf.

1964 – After two years of very expensive research, the agency reports to the Committee their findings that the deceased Baron Russoff of Transylvania had been a werewolf, and that his two teen-aged children are currently living in Los Angeles. Their research suggests that both children either are or soon will be werewolves themselves. Using this information, members of the Committee begin blackmailing Philip Russell, threatening to reveal his family’s dark secret unless he pays hush money. Hoping to protect Laura and the children from the scandal, Philip agrees to pay.

However, as the months pass, the Committee’s demands for money continue, and Philip realizes he must sell what he can of the Russoff estate in order to raise the necessary cash. He finds a buyer for the ancestral castle and most of its contents in a wealthy eccentric named Miles Blackgar. Philip is surprised by Blackgar’s plan to move the castle stone-by-stone to an island off the Monterey Coast, a process that will take many months.

1965 – Early in the year, Philip is forced to employ Max Grant, an agent of the Committee, as a chauffeur. Grant also serves as his liaison with the blackmailers and collects Philip’s payments. However, Grant is insolent, verbally abusive towards Laura, and gruff with the children. By the end of the summer, Philip is fed up with the situation and attempts to stop making his payments. The Committee is not pleased.

In September, as Jack Russell celebrates his eighteenth birthday, the latent curse of lycanthropy is activated and he transforms into a werewolf for the first time. Simultaneously, the Committee orders Grant to tamper with the brakes of Laura’s Rolls-Royce to teach Philip a lesson. When Jack runs out on his birthday party and disappears, Laura goes out searching for him, and her car soon careens off the road into a ditch. Fatally wounded, Laura is taken to the hospital. Before she dies, she reveals to Jack the truth about his father and the curse of being a werewolf by night.


Notes:

1795 – Jack’s ancestor Grigori Russoff was introduced in Werewolf by Night #15, and further details of his encounter with Dracula were provided in Tomb of Dracula Magazine #3. He was originally referred to as Jack’s great-great-great-grandfather, but genealogical analysis reveals that he must have actually been Jack’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, since he did not appear to be a particularly young man in 1795 and his children, reportedly, had already been born. His later activities as a werewolf were shown in Werewolf by Night #18. In this issue, his victim’s name is written as “Patcek,” but I believe this is a typographical error. The name “Patcek” is virtually unheard of, whereas “Ptacek” is fairly common. I myself knew a family named Ptacek in grade school. It’s pronounced “TA-check,” incidentally.

1921 – It was originally said that Gregory/Gregor purchased the Darkhold from Taboo in Istanbul shortly after World War II. However, he was then shown to be in possession of it in 1931 during the “Evolutionary War” storyline. Therefore, I surmise that Gregor obtained it shortly after World War I—when the city was still called Constantinople. Gregor is first seen with the Darkhold in Werewolf by Night #3.

1923 – The secret room in Russoff Manor and its spectacular view of Castle Dracula are revealed in Tomb of Dracula #18, although its use is wrongly attributed to Jack’s father. In fact, Gregory Russoff was never in possession of the Russoff Diary. It’s important to distinguish between the manor house and Castle Russoff, which were always located several miles apart.

1929 – The transfer of ownership of Wundagore Mountain from the Russoff family to the Drews was shown in Avengers #187.

1930–1931 – The early days of the Citadel of Science on Wundagore Mountain were chronicled in the High Evolutionary series of back-up stories in Marvel’s 1988 Annuals. The appearance of a toddler-aged Phillip Masters in these stories should be discounted as apocryphal, as the future Puppet Master was quite a bit older than that.

1946 – Gregory’s encounter with Taboo, at which time he became aware of the Darkhold’s existence, was shown from Taboo’s point of view in Werewolf by Night #13. His relationship with Laura is first shown in flashback in Marvel Spotlight #2, with further details explained by Philip Russell in Werewolf by Night #14.

1949 – The death of Jack’s father is seen in Marvel Spotlight #2.

1950 – The death of Jack’s grandfather is seen in the High Evolutionary back-up story in Uncanny X-Men Annual #12. His wife Maria’s story is told in Giant-Size Werewolf #3. She is the obvious candidate to carry the Russoff Diary from Wundagore back to Russoff Manor, where Topaz discovers it in Tomb of Dracula #18.

1962 – The results of the Committee’s years of investigation are on display in Werewolf by Night #11.

1964 – The Committee’s blackmail plot is introduced in Marvel Spotlight #2, developed haphazardly over numerous issues, and finally explained in Werewolf by Night #14. In Marvel Spotlight #4 and subsequent stories, it is made to seem that Castle Russoff was sold after Laura’s death, but Jack is merely confused on this point. It would take quite a bit of time for Miles Blackgar to have the castle disassembled, transported halfway around the world, rebuilt stone-by-stone, furnished, and then turned into a laboratory for his sadistic experiments. Since not nearly enough time elapses between Marvel Spotlight #2 and 4, it must have occurred previously. Whether Philip sold off Jack’s inheritance with or without Laura’s knowledge is still an open question.

1965 – Jack Russell’s life as a werewolf begins in Marvel Spotlight #2.


Next Issue: The Book of Sins!