Monday

OMU: Doctor Strange -- Year Five

Although Doctor Strange’s original series had been cancelled due to low sales, his successful return in the Defenders encouraged Marvel Comics to give their resident sorcerer another chance. He was awarded a respectable run in their try-out title Marvel Premiere, beginning with its third issue. This series attracted some impressive artistic talent, including Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Starlin, P. Craig Russell, and Frank Brunner. It was here that Brunner began his celebrated collaboration with writer Steve Englehart that brought Doctor Strange to new heights. As for Stephen Strange himself, as we will see, he is finally back on top of his game after a couple of very difficult years. Those harrowing experiences have merely forged him into a better, stronger, and wiser mystic mage, just in time for him to answer the call to the highest of responsibilities—that of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

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, Sorcerer Supreme!


January–March 1966 – Confident that he has fully regained his mastery over the occult forces of the universe, Doctor Strange rededicates himself to exploring the boundaries of mystical knowledge. His studies rarely take him outside his Sanctum Sanctorum in New York’s Greenwich Village, though he does periodically confer with his Tibetan mentor, the Ancient One. As ever, he is tended to by his faithful manservant, Wong. Strange’s lover, Clea, often visits him in his sanctuary to provide relief from his scholarly labors. However, being a woman of independent spirit, she maintains a separate apartment a few blocks away, and pursues her own course of study in the arts of magic. Also, Doctor Strange continues to play host to the Valkyrie, his teammate in the Defenders, though her presence is occasionally disruptive. She keeps her winged horse, Aragorn, in a courtyard off the rear of the house, shielded from gawking neighbors by a simple masking spell. In addition to his usual studies, Doctor Strange still searches for a means to undo the enchantment that has left his friend, the Black Knight, little more than a stone statue. All in all, the sorcerer finds himself to be happy and contented.

April 1966 – While taking a stroll through Greenwich Village one rainy night, Doctor Strange is hit by a truck and taken to the hospital. However, in his mind he believes himself to have escaped injury and returned to his Sanctum Sanctorum, until he realizes his astral form has actually been transported to the Dream Dimension of his oldest enemy, Nightmare. During the ensuing battle, Strange learns that Nightmare now serves some greater power which threatens the entire earth. Still, Doctor Strange triumphs and awakens in his hospital bed.

Recovered from the relatively minor injuries he received, Strange returns home to find a young man waiting for him. Introducing himself as Ethan Stoddard of Starkesboro, Massachusetts, the man asks the sorcerer to help him free his fiancée Bethel Doan from the evil influence she has fallen under while researching books of black magic in graduate school. Doctor Strange agrees, and the next morning they board a Greyhound Bus for New England. Over the course of the day, Ethan tells the mage about the history of Starkesboro and its peculiar ways. They finally arrive around 11:00 pm, and witness the residents attending an unusually late worship service at the town church. Doctor Strange is struck by the townsfolk’s uniformly odd appearance. At midnight, his astral form leaves his body, though he detects an unaccountable resistance to his magic, and meets with the astral form of the Ancient One in the sky high above town. The Ancient One warns Strange of an ageless cosmic obscenity that slumbers, a threat older than time itself, and of cults that seek to awaken it. Evil forces have been loosed all over the globe, he reveals, and they each must battle them in their own way.

The next morning, while Ethan searches the town for his fiancée, Doctor Strange decides to make a full investigation of the church, sensing that it is the source of the pervasive aura of evil that is dampening his own magic. Inside, he discovers a blood-stained stone altar fitted with iron shackles, and above it the sign of Sligguth, a serpent-demon from the Pre-Cataclysmic Age of Atlantis. He then finds a door leading into an underground labyrinth, but before he can set off to explore it, Ethan bursts into the church in a panic. He’d found Bethel Doan, he reports, but she’d been changed, becoming weirdly reptilian. Doctor Strange speculates that the residents of Starkesboro must bear some genetic legacy from the Serpent Men of prehistoric times. Just then, the church is surrounded by a mob of semi-human townsfolk, who exert their evil influence over Ethan and force him to attack Doctor Strange. Weakened by the town’s aura of evil, the sorcerer is unable to prevent the mob from breaking down his barricades, storming the church, and battering him into unconsciousness.

When he comes to, Doctor Strange finds himself chained to the altar and struggles helplessly against his bonds. He sees Ethan has succumbed to the evil of Starkesboro and is lost. Then, from the labyrinth emerges Sligguth, in physical form, led by a woman in a black dress, the high-priestess Ebora. She orders Sligguth to kill the mage, but Strange stalls for time by getting her talking. Ebora reveals that the menace they seek to awaken from its ancient slumber is the dreaded Shuma-Gorath, a monstrous entity that once ruled the earth and shall soon conquer it again. She goes on to relate how Starkesboro came under the influence of Shuma-Gorath’s servant, Sligguth, and instituted their practice of human sacrifice. Suddenly, having had time to build up his mystic might, Doctor Strange breaks free of his chains and fights off Sligguth. Driving away the townsfolk with the Vapors of Valtorr, Strange pursues Sligguth into the labyrinth. He evades many traps and presses on through several fearsome defenses until he finally confronts Sligguth in its lair, deep underground. They battle again, but it goes badly for Doctor Strange. He calls for the aid of the eternal Vishanti, and the mystic triumvirate appears before him in a vision. Though they decline to intercede directly, they are willing to grant him a boon by temporarily suspending the evil aura, allowing Strange to fight at full strength. This is the advantage Strange needs to overcome Sligguth and destroy the demon’s physical form.

Next, Doctor Strange tracks down Ebora and the townsfolk to a nearby seaside cliff, only to discover they are about to sacrifice Clea and Wong, along with some other young man, to another of Shuma-Gorath’s demonic servants, N’Gabthoth, the Shambler from the Sea. Though he manages to free the captives, Strange is unable to overcome N’Gabthoth until he feels the Ancient One’s astral form joining with him, augmenting his mystic powers and shielding him from the aura of evil. The sorcerer unleashes a new attack, driving the creature back towards town. Strange pursues N’Gabthoth as it bursts into the church and unearths a moldering treasure chest from beneath the floorboards. In the street outside, Doctor Strange finally destroys the Shambler from the Sea and takes possession of the small chest. The residents of Starkesboro flee for the hills in utter defeat. Clea and Wong introduce their friend Johnny Frames, a local who led them to the town just as Ethan had led Doctor Strange. The danger passed, the Ancient One’s astral form departs, though the joining has left Strange aware that his aged mentor has been carried from his temple by the unspeakable Shadowmen of the mysterious Crypts of Kaa-U for some uncertain purpose. However, returning to the matter at hand, Doctor Strange discovers within the treasure chest an old parchment on which is a map of Great Britain showing the location of Stonehenge. Worried that Shuma-Gorath is preparing to strike, Strange sets off for England at once, with Clea and Wong promising to follow along as soon as possible.

It is late morning the next day when Doctor Strange reaches the British coast, near the town of Penmallow in Cornwall. Sensing an ancient evil with the taint of Shuma-Gorath, Strange dives beneath the waves and finds another demon, Dagoth of the Lost City of Kalumesh, menacing a scuba-diving couple. After a fierce battle, Strange traps Dagoth in the Seven Rings of Raggador and rescues the scuba-divers, taking them to an old manse nearby. Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to probe the mind of the woman, and she reveals ancestral memories of the destruction of Kalumesh, sunk beneath the waves for its blasphemous worship of Dagoth. Then, the man introduces himself as Henry Gordon, who just inherited the manse, known as Witch House, from his uncle, a noted occult expert. The woman is called Blondine, and though Gordon describes her as his late uncle’s housekeeper, Strange suspects she was really his familiar. When they describe a large gemstone they had found on the beach, Doctor Strange fears it may be the fabled Starstone of Kulthas, which means further abominations are sure to come. He decides to delay going to Stonehenge a few hours so he can investigate.

As evening falls, everyone in Penmallow, including Doctor Strange, suddenly falls under the spell of Dagoth, and they march to the beach in a trance. Luckily, Clea and Wong arrive in town just in time to snap him out of it. Freeing the villagers from their trance, Strange goes to confront Dagoth under the sea and manages to banish the demon to an extradimensional nether-realm. Strange returns to shore, where Blondine confirms his suspicion that she activated the Starstone while entranced. Then, as the small group enters Witch House, they are attacked by the sinister structure itself, animated by a foul slime from within the Starstone. Doctor Strange’s spells allow them to escape unharmed, and he then unleashes his full sorcerous might against the manse, shattering it completely. Henry Gordon and Blondine offer their thanks, and then Strange continues on his way to Stonehenge.

It is late at night when Doctor Strange finally arrives at the ancient occult monument, and he soon faces an army of demons that materializes from between the standing stones. Despite their overwhelming numbers, Strange’s sorcerous powers are sufficient to defeat them. Finding himself alone again, the master of the mystic arts sees a bright star descending toward one of the trilithons. When it reaches the center of the structure, its light creates a mystic doorway that transports Doctor Strange through subspace to the distant planet of Kathulos, which proves to be a sentient entity that serves Shuma-Gorath. Kathulos subdues Strange and tries to absorb him. However, this creates a psychic link between predator and prey that provides Strange with the knowledge to destroy Kathulos. He conjures up the toxic Crystals of Cyttorak, and within moments all life on the planet withers and dies, reducing it to a barren wasteland. Finally, the only thing left alive is Doctor Strange, who realizes that Shuma-Gorath has outmaneuvered him. Even though Kathulos is defeated, Strange is marooned on an alien world, facing a slow death by starvation. He has no idea where the earth is nor any means to search for it, leaving his distant homeworld undefended from the threat of Shuma-Gorath.

Not one to concede defeat, and having circled the planetoid in a fruitless search for any sign of life, Doctor Strange determines to meditate on the problem until he comes to a solution. After a period of introspection, Strange realizes that Shuma-Gorath will certainly want to verify his death after going to such lengths to engineer it, and as it is on Earth that the demon’s ties to this dimension are centered, a psychic trail home may be generated if Shuma-Gorath were to manifest in the vicinity of Kathulos. And so, to attract his enemy’s attention, Strange weaves a spell that causes Kathulos to explode. Protected within a mystic sphere, the sorcerer is left drifting in space amongst the rubble and dust. Sure enough, he soon encounters a stream of glowing ectoplasmic forms. Touching the stream, he experiences a set of bizarre visions. Then, a void appears in the stream, through which Shuma-Gorath communicates with Doctor Strange at last. The demon reports that his slumber has ended, and he will soon enter Earth’s dimension. Only the Ancient One knows what he is waiting for, he taunts Strange before breaking contact. Then, using the Eye of Agamotto, Doctor Strange detects the afterimage of the ectoplasmic trail and, aided by the Winds of Watoomb, streaks through space towards home.

Doctor Strange reaches Earth some 96 hours later and heads straight for the Himalayas of Tibet and the sinister Crypts of Kaa-U to rescue the Ancient One. However, to Strange’s shock, when they are reunited the Ancient One informs his pupil that he has come to the Crypts of Kaa-U to die, just like every member of his sect who preceded him. He begs Strange to leave, saying his death is a private matter between himself and Shuma-Gorath. Strange is confused, but the Ancient One declines to elaborate. Just then, the corpulent master of the crypts, who calls himself the Living Buddha, orders the sinister Shadowmen to attack Doctor Strange and kill him. The Ancient One refuses to help him, even though Strange is quickly overwhelmed by their numbers. However, just as his pupil is about to be crushed, the Ancient One relents and drives away the Shadowmen with a bolt of mystic force. The chamber is suddenly filled with the laughter of Shuma-Gorath, as the spell was too much for the Ancient One’s frail form to handle. On the verge of death, the Ancient One finally explains that the glowing trail in space was a manifestation of his own consciousness, and the visions had sprung from his mind. And within his mind lurked Shuma-Gorath, now to be released into Earth’s dimension when the Ancient One dies. At that moment, the demon begins to emerge, gloating over his triumph.

As his manifestation takes shape, Shuma-Gorath explains to Doctor Strange that he came from another dimension to feed on the strengths of this realm’s Sorcerer Supreme, and for nearly 600 years the Ancient One provided him with sustenance, only recently becoming aware of that fact. Doctor Strange attacks, using a barrage of mystic bolts as a distraction as he enters the Ancient One’s mind to strike at the demon at the very source of his power. After battling an illusory Dormammu, Strange realizes that he is facing the same tactics that Nightmare used against him—that even Nightmare was in the service of Shuma-Gorath. As he moves deeper and deeper into the Ancient One’s mind, the master of the mystic arts finally confronts the horrific true form of Shuma-Gorath, but manages to slip away to the very core of the Ancient One’s being. Doctor Strange realizes that the only way to defeat Shuma-Gorath is to kill the Ancient One, to utterly annihilate his ego. Cursing himself, yet knowing it is what his master wants, Strange blasts apart the Ancient One’s conception of self, thus severing the demon’s link to this dimension. His mind destroyed, the Ancient One dies instantly.

Doctor Strange suddenly finds himself outside his mentor’s body again. With a heavy heart, Strange walks out of the crumbling crypts, which collapse behind him, burying the Living Buddha and his hordes of Shadowmen in a cave-in. Corrupted by the evil of Shuma-Gorath, they can no longer exist without his malevolent aura. But once outside in the clear mountain air, Doctor Strange suddenly sees the face of the Ancient One all around him, in a tree, a pool, a rock, a bug, and in the clouds. He hears his mentor’s soothing voice in his mind, explaining that the manner of his death has freed him to become one with the universe in a way that no man had achieved before. The Ancient One also informs Doctor Strange that he has now inherited the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme. After bequeathing to his student the full measure of his magic powers, the Ancient Once departs from this plane of existence.

Still somewhat in shock over all that has happened, Doctor Strange journeys to the Ancient One’s temple to inform Hamir the Hermit of their master’s passing. After sharing a brief reminiscence, Hamir reminds Strange that he need not replace the Ancient One there, as he will serve as Sorcerer Supreme in his own manner. Strange thanks Hamir for his wise counsel, then decides that he will transport all the Ancient One’s occult artifacts to his own Sanctum Sanctorum in New York. Then he instructs Hamir to prepare to close down the Ancient One’s temple permanently.

May 1966 – For the next nine days, Doctor Strange retreats to the deserts of Mexico to meditate on what it means to be Sorcerer Supreme. Finally, Clea and Wong manage to track him down. He explains to them everything that has happened to him in the last two weeks, and of his new awareness of the meaning of life. Returning at last to the Sanctum Sanctorum, Strange sets about moving the Ancient One’s artifacts to his own home. When the task is completed, he seeks out Clea, finding her in his library. He informs her that, as the new Sorcerer Supreme, he needs to choose a disciple, to insure the continuity of the struggle against evil. To Clea’s surprise, he names her as his choice, not because they are lovers, but because he knows of no better person. Since the mystic powers derived from her native dimension have all faded during her long exile, she must focus on learning the fundamentals of Earth-based magic. After receiving instructions on how to begin her studies, Clea decides the time has come for her to take up full-time residence in the Sanctum Sanctorum. Thus, she soon relinquishes her apartment and moves her personal belongings into Doctor Strange’s home.

Following his return from Tibet, Doctor Strange has scarcely noticed the Valkyrie’s absence from his dwelling, assuming she must have finally gone off to “find herself.” He turns his attention back to trying to undo the Asgardian sorcery that turned the Black Knight to stone, using new approaches found in his inheritance from the Ancient One. After several days, Strange finally locates Dane Whitman’s astral form in a nameless limbo dimension, which he considers the first real step forward he’s made on the problem. When he attempts to summon the Defenders to share the good news, only the Silver Surfer and the Hulk respond. Searching further, Doctor Strange can find no trace of either the Valkyrie or the Sub-Mariner. However, with the help of the Surfer, Strange manages to induce the Hulk to reveal what he knows of their disappearance. In his own brutish manner, the Hulk explains that, two weeks earlier, their missing teammates joined forces with Hawkeye to battle the sub-sea warlord Attuma in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but were defeated and taken prisoner. Leaving the unpredictable Hulk in a trance, Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer go off in search of their comrades. They soon find the trio leading Attuma’s barbarian hordes in an invasion of Atlantis, having been brainwashed by Attuma’s latest ally, the Red Ghost. Combining their powers, Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer free their teammates from servitude, and the Defenders make short work of Attuma and the Red Ghost.

Upon returning to the Sanctum Sanctorum, Doctor Strange tells his teammates about his discovery of Dane Whitman’s psychic essence, and proposes to contact him using the Orb of Agamotto. His efforts appear to be successful when, minutes after sending a message into the void, a reply comes from the Black Knight. Dane Whitman’s disembodied voice tells them he can be saved only through the power of an ancient artifact known as the Evil Eye. Though the Silver Surfer relates the tale of the Evil Eye’s recent destruction by the Human Torch, Doctor Strange is convinced it must still exist in some form, and the Defenders must find it, no matter what the cost. A friend of Whitman’s from their days in the Avengers, Hawkeye vows to join them on their quest, and the Defenders welcome him into their ranks. The Orb then reveals more of the history of the Evil Eye and its owner, the man known as Prester John. Next, it shows how, when the Evil Eye exploded in the Himalayas, it split itself into six segments that were scattered across the globe. Forming a plan, the Defenders decide to split up, with Doctor Strange remaining behind to guard the Black Knight’s stone body and to use the Orb to guide his teammates to the segments’ exact locations. Thus, the Hulk heads for Los Angeles, California; the Silver Surfer flies out to Rurutu, French Polynesia; the Sub-Mariner makes his way to Osaka, Japan; and the Valkyrie drops Hawkeye off in Monterrey, Mexico on her way to Sucre, Bolivia.

Within the hour, the Silver Surfer returns with the first segment, but he also brings Doctor Strange grim news: their quest is being opposed by the Avengers, for the Surfer had to fight off the Vision when the android attacked him with uncharacteristic savagery. Concerned, Strange uses the Orb of Agamotto to scan Avengers Mansion, and discovers the lingering presence of Loki, the Asgardian trickster god. Assuming Loki must be controlling the minds of the Avengers, Doctor Strange sends a telepathic warning to his teammates as he heads to find the sixth segment in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Once there, he is forced to battle the Black Panther and an Asian woman called Mantis, who possesses remarkable skill in the martial arts. With his sorcerous powers, though, Doctor Strange easily overcomes them, finds what he is seeking, and carries it back to the Sanctum Sanctorum.

Shortly afterwards, the Valkyrie and Hawkeye also return with their segments, each having overcome a member of the Avengers to do so. However, when the Sub-Mariner arrives, he reveals that he has brought the entire team of Avengers with him: Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman, and Mantis. The Defenders are shocked and enraged, but Namor explains that he and Captain America had a chance to talk during their scuffle in Japan and realized that they have all been used as pawns in one of Loki’s schemes. A lengthy discussion ensues, until they realize that the Hulk and Thor are still in Los Angeles, possibly devastating the city with their fighting. At once, Doctor Strange teleports both teams to L.A., where they find the combatants locked in a standoff, neither one able to overcome the other’s great strength. When Strange informs the Hulk that the battle is over, as both teams have joined forces to face their common foe, the jade giant relents. Thor suggests that Loki is probably not acting alone, since he went blind last Halloween in Rutland, Vermont. Doctor Strange mentions that the Defenders were also in Rutland that night fighting Dormammu, and wonders if the sinister pair may have teamed up against them. Their suspicions are confirmed when the six segments of the Evil Eye are suddenly stolen by Dormammu’s servant Asti the All-Seeing. Despite the best efforts of the assembled heroes, Asti escapes with the segments into another dimension.

Almost immediately, the city around them begins to transform into a nightmarish world of horror, the people metamorphosing into monstrous demons. An image of Dormammu’s flaming head appears in the sky, announcing that, since he cannot enter the earth’s dimension, he is using the power of the Evil Eye to merge the two planes of existence. Thus, he shall conquer the earth through annexation rather than invasion. The merger will be complete in one hour, he reveals, at which time everyone on earth will be his slaves. The Defenders and the Avengers vow to prevent this at any cost. However, the transformed bystanders begin to attack the heroes, forcing them to fight back. Doctor Strange tries to convince Captain America that both teams need to take the fight directly to Dormammu in the Dark Dimension. Cap is reluctant to abandon the earth in such a time of crisis, but relents when Nick Fury and the forces of S.H.I.E.L.D. arrive on the scene. Leaving Fury and his agents to deal with the monsters, Doctor Strange casts a spell to transport all 14 heroes into Dormammu’s realm.

In the mind-bending landscape of the Dark Dimension, Doctor Strange finds he must be extra assertive to keep the headstrong Avengers from blundering to their doom, until Thor orders them to defer to Strange’s expertise. Then, after beating off the numberless hordes of the Mindless Ones, the heroes find Dormammu, brandishing the Evil Eye, with Loki imprisoned in a cage of flames. To everyone’s surprise, the Watcher is also present, looking on enigmatically. Doctor Strange manages to breach the mystic barrier separating them, but with one wave of his hand, Dormammu’s augmented magic instantly renders the six Defenders unconscious. When Doctor Strange awakens, he learns that the danger is passed, the villains defeated. The Watcher explains that the Scarlet Witch cast a last-second hex that caused the Evil Eye to malfunction, absorbing Dormammu’s flaming form and blasting it out again straight through Loki’s brain. Though the power restored Loki’s sight, it also drove him completely insane. Furthermore, the Watcher reveals, Dormammu will remain as scattered molecules until the psychic energy from his many worshippers eventually allows him to reform. Finally, the Watcher congratulates the 14 heroes on their great victory. Doctor Strange retrieves the Evil Eye, still intent on using it to rescue the Black Knight, and casts a spell that returns the two teams to Los Angeles.

The Defenders and the Avengers materialize on the same street in L.A. to find the crisis is over. The people who had been transformed into monsters have reverted to normal and are wandering around the rubble-strewn streets in a daze. Nick Fury offers the two teams his congratulations on their victory. However, wishing to keep the existence of the Defenders a secret, Doctor Strange removes all memory of their involvement from Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as any bystanders who witnessed their presence earlier in the day. Furthermore, he combines the power of the Evil Eye with his own sorcerous might to undo all damage and destruction the world over caused by Dormammu’s scheme, leaving everyone believing they had just suffered a mass hallucination. Finally, after bidding farewell to the Avengers, Strange teleports his team back to the Sanctum Sanctorum to attend to the Black Knight.

Using the power of the Evil Eye, Doctor Strange attempts to locate Dane Whitman’s astral form again, but it has disappeared. He has only begun to explain the enigma to his teammates when they are suddenly enveloped in a nimbus of energy that carries them across space and time to deposit them in the Middle East in 1190 A.D. Here they discover that the Black Knight has taken physical form by possessing the body of his own ancestor, Eobar of Garrington, and has joined King Richard the Lionheart in fighting the Third Crusade. After a clash with an Arab army and a contingent of super-powerful gnomes, the Black Knight fills them in on what’s happening. The gnome alliance is due to the involvement of the spirit of Mordred, the villain of Camelot, who is aiding the wicked Prince John in his bid to overthrow King Richard. Since Mordred has manifested physically, a spell cast by Merlin plucked Dane Whitman’s astral form from limbo to give Eobar an advantage against his magical foe. The Defenders agree to help the Black Knight free King Richard from an Arab prison and defeat the gnomes. During the ensuing battle, the villains manage to get the upper hand when Prince John seizes the Evil Eye. He is about to turn its power on the Defenders when an elderly Prester John suddenly materializes and reclaims his weapon. After knocking the villains out, Prester John convinces the Black Knight to remain in the 12th century to help King Richard. Excited by the prospect, and glad to have regained the Ebony Blade from the Valkyrie, Dane Whitman agrees. Finally, Prester John uses the Evil Eye to return the Defenders to their own era. Back in the Sanctum Sanctorum, Doctor Strange decides to put the petrified form of Dane Whitman’s body into storage in his basement.

Doctor Strange turns his full attention to directing Clea’s studies in the mystic arts. Mindful that magic requires physical discipline as well as mental discipline, and not wanting interpersonal tensions to return now that Clea and the Valkyrie are living under the same roof, Strange arranges for the pair to train together several times a week. To his relief, the two women get along well and soon become fast friends. One night, at an Orange Julius stand in Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange comes across an old man in possession of a broken Tavistick, an occult artifact that marks him as a high priest of Tavi, the so-called “Angel of Dearth.” Since the staff is broken, Strange knows it has been drained of all its power and so the old man is harmless. As the codger grumbles to himself about how he’s wasted his life studying the occult, Doctor Strange offers a few words to cheer him up.

June–July 1966 – Doctor Strange continues to experiment with the various artifacts he inherited from the Ancient One, as well as finding places for his former mentor’s mystic tomes in his own library. He also spends many hours meditating on his role as the new Sorcerer Supreme. He realizes that he really should seek out the Ancient One’s other pupil, Baron Mordo, and attempt to make peace with him, but Strange keeps finding ways to put it off.

August 1966 – While searching for an ancient volume, Doctor Strange comes upon a centuries-old sword he had forgotten about and offers it to the Valkyrie as a replacement for the Ebony Blade. He tells her it has been named Dragonfang, as legend holds it was carved out of the tusk of a dragon by a wizard. She accepts it gratefully, but says she’s thinking of leaving the Defenders to learn what she can about the life of Barbara, whose body she inhabits. However, their discussion is interrupted when Doctor Strange receives a strong psychic call for help from the Hulk. This leads them to the tiny Midwestern town of Pluckettville, where they encounter their old enemy Xemnu the Titan. Xemnu explains how he escaped his seeming death last year by changing into a vaporous state, whereupon he drifted to Miami and possessed the body of the vacationing mayor of Pluckettville. The three Defenders manage to break out of Xemnu’s trap and foil his scheme to repopulate his homeworld with the hypnotized residents of Pluckettville. Xemnu is apparently destroyed while battling the Hulk once again, and so the Defenders return to New York.

Arriving at the Sanctum Sanctorum, Doctor Strange takes the Hulk into the dining room for a meal Wong has prepared as the Valkyrie and Clea talk in the outer chamber. However, to Strange’s surprise, the Hulk suddenly fades away in the middle of his meal. The sorcerer quickly realizes that Clea is casting a spell from the Book of the Vishanti without realizing the full extent of its power. He rushes to stop her, but fades away himself before he can make it to the door. Doctor Strange finds himself in a mystic void facing a shade of his old foe Mister Rasputin. Sensing the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner are likewise imperiled nearby, he casts a spell to bring all three Defenders together. After his teammates save him from the shade, Doctor Strange overwhelms Clea with a kind of mystical feedback that breaks the spell. The Defenders return to the Sanctum Sanctorum, and Clea is mortified at her mistake. After Strange teleports Namor back where he belongs, the rest of the evening proceeds uneventfully.

September 1966 – Doctor Strange is contacted by an alien mystic named Kabal, who comes from an aquatic world in another dimension called Zephyrland. To facilitate communication, Strange travels to Zephyrland in his astral form. There, Kabal and his associates, Ibbar and Ariel, explain that their realm, once a peaceful place devoted to a philosophy of love, has been corrupted by the evil Queen Virago, whose sorcery turned their sportsmen into bloodthirsty warriors. Moved by their plight, Strange agrees to help and returns home to search for the counter-spell. He soon discovers that music is the key to breaking the spell, but when he contacts Kabal again, he sees they have discovered the answer for themselves. He confirms their guess, and they note that Virago’s first order was the destruction of all musical instruments. The rebels then leave to invade the palace to steal the last remaining instrument, a ceremonial trumpet, in order to free their land from its curse. Doctor Strange withdraws from their dimension with a heavy heart, for he knows the terrible cost of their freedom: all who have been ensorcelled will be killed by the sound of the trumpet. Sadly, there is no other way.

November 1966 – Doctor Strange is entertaining the Hulk and Valkyrie in his parlor, regaling them with tales of the occult, when the Sanctum Sanctorum is invaded by a costumed man who battles them when they try to drive him off. Finally, Doctor Strange stops the fight and gives the man the opportunity to speak his piece. The man introduces himself as Nighthawk, former member of the super-villain team known as the Squadron Sinister. He has come seeking help to stop his evil associates from flooding the earth with a doomsday weapon they have created with the help of an alien speculator called Nebulon, the Celestial Man. He had sought out the Avengers first, but Nebulon’s powers had rendered him invisible and intangible as soon as he entered Avengers Mansion. Luckily, he overheard the team discussing the Defenders’ role in defeating Dormammu and Loki a few months ago, and so he rushed over to find them. Suddenly, Nighthawk is apparently disintegrated right before their eyes. Faced with this impending crisis, Doctor Strange forcibly recruits the Sub-Mariner over the Atlantean monarch’s strident objections. Namor is furious, but the Valkyrie convinces him to stay and fight by their side. By dawn, the Defenders locate the Squadron Sinister and their doomsday device somewhere in the Arctic, and to their surprise find Nighthawk being held prisoner there.

After an initial skirmish with the Squadron Sinister, the Defenders are captured by Nebulon and imprisoned within a spherical force field. Intending for them to witness the destruction of their world, Nebulon sends Doctor Strange, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Valkyrie, and Nighthawk into orbit. However, they manage to break out of the force field and return to Earth in time to delay completion of the doomsday weapon. When Doctor Strange attacks Nebulon with bolts of bedevilment, his powers are disrupted and his true form is revealed, that of a hideous non-humanoid creature. Nighthawk takes advantage of the distraction to activate the doomsday device and turn it against Nebulon. The alien creature disappears in a massive implosion, taking the Squadron Sinister with him. However, the weapon overloads and explodes before Nighthawk can jump clear. He is mortally wounded in the blast, and lies close to death as the Defenders gather around him. Doctor Strange says Nighthawk’s only hope is if each of the Defenders sacrifices a small portion of their own life-essence, to be channeled through the Amulet of Agamotto to heal his wounds. They agree, moved by Nighthawk’s heroic self-sacrifice. The spell is successful and Nighthawk recovers immediately. Out of profound gratitude, Nighthawk asks if he might join their team. Doctor Strange tries to explain that they’re not really a team as such, but Namor interrupts angrily, saying that he is terminating his association with the Defenders, so they might as well accept Nighthawk as his replacement. Namor flies off, and the remaining Defenders agree to give Nighthawk a chance.

December 1966 – Doctor Strange decides he can no longer put off tracking down Baron Mordo to put their former rivalry to rest. After leaving Clea with a particular book to study, the new Sorcerer Supreme heads across the ocean to Transylvania. The Cloak of Levitation brings him to the village near Mordo’s ancestral castle in the Carpathian Mountains. While making inquiries, Strange is mesmerized by a beautiful gypsy sorceress named Lilia, who wants his help to retrieve a mystic tome, the Book of Cagliostro, from Mordo’s castle. Still under her spell, Strange takes Lilia into the castle and locates the book, but they find it is guarded by a fearsome gargoyle. The fight goes badly until Lilia releases Strange from his trance. He destroys the gargoyle, but not before its eye beams mortally wound the gypsy. Lilia dies in Strange’s arms. Then, examining the Book of Cagliostro, Doctor Strange realizes the spells deal mostly with time-travel. Fearing what such spells could do in Mordo’s hands, Strange follows his foe’s mystic emanations into a timeless void between dimensions.

Baron Mordo is angry and frustrated to discover Doctor Strange is once more interfering with his plans, and they have a brief confrontation in the void before emerging in 18th-century Paris, France. While searching the city for his rival, Strange comes across Cagliostro himself and warns him of the danger posed by Baron Mordo. Cagliostro is indifferent and teleports himself away. Realizing Mordo has not yet contacted Cagliostro, Strange takes advantage of his departure to impersonate the mage. Soon Mordo arrives, but quickly sees through the ruse. A mystic battle ensues, though both feel their power has been lessened. The fight ends suddenly when Mordo is wrenched away through a space-warp. Sensing the approach of someone else, Strange hastily resumes his disguise as Cagliostro. He is shocked when the visitor is himself, replaying the events of several minutes ago. The time loop ends abruptly, leaving Strange disoriented. Moments later, Cagliostro returns with Mordo and they attack Doctor Strange, beating him down until he is too weak to stand. But then, Cagliostro turns on Mordo and blasts him into submission as well. The wizard then reveals that he is not the true Cagliostro at all, but a time-traveler from the 31st century called Sise-Neg.

Sise-Neg explains that, in his era, so many people practice magic that there is not enough mystical energy to go around. Thus, he hatched a plan to travel backwards through time, using his great skills to absorb an ever-increasing percentage of the total available energy. He now plans to continue back to the dawn of time, at which point he will be all-powerful. Leaving the two astonished sorcerers, Sise-Neg teleports away. Mordo sets off after him, hoping to use Sise-Neg’s vast powers for his own benefit. Though groggy, Doctor Strange realizes that Sise-Neg could absorb enough mystical energy to set himself up as a god and become the greatest threat reality has ever known, and so he follows them into the past. He tracks them to the sixth century A.D., where he and Mordo each try to influence Sise-Neg and sway him with rhetoric. Sise-Neg merely demonstrates his power by conjuring a dragon to menace a passing knight. Doctor Strange saves the knight, learning he is Lancelot du Lac, on his way to Camelot to meet King Arthur for the first time. Strange is disturbed by how casually Sise-Neg almost changed the course of history. Sise-Neg then absorbs the mystic might of Merlin, which had drawn him there, and slips back into the timestream. They appear next in the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, leading to a confrontation with the sorcerous inhabitants. Enraged by their impudence, Sise-Neg destroys the cities, burning them to the ground. Doctor Strange notes with dread that with each time-jump, Sise-Neg appears less human and more godlike.

The trio then travels back into prehistoric times, where they discover Shuma-Gorath preying on the pre-human population. Shocked by this coincidence, Doctor Strange attacks Shuma-Gorath, hoping to destroy him in this era, thus preventing anyone in the future, particularly the Ancient One, from suffering by his evil. However, Sise-Neg has absorbed so much mystical energy that Strange has none to wield. Instead, Strange convinces Sise-Neg that he must save the ape-men, as they are his own ancestors. Seeing the wisdom in it, Sise-Neg lashes out at Shuma-Gorath and, without the demon being aware of it, causes Shuma-Gorath to enter a millennia-spanning slumber, moving him into a pocket dimension as he does so. Sise-Neg then creates a garden-like haven for the ape-men before moving even further back in time.

Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo next appear in space, finding the earth to be merely a molten ball in the process of formation. Now, however, they perceive time moving backwards at a fantastic rate, and they witness the creation of the universe in reverse. Finally, at the moment of creation, as he absorbs the totality of mystical energy and awareness, Sise-Neg sees his folly and allows time to resume its normal flow unaltered, save that the matter of the universe is suffused with his essence. Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo find themselves carried away on the tides of time, washed back to where they began. The pair finally materializes together on a rooftop in New York City. Mordo, overwhelmed by the experience, is completely stupefied. Doctor Strange is confused, but manages to take it all in stride. Then, distracted by a cheering throng below him, he realizes that it is midnight on New Year’s Eve and the people of the city are ringing in the new year. The irony is not lost on Doctor Strange, and he has a good long laugh.


Notes:

April 1966 – After encountering Nightmare again, Doctor Strange battles Shuma-Gorath and his demonic servants, culminating in the death of the Ancient One, in Marvel Premiere #3–10, with the visit to Hamir the Hermit occurring in the framing sequence of the following issue (which was mostly a reprint). Among the “forces of evil” that so concerned the Ancient One at this time were Mephisto unleashing the Ghost Rider upon the world again, Damballah arranging the murder of Daniel Drumm, Houngan Supreme of Voodoo, and Thog the Nether-Spawn attempting an invasion of Earth by his demons of Sominus, as well as the rediscovery of the complete text of the Darkhold. Stephen Strange is not omniscient, though, and was likely unaware of any of these events.

May 1966 – The opening scenes of Marvel Premiere #12 follow soon after, but there is a large gap before the Baron Mordo storyline, although it is not apparent in the story as written. Doctor Strange must first lead the mightiest assemblage of superheroes yet in the epic “Avengers-Defenders Clash” that spans Defenders #8–11 and Avengers #116–118. The new Sorcerer Supreme then makes a brief cameo appearance at the end of Iron Man #56.

August 1966 – The Defenders battle Xemnu the Titan again in Defenders #12, and subsequently run afoul of Clea’s wayward spell in Giant-Size Defenders #1.

September 1966 – Doctor Strange guest-stars in Sub-Mariner #69, although he and Namor never actually cross paths during the story.

November 1966 – Doctor Strange and his teammates help Nighthawk turn over a new leaf in Defenders #13–14. Following this story, Doctor Strange would have learned of the shooting death of President Morris N. Richardson at the White House. Presumably, the Orb of Agamotto also revealed that Richardson had actually been Number One of the Secret Empire and had committed suicide when Captain America foiled his scheme to turn the United States into a totalitarian dictatorship.

December 1966 – Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo take their time-bending journey with Sise-Neg in Marvel Premiere #12–14, which marks the end of Strange’s run in the book. He would soon return in his new title, Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts.





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