Friday, October 14, 2016
Strange Takes On Lovecraft!
Doctor Strange created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the back pages of Strange Tales has become over the decades one of Marvel's most distinctive heroes. Dabbling in magic where the majority of Marvel heroes are products of science, Strange has always been on the periphery of the Marvel Universe, a sometimes dour protector of the universe and less often an ally of the other M.U. heroes. Doc had his own series, continuing the numbering of Strange Tales, but lasted only a few years.
He then sort of disappeared for a time, doing crossovers and eventually being revived in the pages of Marvel Feature which showcased the debut of The Defenders. Quickly he got his own series again in the pages of Marvel Premiere. Stan Lee wrote it and the popular Barry Smith took on the art.
The first story is an atmospheric moody piece which has Doc face off against his own perception of reality when he discovers that he has yet again been battling his longtime foe Nightmare. But this mind-blowing story is also the opening salvo in a new Doc Strange epic which pits the sorcerer against monsters and minions who seem to have just left the pages of a Lovecraft story.
In the next issue Doc goes full Lovecraft and heads to the weird and shadowy town of Starkesboro, a New England enclave where the people seem extremely clannish and more than a smidge scaly.
These creepy folks have plans for any strangers they find and Doc is no exception.Notably Frank Brunner would ink this issue which was Smith's last, a sign of things to come.
With the next issue things change as Gardner Fox, longtime DC writer and creator of half that universe had recently been summarily dismissed from the Not-so-Distinguised Competition and Marvel stepped up to give the veteran writer a job. With art by a guy named Irv Wesley Fox has Doc fall further victim to the cult of Starkesboro and the monster they serve, a creepy critter named Sligguth, all followers of a mysterious entity named Shuma-Gorath. Doc finds his way to the underworld of Starkesboro and battles Sligguth.
When Doc defeats Sligguth at last it only triggers The Shambler from the Sea, a bigger monster with a squid-like head very much evocative of Lovecraft's great C'thulhu.
In a story by Fox, the art this time is by Frank Brunner with powerful inks by Sal Buscema. But in this story defeating the Shambler and oily inhabitants of Starkesboro only means that the next monster is up. Doc heads to England to further explore the mystery and discover the Starstones.
Craig P. Russel steps in to handle Fox's scripts as Doc heads to England where he finds yet another watery monster named Dagoth. More secrets of the ancient threat of Shuma-Gorath are uncovered and another village of folks fall thrall to an ancient monster.
Jim Starlin is next up at bat to illustrated Fox's writing as the battle against Shuma-Gorath continues. Stonehenge no less is the scene of a terrific battle against star-spanning demons and Doc himself is transported into distant space to face off against Kathulos, a bizarre plant-like creature.
Doc wins but then finds he stranded on a distant planet, Earth far far away.
Marvel Premiere #9 is a signature issue as it marks the debut of new writer - Steve Englehart and the return of artist Frank Brunner. With inks by Ernie Chua (not yet "Chan") we find Doc still stranded in space but making his way home eventually as he battles weirdly familiar monsters.
Clea and Wong have come to Stonehenge to seek Doc who himself is transported to the Crypts of Kaa-U, the domain of the Living Buddha and the prison of Doc's master The Ancient One. Doc finds that the Ancient One has been starving himself in an attempt to forestall the entry of Shuma-Gorath into our universe, the latter seeking to use the Master's power to make the transition possible. A final burst of energy from the Ancient One to save his apprentice though is enough for Shuma-Gorath to finally break through.
The finale of this epic has been long in coming and lives up to the anticipation. Englehart and Brunner are joined by the Crusty Bunkers on inks and a brief but exciting time in Doc's history really catches fire. Shuma-Gorath reveals himself and Doc battles against the ancient foe using powers bequeathed to him by his Master who himself has not so much dies as transitions to a higher plane of existence when Doc is forced to kill him to defeat Shuma-Gorath. Doc is now Sorcerer Supreme and a new era is well underway.
This was an uneven but above average return for Doc. He's handled here by some of Marvel's better artistic talents and usually to good effect. Gardner Fox's stories are generally given short shrift these days but they have a full-bodied pulp quality which suits the material Fox was handed. But big things are on the way for Stephen Strange, big things indeed.
More Doctor Strange to come.