Strange Tales 123, 124, 125
Story: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
The first time Doctor Strange interacts with the greater Marvel universe! One of the coolest things about superhero comics is how they all live in a shared world and encounter each other as well as their villains. It’s part of the magic that has made the newer cinematic versions so successful as well. I remember the joy I experienced with Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury showing up post credits in Iron Man informing Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative.
So in Strange Tales 123, the God of Mischief Loki is up to his tricks again. This time he thinks he can manipulate our hero Doctor Strange into defeating his half-brother Thor once and for all. In the current status-quo, Loki has messed around one too many times and Odin has banished him to remain in Asgard. So he uses his magic to project himself in Doctor Strange’s home, under the illusion that he has been imprisoned. Loki claims Thor has done this to him and he must be defeated. Strange scans him to confirm the evil that binds him. That evil is actually the heart of Loki himself but he doesn’t realize it yet. Giving Strange a sliver of Thor’s hammer’s thong, he is able to cast a spell which thrusts the hammer away from Thor mid flight.
It’s at this point Doctor Strange scans the sliver and realizes there is no evil in Thor but it was Loki all along. So they engage in battle as Thor plummets towards the Earth. After exchanging magical blows for a while, Strange astral projects under and around Loki to break the spell that keeps Thor’s hammer from him. Now terrified, Loki makes a quick retreat and the day is won. What was interesting is that while both Thor and Doctor Strange are featured, their paths never directly cross. The only interaction is between Loki and Strange which was sort of neat because it was unexpected. There will be plenty of times in the future where they do encounter one another. The other great thing about this issue was getting to see Steve Ditko draw these Asgardian characters. Usually Jack Kirby did the art for Thor (which is also fantastic). It’s a simple story but it was just fun seeing two of my favorite Marvel heroes “interact” with each other for the first time.
I thought things were really getting rolling in Strange Tales 124 when a nameless woman was shown in the first page lost on Earth. With a purple cape I assumed it was the first appearance of Clea, a prominent female character in the series as well as a romantic interest for Doctor Strange. After reading more though, it looks I jumped the gun.
Doctor Strange is patrolling the streets of New York in his astral form when he stumbles upon the woman. She cannot speak and seems confused as she wanders the street at night. He leads her back safely to his home where he can examine her in person with his amulet. That sounds pretty bad but I swear it’s not. He learns that she is displaced from time itself! Realizing he is out of his league he journeys across the globe to seek the Master’s advice. The Master just so happens to have a method that allows Strange to travel to the past, in her time, to seek answers. There are restrictions however. A super special magical candle allows this spell and if Strange does not return to the present before it burns out he will be stuck in the past forever!
Once in the past he encounters an evil mage named Zota. I’ve never heard of him and after a quick search it looks like he was practically a one and done. Strange quickly defeats him but the candle has been burning the whole time! The actual conflict of the issue is really about Strange trying to make his way back home as the candle burns out. For a while he remains in the void, a place between time. It is only by his sheer will that he is able to use his amulet as a dim guiding force back to the present. Once he finally arrives back to the Master, he makes the grand revelation out of left field that the mysterious woman was none other than Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile! What. Apparently with Zota defeated she can go back to her own time safely. She never even spoke a single word. The similarity of Cleo and Clea is too much to be coincidence. Something was going on here behind the scenes.
And so our last issue, Strange Tales 125, has another encounter with the borderline comical nemesis Baron Mordo. Time for another elaborate ineffective scheme. While Strange is checking his globe for evil, three ninjas (not the 90s kids version) show up in his manor sent by the Baron. He quickly dispatches them and questions why the Baron would send them knowing he could handily take care of them. It must have been a distraction. Using the amulet he tries to reach the Master to find him missing in his temple. At this point Baron Mordo walks in on Strange, apparently he left the door unlocked. He tells Strange that the Master is kidnapped and hidden away for… reasons. So at this point the two engage in a pretty epic battle. It starts in real life but quickly jumps to astral projection. The two make a tour de force, spanning the globe in their astral forms. All the while, Strange is trying to pick up any signs of where the Master could be located.
Eventually through their battles Strange does locate him in a cave. It is at this point that Strange is basically fed up with Baron’s nonsense plans and gives him a magical bitch slap that leaves him quivering in a corner. It was actually pretty awesome, given that these Mordo stories have become tedious. It’s like Stan Lee was realizing that he has to move on or else readers are going to get fed up.
So the Master is saved once more. This time is he like, super impressed. I really do hope we get a break from the Baron as the book suggests. Next issue is a big one that I can’t wait for, the first appearance of the dreaded Dormammu!