Strange Tales 126, 127, 128
Story: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
This is the first two issue story of the book, comprising of issue 126 and 127. Finally we are introduced to Doctor Strange’s most famous nemesis, Dormammu. The book doesn’t waste any time, as soon as Strange gets back home from his encounter with Baron Mordo, he is summoned unexpectedly by the Ancient One. Conjuring an illusion of Dormammu, the Ancient One explains that the Earth is in danger from his plans to invade. While he was never able to defeat the dark lord, the Ancient One places his faith in Doctor Strange and sends him to Dormammu’s dimension.
When Doctor Strange arrives, the reader is greeted with stunning renders by Steve Ditko. Everything has a fluidity to it that guides the eyes into infinite doorways and paths. Strange begins to explore the many roads when the viewer transitions to the reveal of Dormammu as he sits on his throne barking orders to his minions. His character design is pretty different from what it will eventually become, especially the colors. I initially didn’t even recognize him.
Moving back to Strange, minions begin to assault him one by one in convenient fashion. The fights are pretty interesting. One minion starts out very small and begins to grow as he consumes Strange’s magic attacks until he finds the right spell. Another manipulates the ribbon like road to become liquid and makes Strange sink down through it into an entirely different area. During these encounters, we are introduced to a mysterious woman with curly white hair. While her name isn’t actually revealed in these two issues, this is Clea. She will become a long term love interest for Strange as well as an awesome and under appreciated heroine in the Marvel universe.
As Doctor Strange continues to fend off Dormammu’s minions, Clea watchs from a distance, admiring his strength of will. After defeating everyone, Strange approaches the throne room to confront Dormammu. Clea stops him and tries to convince him to turn back. Strange ignores her though, stating that he is has pledged his life to battling evil and that there can be no greater calling. So he approaches Dormammu who sits upon his throne. Confused, he asks Doctor Strange there the Ancient One as he is the only one worthy of conversing with. Doctor Strange corrects him and we are left with a cliffhanger!
Luckily we are not living in November of 1964 where I’m sure readers were on the edge of their seats. At the start of issue 127, Dormammu allows Doctor Strange to think over his decision because he “no longer derives pleasure from defeating weak opponents”. Strange takes him on the offer and Clea escorts him to another area of Dormammu’s dimension. It is here that we learn the dark lord isn’t entirely terrible. On the edge of the dimension Clea shows Strange the mindless ones. They are primitive beings who would destroy everything in their paths. It is only through the strong magic of Dormammu that a barrier exists, protecting the lives of those inside.
Even after learning this, Strange cannot back down because if Dormammu lives, humanity will always be in danger. Shortly after he is summoned back to the throne and Clea is imprisoned. The two engage in a grand battle of mystic arts, exchanging blows for pages. We cut back to the Ancient One who channels his strength into Strange. Clea looks upon the battle amazed that neither have fallen. While locked in the duel, mindless ones begin to wander into the throne room, rapidly approaching Clea.
The two realize the peril before them and stop their duel. Due to the fight, Dormammu was unable to maintain the barrier around the dimension. He begins channeling his powers to force the mindless one back but it is not enough. Doctor Strange assists him, adding his own powers to the barrier. Luckily it is enough and the realm is saved. Despite his evil nature, Dormammu is still a being of moral code. Being in Strange’s debt, he reluctantly agrees to leave Earth alone.
Doctor Strange attempts to take Clea with him, but she rejects the offer. She explains that she belongs in this realm. He understands and returns back to Earth where the Ancient One awaits him. Proud of Strange, he offers him a new cape and amulet. I thought he had started with the Cloak of Levitation and Eye of Agamotto, but now I’m not really sure. Neither of the upgrades are referred to by name yet either. I was also suprised that Clea was never called by her name in these two issues. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the first encounter with Dormammu, but this was very entertaining. I appreciated that it wasn’t a straight forward battle and that the situation wasn’t black and white. There are always consequences to every action and was neat to see that conveyed here. I look forward to their next encounter, unlike the next issue’s villain.
The less said about issue 128 the better. It’s unfortunate because this is actually the earliest Strange Tales issue I have acquired in my collection. It has a really neat cover featuring the Silver Age Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Inside the story is completely forgettable. It’s as though Stan and Steve used all their creative energy on the previous issues and forgot they had to get something out the following month. The title of the story is “The Demon’s Disciple!” featuring a villain who I assumed was The Demon. I had never heard of him and after looking it up, he is actually Demonicus and eventually becomes a disciple of Baron Mordo. That makes a lot of sense because he is a poor man’s Mordo.
In the issue, a disciple decides he no longer wants to serve Demonicus so he goes to Doctor Strange for help. While in the Sanctum pleading for assistance, he is summoned back by Demonicus. Doctor Strange uses techniques shown in prior issues to locate the lair of the evil wizard and battle him. Strange is trapped but astral projects out to counter the move, and ultimately defeats Demonicus. He makes him swear off using magic and that is the end. The plot just recycles a lot of things already done so it wasn’t terribly interesting.
Having the name “The Demon” also didn’t do it any favors. All it did was remind me of one of my favorite Bronze Age DC heroes by the same name. Instead of being a creepy looking old man with a goatee that matches a pincer bug, DC’s Demon is an actual demon who speaks in rhymes and shares a body with a man named Jason Blood. It’s written and drawn by the great Jack Kirby and I recommend it.