Saturday, February 23, 2013

Specimens Of The Stranger

Given his power level, you'd think a being like the Stranger would have received more exposure in Marvel's line of comics. But all things considered, he's been used relatively sparsely--perhaps because there aren't many in Marvel's lineup who can give him a run for his money. In his first appearance in X-Men, that wasn't really a problem since, as he states, he was just a "stranger"--from another world, yes, and someone with a purpose on Earth, but he didn't come to conquer. He was more enigmatic than menacing, though clearly someone who would have no trouble taking the X-Men, Magneto, and any other presumptuous threat and making a paper necklace out of them all.

The Stranger's aspect of menace would quickly evolve from this first appearance; I suppose it would have to, if Marvel wanted to keep on using him. I can't help but compare the Stranger to Thanos, also a being of great (if vague) power, as well as someone who also made considerable use of technology and machinery to assist him in his goals--and certainly both their reputations preceded them. Thanos wasn't nearly on the level of the Stranger in terms of sheer power--he was developed differently, coveting power and death while the Stranger's focus was limited to whatever world or being caught his probing eye. And while both had an imposing presence, the Stranger took on a more haughty air and tended to be more aggressive, while Thanos' rage would usually appear only when finding himself set upon in battle.

Yet in his first appearance, the Stranger was kept almost at arm's length by the events of the story, which mostly had Magneto fighting the X-Men while trying to conscript the Stranger into his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It's only near the story's end when we learn the Stranger's true purpose, which Magneto has unwittingly aided:

(A footnote to this issue is that the Stranger's actions have also served to effectively dissolve the Brotherhood itself. Mastermind had earlier been turned into an inert block of matter by the Stranger; Magneto and the Toad are on their way to a microscope; and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch had already decided that their debt to Magneto has long since been repaid, and they depart. It's something of a turning point for the X-Men title--though in retrospect, perhaps a moot one.)

When the Stranger reappears, his demeanor takes a sharp turn toward arrogance and hostility--with the human race itself his target, by way of the Hulk:

This scene also serves to clarify the Stranger's name from this point on. In his first appearance, he could truly be regarded as a stranger, to an entire world:

Yet now, his name refers to his solitary nature of following his own whims and dictates--his methods setting him apart from all others, no matter how shocking those methods might be. Not that the Hulk would be inclined to do another's bidding, certainly not taking the orders of an arrogant S.O.B. like the Stranger. But after a battle that shows the Hulk clearly outmatched, the Stranger takes care of that little detail:

But the Stranger's plan  for the Hulk falls apart soon after he departs for space, when the Hulk changes back to Bruce Banner and the process nullifies the Stranger's tampering. And even though the Stranger starts to get the beginnings of an understanding of the human race at the end of his encounter with the Hulk, he wasn't quite ready to give humanity the benefit of the doubt:

With his next return to Earth, he decided against using another cat's paw like the Hulk and instead followed my dad's "If you want something done right..." philosophy by implanting a bomb which, when detonated, would cleanse the planet of all human life. It was the Silver Surfer who intervened that time, for all the good it did him:

Yet it was through the self-sacrifice of one of those humans the Stranger held in such disregard that prevented the bomb's detonation and again forced the Stranger to reconsider his position against the human race.

The Stranger's battle against the Surfer was indecisive, which would set the tone for his other conflicts with Marvel's heavyweights. Thor, for instance, had no intention of letting the Stranger get away with constantly yanking intelligent beings to his prison-world for study, but in end decides to let discretion be the better part of valor:

Thor's choice here is perplexing, given the Stranger's routine of scanning the galaxies for specimens. It seems to me this action would do nothing to actually prevent the Stranger's possible discovery of Asgard--it simply leaves the door open as to if/when he'll do so. (And why would Thor or any other Asgardian--particularly Odin--worry about a confrontation with the Stranger, or any potential enemy? Surtur isn't exactly chopped liver.) Also, Thor set out to actually stop the Stranger from abducting other species, and his decision here fails to do so in any way.

The Thunder God had spent a large part of that issue seeking information about the Stranger. But it would take six years, in an issue of Fantastic Four, before we finally learn where the Stranger and his race originated from, thanks to a helpful lecture from the Watcher:

Gigantus would come under seige from a warlike race called the Eternals (on the scene earlier than Jack Kirby's version), who invaded one planet after another to satisfy their hunger for conquest. Yet with the vast size and population of Gigantus, they bit off more than they could chew (a LOT more), and decided to come up with an exit strategy which was as uncomplicated as you could get: basically, exit. Not, however, before making sure their inability to conquer this race would never become common knowledge:

Yet before the planet's destruction, its inhabitants launched a vast armada to avenge themselves on the Eternals. And when we're talking about a world "which dwarfed whole galaxies," even a hastily-created armada was going to give new meaning to the word "vast" and be more than any foe could hope to repel. Consequently, it wasn't long before the Eternals reaped what they had sown:

The thing about revenge is that it can unfortunately spawn a cycle of revenge--and the Eternals, though hardly the victims here, decide that their final revenge is going to be not just on the ones responsible for their destruction, but on the entire universe. And so they created the Over-Mind, the sum total power of a billion brains collected into one matchless warrior of the Eternals. And when the Over-Mind awakens after his long incubation and launches his assault on Earth in earnest, his conquest is interrupted by a surprise appearance of the last character we expected to see in this battle:

I know what you're thinking: "The Over-Mind is going to make quite a specimen for the Stranger's lab work." But the Stranger has other plans for the Over-Mind. And we learn the Stranger's origin at last--in fact, his raison d'ĂȘtre:

So you can probably now understand why the Stranger thinks he can just trample over anyone who resists his will--because he can, pretty much. Just ask the Over-Mind--if you can find him, that is. (Though I'm afraid that honor belongs to Null, the Living Darkness.) The Stranger, now free of the burden of his mission, returned to the freedom of the stars; yet in the time since, he seems to have done little with his life beyond his callous studies of lesser beings. The last I knew, he pretended to be the Beyonder in order to study a group of super-humans he transported to a distant world. Though at least in that encounter we learned more of his reasons for his continuing fixation on (and fear of) the human race:

Which means we probably haven't heard the last from the Stranger. Maybe it's time we were on a first-name basis with him.


Anonymous said...

as much as i love this website and as much pleasure as i have recieved from it, lo, these past months, how could you have neglected the classic appearences of th stranger in marvel team up and the champions?!? (dont ask me the issue numbers, I dont have my comics handy.) By the bristeling beard of odin thou must rectictify yon oversight! at least show us the epic cosmic battle between adam warlock, the gardener, spiderman and the stranger. nuff said.

Comicsfan said...

Ha ha--'nuff said, indeed! I had to draw the line at some point, or we'd be here all day! Sparse though his appearances might be (i.e., scattered), the Stranger has still made the rounds. Hopefully, what information I've provided gives a well-rounded look at the character--and I think for the most part I fleshed him out sufficiently.

dbutler16 said...

Something traumatic must have happened to the Stranger between his X-Men appearance and his Hulk appearance to change him into such a grumpy gus! Come to think of it, his origin seems inconsistent with his other appearances. Is he around to study others (especially mutants, presumably) or is he around to stop the Over-Mind.

I’m a bit surprised that Thor chickened out so that the Stranger wouldn’t discover Asgard. That seems out of character for him.

Comicsfan said...

dbutler, it's possible that the Stranger was just killing time by studying other species, until the time came for him to intervene with the Over-Mind. It looks like, between his encounters with the X-Men and the Hulk, he'd studied Earth extensively enough to deem the human race unworthy of survival. Committing genocide makes him no better than the Over-Mind, of course; but at the time, it looked like he was being recycled into a more hostile character, and the part of his mission that revealed him to be a counter to the Eternals' creation of the Over-Mind wasn't yet part of his profile.

I'm in full agreement with you about Thor's "quick fix" for the Stranger. I suppose we have to presume that Thor gave Odin a full briefing on his encounter, presumably so that they could make further plans or put countermeasures in place. (But fat chance we mere mortals would hear about it. The ruler of Asgard is in the habit of keeping his own counsel in such matters.)

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