Friday, May 20, 2016

From Your Comic To Scott Derrickson's Ear

There wasn't a great deal of subtlety in the 1964 match-up between Dr. Strange and the Asgardian god of mischief, Loki. On the other hand, maybe you don't need to bother with subtlety, when you've got fanfare like this working for you:

There's a certain lopsided aspect to this face-off--Strange, an adept in the mystic arts but nevertheless a mortal, vs. an Asgardian god whose power is off the scale and knows mysticism on many levels. Writer Stan Lee doesn't hesitate to acknowledge the fact, yet still creates a solid story; and it's to artist Steve Ditko's credit that it comes off as visually captivating as it does. In later years, a writer like Steve Englehart or Chris Claremont might have given this kind of struggle room to breathe and explored its impact on Strange, as was the case when the character faced Dracula; but with only one issue at their disposal, and only eleven pages of it at that, Lee and Ditko still leave us with a tale which covers most of the bases we would want it to.

As with most stories involving Loki seeking to strike out at Thor (never mind the fact that in terms of success, Loki "strikes out" almost every time), Lee sticks to a typical formula of Loki attempting to locate a gullible super-being to manipulate into doing his bidding. For what he has planned, in this case he only needs a certain skill set, which Strange has to offer.

(It's odd how often Loki has plotted to steal the hammer of Thor, expecting to wield it once it's in his possession. Exactly how he plans to use it as a weapon remains unclear, given that "worthy" isn't one of the words we'd normally associate with Loki.)

With the deed done, Strange soon realizes that the evil he sensed is due to Loki himself, and he wastes no time in moving against him--to the utter astonishment of Loki, who's probably more amazed by Strange's presumption than by any power he brings to bear. Nevertheless, what Strange lacks in power, he makes up for in tactics, and he uses what power he has wisely and well. And in a crucial moment, he's able to defeat Loki's plan, if not Loki himself.

(We'll have to assume that Thor was flying at cloud-level if he was still in mid-fall by the time his hammer returned to him. Combined with the tweak in Strange's incantation, that's not such an unreasonable leap to ask the reader to make.)

With Loki now realizing he's on borrowed time, he begins to go all-out in his battle against Strange--and though Strange is resourceful, he realizes the capabilities and power of his foe all too clearly. It also has to be disheartening when Loki makes it clear that, under the circumstances, he's only facing Strange with a fraction of his might. (Strange might have sought a psychological edge, and responded with "Fool! Do you think I would waste my full might on a trickster like you? I could end this battle in a heartbeat, if I wished! You but amuse me, nothing more!" If nothing else, the look on Loki's face would be priceless--the split-second before he reduced Strange to a blot on the carpet, that is.

Regardless, Strange battles on--until unexpected help arrives.

In spite of his parting vow, whatever vendetta he held against Strange appears to indeed have been forgotten by Loki, at least to my knowledge. But if actor Tom Hiddleston has his way, we just might get a spectacular rematch on the big screen someday.

Strange Tales #123

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Steve Ditko
Inks: George Bell
Letterer: Art Simek


Anonymous said...

Poor Loki was grossly mis-represented by Marvel - in Norse legend he was just a bit of a trouble-maker, certainly not "thoroughly evil" as Loki describes himself in one of those panels. A couple of years ago I was reading the excellent novel "The Gospel Of Loki" by Joanne Harris which is written from Loki's point of view and I had to sympathize with the poor guy - he's treated like an outsider by the snooty Asgardian gods so it's no surprise that he comes to feel resentment towards them. A few years ago Marvel reverted Loki back to a teenager - the "Kid Loki" period - and I thought the character was quite endearing and sympathetic. I hoped he would stay like that permanently but perhaps he's an adult again now - Marvel changes so quickly these days that it's hard to keep up :D

Comicsfan said...

Are you referring to when Loki was hanging with the Young Avengers, Colin? I wasn't too keen on exploring Loki as a 21st century American teenager who knows his way around social media, but I must admit it grew on me. We'd already seen Loki as a boy in a few of the Tales of Asgard stories, as well as some excellent perspective in the Loki series on how Asgard was never really a home to him in the traditional sense--and there were times in the YA series when I was concerned that part of his past would be whitewashed over. Just like the rest of us, Loki really doesn't get a do-over in terms of his childhood; the real fascination lies in how he chooses to go forward. Loki has always been in a position to stand on his own and create a life and reputation for himself apart from Thor's, yet he's always chosen to subjugate rather than win hearts and minds. I don't think I got any sense from his time in the YA book that his modus operandi in that respect was going to change.

Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for Thor, here. There he is, just flyin' along, minding his own godly business, and a metal hand out of nowhere grabs his hammer, leaving him to plunge to the ground (in an apparently very slow fall).
Sure, he would have survived the impact, probably leaving a small crater, but stuff like that can ruin a guy's day.

Anonymous said...

CF, I haven't read Young Avengers (but I am aware of them) - I meant the Kid Loki from 2011-12 when he was in Journey Into Mystery. That was just before Young Avengers. By the way, I wonder if there is a collection of the Thing/Torch stories from Strange Tales - it took a while for Dr. Strange to even appear on the cover but nowadays those Lee/Ditko stories are kinda legendary while the Ben/Johnny stories have been forgotten about.

Comicsfan said...

It wouldn't surprise me if someone grouped those Thing/Torch stories in a TPB someday, Colin, though I think it's more likely for the Strange Tales issues in their entirety to be included. The Thing always seemed a little diminished in those stories to me, with Johnny often the more level-headed one; also, I could never get past the two of them palling around so frequently (even double-dating). Even though he and Johnny are good friends, Ben would be more likely to relate to Reed (as well as Sue) than to a teenager.

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