Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Land Of The Pharaohs!

It's always a treat to pick out a Roger Stern Doctor Strange story for a PPC review (and, honestly, that goes for just about any Roger Stern story), but this particular story brings double the pleasure since it cleverly intersects with a classic Fantastic Four tale from 1963 and breathes new life into a plot that has over twenty years of dust covering it. And considerably more dust than that, considering that Strange and the FF are showing up in the year 2940 B.C.!

We know from the original tale that the FF have used Dr. Doom's time machine to investigate ancient hieroglyphics that indicate the existence of a substance which restores sight to the blind, in the hope of using it to treat the Thing's girlfriend, Alicia Masters. But what interest does that hold for Dr. Strange?

For the answer, we must join one of his most powerful enemies, Nightmare, who at present is chafing at having to depend on Strange for help in retrieving a shard of a mortal soul that is travelling back through time and could end Nightmare's existence. Yet we should really turn to a character who is this story's unofficial narrator, and who practically steals this issue from both Nightmare and Strange--Gnit, an affable if insolent character who happens to be Nightmare's, er, nightmare, and thus is able to speak to him with impunity and without bothering with tact.

As Gnit has recounted, Strange has failed to intercept the soul shard in the two time periods he's materialized in thus far; now, it all comes down to the wire, as this will be his last chance to reverse the shard's journey back through time. Thus, he arrives in the time of Pharaoh Rama-Tut, whom we know is a time traveller from the year 3,000 who had meant to plunder time but whose ability to time-travel was damaged upon arrival in ancient Egypt, where he has stayed as absolute ruler.

Yet Strange's arrival coincides with that of the FF, with Rama-Tut's army mobilizing to take on the foursome. But since Strange was not privy to these events, he has no way of knowing that the FF are present or under what circumstances they have come--and so, unfortunately, he doesn't know that the huge statue on which he alights is other than what it appears, or that it might hold any danger for him. It's an opportunity for Stern to point out through Strange that sorcery and science "play" by different rules, with sorcery at a disadvantage.

Gnit is referring to a bumpy road that Strange and Clea have recently hit in their relationship, which will eventually result in Clea acquiescing to the wishes of those in the Dark Dimension who have asked her to return home in order to lead a rebellion against the rule of Dormammu and his sister, Umar--details that Nightmare, as we can see, has no interest in beyond the fact that the situation may well affect Strange's ability to save Nightmare from extinction.

As for Strange, Rama-Tut's automatons capture and remove him to a lab where he will be held and analyzed by the advanced technology within the Sphinx. (Or where his body will be held, at any rate.)

Strange's ectoplasmic form has no need to bother with navigating through corridors, of course, since it can speed through physical matter at will; but it presumably does so here to accommodate a scene which Stern and artist Marshall Rogers will need in order to facilitate the release of Strange's body, one which we'll come to in short order.

At any rate, as we can see, the corridor leads to Rama-Tut's throne room, where Strange has quite a surprise waiting for him.

With all the cards on the table as far as these two stories proceeding from here, let's have some fun with it and compare it to the pertinent scenes which feature the original work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. For the FF, their mission is straightforward: stop Rama-Tut, obtain the optic substance, and return to their own time. Strange, however, must locate the incarnation of the soul he pursues in this time period, and purge it of the soul shard so that it can be sent back to its present-day host.

With the FF providing the more than ample distraction that Strange needed, he proceeds to guide the hand-maiden (who carries the soul shard) through the corridors of the Sphinx to where his physical body resides, in order to free it so that he may rejoin his essence to it and carry out his mission. And as the FF pursue Rama-Tut through the Sphinx to his time-sphere in which he hopes to escape, Strange and his charge relocate to some distance away from the statue for the privacy he'll need to complete his task.

From all indications, it seems that, just as the soul's 20th-century host has strong feelings for Strange, so, too, does this young woman for this "god" who has overwhelmed her. But just as the FF have reached the point where they are prepared to return to their own time period, so, too, must Strange depart, to the sadness of the one he sought out here.

And while Nightmare, too, has a happy ending of sorts--i.e., his continued survival--we regrettably can't say the same for the "gnits" who thrived in his "nightmare" but are now made superfluous by its outcome.

Ah, Gnit. Rather you than Nightmare, any day.

Five years later, look who else crashed this party!

The WCA have been trapped in the past by a villain who had sabotaged Doom's time machine so that it only transports the user backward in time. With their discovery of both Strange and the FF in Egypt, they feel they've got a good shot at getting back to their own time--but they don't have the luck that Strange had in finding their way through the Sphinx in a timely manner, and so they become trapped within just as Rama-Tut rigs its technology to explode. By the time they exit, both their rides home have unfortunately vanished.

Somewhere, what do you want to bet that a smirk just crossed Nightmare's face?


bandersnatch said...

And a later retcon showed Apocalypse realizing his power (and Rama-Tut trying to exploit it) around the same time. Though it was definitely weaker than the Strange or WCA stories.

Big Murr said...

I found the Dr. Strange overlap story quite entertaining. The West Coast Avengers pushed hard against the "too much of a good thing" zone.

Holy Hannah, but it must be fascinating to listen to the chatter at some of Ben Grimm's poker games. War stories like this that the heroes didn't even know they shared with each other.

Comicsfan said...

I've always felt that Ben was the perfect one to bring all of those different characters together around a poker table, Murray. Darned if I know how those mitts of his keep ahold of his cards, though. (And I'm guessing he never deals.)

Anonymous said...

I expect Ben probably has a pretty good poker face though Comicsfan.