Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Tomb of Dr. Strange

Welcome to Part 2 of a gripping story where Dr. Strange, the Master of the Mystic Arts, sought out none other than Dracula, the Lord of Vampires, for retribution in bringing the curse of the undead to Strange's faithful manservant, Wong.

Clearly, the battle didn't go as the Sorcerer Supreme had hoped.

With Strange now dead--yet more than dead, his corpse waiting to return to "life" as a vampire--it would seem to be game, set and match for the character, unless Marvel plans to continue with him as a vampire/sorcerer (with obvious vulnerabilities that his foes can exploit). But the situation is even worse for him, since Dracula plans to enslave Strange when he rises in three days' time.

But there is a part of the human Dr. Strange which still survives--though that fact will do the survivor precious little good, under the circumstances.

This isn't exactly the time to pile on and add to Strange's problems... but with his body dead and drained of blood, and his heart and other organs no longer functioning, what was he planning to accomplish in merging his astral form with it? (Then again, Strange started out as "the master of Black Magic," so I wouldn't put it past him to be able to reanimate a corpse. Though that's bound to throw a damper on his love life.)

With this new setback, Strange's options are practically exhausted--but he presses on, nonetheless.

Can Strange pull a rabbit out of his amulet? Or will the time come when he must resign himself to his fate?

We catch up with Dracula twenty-four hours later, as he begins to devise what would eventually become an ambitious plan to create and preside over a satanic church which would grow in prominence and power, and bring both human and vampire together under his strong hand. But he's only just discovered the abandoned, deconsecrated church which he would eventually claim as his own (now that he's attacked and slain its homeless squatter) when a startling vision appears and calls out to him--the apparition of a recent enemy, Doctor Sun, who mocks him with a promise of vengeance.

Satisfied that Strange cannot be responsible for his experience, Dracula moves on, to the following night--the night Wong will rise from his "grave" in a strewn alleyway as one of the undead, and fall under the command of his lord and master. But in place of Wong appears another mysterious vision, of a far more familiar nature.

This time, however, the outraged Dracula gives winged chase, pursuing the shade of his dead wife out to and over the Atlantic--until his tenacity is rewarded, and he finally discovers the truth behind it all. But with hours having passed during his relentless, single-minded flight, his discovery may prove to be his downfall.

As has sometimes been the case with Dracula's regular writer, Marv Wolfman, the writer handling Part 2, Steve Englehart, has chosen to suspend a certain aspect of vampire lore in accommodating Dracula's hair's breadth escape from the sunrise--specifically, a vampire requiring a box filled with his native earth in order to take his rest during the day. Of course, for all we know, this cottage was tenanted by Transylvanian gardeners who migrated to the States and inadvertently left some of the soil they'd brought with them. (No, I wouldn't buy that, either.)

Needless to say, the next night, Dracula is sufficiently peeved at Strange to put aside his plans to enslave him as a vampire and instead slay him a second time--for the final time. Yet as Strange's corpse rises as one of the undead, his astral form is finally able to gain entrance to his body--and the battle between Strange and Dracula this time takes a different and more savage tack, one the vampire lord is all too accustomed to.

Strange's future, should he survive this encounter, seems a dismal one, reflecting the sorcerer's own words here. Murdered and cursed, it seems too late for him, having coming up with no apparent plan to save Wong and now trapped himself as a vampire. It's not surprising that he lashes out so, his only immediate concern being to take vengeance against his murderer. If that's the case, it stands to reason he need not restrain his sorcery since he no longer needs Dracula alive, which means he could normally use any one of a hundred sorcerous ways to end Dracula's threat for good; and yet, one wonders if any of the powers he routinely calls on to invoke his spells would respond to the cursed thing he has become.

By the look of this final clash, the point is moot, as it's evident that Englehart and artist Gene Colan intend to keep things on a primal level for the duration. But with only three pages left in this story, and Strange unable to make use of Dracula to save Wong or even himself, what is to be done? It's tantalizing to wonder if Englehart plans to continue Strange's predicament in Doctor Strange for one or two issues (assuming he escapes Dracula's wrath)--it's practically a What If tale waiting to happen. But with Strange needing to return to his own ongoing plot, Englehart has something more dramatic in mind here, making use of both good and evil to banish the "spell" of vampirism and, hopefully, its most vile embodiment.

With Strange stumbling upon a last-minute solution, he arguably received nothing short of a miracle that, as it turned out, allowed this story to be wrapped up faster than you can say "Tetragrammaton" (the Hebrew name of the god of Israel), while returning Wong and Strange to their normal state as a bonus. But any Tomb Of Dracula readers needn't be concerned that it was at Dracula's expense; once safely alone (and back in his own mag), Dracula reforms to his normal appearance, having combined his powers of hypnosis with the ability to turn into mist so that "my flesh vanished in the swelling mist, exposing only bone" during Strange's assault while making Strange believe he saw burnt ash instead of mist. A necessary deception by Dracula, who, being a realist, knew that Strange could have overwhelmed him otherwise--but something of a stretch nevertheless, since it's difficult to imagine Dracula being able to practice hypnosis on his foe while writhing in agony from Strange's assault.

When the dust... er, burnt ash settles, each combatant feels they triumphed, which was standard fare when dealing with two characters with their own titles; though if we had to tip the scale, Strange came out a bit ahead, since he was able to save Wong. Regardless, the meeting between these two very different and powerful characters was well-handled, giving fans of both a good fight and showcasing each of them decently--made all the better, as mentioned before, by the fact that Colan and Tom Palmer, veteran artists of both titles, handled the art chores collectively. And for my part, it was a real treat to see how Wolfman and Englehart handled each other's characters so seamlessly.

As for Dracula and Dr. Strange, they'll be meeting again in the PPC, never... fear.

Doctor Strange #14

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inks: Tom Palmer
Letterer: John Costanza


Big Murr said...

Any shortcomings I feel inherent in the story comes from two panels. In each issue, Dr. Strange proclaims that he has to think and plan before acting. And then facing Dracula, he seems to scramble to ad-lib his attacks and spells. Unlike other heroes who either don't know anything about vampires or only have a pile of Hollywood malarkey for information, Dr. Strange's library must have reams of solid information.

It might not be quite the irritating pebble in my shoe if Dr. Strange had instead charged off to rescue Wong, "There's not a second to lose!", and then found his usual go-to arsenal of spells when dealing with a new enemy were not effective.

A whacky "What If?" just popped into my head. Latveria is virtually in the same postal code as Transylvania and Rumania...a clash of iron egos in Dr. Doom vs Dracula would have been intriguing.

Comicsfan said...

A clash of egos indeed, Murray--the verbal back-and-forth alone would be well worth the price of admission. ;)

Anonymous said...

Even aside from the Latveria thing, a character like Drac seems right for a meeting with Doom, assuming vampires are still part of the Marvel Universe.
I'm probably behind the times - I remember Strange got rid of them, but would be surprised to find that hasn't been undone since (done and undone a few times over, probably).

The Doom/Strange crossover by Mike Mignola and Roger Stern was one of the more memorable Marvels of the direct market era.


Comicsfan said...

I don't believe I've ever given that a read, Sean (or if I have, it's been so long I don't recall). Thanks for mentioning it, I'll have to sit down with it one of these days.