Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Call Him... Genesis!

It's probably news to you (as it certainly was to myself) that, according to Doctor Strange writer Steve Englehart*, all mystic energy in the universe is finite, and must be shared among all who understand its use; ergo, the more magicians there are in a certain time period, the less mystical energy one could claim and wield. In reading stories featuring Strange, I had been of the notion that it was the more learned sorcerer who possessed more might, in practice if not on paper. Yet in a previous Englehart story, it always seemed odd to me that the Ancient One, upon his passing, could "bequeath" his mystic powers to his disciple, Dr. Strange, as if they were physical assets one could arrange to transfer upon death.  At the time, I regarded that as the Ancient One passing on his accumulated mystic knowledge to Strange (along the lines of the often-quoted passage attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, "knowledge is power"), which seemed to make the most sense considering that the Ancient One had little power to spare by the time he met his maker. Otherwise, we're left to assume that the Ancient One was keeping all of his power that he'd accumulated over the centuries tucked away in a vault back in his Himalayan temple, mystically triggered for release to Strange at the time of his death.

*Though if an earlier Doctor Strange writer actually established this, do chime in and bring it to my attention.

Nevertheless, Englehart's unofficial creed of mystic energy ties in with--or, rather, appears designed to accommodate--the two-part 1974 story that took place in Marvel Premiere which involves Sise-Neg, a sorcerer who has travelled into the past from the 31st century. In his scheme, Sise-Neg means to take control of all available mystic energy from selected eras as he goes further back in time, so that, when he at last reaches the dawn of creation, all mystic energy in existence will be in his exclusive possession, making him all-powerful and capable of reshaping to his liking all that is to come. But two other sorcerers are along for the ride: Baron Mordo, who hopes to win Sise-Neg's trust and thus assure himself of favorable status in the universe born of Sise-Neg's will... and Dr. Strange, who began this journey with the intent of stopping Mordo from taking such action himself but must now also take the unexpected danger from Sise-Neg into account.

Part 1 of this story is further evidence of Dr. Strange being well on track to returning as a viable character in the Marvel stable, as Englehart and artist Frank Brunner continue to inject new life into the mystic master with engaging stories featuring excellent characterization and (you'll excuse the term) spellbound artwork. And now, as we continue to Part 2, Sise-Neg proceeds on the final leg of his journey backward through time, with Strange and Mordo virtually perched on each shoulder as a kind of angel/devil pairing--one acting as Sise-Neg's conscience and imploring him to see the value of human life, the other self-serving and urging him to follow his instincts in treating humanity with contempt. With each stop on that journey, Sise-Neg materializes in order to take possession of whatever mystical energy at that point in time attracts his attention--and in so doing, provides both Mordo and Strange with an opportunity to win his trust, and affect his choices.

The particular time period which the story first deals with is presumably the late 5th century, specifically in what was then Britain, as elements of King Arthur's reign are encountered--with Merlin's power being the likely source of Sise-Neg's interest. Unfortunately, Mordo appears well-versed in the legends of Camelot--and he uses the tragedy of its principal residents as fodder for strengthening his position with Sise-Neg.

Strike One for Strange--and as he rightly notes, he can't afford to keep giving Mordo opportunities to sway a sorcerer who is on track to becoming a deity.

In this story, it's curious that Englehart has chosen to overlook the fact that Sise-Neg would surely have been drawn to the 20th century in order to siphon the power of the Ancient One--or, even more to the point, Strange himself upon his ascension to the role of Sorcerer Supreme. But since there have been other Ancient Ones prior to the man we know through Strange, we could assume that Sise-Neg tapped one of them on his way to the past, though it wouldn't explain why Strange showed no signs of weakness until he journeyed back to encounter Cagliostro (i.e., Sise-Neg) in the 18th century, where he was in direct proximity to the man. It seems the more scrutiny this story is exposed to, the more fragile its premise appears to be.

Regardless, further back we go, where it seems appropriate that Sise-Neg is drawn to a purely biblical scenario--and the all-powerful identity Sise-Neg covets, in tandem with the location he has chosen to stop in, leaves no room for the moral conundrum which he might otherwise entertain from Mordo and Strange.

Yet the more interesting stop by far occurs when the three travelers arrive in the time of Shuma-Gorath, the creature indirectly responsible for the Ancient One's death and who reigned over the Earth when mankind was in its earliest stages. By now, it's clear that Sise-Neg has more fully embraced the views of Mordo in his dealings with man; but it's here that Strange will nevertheless score much-needed points against his rival for influencing Sise-Neg's conscience.

At last, however, Sise-Neg arrives at his final destination, his power now at its zenith. And in the void, there is little for Strange and Mordo to do but watch helplessly, as time swiftly reaches the point of its very beginning. But as for Sise-Neg, realization and enlightenment are the only rewards that he has finally become ready, and willing, to embrace.

Its an event which sends both Mordo and Strange hurtling back to their own time, to find a world recreated but, true to Sise-Neg's word, quite familiar--a resolution which would bring Strange's appearances in Marvel Premiere to an end, and open the door to his second solo series three months later. A universe restored is quite a high note for Strange to go out on, though a note which Mordo won't be able to join in on celebrating for some time.


If this tale's climax seems vaguely familiar to you as a Doctor Strange reader, let's fast-forward two years to when Englehart would recycle that ending to produce another story which concluded with the Earth's recreation--even making Mordo, who had come to be in a crazed, near-insane state, a key part of the disaster which Strange was faced with rectifying. In that story, it would be Eternity, freed from Nightmare's thrall, who would relent and restore everything in exact detail.

And while Clea didn't suffer the catatonic state that Mordo lapsed into, she didn't exactly take the truth in a way befitting a disciple of Dr. Strange.

For what it's worth, Sue Storm would likely have reacted the same way.

Marvel Premiere #14

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Frank Brunner
Inks: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza


dbutler16 said...

Comparing Clea to Sue Storm? Low blow!

Big Murr said...

If I recall, my initial reaction wasn't incredulity that magic was such a finite resource, but rather that sometime in a measly 1,000 years Earth underwent a major Magical Revolution (to rival the Industrial Revolution). And Earth must be a population of masters of the mystic arts to suck up all the magical juice in our dimension.

Anyhow, it rather flies in the face of all the other Marvel time travelling glimpses into Earth's future with Kang, Zarko, and assorted individuals. Those boys only used science.

Comicsfan said...

I can only imagine how little kids played with each other in Sise-Neg's future, Murray. "Those are my Rings of Raggadorr, Tommy--give 'em back!"

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