Monday, October 7, 2019

This Sorcerer, Supreme!

Following the defeat of the prehistoric horror known as Shuma-Gorath, and the loss of his teacher, the Ancient One, Dr. Strange formally succeeded his mentor by ascending to the position of Earth's "Sorcerer Supreme," a title never before used in reference to the Ancient One but which would be virtually written in stone from that point on and applied often in future Doctor Strange stories, with Strange now the preeminent sorcerer on Earth.  The end of the Shuma-Gorath saga capped a successful return from near-oblivion in comics for the character, which a previous appearance in Marvel Feature (alongside the Defenders) helped to secure.

Subsequent to getting his bearings after the Ancient One's passing and coming to terms with his new role, Strange went on to make a notable if ill-fated attempt to mend fences with Baron Mordo, his enemy almost from Day One of his arrival at the Ancient One's Himalayan temple where he'd once hoped to find the help he needed to regain the life he'd lived before a car accident robbed him of the use of his surgeon's hands. Only now, Mordo was nowhere to be found at his castle in Transylvania--while Strange fell victim to Lilia, a gypsy woman who sought to use him to get her past the defenses of Castle Mordo and reclaim a book which the wily Mordo obtained from her through duplicity. Strange was eventually released from his enslavement to Lilia--but upon closer examination of her book, which was written by the 18th century sorcerer known as Cagliostro, he discovered that Mordo had ventured into time itself in order to change the past and thereby assure his own ascendance over Strange's new stature.

And so Strange immediately sets out to pursue his old foe through time. But what awaits them both is someone neither he nor Mordo are expecting to encounter: another mystic, who has his own reason for traveling backward in time, and his own future to reshape.

As early as page two, Strange has Mordo in sight; but, considering that Strange and Mordo are travelling through time, the story by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner could be given a pass for having Strange locate Mordo so quickly, which under normal circumstances would be absurd given the "head start" that Mordo has on his pursuer. And as long as we're stretching credulity, we could also give credit to Strange's Eye of Agamotto, which is able to pick up Mordo's "trail" even though that wouldn't necessarily give Strange the ability to take a "shortcut" to his foe; but since many writers and artists take the approach that time travel involves following an extensive and winding course to your destination (e.g., Len Wein and John Buscema's "Time Twisters" tale), it wouldn't be surprising to peek into the timestream someday and see road signs posted for a weary traveler to rely on.

Regardless, Strange's luck in reaching Mordo in a *ahem* timely fashion may not do him much good. Mordo remains a ruthless and powerful opponent; and while Strange's new status tilts the odds in his favor, factors are in play even now which will assure that taking on Mordo will be far from a slam dunk for him.

Unfortunately for Mordo, Strange emerges in Paris well before Mordo exits the timestream*--a result which has happened before in time travel stories and which only benefits Englehart's tale, since it gives both Strange and the reader time to explore the mystery of Cagliostro. Yet Englehart uses this first meeting mostly to set up a later one between Strange and Mordo--and so we only learn here that Cagliostro has no wish to be involved with either man, a conversation which ends with Strange having the virtual door slammed in his face.

*All right, since I brought up sign posts, I'll say it: Mordo must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

The more dramatic scene comes with the arrival of Mordo, every bit as arrogant as we remember--regarding Cagliostro as little more than a pawn in his scheme, easy to deceive. What Mordo doesn't realize (at least immediately) is that Strange has taken advantage of Cagliostro's departure to take the man's form in order to trap the one whose arrival he expects to be imminent--and the battle that unfolds as a result, though clearly one orchestrated by Strange, is spectacular to behold.

As is evident, Englehart has wasted no time in having Strange becoming comfortable with regarding himself as the "Sorcerer Supreme," though Strange has spent only a relatively brief time "on the job" in that role--even going so far as to have Strange select a disciple (Clea, his lover) right out of the gate. On the one hand, there's really no harm in Strange indulging in the use of the title, since it conveys a sense of challenge to his stories; but on the other, to hear it announced so often is a little wearing.  In addition, while it was no great thing to see Strange fail as the Master of the Mystic Arts (as he must, at times, for his stories to remain engaging), it takes the reader a little by surprise when he is overcome as the Sorcerer Supreme (as when he fell under the sway of Lilia so easily)--even, as he's done here, going so far as to tell us as much.  In this case, however, we'll see that special circumstances apply here.

As Strange notes, something is affecting the mystic strength of both himself and Mordo; and when Strange experiences a time distortion involving Cagliostro, the time seems right for us to learn more about this sorcerer/philosopher who is not only not who he appears to be, but whose plans have a far greater scope than his "visitors" realize.

Ever the one to take advantage of a sudden opportunity, Mordo is quick to hitch his wagon to Sise-Neg's star in order to overcome Strange--and if Strange's reaction is any indication, Mordo may actually find a way to succeed here. It will all depend on the whims of Sise-Neg, a 31st-century magician who is literally on his way to becoming a god... the God.

Call him...

Marvel Premiere #13

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Frank Brunner
Inks: Crusty Bunkers
Letterer: John Costanza


Big Murr said...

A tale once again, in my opinion, totally supported on the gorgeous pillars of Brunner's art.

Your thoughts on time travel are true, and funny. At the same time though...there's I feel that disconnect I experience when a fellow fan says "That's not how real time travel works!" Or, "real magic", or "real faster-than-light travel". It's obviously all down to what argel-bargle explanation just feels right.

lordjim6 said...

The actual explanation of his plan is really interesting... until you realize that this finite magic theory has never been a thing before or since in the marvel universe. Oops. Also, where did the “arch enemy of Dracula” thing come from?! Was that ever brought up again?

Comicsfan said...

Definitely no argument with you on Brunner's art, Murray.

lordjim, you'll see in Part 2 of this post that I have a few thoughts myself on Sise-Neg's statement that all mystical energy in the universe has proven to be finite and must be portioned out.

Anonymous said...

Cool beans!
I have the last issue of the Sise-neg arc but I missed this one, so this is kind of a treat.
It's nice to see Mordo get some credit being a real threat as a villain. Too often he's been portrayed as a hapless schmuck who shoulda picked another line of work.
And yeah, Brunner was fantastic. I wish I'd seen more of his stuff.