Monday, April 3, 2023

The Purloined Power of... Xandu!


While the story content of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 consists mostly of reprints of prior ASM tales by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (along with additional rogues gallery profiles), the issue's lead story is impressive original material by the same writer/artist team and offers the first meeting between Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, as well as the first appearance by the sorcerer who calls himself Xandu the Unspeakable, or Xandu the All Powerful, or whatever adjective suits his whimsy when announcing himself to others. But to clear up one thing right away, Xandu is not to be confused with Shangdu, one of three capital cities of Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty--a city otherwise known by a name which became attached to one of the biggest box office disappointments of 1980.

Too bad, Xandu--one more letter and your name would have been up in lights. Briefly.

As it happened, this 1965 story also came in handy about 3½ years later during the short run of the first Doctor Strange series, presumably as a way to entice readers to try the book. It was something of a red flag to see a reprint appearing so soon in a still-nascent series--in this case, just four issues prior to the title's cancellation.

(Trivia note: Ditko's standing image of Spider-Man just took a bit of mirroring to become a classic corner box.)

As for what Xandu has in mind, he'll first need a little hired muscle to pull it off--that is to say, enslaved muscle, in the form of two bar room bruisers who were accustomed to throwing their weight around.

And just in case you were wondering who had custody of the other half of the mystic wand Xandu covets, it indeed happens to be Dr. Strange--though not for long, as his attackers are not susceptible to a mystic defense given their current state.

All of which paves the way to a fine original story with what seems to be a very off-brand title for a Spider-Man issue. (More than likely another pitch to Spidey readers to check out a character still playing second fiddle to Nick Fury at this point in time. Sheesh!  Can the hard sell already, Stan!)

On their way back to Xandu with the Wand of Watoomb, our "savage bullies," as Xandu refers to them, meet someone more geared to take them on:  Spider-Man, who quickly discovers that these two aren't just ordinary ruffians and receives a brutal pummeling that brings him down, leaving Xandu free to take his victory lap upon their return.

Now in a position to take down Dr. Strange on his own, Xandu prepares to strike--but thanks to a hastily-tossed spider-tracer that sticks to one of Xandu's mesmerized lackeys, Spider-Man locates and moves in to attack his foe directly. And though outmatched by mystic means, he uses a bit of ingenuity to put Xandu on the defensive, depriving the sorcerer of the prize he craves.

Yet even without the wand, Xandu can still use his power to make use of the resources who have proven themselves against Spider-Man. And speaking of our hero, Ditko is in his element as artist of both Amazing Spider-Man and the Doctor Strange feature of Strange Tales, giving the wall-crawler his first exposure to a mystic dimension that serves as the battleground for Round Two against the "happiness boys."

Meanwhile, what of Dr. Strange? With Xandu focused on retrieving the wand, Strange is free to determine the reason behind his attack and conduct his own tracing of his attackers back to the lair of Xandu, who on the cusp of victory against Spider-Man must face a sorcerer every bit his match and more--that is, until he literally plucks victory from certain defeat.

To hopefully make use of the element of surprise, Strange decides to return to the fray in his astral ectoplasmic form, focusing his efforts on assisting Spider-Man in overcoming his two tireless assailants. In so doing, he appears to demonstrate that through mystic means, he can approximate the abilities of Charles Xavier.

What follows would be a battle tailor-made for the pages of Marvel Team-Up (a mag which would come into its own nearly seven years later). It's a teaming that, despite his advantage, overwhelms Xandu, thanks in part to being off-guard against Spider-Man's unique contribution to Strange's mystic attack. Soon enough, the harried sorcerer is deprived of the wand--after which, Strange sees to it that its power is no longer a danger.

As for Xandu, Professor X Strange not only conducts a mind probe of his foe, but afterward removes his memories of this scheme and essentially changes his personality by eradicating his evil nature. I'm not sure how the Ancient One would react to such tampering, but I know the sequel I'd like to see: "Dr. Strange Goes To Washington."

Hopefully Strange has timed Xandu's nap to end no sooner than an hour later--otherwise his hands enclosed in webbing will make for one very confused ex-sorcerer.

Strange unfortunately has a ways to go before eclipsing Charles Xavier.


dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

I assume you've already spotted that the Wand Of Wantomb made an appearance in the first Doctor Strange film. The Evil Eye from Avengers vs Defenders appeared there too,

charliedogg said...

Your big disappointment of 1980 is my hit: I still love "Xanadu" and our Olivia (RIP) is radiant. Mind you, I'm one of a small group of fans of that movie here in Australia but I was very happy last year to finally buy the Marvel Super Special issue adapting the film. Keep up the great work PPC, always an enjoyable read.

Comicsfan said...

dangermash, I'm ashamed to admit both of those completely slipped by me! But then, I recall so little about that film; mostly I remember that it seemed a little too much like Doctor Strange meets Inception.

charliedogg, I stand chastised as to my cold assessment of "Xanadu"! :D It certainly has its following, and I'm with you insofar as Ms. Newton-John having every reason to be proud of her career as a performer in both music and film.

Anonymous said...

So when are you going to do a post about Marvel Super Special #17 then, Commicsfan?
Clearly the reader demand is out there!
"A place where nobody dared to go
A love that we came to know
They called it Xanadu-ooooh-ooh"


Comicsfan said...

Sean, I'll get right on it!

(I may end up dragging my feet a little because of those #@$%! skates someone strapped on me...)

Anonymous said...

Sean - "You have to believe we are magic - nothing can stand in our way!" might have been written for Dr.Strange, and Clea!


Anonymous said...

"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree..."
That's how the Marvel adaptation starts Phillip. Who needs Stan Lee when you have Coleridge? The poetry turned out to be worth it in the end...

Comicsfan, don't forget Marvel adapted the Bee Gee's 'Sgt Pepper' flick too!
Those Australians really enriched our cultural lives in the 70s, eh?
(Apologies to Charliedogg; sorry mate, I couldn't resist)


Anonymous said...

Sean - I'd say Stan & Jack were the Coleridge & Wordsworth of comic book culture!