Strange Tales 115, 116
Story: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
In Strange Tales 115, true believers are finally granted the origin to our mysterious Doctor Strange. Readers of the time must have been mailing demanding more. Moving forward, each book would get an additional two pages of story devoted to the Doctor. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko also really step up their game with this issue in the writing and art.
It starts out with a desperate man entering a temple of some sort. He finds an elderly man who we know from previous issues is the Master. Demanding that the Master teach him, the man aggressively approaches but is suddenly lifted up through magic. Frozen in place, the Master scans his mind and reveals that this he is none other than Stephen Strange! Finally our hero has a first name. The Master then begins to tell us of how Stephen arrived here. He was once a famous and arrogant surgeon, demanding the highest prices. It is good to know he was actually a medical doctor, not a doctor of magic because that would be ridiculous. Due to a tragic car crash, Stephen finds the accident has left his hands so damaged he can never perform surgery again.
Unable to accept his condition, he endlessly searches for options. Fortune would have him overhear tales of a magical man in the far east who can cure any ailment. With no other choice he gives everything to travel across the globe in search of this man. This brings us back to the current time.
The Master agrees to take him in as a disciple and introduces us to his other student of the mystic arts, Baron Mordo. At first Stephen is too arrogant and stubborn to truly accept the Master’s teachings. However, during his apprenticeship, he witnesses Mordo using dark magic to drain and exhaust the Master. In the act, Mordo catches him and places a curse preventing Strange from revealing his evil plot. Determined to warn the Master, he fully commits to start learning everything the Master knows. It is only then that the Master reveals he knows of the curse on Stephen and lifts it from him. He informs him that he is aware of what Baron Mordo is up to and would rather have him close by where he can prevent the Baron from doing true harm. What a boss.
This was actually a great read. Steve Ditko makes a large shift in his art style from previous issues. In addition to giving everyone eyes and drawing Strange as a Doctor from the west, there is just more detailed line work throughout, especially in the faces. I was very surprised that the car crash that rendered Stephen incapable happened completely off panel. In modern times that crash would have taken up 8 pages by itself. Overall it is a tight story that sets up these three characters very well and establishes an interesting dynamic of the Master knowing that the Baron is up to no good and the basis for a relationship of trust between Strange and the Master.
Strange Tales 116 features Nightmare, the villain Doctor Strange faced in his premiere issue. We are back to time as opposed to when Strange was still living with the Master and Baron Mordo. This time around, Nightmare has concocted the perfect plan to lure Strange to his realm and destroy him. He starts to prevent anyone who falls asleep from waking , leaving them all in mysterious comas.
Enter the Doctor’s apartment which is revealed to be in Greenwich Village, New York City. An unnamed assistant of Strange’s introduces him to the police who are seeking help with the bizarre epidemic sweeping the city. Strange agrees to assist knowing there can only be one explanation, Nightmare must be responsible. Using incantations that borrow power from the dread Dormammu and the all-seeing Agamotto, he opens a portal to the Nightmare World. Once inside we get to enjoy the twisted dark visuals of the realm. Strange uses his magic to form a path of Hoggoth, one that cannot be harmed by Nightmare.
He continues along the path searching for the trapped souls who cannot return to the waking world until he discovers them on a floating island. Just as he is about to reach them, Nightmare destroys the bridge connecting the path to victims. Luckily Strange has his trusty magical sash that can form a new bridge! As he escorts the souls back to the exit portal Nightmare makes a final attempt to stop him by summoning a… tiny spiny red spider? Unfortunate for Nightmare he completely forgot that Strange’s amulet can blind him and destroy his creations. Oops! Better luck next time!
Overall a decent issue. The setup was better than the payoff though. The artwork alone was worth the read. I just hope that Nightmare smartens up a bit next time they face off. Next issue features Baron Mordo with another plot to destroy Doctor Strange, maybe he will have better luck (he will not).