Strange Tales 120-122
Story: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
This was a very entertaining run of issues, each one with a unique twist. Strange Tales 120 starts us out with Doctor Strange walking through a crowd in the outskirts of New York city. It is revealed that a famous paranormal investigator will be entering a known haunted house in the area on a live broadcast. The Doctor happened to sense an evil in the area and this seems to match up.
Once the investigator enters the mansion, Strange believes he is in danger and attempts to astral project into the house but is shocked to find that it denies him entry. This is also the first time his astral projection is called by name as “ectoplasmic form”. I wonder how long that will be around, I’ve always just known it as astral projection. Ectoplasm more describes a substance related to the out of body experience, what he does seems pure metaphysical. Anyway, while he is failing to enter, the investigator on television witnesses something bizarre and horrifying which cuts the feed. Strange determines to gain access to the house through the traditional method: using his pocket knife amulet to stare at a lock and undo it. Once inside, he is assaulted by a thick eerie mist. He then repels it in the most awesome pose and incantation he can muster.
And this is where I didn’t see the twist coming. I expected some generic haunting spirits to be revealed. Instead the house is actually a living being that came from another dimension to learn about humans.
Strange barters with the sentient house, promising to keep it’s secret if it releases the investigator. The house complies and spits the man out to the concerned crowd. What really shocked me though was what happened next. As soon as Strange exits the building, he immediately goes back on his word and banishes the creature back to it’s home dimension despite it’s pleas to stay! As it threatens to return one day the house disappears from this Earth. I really do hope it returns with a vengeance.
In Strange Tales 121, Baron Mordo is at it again. He is very good at crafting these elaborate plans to trap Doctor Strange, always with the end game of killing the Master. This time he has essentially prank called Strange which makes him astral project from his body. While he is gone, Mordo enters his home and moves his physical body elsewhere. Since Strange no longer knows where his body is, he cannot reenter it. It is then revealed to the reader that if he cannot get to his body within 24 hours he will die. Stan Lee loved these arbitrary time crisis plots.
Now I’m not sure why Mordo went through the trouble of breaking in and locating his body without straight up murdering him, but whatever. Strange frantically searches for his body while encountering various traps set by the Baron. After exhausting himself he returns to his home. He then realizes that he can use a technique taught to him by the Master to basically recreate a crime scene using light waves, which is pretty sweet. Doing so allows him to retrace the Baron’s steps to a local wax museum.
What happens next is a pretty ridiculous series of events. Since Strange’s body is tied up and useless, he takes over a close-by wax replica of a bizarre looking warlord and covers Mordo’s mouth. Preventing him from casting spells, Mordo moves to the astral plane as well and defeats Strange. But wait! It was a copy of his true astral form! The real Doctor imprisons Mordo’s astral form and holds him there for 23 hours to teach him a lesson. There was a lot of eye rolling here, I did really like the ability to trace the past. It was a neat idea.
Strange Tales 122 is about an encounter with Strange’s other routine nemesis, Nightmare. Stephen falls asleep while studying and unfortunately has the MOST DANGEROUS slumber of his life. He awakes to see a mysterious hooded figure in the room with him. Quickly finding himself powerless, he realizes he never woke up at all but instead is trapped in a nightmare with… Nightmare!
What is very fascinating to me here is that this issue is essentially the plot of one of my favorite horror series from the 1980s, Nightmare on Elm Street. Except this story took place about 20 years prior. Strange is initially helpless to Nightmare since he is trapped within his realm. After being tortured for some time there is a fortuitous appearance of Nightmare’s worst enemy: The Gulgol! Helpless to stop it, Strange reveals that he alone can deal with the monstrosity. Nightmare quickly agrees to release him and grant him his powers to remove the Gulgol.
So Doctor Strange snaps his fingers and the revealed illusion disperses. Tricked and angry, Nightmare tries to attack Strange but had already granted him his powers back. Stephen uses his pocket knife amulet to blind Nightmare once again and bounce out of the realm. I always love these issues that take the Doctor to other dimensions, especially while Steve Ditko is still drawing it. Seeing Doctor Strange in an ethereal pinball bursting through the realm of nightmares is a real treat. Up next is the first time Strange encounters the extended Marvel universe in his own book and I’m really excited about it.