Strange Tales 142-145
Story: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Dennis O’Neil
Art: Steve Ditko
After a “final” showdown with Dormammu and having a nice team-up with our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Dr. Strange finds himself in a series of one-off issues as he deals with other evil sorcerers ready to take advantage of his tired state. The issues are also significant because for the first time Stan Lee is having other writers fill in for him. The talented Roy Thomas and Dennis O’Neil get some with the character which is fun.
Issue 142 is titled “Those Who Would Destroy Me!” and picks up immediately after the previous issue where three agents of Baron Mordo planted an explosive in the Sanctum Sanctorum. Dr. Strange uses his enchanted amulet to detect it and move it outside before it explodes but is weakened from the blast and the agents imprison him.
He wakes up in the lair of one of the agents, with a heavy iron mask preventing him from making incantations. When the agent attempts to probe his mind, Strange turns the table on him and commands that he be freed. Before the mask can be removed though, another agent detects his escape and sounds the alarm and breaks the mind control. Without real eye sight, Strange is forced to astral project and guide his physical form out of the lair. There are some neat team-up sequences with his body and astral form taking out henchmen. He eventually escapes to the rooftops of New York and the issue ends.
The next issue is titled “With None Beside Me” and is written by Roy Thomas with Stan Lee as editor. To prevent the agents from finding his body he hides inside a water tower while Strange’s astral form floats back inside to find his cloak of levitation and enchanted amulet. The cloak is found with little trouble and he guides it around to take out enemies but once he reaches the woman agent who holds the amulet she reveals that she has recovered his body from the water tower.
As she holds him hostage with his own body, she is prying into the amulet. Something she isn’t really qualified to do as Strange uses it from afar and begins to hypnotize her. Another agent disrupts the amulet and Strange fights both of them at once using all of his tools which creates some great action panels. Since none of these agents even have names you can guess that he is able to take care of them pretty easily and wipe all their minds so that we never hear from them again.
Issue 144 revisits the conflict of Dormammu and the unnamed woman he has banished to a far dimension. The opening page reminds us of the guilt Strange feels for her fate. The setup for this issue is a little confusing and is again penned by Roy Thomas. I believe it was one of his first stories and you can feel it on the page as he attempts to juggle a lot of characters and ideas in just 12 pages.
The setup is that Dormammu is keeping tabs on Strange through one of his mercenaries named Asti. Knowing that Strange is searching for the woman, Dormammu commands Asti to interfere. So Asti takes the form of both the Ancient One AND a magician who instruct Strange to enter dimension as a trap. It’s either that or the Ancient One is fooled as well, I can’t tell. It doesn’t really matter that much as this is all setup to have Strange go to a deadly dimension ruled by Tazza who looks like he is related to the Grinch who stole Christmas.
Strange navigates the dimension searching for the woman as Tazza takes many different shapes to try and capture him. Ditko does his usual great job of imaginative fight sequences using the magical tools at Strange’s disposal. He eventually reaches the castle of Tazza and confronts him properly.
It is here we are shown that Tazza has collected several other Sorcerers and displayed their bodies in the throne room with their souls captured. Strange is able to start awakening these Sorcerers as a way to eventually overcome and defeat Tazza. He saves all the other Sorcerers from their eternal fate and gains new allies for the future as he leaves the dimension behind.
The final issue is 145 and titled “To Catch a Magician!” and is written by Dennis O’Neil. We are introduced to a new villainous sorcerer named Mister Rasputin who is performing a dark ritual nearby. Strange flies over the skies of New York to confront this dark magic.
The two begin a magical battle that only lasts so long because Strange is still weak from dealing with Tazza in the prior issue. He does start to get the upper hand when Rasputin does something completely unexpected and I love it. He pulls out a gun and shoots Strange in the chest. This reminds me of the famous scene from Indiana Jones but predates it by over a decade.
Strange is shocked but able to stagger out the nearby window and use what remaining energy he has to levitate to the hospital as he is bleeding out. The doctors are able to save him and he rests in his room, knowing that Rasputin is still out there.
So he astral projects and takes his cloak with him. Meanwhile, Mister Rasputin is paying an assassin to enter the hospital and finish the job. Strange reaches Rasputin a short while later and is able to use the cloak and subdue him, carrying him across the city to his hospital room. When he returns he sees the assassin about to pull the trigger on his physical body. Doctor Strange uses the enchanted amulet to stop him just in time though. Then he uses his signature mind wipe to take care of both of them. It’s hard to keep persistent villains at the rate he is wiping minds.
These were some entertaining issues but I’m ready to get back to the main story. It was nice to read some stories by other writers. As much as I love Stan, his dialogue can get exhausting. Next up is a bittersweet issue as it’s the swan song for Steve Ditko at Marvel.