Strange Tales 151-155
Story: Stan Lee
Art: Bill Everett, Marie Severin
Just when I was getting excited for Dennis O’Neal to take over the book, he abruptly left and Stan Lee took back over. It is hard to say if it was over creative differences or if DC just gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Either way, the recently deceased author was massively influential with runs on Green Lantern and Batman. I would have loved to see what he could have done with this character. Rest in peace Dennis O’Neal.
This arc deals with the first confrontation of Dr. Strange and Umar, the sister of the defeated Dormammu. The first issue is once again a recap for readers as Umar is trying to get caught up on what happened during her banishment. It seems like Stan Lee was struggling to keep the momentum going with the book. Only at the very end, when Umar has decided Dr. Strange is a threat that must be dealt with, does she lure him back to the dark dimension using the form of a troubled Clea. Dr. Strange has short term memory and falls for the bait again.
The majority of the next issue has Strange navigating portions of the dark dimension as Umar continues to summon and send monsters and creatures for him to deal with. He makes his way to her inner sanctum and they meet in person for the first time. She tries to lure him into a false sense of friendship while explaining her relation to Dormammu but he starts to catch on as she springs a magical trap on him. He flees the sanctum and is forced to move into the realm of the mindless ones. As he floats through space he faces the reality that as long as Umar lives, the life of Clea will be in peril because of his feelings for her.
The next issues artist caught be me by surprise. Bill Everett exits and Marie Severin takes over. I had never seen her name and didn’t realize that a female artist had broken through Marvel in the 1950s. It was a nice change up to go from Bill’s sharper lines to softer more modern looking faces. It would have been more ideal to change between arcs though. How Umar is drawn is a pretty jarring shift.
Initially flying high above the mindless ones and out of danger, Umar summons an illusion of Clea dropping from the sky to the ground below. Dr. Strange follows her down only to find nothing but danger. He battles endless mindless ones as Umar watches the battle unfold from her crystal ball. She actually starts to tap into their minds and control them like a colony, making more coordinated attacks.
Strange repels them back over and over and catches on to what is happening. He summons a massive light and blinds Umar from her station above. Then while she cannot see, he casts an illusion on himself becoming a mindless one. She struggles to find him in the masses and he is able to break out of that plane and back to Umar’s realm.
Now he must ascend cliffs in order to reach her dungeon. Along the way there is a variety of visually interesting traps and spells. He finds himself in a prison of sorts where he identifies a special entity among the fearful and broken. It is Veritas, truth incarnate. I’m not really sure how such a primal force ended up in this cave but it works out. They both ascend to the pinnacle and confront Umar.
In classic fairy tale fashion, Veritas reveals to Umar her true self, a very old and angry woman, which is not what she wanted to see. Instead of dealing with her emotional baggage, she takes out her rage on Clea. Opening up a portal to her actual location, floating in the void, Umar shoots bolts of energy to kill her.
Strange has only seconds to save her and leaps into the portal after the energy bolts. Using spells he is able to move at the speed of light and reach Clea just before the bolt, both moving her out of danger and countering the spell back at Umar.
While Umar is dealt the stunning blow. Strange and Clea make their attempt to escape the dark dimension. They move so fast to reach the edge of this space that they enter a brief time loop and have to wait for the semblance of their true selves to catch up. Sounds a bit silly, but the panels are amusing as they navigate möbius strips and shift to a black and white form. They are able to finally escape the dimension with the help of the Ancient One who acts as a guiding light.
Once they arrive there is little time to relax. As long as Umar is alive Clea will be in danger so the Ancient One performs a powerful spell of vanishment to place Clea in stasis and out of danger. It is revealed that Umar is not just evil, but evil incarnate! Strange vows to destroy her but the Ancient One binds him in an unexpected twist. For Umar now walks the Earth and it is not safe for him here. Looks like it is time for the Ancient One to protect Strange as he has a plan to deal with this.