The Sands of Death!

Strange Tales 156-158

Story: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas

Art: Marie Severin

Wow this arc something! In just 3 issues the stakes are raised to new heights, multiple villains, and a new primal force of the universe. Marie Severin is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists from the Silver Age. Her panels are so fluid and creative they really give life to these bizarre and awesome characters.

The story picks up immediately from last issue where the Ancient One has sent Dr. Strange to another dimension in search of the one thing that can stop Umar. She travels to Earth, into New York city. Without batting an eye she uses her dark magics to make hundreds of concerned New Yorkers disappear forever. Charging forward she annihilates the Sanctum Sanctorum, presumably killing Strange’s assistant Wong. She is enraged that she cannot sense where Dr. Strange is.

We then switch over to Dr. Strange who now wanders another realm in search of an unspeakably powerful creature named Zom. He was sealed away to protect the universe from his evil. So Dr. Strange smashes the urn he was banished in releasing Zom at last. He is actually very disturbing looking even now. I like how you can’t tell what is going on with the sides of his head, if they are ears or something else. They fight while Strange tries to pacify him only beginning to realize the horror he has unleashed. He tells Zom to remove his Crown of Blindness and face his opponent.

Back on Earth, the Ancient One travels to Stone Henge and lures Umar to face him. He knows that he cannot win against her, but hopes to buy Dr. Strange some time and more importantly remove her from a populated area. He is losing handily and is about to be banished when Dr. Strange appears, having lured Zom back to Earth in hopes that he would pick a fight with someone more powerful. His gamble pays off. Umar tries to fight back but is no match and returns to the dark dimension. Unfortunately that leaves Zom with only two other opponents.

In the opening pages of the next issue, Zom slams the Ancient One into one of the stones and uses his power to meld and kill him. He claims this is the only way and that his power will transfer over to his disciple with the last word “Forelock”. Overcome with rage and new power, Dr. Strange is able to summon the will to fight back. Realizing that the Ancient One was speaking of Zom’s forelock, he uses the Cloak of Levitation to tear it out of Zom’s head.

The move was costly as Zom grabs and tears the cloak apart. Dr. Strange can immediately sense a change in the cosmic forces, an aura of evil unleashed. Zom is no longer just enraged, but afraid at what Strange has done. He explains while trying to kill Strange that nothing can stop the Living Tribunal from coming now.

They continue to fight and after a last failed attempt at mystic thunderclap to finish Strange. He screams in agony and seems to burn away into nothing. Strange turns around to face the Living Tribunal!

I love this guy so much. He is such a neat design. In the same vein of Eternity, a primal cosmic force, the Living Tribunal represents absolute judgement in the universe. His body is humanoid but more cubic, with a floating head that has three different faces. They represent the fully exposed Equity, partially covered Revenge, and hooded visage of Necessity.

He is here now because since the first stroke of the Clock of Time, it has been ordained that mystic powers be equal. When Strange ripped off the forelock of Zom, great evil spread across Earth. Dormant men and women will now be empowered with magic they should not have. The only way to bring back balance is to simply destroy the planet. That’s how little we matter in the grand cosmic scheme.

Dr. Strange pleas with the Living Tribunal. There must be another way? He responds in turn with a powerful binding spell. Dr. Strange is able to break free with his combined power from the Ancient One. He tries to bind him again. Strange is able to break second time. One final time he attempts to bind and destroy Strange but once again he is able to break free. Realizing that Strange might be powerful enough to do something about this threat, he challenges him to repair his Cloak of Levitation and only then will he hear him out.

Strange is able to reform the cloak using all of his sorcery. With this feat, the Living Tribunal forms the Glass of Doom. An hourglass counting down. If Strange can remove the evil unleashed from Zom before the sands finish counting down he will not destroy the planet. With no choice and knowing the task at hand, Dr. Strange leaves Stone Henge in a race against time.

This is some classic awesome cosmic nonsense. Stan Lee and Roy Thomas team up for an epic arc. The character design of the Living Tribunal is incredibly original and is still subtly referenced in pop culture today. Marie Severin gives Steve Ditko a run for his money here. I’m looking forward to see how Strange is able to deal with the new doom looming over humanity.

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