After hearing about this hardcover on a podcast (The Longbox of Darkness), I made a note to seek it out before too long! It finally arrived a few short week’s ago, and I can’t be happier about the purchase. The only work I’d previously seen from Steve Ditko was 90% Marvel, and the rest from Charlton. All good material in its own right, but when you see the work by Ditko in this format (black and white anthology stories), you’ll come to appreciate his brilliance even more. Huge thanks to Dark Horse Comics for putting out this material!
The story begins in Europe during the Dark Ages. A sorcerer named Valdar is showing off his skills to the kings court. There is one soldier that doesn’t seem impressed, and Valdar conjures up a wraith that strangles the man, and shows him the error of his ways! He then leaves to summon his minion and descend to the catacombs and perform a spell, but before he can reach the tomb in which he seeks, he’s confrontred by his former master! They have a brief duel, but the former student scurries away and ultimately finds his prize! Script by Archie Goodwin, art by Steve Ditko!
Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say that this story is very entertaining. It does bear a strong resemblance to the Doctor Strange stories you got from Ditko and Lee in Strange Tales, but it doesn’t really detract from the fun. The evil sorcerer is very similar to Baron Mordo, but other than that, it’s all good.
This book has only been in my collection for a few months, but I knew it would be one that I’d spotlight sooner rather than later. Especially when you consider the talent that went into it’s creation! Just based off of the cover alone, who wouldn’t want to own this one! Two big stories with top notch creative teams means a Silver Age classic from the House of Ideas!
First up, we get Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos! They’ve transitioned from military life to working for the government (SHIELD). After a night on the town, Fury goes home, but the next day is full of training at a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. He then must face Captain America in a sparring session in front of the newest recruits!
Awesome story, as you can really see the cool story and art by an ambitious Jim Steranko (story, art, and cover). He really knows how to tell a story with Fury and his supporting cast. He also does a fine job with Cap as well. Letters by Jerry Feldmann.
The second story is another chapter in the life of Doctor Strange! The Doc returns home to find that his Sanctum Sanctorum has been leveled, by none other than Umar herself! Once he finds a counter-spell to bring his home back, he then sets out to fight a band of sorcerers that are attempting to bring back Baron Mordo! Written by Roy Thomas, art by Marie Severin and Herb Trimpe, and letters by Al Kurzrok.
It’s once again time to talk a walk on the Strange side of Marvel Comics! The title Marvel Fanfare was one that not only featured some up and coming creators, but also characters that didn’t get a ton of airplay or were displaced from a title, with no home. The first story (“Switch Witch”, by Mike Barr – plot/script, Sandy Plunkett – pencils/plot, P. Craig Russell – inks, Jim Novak – letters, and Petra Goldberg – colors)does have Spider-Man in it, but the story also features The Scarlet Witch, and the evil sorcerer Xandu! It’s a tale where Xandu uses his sorcery to place Wanda’s soul inside the body of Melinda Morrison, in the Death Dimension. All because Melinda had previously died (but he kept her body “warm”…yes, creepy) and wants to marry her.
The second story in this issue, gives us “The Showdown!” We see a young upstart sorcerer, Ian McNee, challenge The Sorcerer Supreme himself, Dr. Strange! The young man finds out rather quickly that what you think you want isn’t necessarily something you are ready for! Roger Stern (writer), Charles Vess (art), Ron Zalme (letters), and Glynis Wein (colors) are the great creative team behind this excellent chapter in the Doc’s life.
The stories were edited by Allen Milgrom (Mr. Everything at Marvel), and the magnificent front cover is by P. Craig Russell! Not to be outdone, we get an equally awesome back cover by Charles Vess!
By the time the 1990s rolled around, Spider-Man was a household name for quite sometime, and Doctor Strange was also becoming a big part of the mainstream Marvel Universe. Some still consider him a fringe character, but after the 2016 film, that’s mostly changed. A team up with the likes of Spider-Man doesn’t hurt for some added exposure no doubt, but even though his name is in small letters on the cover, the Doc is front and center in this tale!
The story was co-plotted by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas (with Thomas scripting), and the artwork was a team effort with Michael Bair (pencils/inks), and Mark Texeira and Mark Beachum inking, Joe Rosen and Rick Parker lettering, and Bob Sharen colors. Bair has a huge list of credits but isn’t a household name. His work in this book is pretty good though. We all know that Conway and Thomas can plot/write a good story, and this one is no exception. No, it isn’t their finest hour, but it is a good yarn featuring the Doc and Spidey, the beautiful Melinda Morrison, and the psychotic mind of Xandu!
All good things must come to an end…and so did the reign of a certain creator on this title! In this awesome story, we see Dormammu battling not only his nemesis Dr. Strange and then none other than Eternity! Dormammu laid a trap for Eternity and the Doc, but things fall apart rather quickly in this issue for the fiery-headed fiend! Before that though, we do see just how powerful Dormammu is, when he confronts Eternity, and manages to hold his own for a while!
The glorious artwork by “Sturdy” Steve Ditko in this, his last issue of Strange Tales, is absolutely marvelous. There are three full splash pages that are nothing short of brilliant, and Spider-Man aside, show his best work in a superhero book. Most know of Ditko’s abrupt departure from Marvel Comics, and how he’s the biggest recluse in comic book history (to my knowledge). I’d love for him to do just one interview to set some things straight, and not listen to all the pundits speculate about certain matters. Either way, he’s one of the best creators of the industry has ever seen, and should be lauded as such. The story is scripted by “Dandy” Denny O’Neil, colors by Stan Goldberg, and letters by Artie Simek!
The other story in the book (“When the Unliving Strike!”) features Nick Fury. The story by Stan Lee, and layouts by Jack “King” Kirby, pencils by “Dashing” Don Heck, inks by “Mirthful” Mick Demeo, and letters by Sam Rosen.
I love team books, if not for just the different characters, then just because you get more “hero” bang for your buck! But if I had to choose between Marvel Team-UP and Marvel Two-in-One, I’d take the latter. 2-in-1 was just more quirky, or off-beat, if you will. I do however love Dr. Strange, and no matter what title he appears in, I’m going to buy it! In this two-parter, the Doc is somehow turned into a werewolf, and runs amok in NYC. It’s up to Clea, Spider-Man, and Satana to stop him! Throw in a guest appearance by Marie Laveau, and the ever faithful Wong, and you get an issue packed with excitement!
Although Chris Claremont isn’t really known for his work with the macabre, but if you dig, you’ll see he wrote a few different stories in the genre. He does a fine job in this story, showing the great concern Clea has for her mentor/lover! In the art department, we have guest penciler, Mike Vosburg, and he does an outstanding job! Assisting with the art (inks) are Gene Day (#80) and Steve Leialoha (#81)! Both men are solid inkers and have a nice resumé! Letters and colors are both recognizable names as well (colors for #80 are Petra Goldberg, and letters by Denise Wohl– colors in #81 are by Ben Sean, and letters by Rick Parker). Both issues have great covers, and Rich Buckler and Bob McLeod gave us the first one, then followed by Al Milgrom and Steve Leialoha on the second!
Time marches on, and so does my look at Marvel Premiere! As the good Doctor is being drawn into a mad adventure through time, we see the emergence of a powerful mage named Cagliostro! This man is from the past seems to be so powerful, that Dr. Strange and Baron Mordo both seem to be jut pawns to him, but is he really who he claims to be? As the Doc and Baron Mordo attempt to convince Cagliostro that each of them is worthy of his attention, but he seemingly couldn’t care less!
Time travel can be one of those things that get terribly convoluted and quite frankly foolish. One man who has proved on more than one occasion that he’s up to the task of writing a good time travel story, is Steve Englehart. If this story isn’t enough, pick up a copy of the trade paperback, “Celestial Madonna” for another tale with the time-hopping Kang the Conqueror! Once again, Frank Brunner shows us how incredibly talented he is, by giving us another issue filled with fantasy and magic! Throw in the Crusty Bunkers (inks), John Costanza (letters), and Roy Thomas (editor), and you’ve got one fantastic creative team!
Some of you may be wondering why I skipped issue #11. Easy answer is because it basically just reprints the origin of Dr. Strange, by Ditko and Lee. Not that the material isn’t great, but that’s not what this is about. There was a little bridging material, where the Doc went to the former dwelling of the Ancient One, and told his followers that the master is dead. In this issue, the Doc runs into a bunch of gypsies, and a huge Gargoyle! The run of Doc Strange in this title was coming to an end soon, but Englehart and Brunner sure didn’t slow down with the excitement!
For reasons unknown to me, Mike Friedrich scripted some of this issue, and he’s obviously a capable writer, and left a good imprint wherever he traveled. We know that Englehart and Brunner were just getting started with the good Doctor, and they would bring him to new heights, never before seen. No disrespect to Ditko/Lee or Thomas/Colan, but this team set the tone for decades to come, and along with John Costanza lettering, and the Crusty Bunkers inks, this issue is another gem of the run!
You know something, writing about Dr. Strange, and actually comics in general is one of the most edifying things I can think of to share. Why is that, some of you may ask? Well, explaining it isn’t easy, but I’ll try. You see, the vast array of subject matter, the varying intensity of the stories, the mind-blowing artwork, and just the overall satisfaction of reading these great stories and then sharing them with those who might never have read them or even thought about reading them, is quite a thrill. Over the years, people have had differing opinions on comic books (speaking of those who have never read them). Most seem to think they’re for adolescents or weirdos, and just never give them a fair shake. That is nothing short of foolish, and I would guarantee that anyone that considers themselves a fan of fiction (even though most stories draw parallels to everyday events from history), would be impressed by the more complex works of the industries greats.
OK, mild diatribe over. Let us now forge our way into the past, and see the death of one of the Marvel Universe’s great characters. If you go back and read the wondrous stories of the early years, and origin of Dr. Strange, by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, you’ll see just how much of an influence the Ancient One was on Strange. When you understand that, you’ll know how difficult it was for Strange to kill his mentor. Possessed by Shuma-Gorath, the vile creature that intends on killing Dr. Strange, and invading the universe that he and the Ancient One protect!
In only their second issue together, Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner show us that they mix incredibly well as a creative team. Their styles seem to be a match made in heaven. Englehart at this point had already written some great stories as only the third person to write the Avengers title (after Lee and Roy Thomas). He proved that he was more than worthy of taking the reigns of any book and either continuing the greatness or amplifying it. It’s true that these issues (as with a majority of the Bronze Age) are very trippy, and if you don’t appreciate that kind of material, you might not find these stories to your liking. With that said, these two creators (along with the Crusty Bunkers inking, John Costanza lettering, and Roy Thomas, editor) do their best to present a story that is chocked full of action, drama, and of course, magic!
As my look at Marvel Premiere marches on (specifically the Dr. Strange issues), this issue is a momentous one because of the arrival of the new creative team going forward. Until now, a few different creators were involved, and they did an admirable job, but now, the theme takes a bit of a turn, and the Doc must not only continue to fight against Shuma-Gorath and its minions, but also try to deal with the death of his mentor, the Ancient One!
When I interviewed “Stainless” Steve Englehart (writer) about his fabled run with this character, he mentioned some late night brainstorming sessions between he and artist Frank Brunner (pencils on the interiors and the cover). How they would meet and carefully concoct where they wanted things to go, and why. I’ve been a part of other interviews before where a duo worked closely together on a certain title (Dan Abnett, about his work Andy Lanning), and it’s always fun to hear about these jam sessions between two great minds! The inks on this issue are by Ernie Chan, and he’s definitely one of my favorites from the decade. John Costanza (letters) and Dave Hunt (colors) round out the team on this fabulous first collaboration between two of comic book’s definitive creators from the Bronze Age!