Doctor Strange #9

dr-strange-9I took a glimpse back into Marvel of the 1970s (August 1975 to be exact) when I read Doctor Strange #9. We’re joined in progress in this story, as the evil otherworldly sorcerer Dormammu has not only managed to claim the powers of the Earth spirit Gaea but has entered our realm by showing up in Arizona.  It’s up to Doctor Strange and his other wizard friends to stop Dormammu from destroying everything.

This part of the story I get, but the rest of Steve Englehart’s plot gets a little confusing mostly because I’ve never really been into Doc Strange’s books. Dormammu has been getting help in this latest scheme by Umar, his twin sister. Thankfully for her, they’re not identical.

A major plot point is then revealed by Orini (a mystic who should be the ruler of the Dark Dimension, but his throne was forcefully taken by Dormammu). Orini is around because he is the father of Clea, who just happens to be Strange’s girlfriend. Got that? It gets a lot more confusing right now. Orini reveals to his daughter the true identity of her mother: Umar.

Umar then steals Dormammu’s power, leading to daughter Clea rebelling against her mother by freeing Gaea and sending her parents and Uncle Dormammu back to the Dark Dimension. After reading this I thought my head was going to explode.

It wasn’t that it was poorly written. The art was by Gene Colan who is great on these kinds of stories. But the problem was there were too many characters to be introduced to at once, let alone that they all had similar sounding names. And if that’s going to be your first encounter with a story, it never ends well.

There was an interesting bit of trivia that I learned from this issue though. The letterer was Karen Mantlo, the then-wife to Bill Mantlo.

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Spidey’s Poker Night: Spectacular Spider-Man #21

As I’ve said before, I love single-issue comic book stories. It’s great being able to pick up something and read it in one quick sitting. Writer Paul Jenkins and artist Talent Caldwell put together a forgotten gem of a single-issue story in 2004’s Spectacular Spider-Man #21. Best of all, this features a slice-of-life story that we usually don’t get to see in super hero comics.

Jenkins has put together a story about what should have been a fun evening for a bunch of Marvel’s super heroes—poker night. Little did everyone know that their game would be crashed by the Kingpin, who wants in on this game. Kingpin’s motivation isn’t that he wants a night out with the boys heroes. Instead, he spots everyone money and turns it into a high stakes tournament. If any of the heroes win, they can keep the money and do whatever they wish with it. If Kingpin wins,  he plans on using the money to buy a new yacht named Heroes’ Folly as a way to embarrass them for not being able to beat him in a card game.

Since this is a Spidey book, the game ends the way you think it will.  That’s to be expected. But what makes this such a good read is that the witty dialogue between the characters and how expressive Caldwell makes everyone. There’s a lot of little things going on the side in this book that are briefly mentioned but are expanded through the rest of the story through clever use of facial expressions and posture, like Dr. Strange and his sidekick Wong being completely bewildered by the rules of poker, or Angel and Black Cat being super flirty. After the game,  you are left with the impression that a certain winged mutant  is going to be making out with a certain burglar turned hero. Way to go Warren!

Even the wisecracking between Spidey, the Human Torch and Thing is laugh-out-loud funny. Jenkins and Caldwell deserve a lot of credit; they were able to turn a filler issue into a classic. Go read this.

Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko

When I picked up Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, I figured I would learn more about the comic book creator. Instead, after finishing this book, I only have more questions. This isn’t a shortcoming of the author; his subject is just that complex.

Bell shares a glimpse into the mind of Ditko, someone who is very important in the history of American comics but at the same time is more elusive and mysterious than the Question–a character he created.

So what did I learn about Ditko?

By the time you finish Strange and Stranger, you learn what motivated Ditko. It’s not fame and fortune, or other forms of personal success. It’s following the Ayn Rand philosophy of objectivism. So what’s that?

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Ayn Rand

So what does that mean and how does it apply to Ditko? Basically, he had his own strong sense of what was right and wrong, and he would only do things on his own terms. This strong sense of black and white in his worldview is what influenced his career. Bell shares many stories from Ditko’s peers–and excerpts from the artist–that show how they shaped his business decisions, for better or worse.

Bell does a great job of showing how the characters created by Ditko incorporated objectivist theory, like how Hawk and Dove may have differing theories on how to get there but ultimately coming to the same conclusion of what is right. I can now look back at his work on the Creeper and the Question and see how this influences the characters’ actions. I also was introduced to Ditko’s Mr. A, a somewhat more sinister and objective version of the Question, who wasn’t afraid to take a life of a criminal.

Even if you don’t agree with them, you can’t help but not respect Ditko’s decisions. He is a man who would rather lose personal success then compromise his personal values. This is evident in the tale of Frank Miller wanting to collaborate on a Mr. A project, but Ditko refusing since Miller didn’t share the same views on the character.

So ultimately, I’m more intrigued about Steve Ditko than ever before thanks to this book b y Blake Bell. Does anyone have any recommendations of where I should start?

Spash Page Saturday #2

Dr. Strange #177 splash page by Gene Colan

Paying tribute to the late Gene Colan, this week’s slash page comes from Dr. Strange #177. Colan had the chance to design a new costume for he good doctor , thanks to villain Asmodeus taking over his body in the story.

Dr. Strange creates a new physical form when he returns from the supernatural dimension. This page is its big debut, and its a lot more super hero-ish when you compare it to Strange’s classic poofy shirt outfit.The costume is very sleek, with the mask completely covering his face except for the eyes and mouth. I wonder if this costume had any influence on Jack Kirby’s design of Mr. Miracle, who dresses very similar.

This costume was an attempt at revamping the title, which was suffering from low sales. Dr. Strange wound up being cancelled in issue 183, which hit newsstands in November 1969.

Colan’s work on this is really awesome (dare I say ridiculously awesome?). Strange looks like he can beat the tar out of you, as opposed to his usual crazy wizard appearance. The negative space around the figure really makes him pop from the background, with the flares and lightning only emphasizing his power.