Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me #2: Strange Days Have Found Us

Dr. Strange #53Okay, folks, you'd better be all over your timelag from zipping back and forth to 1963 (and 2940 BC), 'coz we're off again in a trice! Oh wait, we're not traveling in a trice, we're getting into a time machine. Sorry 'bout that. Trade in your homburg and skinny '60s tie for feathered hair and a skinny '80s tie because we're goin' back to the eighties: June 1982 to be precise!

I asked you on our last trip to bring along twelve cents to buy a copy of Fantastic Four #19 (did you remember to bag and board it and not shove it rolled up in your back pocket?), but this trip's getting exponentially more expensive. Rummage around in your couch cushions until you come up with sixty cents.1980s currency bringing those fancy-schmancy modern state quarters; you'll just destroy the time-space continuum if you try and spend 'em! This time around when we emerge from the time machine we can zip down to a comic book shop—there's plenty of 'em in 1982. So what're you gonna pick up? Steer away from Contest of Champions #1 and resist ruining the surprise for those of 1982 by letting on that Mantlo will tally up the end results incorrectly. G. I. Joe #1 is tempting, isn't it? Oh, and look, it's Fantastic Four #243: the famous "everybody versus Galactus" issue. No, no, walk right past all those four color wonders and grab instead what we've come for: Team America #2. What? No! No, I mean Doctor Strange #53. Go for the pink and white Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin cover and then step back into the time machine, because when we get this thing up to eighty-eight you're gonna see some serious crap.

So. Take a big eighties gander at the cover of Doc Strange #53. Remind you of anything? Hmm, let's take a look. Why, it's practically fodder for a mid-week "Separated at Birth," isn't it?

FF #19 and Doc Strange #53

L: Fantastic Four #19 (October 1963), art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers
R: Doctor Strange v.2 #53 (June 1982), art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin
(Click picture to pharoah-size)

Hmmm. Kirby and Marshall Rogers are both masters in my book, so it's interesting to see Rogers doing basically the same layout as Kirby here. He's kept pretty much the same placement of the main characters...moved a Sphinx in instead of a pyramid; that's obviously visual license but it works really well to immediately visually "set" the cover in Egypt. That will-sapping ray is a little more pinky-purple. The guard in the right hand corner is gone. Sue and Rama-Tut's word balloons, as well as the big box of sixties-style cover copy, are gone—no longer are they hip in the eighties (I'm sorry to say) but more important, we gotta make room for the ectoplasmic form of Steven Strange, M.D. (Magical Doctor). But wait a the words of another eighties icon, who's that girl?:
Doctor Strange #53 cover segment

Yowza! To use the parlance of this eighties era we've zipped into, she's got legs and she knows how to use them! Also, she's got arms, and she's holding what's left of a very disgruntled peacock. But who's this Li'l Miss Miniskirt, and why wasn't she on the cover of Fantastic Four #19? Even more important, why is Doctor Strange coating her with soothing blue crystal energy? Hmmm, this looks like a matter for the Time Detectives! But, failing those, let's just you and me turn the page and start reading Doctor Strange #53, shall we?

As was pretty common for Marvel Comics in the early eighties, this was just one part of a multi-issue storyline, but we're brought up to speed in a quick recap over the first page and a half: Minor demon "Gnit" appears in the realm of Nightmare, Master of Dreams (not to be confused with the Robert Smith look-alike who won't be premiering for another half-decade over at the Distinguished Competition) and recaps the story so far. What an obliging demon!:
Doc Strange #52 panel

Doctor Strange has been bouncing around in time searching for the lost soul shard of Morgana Blessing, which have been scattered through history and is bouncing from person to person in Morgana's various past lives. (Yes, yes, it's all very Shirley Maclaine, isn't it?) Doc's been pursuing the soul as he zips back through history, but every time he gets close, the soul zips away, not unlike trying to catch a rabbit. Geez, Doc, Harry Potter had better luck finding Horcruxes, and he spent most of a year skulking in a forest! Seriously, you should search out the previous issues of this storyline as they're all very fun. There's a great Nick Fury WWII appearance in an earlier issue which reunites (so to speak) the former co-stars of Strange Tales.

So! There we are, all caught up. What era do you think Doc will pop up in next? Wars of the Roses? The Age of King Arthur? 33 AD? (Say, isn't that what got Swamp Thing into trouble? I bet Mike Sterling knows!) Take three guesses, true bullievers, and the first two don't count:
Doc Strange #52 panel

By the way, there's all the credits for this excellent mag, right there! Hah! That saves me from typin' 'em in. Clever, ain't I?

Doc detects the soul of Morgana within the Sphinx itself, and magics open a trap door. Better than a universal key card, those magic leopard-spot gloves are, aren't they? But as the good doctor finds out P.D.Q., this ain't no ordinary Sphinx he's slinkin' about:
Doc Strange #52 panel

This woulda made a good level for a video game, 'coz for the next several panels the Master of the Mystic Arts ducks and dodges computerized laser attacks and force beams trying to take away all his precious life points. He loses his Cloak of Levitation to some fast-closing portal. I know what that's like, Doc; I'm always getting my raincoat caught in the revolving door! (Hey, didn't this happen to Elastigirl in The Incredibles?)
Doc Strange #52 panel

A flightless Doc is a soon-subdued Doc, and he's knocked out by laser weapons.
Doc Strange #52 panel

If there's something Roger Stern knows how to do write, it's timing his tension, because immediately after this cliffhanging panel (what happened to Doc?! Show us now!) the scene switches first to Nightmare and Gnit and then to New York City for a brief interlude with Doc's girlfriend, hair-mousse spokesgirl Clea, and his personal business manager Sara Wolfe (did you know Doc had a business manager? Me neither.) Some light but portending girl talk for half a page, and when we next see Doctor Strange he's in the arms of someone much less cuddly than Clea:
Doc Strange #52 panel

Whoa! Where'd these guys come from? What happened here? Well, clearly Doc was knocked out and is being carried by these clunky futuristic robots, but there's several lost moments in Doc's life we didn't get to see! I wonder if anything interesting or exciting happened during those missing eighteen and a half minutes? Hmmmmm...I wonder!

Although his body's been stunned into a coma and he's now stuffed into a force field by the robots, Doc regains consciousness and sends out his astral form just in time to escape being trapped behind the barrier. Except...good going, Doc, now you can't get back into your body! That's where all the fun stuff is! That's of no concern to Doctor Strange, which is the difference between us and he. Doc says "I can't be concerned with that now!" You and me: "Oh no, somebody else will take my Blockbuster video rental card and use it to get crappy Jessica Simpson movies!" Just another reason why we are not Doctor Strange.

Doc's astral body, invisible and unheard to everyone, goes off in search of Morgana's soul shard, but instead finds...oh, you know who he finds.
Doc Strange #52 panel

He contemplates rescuing them, but instead his attention is drawn to one of Rama-Tut's handmaidens. (Say, why do they call them handmaidens? Is she in charge of his manicures?)
Doc Strange #52 panel

She's the possessor of Morgana's soul, and all Doc has to do to reclaim it is to recite a spell. Unseen, he approaches her...
Doc Strange #52 panel

Ah ha! It's the same handmaiden drawn by Jack Kirby in this panel back in FF #19! Whodathunkit! She's colored a little differently in Marshall's version than Jack's: Marshall Rogers and colorist Bob Sharen give her a more distinct Egyptian complexion and features and a purple tunic, Jack has her dressed in blue, and their outfits are slightly different, but it's clearly meant to be the same girl. Doc casts a spell that allows her to see him, and convinces her to help release his physical body. She agrees, and as any red-blooded female does when faced with the sheer manliness of Stephen Strange, instantly crushes on him.
Doc Strange #52 panel

First, of course, Doc needs a distraction. A big distraction. A big, orange, rocky distraction. His astral form soars into the sky over the slave boat that the Thing is imprisoned on, positions himself in front of the sun, and "magically focuses its cosmic winds upon a single lumpy figure...a figure which begins to change!":
Doc Strange #52 panel

Ohhhhhh! So that's why mere sunlight was enough to help the Thing turn back into Ben Grimm way back in FF #19: Doctor Strange helped it along, just like Mary Poppins, with a little touch of magic! It all falls into place now. Wow, you know how you used to be able to write into Marvel and if you could explain a seeming mistake they had made in a way that both bailed them out and made story sense, they'd send you a No-Prize? Well, you gotta think Stan sent Roger Stern a big ol' No-Prize for adding another dimension to that scene from the early Fantastic Four. (I hope Stan sent Roger a big bonus check too, but that sounds much less likely from Mister Lee, doncha think?)

With Strange's ethereal voice whispering only half-heard in his ear, gladiator Ben wrecks havoc across the Egyptian Empire, takin' the battle to Rama-Tut as he did way back in FF #19. Doc, of course, seizes the opportunity to slip away in the confusion and reunite with the handmaiden slave girl, to rescue his comatose body. Still thinking he's a god, she gets all worshippy the second pajama-clad Doc steps out of his tanning booth prison cell:
Doc Strange #52 panel

But as another famous adventurer has been heard to squeal, "No time for love, Doctor Strange!" Rama-Tut bursts into the room (practically with an audible pop) and sets off the automatic defense systems, pinning Strange and the girl once again under a barrage of laser beams. Doc's no fool: he's studied the art of war by watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail (seriously; don't you just think Doc has got to be a Python fan?) and his way to fight back is to run away! But Doc's crimson cloak has barely swept out of the room when the floor begins to bubble and melt, and guess who pops up just in time to miss the good Doctor?:
Doc Strange #52 panel

Yes, it's another can-you-believe-it-so-freakin'-close call where the FF and Doctor Strange miss running into each other by this (hold up my hooves very, very close together) much. Roger Stern changes the dialogues very slightly from Jack's panels but it's clear we're seeing what just happened seconds before that moment in FF #19.

Safe at last and none the wiser for their close-call guest appearance, Strange and that girl escape. You know, I hate to keep calling her "that girl," but Stern never gives her a name. Chris Claremont would have given her a name, a background, a family history, and let us know what her favorite dessert was, all in ten or fifteen lucidly-worded caption boxes. But we can just call her "That Girl," I guess.

Doc finally completes his quest by recapturing the soul shard from That Girl, but she's fallen in love with him. Must be Doc's liberal use of Sex Panther cologne: sixty percent of the time it works every time, but for a magic man like Doc, it works every time:
Doc Strange #52 panel

Then, just like it happened in FF #19, Rama-Tut slips away into his escape pod and the high-tech machinery of the Sphinx goes "boom." Literally.
Doc Strange #52 panel

Doc and That Girl observe the FF return back to their time via Doctor Doom's Time Machine:
Doc Strange #52 panel

...and Doc himself spirits his body back to his time, not without leaving That Girl in a sad, sad state. Bad Doc! Bad Doc! At least call her on the weekend:
Doc Strange #52 panel

That's the end of the cross-over with Fantastic Four #19, but Doctor Strange #53 still has three and a half pages left to go. Sure, Stern could fill those up with Doc stopping off at the Gift Shop of Ancient Egypt to pick up some trip souvenirs for Wong and Clea, but instead we zip back to 1982 where Morgana's soul and body are reunited, and it feels so good! So good, in fact, that Clea's long-simmering jealousy over the affection Morgana has had for Stephen, and the care and attention Strange has shown in return, raises its dramatic head and the tufty-haired cutie actually walks out on Strange. Well, not so much walks out as poofs out, but you get the idea:
Doc Strange #52 panel

The final page is a wonderfully shadowed and moody work of art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. If the ending of FF #19 was bittersweet, this one's right-out heart-breaking:
Doc Strange #52 panel

Well, Doc, I don't wanna rub it in, but serves ya right for dismissing That Girl so cavalierly.

And...close curtain on Doctor Strange #53, one of the most fun comics ever, not merely for its wonderful story and art but also for it's ultra-clever way of tying into a nineteen-year-old storyline. You can't top that, can you? Why, to even attempt to do so would be utterly wacko! Take a breather, time travelers, and let's all regroup here tomorrow for another time trip, okay? And just haven't seen it all yet!


Baal said...

And is the point where Illuminati 4 happens? I mean, how many times did Clea walk out anyways? I'm thinking three so this could be the one before the Illuminati mentioned one, where Reed's only met Clea 23 times.

Mike Haseloff said...

I could never openly condone this kind of comic, for fear of the disasters it would unleash, but my god. That is glorious!

Done just right, with enough time elapsed, these are some of the most fun comics.

Damned be any man who does frown upon the burdens of so-called "continuity." Witness it's power, and tremble lowly non-believer!

[Nicely done, sir.]

Thomas L. Strickland said...

Excellent post.

Who knew there could be so much doctor es machina in one issues?

runmentionable said...

Wow, I've known and loved both comics for the longest but never realised the handmaiden appeared in the FF issue! Top work sir.

John said...

I'm enjoying your take on it, Bully, but were you aware that Brian Hughes featured the same issues over at Again with the Comics back in April? (The first entry is here.) It was worth reading about again, though, because this time around I noticed the Sphinx-shaped BOOM! Gotta love those crazy Marshall Rogers sound effects.

Bully said...

I didn't see Brian's posts, John, until late last night. I mentioned it here. Brian was very cool about it; as I wasn't aware of his take on it until I'd basically written all parts and posted the first two, no infringement was intended.

David C said...

What's next? Will we get a follow-up on what happened to That Girl?

As an aside, isn't Doctor Doom's Time Machine one of the coolest devices in comic book history? I love how, unlike so many other potentially world-changing devices, this one isn't forgotten at the end of the story, but keeps turning up when appropriate. And I *love* Kirby's design for the thing, how that moving rectangle of light works. Anyone else, with the script saying "the FF step into a time machine" would probably draw something much more prosaic and mechanical, but Kirby nails it with a wonderfully simple visual.

SallyP said...

Oh those wacky Egyptians! This was a VERY interesting little tale, and I love how it all tied in with the earlier Kirby work. Comics done right...who knew?

Steve Flanagan said...

She's colored a little differently in Marshall's version than Jack's: Marshall gives her a more distinct Egyptian complexion and features and a purple tunic

Ah, but if you had retyped he credits, you would have noticed the words "Bob Sharen, colorist".

Bully said...

Good point, Steve. I had originally typed "Marshall gives her more Egyptian features..." (which is all in the pencilling) and then appended that without typing in Sharen's name. I'll do so now and consider yourself dutifully Bull-Prized.

While I'm on the subject, I'm not 100% certain that blue tunic in FF #19 is what was in the original magazine, either, as I scanned it out of a Marvel Masterworks, some of which have been retouched color-wise. Anybody wanna crack open their real copy of FF #19 and tell me if That Girl is in blue?

km said...

**(Say, why do they call them handmaidens? Is she in charge of his manicures?)**

Nahhh, it has more to do with them waiting on their masters 'hand and foot'...but I suspect you knew that already. :)

Most excellently fun series of articles, you and Brian's both. This kind of setup was more or less designed to be celebrated from various angles, anyway.

Jim said...

And if you want to tie this into even more knots, read West Coast Avengers #17-24 by Steve Englehart. In fact, read it anyway; I think it was the best Avengers epic ever. Hawkeye and company are trapped in time, and the only way they can get back is to travel all the way back guessed it...Rama-Tut's Egypt. And once they get there, they start tripping over the Lee/Kirby, Stern/Rogers story themselves. Great fun!

Jim said...

D'oh! I missed Brian Hughes' entries, too...ah well...both blogs (and the original comics) are fun reads!

Siskoid said...

Better than Back to the Future 2! Up there with Trials and Tribble-ations!

This was the one chapter I'd never seen, thanks Bully!

EM said...

Okay, first off Dr Strange has the power to convert the Thing back to Ben Grimm and only uses it once while he's in his astral form and can't be seen and then never tells anyone about it or tries to do it again? What a crappy way to treat your friends.

Secondly,that's the most un-Sphinx-looking Sphinx I've ever seen on the title page. That face looks like it belongs to sone guy named Howie from Jersey!

Thirdly, as always, great post Bully!

SanctumSanctorumComix said...


I cracked open my copy of FF # 19 and saw that the girl was wearing a blue/green outfit.

It was like a really dark teal.
Not blue, but not green.
Weird, really.

Yeah, I have a copy of FF # 19.

And I have ALWAYS kept it in the longbox next to
Doctor Strange # 53.
(Actually, that's the whole reason I bought it)

Then, when West Coast Avengers # 22 came out, and I dropped my jaw with the coolness of THAT, I filled it right in there with the previous 2 multi-decade-separated "installments" of that great and epic saga.

I LOVE that crossover!

Good pick, Bully.
Glad to see more people expressive appreciation for geeky-continuity-happy-fun-time!


Steve Flanagan said...

Nahhh, it has more to do with them waiting on their masters 'hand and foot'...but I suspect you knew that already. :)

We demand footmaidens!

Suzanne de Nimes said...

Bully, with regard to "Is That Girl Blue?"

I don't have the originals, but I do have the next-best thing, the "40 Years of the FF" DVD, which consists of scans of the original comics.

The panel (and the one following) are here:

She is indeed blue in the first panel, but note the girl in the second panel who seems to have a blue top, and purple dress. It's not entirely clear they're supposed to be the same person (and indeed minor details of the clothing suggest Sue is the only person "in common" between the two), but that might be the source of the apparent "color change."