Friday, November 18, 2016

Of Monsters And Magicians (Marvel)
Marvel Adventures #14 When: May 1998
Why: Ralph Macchio How: Andy Kuhn

The Story So Far...
Cain Marko is best known to the world as the unstoppable Juggernaut -- but when his powers begin to fade, he finds himself in danger of losing his super-strong identity!

Juggernaut's only friend in the world is Black Tom Cassidy, and the Irish super-criminal has heard a rumor that just might help his shrinking friend!

The Crimson Gem of Cyttorak that first gave Marko his magical might is said to be in the hands of a magician living in Greenwich Village. When the pair strong arm his aid Wong, they gain entry into the Sanctum Sanctorum, and an audience with Earth's Sorcerer Supreme himself: Dr. Stephen Strange!

Strange is indeed in possession of the artefact that can recharge the Juggernaut, but little does the villain realize, there is another guest in the Sanctum whose phenomenal strength could match even his. He appears to be meek Dr. Bruce Banner, but when you make him mad, he becomes a Hulk!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Hulk 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Dr. Strange 5 (Professor)
Speed: Hulk 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Juggernaut 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Dr. Strange 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Hulk 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Dr. Strange 6 (Mass Destruction)

Throughout November we've been looking at the exploits of Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, but sometimes the key to being a good leader is knowing when to delegate! Good thing Dr. Strange has a very wide talent pool of secret allies to pull from!

Today's villain is a behemoth we're coming to know well on The Comic Book Fight Club! Juggernaut is a magically unstoppable powerhouse whose mystic strength has toppled Colossus [Uncanny X-Men #183], Captain Britain [Excalibur #3], Captain Marvel Jr [Unlimited Access #3], and as featured just a few weeks ago -- Dr. Strange, who lost his life in the reality of What If...? #24!

You could forgive the Doc for looking for a little assistance when tangling with a foe as powerful as this! Fortunately for him, his Sanctum Sanctorum attracts a wide array of friends and foes, luring this time the frail form of Dr. Bruce Banner, better known to the world as the incredible Hulk!

Hulk's unnatural super-human strength is biological in nature. Altered by the science of gamma radiation, Hulk is the raging monster that lurks within the mind and body of scientist Banner. He's one of the most powerful figures in the Marvel Universe, owning featured victories over Silver Surfer [Incredible Hulk #95], The Sentry [World War Hulk #5], The Avengers [Avengers #4], Thor [Avengers #5] and Red Hulk [Hulk #6]!

Popular conceit is that Hulk's strength increases the madder he gets - and nothing makes him madder than an opponent he can't beat! Some feel that implies limitless strength, but here on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, we have always subscribed to the belief that Hulk's mortal body has a limit to the power it can produce, or contain. That's okay, though!

Unstoppable, though he may be, Juggernaut can at least be temporarily defeated! We've seen the likes of Nimrod [Uncanny X-Men #194], Superman [DC versus Marvel #1], Spider-man & Wonder Woman [Unlimited Access #1], and The Avengers [Thunderbolts #150] put him on his tin canned keister!

As evenly matched opponents go - Juggernaut and Hulk are a couple of the greats. Any fight could go either man's way! Let's not forget that Hulk has Dr. Strange in his corner, though -- and there's one special detail in this encounter that undoubtedly gives the heroes an edge!

Juggernaut has come to the Sanctum Sanctorum because his magical strength has been dwindling. He's literally wasting away -- needing to make fresh contact with the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak to recharge his powers! When the fight breaks out, he has done that, inadvertently spilling into the dimension of Cyttorak himself, but

It isn't a standard necessity for the character. Just one of those uncommon afflictions that introduces a little vulnerability. When the fight begins he has been recharged - and spilled into the dimension of Cyttorak, himself. However a shred of doubt about his power remains, and that's all Hulk and Dr. Strange should need! Let's check it out...

The Tape: Hulk Ranking: Hulk (#6)

What Went Down...
With Wong held hostage by Black Tom Cassidy, the unstoppable Juggernaut penetrates the inner chambers of The Sanctum Sanctorum. Responding to the shrinking villain's plea, Dr. Strange produces the crimson Gem of Cyttorak -- only to be swatted aside as Juggernaut greedily snatches it away!

Unassuming scientist Bruce Banner watches from the threshold as a beam of red energy escapes the gem above an unconscious Sorcerer Supreme. Seeing the emaciated Juggernaut for the villain he is - Banner dives into the fray!

The tackle sends Banner and Juggernaut plunging into a portal emitting from the ruby. Black Tom contemplates the error of their plan as his associate disappears into the void of another dimension!

Inside the other realm, Juggernaut's body swells as it bathes in the raw magic of Cyttorak! He revels in a power like he's never felt before! Standing large and super-charged, he fails to notice the ghostly presence looming behind him!

A blast of mystic energy gets the Juggernaut's attention! It seems Dr. Strange's unconscious state was not a result of physical harm -- but rather, a plan to open the interdimensional doorway and entrap the Juggernaut with his astral form!

The Juggernaut starts charging toward his ectoplasmic foe, but strange claps his hands together and fires a beam at the at his feet. The spell causes the very ground to rise up around the Juggernaut -- but his unstoppable strength is too great to be held for long!

Strange attempts a more direct approach, conjuring a gigantic medieval pincer -- but Juggernaut catches its pointed ends, and shatters the weapon with his phenomenal power! As he stalks toward the astral spectre, Strange realizes the powers Juggernaut receives from this realm could place him in mortal danger!

Seeing the man who helped him in peril, Bruce Banner gives in to his inner anxiety and rage. In an explosion of muscle and anger, he shatters the calm bestowed by the mystic and unleashes the incredible Hulk!

Believing the Hulk to be summoned by Strange's magic, Juggernaut accepts the challenge. A chance to prove who the strongest in the world really is!

The two behemoths collide -- the unstoppable force meeting the immovable monster! A green hook chin checks the Juggernaut. He fires back with an unstoppable uppercut! Hulk drives both fists down atop his foe. Juggernaut fires back with a left cross of his own. Hulk throws another punch back his way. Two evenly matched powerhouses locked in a call-and-reply conversation of combat!

Seeing no end in sight: Dr. Strange plants a suggestion in the simple mind of the Hulk, urging him to direct his blows in the direction of a distant temple. An almighty blow sends Juggernaut flying in the intended direction.

At the foot of the enormous idol is another gleaming gem of Cyttorak! Seeing a chance to boost his powers to even greater heights: Juggernaut reaches out for the ruby. At first, it has the intended effect - flooding his massive body with rippling waves of energy! Triumph turns to horror as Juggernaut is consumed by the unending raw power! He shrieks for help as his body bursts with light and he disappears!

In Juggernaut's place appears the visage of the entity Cyttorak! He chastises Earth's Sorcerer Supreme for trespassing upon his realm, but also expresses a begrudging gratitude for his prior role in dispensing with Mindless Ones. For that, Cyttorak agrees to return Stephen Strange and Bruce Banner to Earth.

Juggernaut, however, will not be so fortunate. He must be punished for meddling with primal forces beyond him!

The Hammer...
After careful deliberation: Hulk & Dr. Strange will share the victory, with an invaluable assist from Cyttorak! Hard times for Juggernaut, who quite clearly picks up another defeat.

Fans of The Comic Book Fight Club will be excited to know the result means Hulk rises from #6 in the rankings, to #4! He super-leaps new #5 Wolverine, and pushes Superman out of the Top 5, down to #6! Scroll to the bottom of this entry for the full character rankings update.

Despite its impact on our ranks, not all fans will be rushing enthusiastically to quote this particular example of the Hulk defeating the unstoppable Juggernaut.

Marvel Adventures, for those who may not know, was a consolidated out-of-canon series spinning out of the various comics inspired by Marvel's cartoons.

Throughout the early to mid nineties; X-Men, Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Hulk all graced the small screen in starring animated series. The quality of the animation varied, but for the most part, they were excellent, faithful introductions to the wonderful world of Marvel Comics.

Many episodes adapted famous stories from classic comics. On rare occasions, the cartoons even crossed over with one another! Dr. Strange was one such hero to go between series, appearing in a Spider-man episode in '96, before making his way into the second series of Incredible Hulk, in '97.

The whole phenomenon first closed the loop on itself in 1992, when Marvel published issue #1 of X-Men Adventures. Throughout its four year run, the series would adapt episodes of the cartoon to comics. It sounds a little silly, but it was a 90s commerce solution to an influx of cartoon viewers becoming comics readers. The barrier to entry was low, and familiarity bred the cool kids who skipped out-of-continuity stories, delving deeper into the on-going canon!

Convoluted production issues on the third series of animated X-Men saw episodes shuffled to meet deadlines, censorship and run time. Volume 3 of X-Men Adventures adapted The Phoenix storylines central to the cartoon, but left many stories unrepresented. Instead, a subsequent launch of Adventures of the X-Men began a new era of telling original stories only partially inspired by the world of the cartoons. Marvel Adventures continued this with a revolving cast of cartoon inspired heroes and villains, often in combination.

Considering the state of Marvel Comics from '96 to '98, these simplified and iconic versions of characters had a real place on racks. In Adventures, fans could get fun, done-in-one stories away from convoluted events like Ben Reilly as Spider-man, the Heroes Reborn reboot universe, and so on. I may have been enjoying those stories at the time, but I certainly appreciated these alternatives.

If classic heroes and villains weren't selling point enough - there was the wholly unique art style of Andy Kuhn! You may know him these days from series like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Firebreather. In the mid to late nineties, his big, bold, exaggerated art style gave Marvel's characters a unique contemporary look, and helped define the identity of Adventures branded comics!

Of course, being so identified with the Adventures ghetto probably didn't do him a lot of favours in the dismissive eyes of regular Marvel readers. He's found his way into books like Secret Avengers in recent years, but in my opinion, Kuhn remains significantly underrated! An artist I'd love to see more of.

We may get to more Kuhn in the future, but for now, we conclude a month of celebrating Doctor Strange! The Sorcerer Supreme has been the subject of our November battles, and is in theatres now!

If you read this week's spoilerific Hero of the Week spotlight, you know the Doctor Strange movie has an intriguing surprise cameo. That's going to fuel our final feature fight - next week! It's a forgotten classic, so you won't want to miss it! If you have, be sure to dive into character tag links or the Issue Index Archive! You'll find hundreds of features if you do!

Winners: Hulk and Doctor Strange (w/ Cyttorak)
#4 (+2) Hulk
#22 (+10) Dr. Strange
#43 (--) Juggernaut
#504 (new) Cyttorak

Monday, November 14, 2016

Real Name: Thor Odinson
First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery #83 (August, 1962)
Fight Club Ranking: #22

Featured Fights:
- vs GHOST RIDER: Avengers #214 (Dec 1981)
- vs BETA RAY BILL: Thor #337 (Nov 1983)
- vs DR. STRANGE & AVENGERS: What If...? #4 (Oct 1989)
- vs SUPER-SKRULL: Thor #465 (Aug 1993)
- vs CAPTAIN MARVEL: Marvel versus DC #2 (Mar 1996)
- vs AVENGERS: Avengers #1 (Nov 1996)
- vs HULK: Avengers #5 (Mar 1997)
- vs DR. DOOM: Heroes Reborn: The Return #4 (Dec 1997)
- vs THE DESTROYER: Thor #1 (Jul 1998)
- vs SUPERMAN: JLA/Avengers #1 (Sep 2003)
- vs RED HULK: Hulk #6 (Nov 2008)
- vs JUGGERNAUT: Thunderbolts #150 (Jan 2011)

We've known for quite some time Thor will return to the big screen this time next year in Thor-: Ragnarok. It'll be Chris Hemsworth's third outing in a Thor solo film, this time guided by cult New Zealand director: Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows). We don't know a whole lot about the film itself, but fans were treated to an early glimpse in a mid-credits cameo scene in Doctor Strange!

Rumors abound that Thor and Loki will be together in Midgard, seeking the aid of Dr. Strange along their journey to find missing Odin. How significant The Sorcerer Supreme's contribution will be remains to be seen, but for a viewer who's found the past two Thor films to be among Marvel's least interesting, the crossover will be welcomed!

Thor: Ragnarok is also expected to feature Hulk in the gladiatorial guise found in 2006's Planet Hulk. This might be the workaround to Marvel's difficulties creating another Hulk solo film, said to be tied to licensing agreements with Universal Pictures. How exactly it compliments a Thor film is a big question. Fans of Marvel animation will remember a Thor cameo in the animated Planet Hulk movie, with Beta Ray Bill substituting for Silver Surfer in the story's centerpiece arena battle. The Surfer was another casualty of tangled film rights, which will inevitably interrupt any adaptation.

Planet Hulk begins when The Illuminati resign themselves to ejecting the rampaging beast into space. They are: Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Professor XPrince Namor, Black Bolt and Dr. Strange. Mr. Fantastic and Professor X are characters tied up at FOX, but the rest are within the Marvel Entertainment pantheon, Namor's rights becoming clearer earlier this year.

There are several ways the Marvel movies may attempt to adapt Planet Hulk. Jeff Goldblum will appear as a version of The Grandmaster. This Elder of the Universe is best known for his interest in high stakes games. The best known of these is the original Contest of Champions, which saw various heroes plucked from their lives and pitted against one another in competitive combat.

Turning a Thor film into a version of Contest of Champions could be a terrific way of shaking off the monotony of past installments' weak villains. Characters confirmed to be in the film include: Hulk, Loki, Heimdall, Hela, Valkyrie, Skurge, Miek and Dr. Strange. Could these be combatants in a grand tournament scenario? Might we see more characters cameo in a test run for Avengers: Infinity War?

It's an exciting concept. Almost too good to be true! Marvel have a lot of cost effective options if they need to populate a tournament bracket, though. Ways of avoiding the expense of big name stars!

CG creations like Iron Man, Groot or Abomination could be transplanted from other films with or without recorded actor dialogue. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is another movie filming this year, with characters like Drax, Gamora, Nebula or Star-Lord suitable for the game. Especially when you consider Benecio Del Toro's Collector is another Elder of the Universe, who previously appeared after the credits of Thor: The Dark World in what seemed like a preview to Guardians of the Galaxy, but may have far greater implications. Indeed, all of these details could be building to the much anticipated arrival of Thanos, Infinity War, and the gathering of the Infinity Gems!

If Thor: Ragnarok does go down this path, I'd love to see Beta Ray Bill among the warriors introduced! The original Walt Simonson issues that introduced the hero [eg; Thor #337] could arguably be a Thor film unto themselves, but opportunities may be scarce as the Marvel movies move in new directions. Any Beta Ray Bill is probably better than none. A character who could be a major find for Disney, with potential to spin-off into Guardians of the Galaxy, Infinity War, some future Thor film, or perhaps even a CG movie all his own!

The Kree Captain Marvel could be another character introduced in a cosmic tournament - a way to introduce elements that will ultimate construct the Carol Danvers version in a 2019 starring film.

All wild, unfounded, fanciful fan theories -- but a whole lot more exciting than anything the last two Thor films threw down for anticipation! Thor: Ragnarok arrives in theatres November 3, 2017. You can catch a glimpse of the God of Thunder in theatres now in Doctor Strange!

Can't wait that long? November has been all about Dr. Strange! Follow links littered throughout this Hero of the Week update to find more Marvel moments, battles, and spotlights! Go even deeper into the Secret Archives to search featured fights by publisher, series and issue number! Stay tuned to Secret Wars on Infinite Earths as we wrap up the month with a forgotten classic Thor battle!

       [Home]       Hero of the Week 11/07: Ghost Rider >>

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Vampire Strikes Back! (Marvel)
Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #10 When: November 1989 Why: Roy Thomas & Dann Thomas How: Jackson Guice

The Story So Far...
To the world at large Dr. Stephen Strange was for a time dead, but in truth, he remained all along Earth's final defense against threats of magic: The Sorcerer Supreme!

Of the many evils Dr. Strange has thwarted, the feat of erasing vampires from the Earth is one of his greatest triumphs! Imagine, then, the surprise when a desperate call from his younger brother Vic summons him to the scene of a vampire attack!

Indeed, the ghastly figure that stalks Victor Strange is a specimen most rare. Not a creature of the night - but a mistake of science! A living vampire! He is Dr. Michael Morbius: afflicted with a bloodlust similar to that of the undead - and strengths every bit as great! Dr. Strange has chosen a truly worthy foe, unaware that the true vampire menace is not the attacker - but the victim!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Morbius 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Draw 5 (Professor)
Speed: Morbius 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Dr. Strange 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Draw 3 (Average)
Fighting: Morbius 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Dr. Strange 6 (Mass Destruction)

A couple of weeks ago we ventured into the alternate reality of What If...? #24, to see mutant vampires rule over New York City! In that universe, Dr. Strange patrolled the night skies - a lone sentinel of sorcery against the undead horde!

One good vampiric turn deserves another, and since there wasn't any time during Halloween, we're going back to horror to see what happens when The Sorcerer Supreme meets one of my favourite cult heroes: The Living Vampire!

Dr. Michael Morbius is an accomplished biochemist whose affliction with a rare blood disease led him to attempt self-experimentation. The strange science he developed cured his ailment, but transformed him into a chalk-skinned, fanged, sun sensitive "living vampire" with a lust to consume the blood of other men!

His struggles with bloodlust led Morbius into a famous feud with Spider-man, and early conflicts with Human Torch, X-Men, and Blade! In time, he would vow to drink only the blood of the wicked, forging alliances with his former enemies, and the likes of The Werewolf, Man-ThingSon of Satan, Ghost Rider, and even Dr. Strange himself! He has belonged to the ranks of The Legion of Monsters, Midnight Sons, and ARMOR, always fighting to keep his inner darkness at bay.

In the past we've seen Morbius go toe-to-toe with The Werewolf, Jack Russell [Marvel Premiere #28], and lead The Midnight Sons against The Hood's agents of Night Shift [Marvel Zombies 4 #2]. These conflicts demonstrate both his physical strength, intelligence, and familiarity with the world of mysticism! Impressive, but can a living vampire really contend with The Sorcerer Supreme?

A vampire Juggernaut reminded us just how human Dr. Strange really is! Under the right circumstances, any physical threat can cause him considerable harm! Just look at Wolverine running a possessed Strange through with his claws in New Avengers #2! Strange's domain is the mystic, and although Morbius has been possessed by demons - he's a living vampire of no inherent magic quality!

Strange has spells of protection and bondage that can defend him from, or contain physical threats. They depend on his inclination to use them, though. If Morbius can catch Dr. Strange unawares, and use his enhanced speed and strength to press the advantage - this could be over quickly!

Given the apparent unfamiliarity between the two, and the fact Dr. Strange is under the impression there are no vampires left since he spoke the Montesi Formula -- an element of surprise is there! It's Dr. Strange's fight to win or lose!

Only a few rungs separate the two in The Comic Book Fight Club rankings. Morbius trails at #47, with only four recorded results to Dr. Strange's eight featurde fights. All of this data spells an intriguing match-up! Let's check it out!

The Tape: Dr. Strange Ranking: Dr. Strange (#42)

What Went Down...
The cloak of levitation allows Dr. Stephen Strange to fly through the air - just in time to catch his brother Victor, who falls from a top storey fire escape! Strange places his mortal kin unconscious on the ground and turns his attentions to eerie, pursuing figure who glides to the Earth behind them!

Though he doesn't recognize the man called Morbius, the Sorcerer sees the fangs, unnaturally pale skin, and weird glide that signal something other than human! He invokes Great Oshtur and Satannish the Supreme, but before the sorcerer can complete any incantation -- Morbius is upon him!

The strength of the hand at Dr. Strange's throat choke him into silence. Morbius commands, "No spells!" as his second hand meets his first and throws the mystic against a brick wall!

He rips at the Doctor's cape with talon-like finger nails, separating the magician from the source of his amazing aerial prowess. Escape is no longer an option!

Calling upon martial arts training taught to him by his old friend Wong, Strange throws a chop at Morbius' neck! It stuns him for a moment, but the living vampire's superior strength allows him to clutch Strange shoulder to groin and powerslam him against the wall!

Strange endures the pain and throws his elbow backwards - stunning Morbius once again. He follows it up with a devastating left cross that snaps Morbius' neck one way - and then brings his foot colliding into it with a roundhouse kick!

Doc Strange is on a roll, he would've thought to himself, had Morbius not broken his rhythm with a two-handed shove!

The Sorcerer Supreme tries to resort to magic, but his words still croak in his crushed throat. He cannot defend himself as Morbius thrusts a black boot into The Doctor's face and sends him back to his knees!

Outmuscled and fading fast, Dr. Strange searches for a way to turn the fight and save himself. Though separated from his cloak of levitation - he can still command its movements!

Like the proverbial bat, the cape rises into the air and launches at an unsuspecting Morbius! It wraps him up from behind like a red and gold trimmed straight jacket! Dr. Strange knows taloned fingernails could tear free at any moment. He mutters a finally irony, "You said it -- f-friend -- No spells!"

One all mighty blow sends Morbius sprawling to the ground! Strange re-fixes his cloak of levitation around victorious shoulders as Morbius speaks -- cleared of the bloodlust that overwhelmed him.

The Hammer...
Did you expect to see the Sorcerer Supreme resort to mere street fighting? In uncharacteristic fashion Dr. Strange is victorious!

I chose this atypical showdown mostly because of my undying appreciation for The Living Vampire - Morbius. As noted in The Tape, we didn't find time to feature his exploits in October, so it seemed like a nice time to double back for some cult fandom.

Truth be told, that early fascination with Morbius led me to covet this issue as a young reader. I don't remember the dawning days of 1990 with enough clarity to be sure if I ever actually saw the issue in person. A dramatic printing of the cover in an issue of Marvel Age -- Marvel's comic book sized fan magazine and advertising spread -- was enough to get me on the hook!

As it turned out, this issue was the doorway to an on-going association between Dr. Strange and Morbius.
An interesting time in Dr. Strange's over fifty year history, where things feel curiously fresh. Who knew The Sorcerer Supreme's kid brother would turn out to be a vampire? Morbius, apparently!

There'd be a little break for a few fun Acts of Vengeance tie-ins, but eventually Morbius would find his way back to The Sanctum Sanctorum, and into the middle of a plot bringing vampires back to the Marvel Universe in a big way.

Vampires had, of course, been taken completely off the board by Strange's reading of The Montesi Formula. One of those sweeping changes made when an idea seems impractical and played out, but is inevitably missed.As much as I'm never entirely sure if I like the idea of Count Dracula and vampire hordes in the Marvel Universe, I think it's probably a mistake to erase them completely. The shadows are deep and dark enough to let them dwell in the fringes. The conceit of a dark, occult reality existing just below and beside our every day lives is something I absolutely can go with.

The relaunch of the series in '88 seemed to be a conceited effort to make everything new again, whilst getting back to basics. One of my favourite additions of the time is Rintrah as Strange's apprentice in residence -- a demonic looking interdimensional entity with a heart of gold.

This issue is a fine example of the juggling of occult gatherings, super-heroics, and soap opera of Stephen Strange's private life. A balance that allows for the highfalutin esoterica that defines Dr. Strange, with a sense of humanity that grounds it all. I don't mind leaning in to the grandiose magicka, but I can definitely see how this approach makes it all more inviting. A lot of fun, too!

We're having fun throughout November as the world embraces magic through the Doctor Strange feature film - now in theatres! Last week we watched as Strange battled the baffling black magic of Baron Mordo. Up next: A cross-dimensional struggle of brain and brawn! You won't want to miss it!

For more of the exploits of The Sorcerer Supreme and his allies you should venture into the book of the Issue Index Archive! Therein you will find a guide to all the documented struggles of good, evil and beyond!

To have your own experience in the world of magic, use the Amazon link provided to purchase the collected edition with this issue and many more inside! By doing so, you help support The Comic Book Fight Club at no extra charge! Blessings of the Vishanti!

Winner: Doctor Strange
#32 (+10) Dr. Strange
#57 (-10) Morbius

Monday, November 07, 2016

Real Name: Johnny Blaze
First Appearance: Marvel Spotlight #5 (August, 1972)
Fight Club Ranking: #97

Featured Fights:
- vs TRAPSTER: Marvel Team-Up #58 (Jun 1977)
- vs AVENGERS: Avengers #214 (Dec 1981)
- vs GHOST RIDER: Ghost Rider #29 (Jan 2009)

The way I see it, Marvel Entertainment has a real bittersweet problem on its hands. They have a pretty good Ghost Rider show trapped in the body of a pretty terrible Agents of SHIELD show!

The addition of all-new Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes has been a bright spark in an otherwise abysmal run of TV; now in its fourth season. The visual alone has been a rare incentive to sit through weeks of meandering! Alas; as they stretch their plots across an entire season, and clumsily dangle Ghost Rider at every commercial break, the novelty begins to wear increasingly thin!

Fortunately for the show they still have another ace in the hole! In recent weeks, eagle-eyed (or very bored) fans have spotted one or two background elements alluding to another Ghost Rider. Carnival posters and motorcycles have built up to this week's flaming backstory cameo by: Johnny Blaze!

You can always count on the image of the Ghost Rider to provide an instant thrill. Flaming skulls and motorcycles are cool! The details of the story - a little less pleasing...

Gone is the unique Robbie Reyes origin we praised in comic books. Instead, gang violence strikes like happenstance, throwing Reyes from the driver's seat of a late night cruise with his younger brother. As he flies through the air, Reyes fears for his brother's life, praying to 'anyone who would listen' to ensure his safety. The arrival of a motorcycle signals the now crippled boy's rescue from the overturned car. The price paid by Robbie Reyes is resurrection at the hands of the Ghost Rider.

It's worth noting it's never explicitly stated that this is Johnny Blaze - a get-out-of-jail should they ever decide to do more with the character(s).

Much of the brief scene is obscured by scenery as it's told from different perspectives: an exercise in killing time (and interest). The flaming skull of the motorcyclist is only on screen for a few seconds. Perhaps it's Dan Ketch - perhaps it doesn't really matter.

You don't get the overwhelming sense the character is coming back in any meaningful way. Even with the bad taste of the Nicholas Cage movies still in people's mouths, the "real" Ghost Rider has to be considered a viable property for something bigger than this. A rousing ride of the Ghost Riders in the season finale might be a possibility. Another cameo by a CG visage alleviating the pressure of casting Marvel Entertainment's version of this important character.

It would be great if all of this was building to the launch of something better. Ghost Rider would be at home on the streets of Netflix, especially once  Iron Fist escalates the martial mysticism found in early episodes of Daredevil. Not that they've got the magic touch to do everything right. Cinema is still an obvious outlet for the character, whose Hell stained world could benefit from bigger budgets, even if Agents of SHIELD is proof positive of how well the character can be made for TV.

So far ABC has only shown interest in some of the least remarkable extensions of the Marvel Universe. Agent Carter, while sweet and earnest, put the blandness of Agents of SHIELD in a period dress and called it a day. Mockingbird should've remained incorporated into other projects. Ditching bland secret agents for a Ghost Rider series with Reyes, Blaze and characters like cop turned skullhead Michael Badilino (aka; Vengeance), would be a breath of fresh air. I'm not sure if ABC, Disney and America is ready to put Hell in prime time, but stranger things are happening.

It's been fun to see the flaming wheels in motion. That's enough to make Johnny Blaze our Hero of the Week! The dark magic of the character is an extension of Marvel's Doctor Strange - now in theatres! You can find plenty more mystic mayhem with him in November updates on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, and by diving into the records of the Issue Index!

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Return of The Omnipotent Baron Mordo! (Marvel)
Strange Tales #114 When: November 1963
Why: Stan Lee How: Steve Ditko

The Story So Far...
Dr. Stephen Strange is a master of black magic, wielded in the service of protecting the realm of Earth! His skills were learned from the great Tibetan master of magic known to the mortal world as: The Ancient One!

Though Strange is the most favoured of The Ancient One's students, he is far from the only man to have learned to wield his arcane techniques. Among his most powerful students is another, more senior sorcerer known as Baron Mordo!

In Mordo's blackened heart is a desire to be the greatest sorcerer in all the world. In this fool's quest, he once attempted to destroy his master and claim the final secrets unknown to him. He was thwarted by Dr. Strange and thus the two become sworn enemies! A hatred that motives an unexpected call to Strange's Greenwich Village sanctum from Sir Clive Bentley - an old English acquaintance with a desperate request for help! A siren's call issued in truth by Karl Mordo with the intent of staging a horrible plot for revenge!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 2 (Average)
Intelligence: Draw 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 2 (Average)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Dr. Strange 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Draw 2 (Average)
Energy: Draw 6 (Mass Destruction)

It's not often that we have an as-published sequential rematch on our cards, but that's exactly what we're looking at today! The villainous Baron Mordo debuted in Strange Tales #111, where he used his mastery of the mystic arts to vex his former master, The Ancient One, and Earth's Sorcerer Supreme: Dr. Strange!

In that original contest, Mordo used astral projection and powers of suggestion to see The Ancient One poisoned by a trusted aid. When Dr. Strange intervened, he relied on cunning to outwit Mordo, making him believe his material body was in mortal danger, thus leading Strange to it! The Master was healed while Strange entrapped the Baron in the body he raced to save.

Three issues later: Baron Mordo makes his second appearance to come for revenge against Doctor Strange - the man who replaced and defeated him!

We've seen Dr. Strange combat many magical opponents in the decades that followed. He and The Avengers prevented Dormammu entering our dimension through mystic charge The Hood [New Avengers #54]. In a lesser skirmish, he used to spells to reduce Hand ninja to sleeping, crying children while ferrying the group into and out of the battle [New Avengers #27]. He's a confident mystic, but not infallible or all powerful.

In New Avengers #2, we saw a Strange who was no longer Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, and became a possessed puppet for the awesome Agamotto! The wholly non-magical intervention of Wolverine snapped him out of it, but he was still unable to prevent the entity abducting Iron Fist!

Baron Mordo studied extensively with The Ancient One before Strange's arrival and ascension. His mastery of the black arts is extensive - possibly even greater than Dr. Strange's at this early stage of his career! Indeed, had Mordo not led Strange to his body in that original battle, the Sorcerer would not have been able to locate or effect it!

All of this adds up to a serious threat to Strange, who can at best intuit the presence of danger -- but not predict its source! He knows this, just as he knows he cannot rely on The Master to fight this battle for him. This awareness and determination to hone and improve his mastery is a good sign!

In all respects they are the classic yin and yang of the mystic id! Good and evil, evenly matched and equal in profession!

Can the Doctor triumph over his sinister other - or will Mordo have his revenge?

Let us cease the fruitless supposing of these hypothetical incantations and gaze upon a realm of reality where the confrontation has already become history!

History: Dr. Strange (1-0-0)
The Tape: Dr. Strange Ranking: Dr. Strange (#67)

What Went Down...
Lured to the darkened castle of one Sir Clive Bentley -- Dr. Strange pierces the English gloom with a sense of danger. Though he can detect the lingering menace of a powerful evil, he notices the vapor of occult candles too late!

The gloating figure of Baron Mordo emerges from the shadows to survey his wicked work! Just as Dr. Strange had held the villain prisoner in his own body during their last encounter -- now Mordo's sinister candles paralyze the sorcerer as the flickering flame burns toward his ultimate doom!

At that moment, The Ancient One reaches out from far off Tibet to convene with his favored student through the realm of the mind! In telepathic conference, Dr. Strange rejects The Master's offer for help - vowing to prove himself against Baron Mordo's dark magicks!

Though he rejected The Master, Strange is no fool and not above accepting help! As his limbs fail him, Strange summons fading energy to wield his mystic amulet -- using its magic to call to a nearby home. There, a young woman receives the sorcerer's command -- Sir Clive's daughter: Victoria Bentley!

Succumbing to his beckoning order, the young lady enters a trance-like state -- racing to her father's castle! There, she dutifully snuffs the flames that hold Strange prisoner and threaten his very life!

As power returns to the sorcerer's limbs, the woman snaps to her senses -- unaware of how she came to be in his ominous presence. Strange detects an untapped talent for sorcery within the woman, who feels a great sense of trust, and reveals the shocking truth - that Lord Bentley died ten years ago!

Baron Mordo returns to discover Strange freed from his death trap. He attempts to take advantage of his sudden arrival, using magic to sap The Doctor's will, but soon discovers the undetected ruse that lured Strange to the castle has also been turned against him!

Mordo's threats have been leveled at a mere mental projection! Having arrived by jet, the true Dr. Strange enters to merge with his other self and assume full power in the struggle against his nemesis!

The sinister sorcerer Baron Mordo slings insults as he dives into an epic ethereal battle with his eternal nemesis! He is stronger, older, greater - but Strange will not accept defeat! While they stare intently in the mortal world, they project on the arena of the mystic plane astral warriors of immense power!

The unwitnessed war is waged with the fury of a storm! Like the raging tempest - it ends as suddenly as it began! One "nerve-shattering impact" sufficient to defeat Baron Mordo. In a burst of smoke - he disappears from Bentley Castle!

Once again, incredible strategy has given Dr. Strange the advantage. Baron Mordo lives to fight another day, more desperate than ever to wield his superior power in the ultimate defeat of The Ancient One's future successor!

The Hammer...
What more is there left to say? Once again good has triumphed over evil thanks to the wit and determination of Dr. Strange!

If I were to take a critical eye to this story, I might look twice at the method of Strange's third act switcheroo. Maybe candle vapors can have a paralyzing effect on a mentally projected doppelganger, but it reads a little like "yeah, but" in its sudden execution.

I wouldn't hold it against the story as an unearned twist. Much more could've been made of it being a deliberate redirection of Mordo's page one deception. That's a conceit I would certainly expect of a modern script, dwelling on the irony and hubris of the villain's own method turned against him.

The lack of form is actually one of the real charms of these early Dr. Strange stories, which read like a Stan Lee scramble to give constant meaning to sometimes ambiguous Steve Ditko panels. The legend of the "Marvel Method" precedes the comics of the sixties, but the two-prong storytelling production may be more exposed here than when Jack Kirby is drawing. Gentlemanly posturing doesn't always lend itself to visual intuition.

Ambiguity is rife in the magic of these early issues, as well. Most of the go-to affectations fans associate with Dr. Strange aren't here yet. He isn't cursing hoary hosts, nor exclaiming the Vishanti in vain. The finger bends and classic spells have a while to come, but it isn't unrecognizable. The iconography of ghostly white astral projections is a fast favourite. I quite like it when we start seeing steel traps manifest in subsequent stories.

Perhaps the most interesting element to remember is that The Ancient One is still alive and kicking as a mentor, and ally in these original stories.

Modern retellings may have a tendency to skip The Ancient One's presence, relegating "The Master" (as he's known in the first issue) to the role of doomed teacher, whose mysterious teachings are cut short just as the hero gains enough power to avenge him.

I don't necessarily have an issue with a condensed, conventional origin story, but I think it's fantastic that Dr. Strange was created imperfect. It becomes so easy to think of him as an almost omnipotent loner, kept away from the Marvel Universe to avoid difficult questions. In 1963, he's still trying to prove himself in a world where he isn't even guaranteed second banana!

The decision to switch to the iconic red cape was a good visual call that came later. The explanation that his blue cape was a less powerful version of the cloak of levitation - a nice in-fiction explanation. When changes like these are given logic they become useful pieces of mythology. I particularly liked it when Strange gifted the blue cape to a new apprentice in the eighties: Rintrah.

I've written before about not having a lot of affection for Baron Mordo. As a pure evil counterpart of Dr. Strange, it's been easy to sometimes view him as a meat headed stock villain. A thinly characterized stooge weighed down by the many decades of his defeats. Some may see that interpretation in the revenge quest featured today, but I've gained a real appreciation for these early stories.

As a character, Karl Mordo may never be more interesting than in these early issues, when he's a plausible rival to an incomplete Strange. At this point, the depth of Strange and Mordo's association as short-lived contemporaries under the teachings of The Ancient One isn't known. That comes next issue, and when it does, we also get to see what we've been told: Mordo is a stronger mystic.

It's a perfect recipe for a great, natural, early nemesis. A seemingly genuine threat, especially as long as The Ancient One lives to represent the next level of mystic authority. The level each student waits to claim when the time demands.

These are some of the themes that will no doubt play in theatres with the now global release of Doctor Strange. We're celebrating the release of the film by dedicating November to venturing into the comic books of Dr. Strange!

Want to take a journey of your own? Use the Amazon links provided [right] to venture into a dimension of infinite possibility by purchasing this story in collected edition! By doing so, you help charge future entries into the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!

If your occult curiosity persists, you can find many more adventures starring Dr. Strange and the mystics of the multiverse by following links throughout this post (and below). You can also the horizontal and vertical of reality by scouring the Issue Index for all previous feature fights!

Stay tuned for more Strange tales next!

Winner: Doctor Strange
#42 (+25) Dr. Strange
#503 (new) Victoria Bentley [+1 assist]
#820 (-206) Baron Mordo