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

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