Monday, April 26, 2010

Thoughts on Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4


Essential Doctor Strange Volume 4.

Having never read many issues of Doctor Strange me reviewing this collection is a bit like if I watched a random episode of Deadwood or the Wire or any other program with an ongoing plot I’m unfamiliar with; I can comment on what I saw, but I don’t know the background. So, if I’ve made wrong assumptions please forgive me.

The first thing up for discussion is magic according to the marvel universe. It just seems to be rather uniform. Every spell and counter spell is written in the Book of Vishanti. I’d say that’s pretty convenient. Can’t a learned sorcerer make up new spells? Also, I do not understand why the Vishanti are the most powerful Gods. Doctor Strange in this volume fights Nightmare, the Dweller-in-Darkness and the N’garai, but Strange wins because the Vishanti whom he draws power from just happen to be the most powerful force in all universes and realities. It doesn’t matter if Strange goes through a black mirror and into another dimension or if he travels into Dormammu’s Dark Dimension or Nightmare’s realm, the magic of the Vishanti prevails.

In fact, the magic of the Vishanti appears to be the only magic anywhere. Clea, Strange’s lover, who was the “firstborn of Orini, who is Suzerein to the dread Dormammu, ruler of my home dimension.” (Doctor Strange #45) My assumption would be that being from a dark dimension she would have some kick-ass black magic. I don’t want her to be evil or even a bad person, but it would just open up so many great storylines. Here is my idea: Clea was a bad person in her dimension. It’s not her fault she grew up in the dark dimension and had a skewed moral lessons. When Doctor Strange first came to her dimension and fought Dormammu she had a change of heart. Suddenly here was a man who believed in her and her potential for good when no one else would. She betrays Dormammu, helps Doctor Strange defeat him and then travels with Doctor Strange to his dimension. On Earth, Clea begins to train herself to use her black magic for good. She has powerful spells that she must use carefully in order to not permanently injure opponents. Since Doctor Strange is not familiar with black magic except for counter spells, Clea has much to teach him and in return Strange teaches Clea the magic of the Vishanti.


This idea is unfortunately not the reality of the comics I read, instead Clea is a novice sorceress who is mentoring with Strange. He calls her his protégé even though she seems at times to be a bit of a hopeless case. When she admits that she lacks any self-confidence in her abilities Doctor Strange says he’s never been more sure that she should be his protégé. Strange seems to me to be blinded by his love for her, he’d be better off with almost anyone else as his protégé: what about Illyana Rasputin (aka Magik) Colossus’ sister or heck with his astral projection skills I think Charles Xavier would be a better candidate for Strange’s protégé.


Later in that same issue Strange makes the more obvious attempt to boost Clea’s confidence. He is fighting a N’Garai, an Elder Demon God from another dimension in his basement. The demon has made Wong and two others into his servants and they are attacking Strange and Clea. Strange says “I know of a spell that can defeat this guy, it’s in the Book of Vishanti, I’ll go get it in astral form. You protect my body.” Okay, he is in his basement. All he and Clea have to do is make a strategic retreat upstairs. How is astral form any quicker? It’s not like he’s going to run into rush hour traffic trying to get upstairs in his body. And staying in his body has the advantage of not leaving his body completely helpless. It isn’t as if he knew Clea could handle Wong and the two other, on the page before he was having trouble fighting them. He recklessly risked his own life, his friends lives and probably the whole dimension just because his girlfriend was feeling a little down on herself.


Okay, moving along, so Clea doesn’t have any magic different from the Vishanti, but surely evil sorcerers and sorceresses in other dimensions have some different spells. Nope. When Doctor Strange fights Shialmar ( the self-appointed sorceress supreme in another dimension (issue 44) she throws crystals of Cyndriarr at Strange and he thinks wow that spell is so powerful I haven’t used it, but it’s obviously in the Book of Vishanti because he knows the counter spell. Aren’t there different branches of magic, so that maybe one sorcerer specializes in healing magic and another in dark magic? No, in the Marvel Universe everyone knows every spell because it’s all written in one book.

Speaking of different dimensions why is it that no matter what dimension or realm Doctor Strange finds himself in, the laws of physics are also a constant. I mean I understand that one of the theories of alternate dimensions postulates that the laws of physics would be a constant throughout every dimension in the multiverse and I can accept that. But you’re telling me that the realm of Nightmare or the realm of the Dweller-in-Darkness are basically no different than Earth? That’s boring! I want to see Strange walking or astral projecting through realms beyond my imagination. I want him exploring an M.C. Escher or Salvador Dali inspired world where up is down and down is up. And when he tries to cast Flames of Faltine it causes roses to appear in the hands of his opponents and so he has to cast a spell for roses and then the flames appear.

I know it’s just a comic and it was written for a young adult audience, but doesn’t Doctor Strange make it look insanely easy to be Sorcerer Supreme. He has all the answers in one book. If I’d only had to read one book in order to get my Master’s Degree in Library Science, that would have been sort of fishy right? You’d wonder if I’d be able to perform all my duties. And I’m just a librarian; Doctor Strange is the protector of the Universe!

The other thing that leads me to the conclusion that his job is easy is that he only ever uses a handful of spells. It doesn’t matter if he’s fighting a monster, another sorcerer, or some sort of God like entity, the same couple of spells will always get the job done. Here they are, I bet you can list them with me:

Crimson Bands of Cytorrak
Flames of Faltine
Cloak of Levitation
Agamotto’s Light of Truth
Bolt of Bedevilment
Images of Ikonn
Shield of Seraphim

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy these issues and I’ll try to keep it more positive if and when I comment on individual issues and storylines.


  1. Your concept for Clea's origin is actually quite interesting. A nice twist on the actual origin. I think I'd prefer yours.

    As for the laws of physics in other realms and dimensions, it might just be the issues you read that show it to be "earth-like", but in the earliest Steve Ditko issues, other dimensions are indeed Daliesque. There is no up or down in the Ditko landscape.
    Some artists continued that trend, others just couldn't parse it as well.

    As for the "one book".
    That's where your incomplete reading fails you.

    While your assessment of "Vishanti magic works everywhere" is not 100% correct, it is not your fault for not knowing this, since most writers are too darn lazy to follow up on the richer multi-layered network of magical rules and settings that other, better writers had begus.

    On occasion, Doc's magic has failed because he is not a native of some strange dimension, or the rules of magic in the other-realm are far too different.

    There are MANY books and sources of magic.
    The Book of the Vishanti is but the strongest tome of GOOD magic. Nearly all spells and counter-spells are found within. And yes, if a sorcerer comes up with a NEW spell it is automatically (magically) written within the book. Thus, it is ever growing source of knowledge.

    The corresponding book of EVIL magic is the DARKHOLD; written on pages of sin by Chthon; elder god of evil.

    The book of the Vishanti was written to counter the Darkhold.

    Other than those two books, there are always obscure scrolls and tomes where new magic spells (needed by a writer for his tale) will be discovered.
    These include the scrolls of Eternity (the only way that one could reach the living Entity - before the modern age of comics where everyone can just go pay Eternity a visit), and various other tomes over the years.

    I could list several right off the top of my head; like the BOOK of COGLIOSTRO, and the TOME of OSHTUR. But really, like the Book of the Vishanti, any of these can contain whatever spells a writer might need. It just matters if said writer is creative enough to go through the steps of setting up the volume, or just takes the easy way out and says it's from the Vishanti.

    As for the Vishanti, it isn't that they are the STRONGEST "gods", but they are a UNITED front of entities, three beings working together, where most other gods and deities tend to want to operate solo and spurn "equals" whom may take away some of their specialness and grandeur.

    So in this way, the Vishanti's magic is more potent.

    However, any number of other gods and entities can be called upon to grant their energies to empower spells.
    Cytorrak, Ragaddor, Ikonn, Watoomb and many others.

    Also, elder gods such as Chthon and Shuma Gorath are far more powerful than any of the individual Vishanti (who are Oshtur, Hoggoth and their son; Agamotto).

    Supposedly, the evil counterparts to the Vishanti are the Trinity of Ashes. They were hardly ever seen, but played a role in a cool side-story; the War of the Seven Spheres.

    I could go on forever.
    Actually, on my blog, I do.
    Dedicated (mostly) to Doctor Strange I go on at length about all sorts of things like this.

    In fact, here's a link to get you started (on this subject - as based on Doctor Strange's involvement/treatment and the new mystery of the Vishanti in [somewhat] recent issues of New Avengers)

    I hope to see you there.

    "Tamam Shud!"
    Sanctum Sanctorum Comix

  2. Unfortunately my blog has a way of getting way out of date. Since, I wrote this blog entry I've read all of the Ditko Dr. Stranges and I was of course blown away. I mean, it takes a while for Ditko to figure out where he is going, but once he does the series is a classic. I especially loved all of the issues with Eternity.

    So, The Book of the Vishanti is ever expanding. Does that mean that Dr. Strange has to look at the back of the book every night to see if there are new spells in it? How many spells has he written? How do you come up with a new spell?

    Thanks for reading my review.