Geez, has it really been about seven months since I’ve done one of these? The back half of 2010 was pretty ugly for the Bogarts, but things seem to be getting back on track, so it’s time to go fishing in the long boxes and check in with another WBM.
I first became familiar with Steve Englehart through his mid-80’s work on books like West Coast Avengers and the Millennium miniseries, both titles not exactly winners. It took a while to discover the amazing stuff he did a decade earlier– connecting his name with Batman’s Laughing Fish, Cap’s Secret Empire, and a stellar run on Doctor Strange which takes the reader on a trippy tour of time and space and sees Doc’s girlfriend seduced by Ben Franklin. Englehart might have been dropping acid with Steve Gerber on the weekends while they kicked around off the wall plots that wouldn’t have stood a chance in anyone else’s book– like having the hero of the series fail and have the world get destroyed as he watches helplessly.
Doctor Strange #13
Seriously, this book should be a highly prized collectible. This isn’t just a single character getting killed off, likely to return in a future story. Spider-Man, the FF, the X-Men, every member of the Marvel catalog who wasn’t off in outer space — dies in this comic, never to return. Here’s the cliffhanger from the previous issue:
Note the purple prose which attempts to prompt an existential crisis within the readers themselves. This was back in the day when there was no “Marvel universe,” but rather it was assumed these stories were set in the real world. Imagine every reader of Doc’s mag living in existential angst until the next issue hit the stands.
Issue 13 opens up with Doc floating in the cosmic rubble, grieving for his lost world and friends, until he decides that maybe there’s still something a Sorcerer Supreme might do to salvage the situation. During the battle with Baron Mordo which precipitated the end of the world, Strange got a clue that his oldest enemy Nightmare might be involved. Taking a trip to the dream dimension, he gives the dream lord another in a long series of drubbings and discovers that the villain has captured Eternity– literally, the living manifestation of the entire universe. Turns out Doc’s recent troubles were a manifestation of the dreams which Nightmare has been torturing the cosmic being with, which have manifested in our reality.
Problem is, what’s happened has happened, and Eternity is unwilling to alter the past and change the shape of the universe just to let one world live. Doc gets argumentative with the omnipotent being and gets put in his place, but then the spirit of Doc’s old teacher, the Ancient One, arrives (having become one with the universe, he emerges from Eternity himself) and makes Eternity say “Uncle” in a cosmic wrestling match.
Eternity offers a compromise: he won’t undo the Earth’s destruction, but instead recreates the planet, making a new world with an identical history and population (without a second Doctor Strange, of course), advancing it through time all the way up to the present. Doc returns to a duplicate world where every Marvel character has died and been replaced by an Eternity-created clone, and the story has never been retconned or undone.
An old curmudgeon like myself takes great comfort in this book. However distorted and ugly the current Marvel line is, I can refer to this book to remind me that they are merely (say it again!) Eternity-created clones of my long-departed favorite characters. Except for poor Doc himself, I imagine, who must be wondering why Eternity turned all his friends into assholes.