Story I Read: Doctor Strange: Master of Black Magic "Face to Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo" (Strange Tales #111 Aug 1963)
It is no wonder to me that when Dr. Strange debuted in 1963, as a companion piece to the solo escapades of The Human Torch in Strange Tales, Marvel fans thought Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were on drugs. Dr. Strange’s early stories are surely strange tales. So strange that they are almost incomprehensible. This being only the second story to feature the North American necromancer Strange certainly follows suit.
A discussion of the mythology of this world is hard to launch into because the rules of the world are still heavily in flux. Let’s give it the old college try shall we? The conflict seems to involve Baron Mordo poisoning the Master to gain information about the dark arts but Strange stops him through some dream trickery and some fancy conspiracy with an amulet. All this takes place in 5 pages. Perhaps this brevity is why the story feels impotent and is almost indecipherable.
Though, I admit, I am not entirely sure what occurred here or even why it occurred, what I am sure of is in this comic there are two major firsts. One is the creation of Baron Mordo and the other is a major change in narrative tactics for comics.
Mordo is special because not only is this Strange’s supreme nemesis, the yin to his yang for the next 50 years, but it also amazing that this is only the second tale and a major nemesis is introduced. In the contemporary Marvel heroes of the time it often took many issues before their major nemeses were introduced. This must be because the creatives had a future plan intoned for the Doctor. Little is offered up front in origin because it will be expanded upon in a future story. The ‘Slow Burn’ as it is proverbially known. Could this be the first Marvel hero that has a future planned at its conception and wasn’t developed on the fly? We all know how on the fly writing may have killed the first incarnation of the Hulk.
|The little paneling devoted to Mordo's back story.|
The second rather astounding stride fourth is the fact this is the first villain whose tactic is death. No bones about it. He holds death, not only defeat, over The Master. Astounding. Reality is, however small, beginning to seep into the Marvel world. If only the motives and action of the story could be understood this would be a fantastic yarn. As I slog my way through the universe and truly get to know Strange I should reevaluate this story. It just feels that I am missing some part of the narrative.
Out of 5 this is a 1. The reason I give it a 1 is because I am unclear what went on in the story. Though at face value it made sense, after further thought it ultimately left me confused. I do give the story appreciation because of the firsts in both Mordo’s introduction and the boldness of the changing evolution in what constitutes a character story in the Marvel Universe.
P.S. Ditko’s inking is detailed but largely uninteresting because the depiction of dream characters is so white and bland.