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"The Power and the Pendulum!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND November 1968; Marvel Comics Group; Stan Lee, editor; featuring the Master of the Mystic Arts in "The Power and the Pendulum!", written by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Gene Colan, inked by Tom Palmer, and lettered by Artie Simek. On the cover by Colan, a green-cloaked, bearded man kneels in supplication to a fiery demon arising from the ground, as Dr. Strange directs a spell at the demon and holds a distraught woman in his arms.

Review by Bill Henley

Looking over some of the reviews I've done for the list, I was struck to realize that very few of them have been of Marvel comics. This isn't because I wasn't a Silver Age Marvel fan. On the contrary, for a few years (roughly 1965 to 1967) I was an almost religious Marvelite who disdained the products of other comics publishers. (The comics from other publishers from that period that I've reviewed, I picked up later as a collector after I broadened my horizons again.) So maybe I should review some of the Marvels that I remember with particular fondness. Here's one..... By the time this comic appeared, I was more of a fan of the Marvel comics Roy Thomas scripted than those still handled by Stan Lee. Stan was losing some of his inspiration by then, and Roy's ornate, quasi-poetic scripting style appealed to me. That style doesn't necessarily wear well on re-reading today.... it can come across as wordy and straining for effect. But at the time it worked for me, and nowhere better than on DR. STRANGE, a series that had slipped into mediocrity in the latter issues of STRANGE TALES after the departure of Steve Ditko and Bill Everett. The team of Thomas, Colan and Palmer that debuted soon after Doc got his own title, rescued the Master of the Mystic Arts from decline, and their run still stands, for me, as the second (after Lee/Ditko) "classic" period of Dr. Strange.

As our story begins, Dr. Strange has just brought the beautiful Clea to Earth, and his Greenwich Village sanctum sanctorum, from the dark dimension of Dormammu. The splash page is a shot of Doc sitting in deep thought, hands folded, as in the background Clea wonders, "A world beset with fearsome DEMONS did Dr. Strange defy to rescue me! But now that I am HERE, he speaks not a WORD to me-- but sits, unspeaking, shrouded in his own secret THOUGHTS!" Little does she know that the good doctor is in communion with the faraway Ancient One, and that the subject of their telepathic discussion is Clea herself. She must remain on Earth, the Ancient One warns, for she can never return to her own home dimension "while Dormammu yet stalks the byways between the worlds!" And so, Dr. Strange speaks at last: "Clea, we must find a DWELLING-PLACE for you! Somewhere you will be SAFE, while you sojourn here on Earth.... and yet be free to build a new LIFE for yourself!" Clea is delighted to learn that Dr. Strange's deep thought has been focused on her and her welfare, but not so pleased is another female visitor to the sanctum-- Victoria Bentley, an Englishwoman with mystical talents who had recently helped Doc. Standing in the shadows, she enviously muses, "I would have braved a THOUSAND realms unknown to be thus the object of his attention!" But Doc's attention remains on Clea, as he summons his servant Wong with orders to obtain suitable Earth-type clothes for her. Wong reveals that he has anticipated the need and has already obtained "several everyday garments" for Clea. "I humbly hope that she will look with FAVOR upon them! She IS, I trust, a size 7?" "At times, friend Wong, I am unsure as to WHICH of us is truly the worker of MAGIC!"

Having arranged for Clea to take a nearby apartment, Doc escorts her through the streets of New York towards it. But she is bemused not only by the primitive conditions of Earth -- "a backward world where men must ever walk on solid ground!"-- but by onlookers ranging from hippies to wolf-whistling truck drivers. "Oh WOW...dig the wigged-out THREADS on that twosome!" "Ignore their banal clamor, fair one! It would drive the dread DORMAMMU himself to the abyss of distraction!" But when a couple of the truck drivers insult Dr. Strange himself-- "Hey there, GORJUSSS....Not YOU, sister! I mean Prince Charmin' there!" Clea can no longer ignore them. With a "simple mystic pass", she causes their truck to vanish from around them, dumping them in the street. This only causes the men to pursue Clea and Doc, calling her a "witch", until Doc uses his cloak of levitation to waft himself and Clea away and casts a spell to cause the men to forget the incident (and restore the men's truck). Upon arriving at Clea's lodgings, Doc explains why he doesn't want Clea to use her mystic powers publicly; "Mankind is prone to fear and hate that which it cannot COMPREHEND! Nor could your few powers protect you for long from the sinister spectre of MOB VIOLENCE!" Doc then asks if there is anything else he can do for her before going off to undertake a possibly urgent mission. "There IS, my reticent rescuer! An Earthly which has long INTRIGUED me!" The custom is kissing, and in a series of silent panels they practice it until Doc leaves on his mission.

The mission is to respond to an urgent telegram from one Lord Nekron, a British mystic who wants Dr. Strange to visit him at his castle. Since Victoria Bentley is also from Britain, Doc has her accompany him back to her homeland--though he does not reveal that they are traveling by plane, rather than by magical means, because of his foreboding that he will need all his mystical might for what lies ahead. The green-robed Nekron, who describes himself as a "dabbler in the occult," welcomes Doc and Victoria to his castle and invites them to enjoy his hospitality at dinner before getting down to occult business. Doc is impatient to learn why Nekron has summoned him and directed him to wear his "sorcerer's garb". Nekron will tell all, he promises, but first "a toast--to LIFE WITHOUT END-- and the dark-dwelling powers which have such life to DISPENSE!" Victoria drinks, but Dr. Strange sits silent, grim, and not touching his drink ( a classic Colan/Palmer panel). "Did you find my little toast OFFENSIVE, my dear doctor?" "AY, Nekron! Only ONE should hold the awesome power of LIFE AND DEATH, and that one...." Then he realizes that Victoria is fainting, for Nekron's drinks were drugged. Dropping his mask of affability, Nekron reveals that exactly one year ago, he dared to confront "the most powerful mystic entity of all", the "supreme Satannish", and asked for the boon of "ETERNAL FAME and IMMORTAL LIFE!" Satannish cuts a deal with Nekron; for one year, he will grant Nekron steadily increasing occult power, but at the end of that year Nekron must deliver up the soul of another mystic to Satannish-- otherwise, his own soul will be forfeit. And, of course, it is Dr. Strange who Nekron proposes to present to Satannish. With a fine sense of timing, he has waited until the very last hour of his allotted year, so that he will face Strange with the maximum power that Satannish has granted him. (It's a good thing for him that plane Doc traveled on didn't run late....)

Having politely listened to the traditional villain's sneering explanation of his sinister plot, Dr. Strange attempts to unleash a spell against Nekron, but he finds himself helpless-- for, even though he avoided Nekron's drugged drink, Nekron's entire castle has been transformed into a trap designed to sap Doc's mystic powers. Held in the grip of Nekron's power, Dr. Strange is hurled into other dimensions....first a "dark, dismal labyrinth as black as Nekron's craven SOUL!" and then through "a doorway into yet ANOTHER bleak dimension where mammoth CLOCKS do bespeak that TIME and SPACE are as ONE!" (One area where Gene Colan didn't match Dr. Strange's creator Steve Ditko was in the depiction of weird alien dimensions.... Colan's more photo-realistic type style was great for depicting Doc himself and the mystic trappings of his sanctorum and places like Nekron's castle, but his imagination was a little too earthbound to capture Ditko's otherworldly visions. Colan tried hard in these next few pages, though.) Doc finds himself threatened by whizzing, raxor-sharp clock pendulums-- symbolizing the waning minutes before the allotted hour is up and Nekron delivers the soul of Dr. Strange to Satannish. Doc musters up a spell to dissolve the pendulums, only to have them turn into a shower of fiery liquid. As Nekron unleashes more horrors on Doc, he boasts that he will make our hero "grovel like the overrated charlatan you truly are" and plead to be turned over to the relatively tender mercies of Satannish. As a last resort, Dr. Strange attempts to entrap Nekron in the beam of the Eye of Agamotto from his amulet. But it is not the Eye that suddenly seizes Nekron and holds him helpless, as the "tendrils of time" fall away from Dr. Strange. Rather, it is the power of Satannish, who has arrived to collect on his debt. And since Nekron has not finished defeating Dr. Strange, it is Nekron himself whose soul is forfeit. "NO! The hour that remained to me-- cannot have elapsed so QUICKLY! You are mistaken, Supreme One-- MISTAKEN!" "You dare accuse Satannish himself of mere mortal fallibility, brazen one! For that, your punishment shall be increased an HUNDREDFOLD! Now, come, into my vaporous, venom-dripping void-- FOREVER!"

As Nekron vanishes, screaming unheeded for mercy, Satannish has a cheery parting word for Dr. Strange himself; "You shall find that OTHERS in your world have struck such blasphemous bargains with SATANNISH! RETURN from whence you came....and see how long you SURVIVE....!" Doc finds himself back in Castle Nekron with the recovering Victoria Bentley. On their way out, Doc explains to Victoria how he defeated Nekron thanks to his own vanity and carelessness; "My single spell made TIME GO FASTER...until Nekron's last allotted hour had FLED! Nor could I have DONE such a thing-- but in a world of TIME GONE MAD!" After dropping Victoria off safely at her London home, Dr. Strange conjures a "psychic sphere" to waft him home and bids Victoria "Fare thee well, until we meet again!"..... and, even though Doc is oblivious to her romantic interest in him, Victoria's thought is "And may that day come SOON!"

As the Silver Age waned in 1968-1969, DR. STRANGE was one of the first Marvel superhero titles to fall by the wayside. Thomas and Colan experimented a few issues later with giving Doc a more skintight, blue-masked superhero look and a secret identity, but it didn't seem to help, and the title went bi-monthly and then was cancelled with issue #183, Nov. 1969. Out of the many comics that went bye-bye around that time, I don't think there were any that I regretted more than DR. STRANGE.