Strange Tales 116
"Return to the Nightmare World!"
January, 1964

Written By..........STAN LEE
Illustrated By.......STEVE DITKO
Lettered By.........ART SIMEK

On the splash page, the master of black magic finds himself with Nightmare in front of him and tentacled death behind him!

The dream dimension, a sight unseen by ordinary mortals, ruled by Nightmare! He asks his minions if the mystic potion has been prepared. It has been placed within the occult device, and he will now be able to bring mortals from their world into his realm... enslaving them while they sleep! Nightmare intends to bring them there so he can study them and learn how to beat them! When the time is ripe, he will conquer their dimension as well as his own! There are only two beings on Earth with the power to battle him -- Dr. Strange... and his mentor, the Ancient One! Soon, he shall be strong enough to defeat them both! The stage is set -- as the master of the dream dimension -- prepares to begin his mystical attack upon an unsuspecting world! On a back street of Greenwich Village, in a dimly lit apartment... lawmen wish to see Doctor Strange, who just happens to be reading about another "sleep victim" report! The man cannot be awakened after two days of sleep!

Even though there is no evidence of evil doing, the police are concerned that this is part of some sinister scheme. The Doctor knows that this phenomenon involved the mystic arts! Officially, the authorities find it difficult to accept such a possibility, but they know of Doctor Strange's record with other unusual cases. His fame is known worldwide and even the leading scientists respect his reputation! The time for talk has passed, and he demands to be taken to the latest victim at once! The man has been asleep with his eyes open for over 40 hours, and Doctor Strange reads the medical chart, knowing that every technique has been tried. His amulet senses a mystical glow, a magical aura surrounds the patient, and cannot be seen by the untrained eye! He knows that the man is not asleep nor awake, but under a magical spell! After returning to his study and much meditation, he consults the Book of the Vishanti. Doctor Strange finds the incantation he's sought, but the symbols have faded -- very difficult to read -- if he has read them incorrectly, anything could happen! Dare he speak the chant?

They are the most powerful, most dangerous incantations known! The slightest error may mean his doom -- and yet -- he must take the chance! For his is not the only life which may be at stake! If some disciple of evil is able to attack mankind, then the world is in danger! He will not shirk his duty! He begins to recite the chant slowly -- carefully -- and leaves the rest to chance! In a low voice, the master of black magic begins the spell... In the name of the dread Dormammu... In the name of the all-seeing Agamotto... By the powers that dwell in the darkness... I summon the hosts of Hoggoth! lead me to the source of evil! Obey the words of Dr. Strange! He has succeeded! The mist of Hoggoth begins to appear and it will be his entrance to the shadow world! After entering a trance, his astral form leaves his body and enters the mists of Hoggoth! He finds that the source of the danger is to be found in the nightmare world! He must remain on the narrow path which has been formed by the power of Hoggoth! As long as he stands on the enchanted path, he is safe -- the spell of Hoggoth will protect him! If he steps off -- then he'll be in danger! Not too far away, Doctor Strange's arrival has not gone unnoticed!

The minion informs his master of the latest developments, and Nightmare is determined to find a way to destroy him -- for this is his realm -- where he reigns supreme! On the path, Dr. Strange sees a door suddenly materialize from out of nowhere! He knows that there is no doubt that Nightmare is aware of his presence! The door opens slowly -- but he must enter! As long as he remains on Hoggoth's path, he will be protected! He sees Nightmare's first trap... he has created two other paths! The master of black magic must choose the correct one or his life will be over! Using the enchanted amulet given to him by the Ancient One, the true path is revealed! The two other paths crumble and fall away! Doctor Strange must continue onward -- no matter where the seemingly endless road leads! The enemy shows himself and they meet again! As far as Nightmare is concerned, the master of black magic will not leave his realm -- alive!

His evil enchantments fail to harm Doctor Strange, who is protected as long as he is on Hoggoth's path. Ahead of him are the three mortals from Earth! Nightmare has captured their astral forms and if he can reach them, they will be free to go! If he fails to reach them -- all their lives will be forfeit! Even though he can't affect the path which Doctor Strange has already walked on, he can destroy the path ahead! Now, he has a problem! How will he reach them without the enchanted path to protect him? Nightmare has forgotten that he is master of all mystic arts, and one such feat is the Indian rope trick! He unrolls his sash, which stiffens in the air, and he walks on it to reach the captives! While the sash is joined with the enchanted path of Hoggoth, Nightmare will be unable to prevent him from reaching his goal! The evil one chooses to bide his time until his eventual victory!

He tells the victims that they are under his protection, and they may walk -- careful not to stray from Hoggoth's path! Nightmare has caught him off guard when he stepped onto the platform, and losing Hoggoth's protection! The platform crumbles beneath him, and he must reach his falling sash before it is too late! A spidery barrier appears before him, and cuts him off from the sash! He is now Nightmare's prisoner! The others are free to go... they do not matter as long as Strange is his to destroy! The spinybest appears and his touch means instant death! Led by Nightmare's mystic prod, the creature begins to head towards him! Nightmare can sense the victory he has hungered for, as Doctor Strange continues to retreat! The master of black magic knows from his mentor -- the battle is never lost while life remains, and he will not give up! He is unable to retreat any further and a more sinister threat waits for him at the bottom of the crevice behind him! If he is to make his stand, it must be now!

Seeing the master of black magic wallowing in confusion -- Nightmare strikes! He prods the spiny beast, while Doctor Strange knows what he must do! He will not fail, for he must wait for the right moment! In the span of two heartbeats, he uses his mystic amulet to dispel the shadows of evil! Caught in the unexpected glow, Nightmare's prod strikes the spiny beast, killing it! Once his sight has returned... he sees that his pet is dead, and Doctor Strange -- is gone! In that moment, the master of black magic was able to reach his sash, and the enchanted road to safety once more! They are all free to follow the path of Hoggoth back to their own dimension! As the men pass through the mystic mist to their own world, they hear the cry of Nightmare, who vows that when next they meet -- victory will be his!

Interesting that in his seventh appearance, Doctor Strange is referred to as master of black magic, rather than master of the mystic arts.

In this early appearance, Nightmare has his dark hair, but lacks his pale-skinned appearance. He resembles that other Sandman and his creator from Vertigo.

When Nightmare conjures up the images of Dr. Strange and the Ancient One, their faces appear in the eyeholes of what looks like Spider-Man's mask.

As seen in one panel, the Daily Globe is Doctor Strange's newspaper of choice.

Hmmm... Hoggoth...Hogwart's... Hmmm... I'm sure that Doctor Strange could take out that kid with ease!

Yup, before the days of Harry Potter, there was Doctor Strange, when written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, Marvel magic was born!

Throughout the story, when Nightmare is confronting the master of black magic, he is riding a dark unicorn. Nighty can also use a mystical manicure, as well.

The sinister threat which lies at the bottom of the crevice is an orange tentacled creature. (Holy I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Batman!)

This story was reprinted in Marvel Collector's Item Classics #6.

This Review Is Dedicated To J.K. Carrier

Steve Chung
"Return To The Nightmare Review!"