Version 1.8. Last updated: 20 February 2010.
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In Doctor Strange #177, the villain Asmodeus exiled Doc to a hostile dimension. Asmodeus then took the form of Doc in order to approach and surprise-attack the Ancient One. But Doc survived the exile. When Doc attempted to return to the Earth dimension, he could not enter, because someone else had his form. So he conjured a mask and a slight costume change.
A metaphysical law prevents two people with the exact form from existing in the same dimension. Okay, I can make that work. But then a mere mask bypasses that law? Pretty weak.
After Asmodeus' defeat and reversion back to original form, Doc keeps wearing the mask. Why?
The "real" reason for the mask was an attempt to give Doc a more superhero appearance, probably to shake the title up and boost sales.
Doc continued to wear the mask until Incredible Hulk #126, at which point he quits the mystic arts for a short time (until Marvel Feature #1).
The demon Ghaszaszh Nyirh destroyed Doc's left eye with some kind of green eye-to-eye energy blast in Strange Tales Vol. 3 #10. Agamotto replaced Doc's lost eye with Silver Dagger's left eye in Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #7. Probably just another way to make Doc look "cooler."
Note: A reservior of dark force resided behind the eyepatch. Dormammu eventually used this reservoir to reconstitute himself, enter the Earth dimension, and take over Doc's body [DSSS #1].
Here is my list of theories and explanations:
* The most likely explanation.
The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak spell has been described as unbreakable many times ["unbreakable, impenetrable" in Defenders #1, for example]. Yet we have seen escapes.
Interesting escapes that do not damage the Bands' credibility:
Escapes that damage the Bands' credibility (broken through physical prowess without explanation or elaboration):
On the one hand, Doctor Strange fans have some legitimate complaints about these events. On the other hand, the Hulk and Namor are two of the strongest people in the Marvel Universe. It's not like Wolverine's snapped out of them (yet).
Bad writers will artificially inflate the drama of their stories by declaring that something is unbreakable, and then have someone break them. That's all. No big deal. Hopefully we won't see too many more bad escapes. (Creative escapes are welcome.)
It is best to assume that the Crimson Bands are not unbreakable, and that the upper echelon of the Marvel Universe in physical power like the Hulk, Thor and Namor can break them. It's still a testament to Doc's power and abilities that he can cast a spell able to constrain almost all beings.
According to the Hulk scholars at the Defenders Message Board, Bruce Banner has always feared that his father would return to torment him, even from beyond the grave. So the Hulk persona has a built-in protection from this, in the form of being able to see ghosts- and Doc's astral form is included.
In the time before time, before escaping Earth and the God-Eater, the Elder God Chthon wrote his arcane and demonic secrets on indestructible parchments- to fester evil and chaos in the world and to provide himself a way to one day return to Earth [DSSS #11, DS #61].
In one tale, a cult of mystics in ancient Atlantis cast a spell from the ever-more ancient parchments, causing their fallen enemies to walk the Earth as their undead vampiric servants [DS #61]. In another, the cult performed a ritual sacrifice from the parchments on one of their own, a man named Varnae. Varnae rose from his grave three days later, transformed into a vastly powerful undead creature- the first vampire to walk the Earth [DSSS #11]. Either way, or both- the vampires survived the cataclysm which sank Atlantis, and the Earth has been under the scourge of vampires ever since.
The parchments were bound into a single volume by Morgan Le Fey in the 6th century, creating the evil book known as the Darkhold [DSSS #11, DS #61].
But what the Darkhold can create, it can destroy [DS #62]. Hidden within the evil Darkhold is a spell that can destroy all vampires. This spell was discovered by a monk named Montesi, and has since been called the Montesi Formula.
The good beings known as the Vishanti created the Book of the Vishanti to be a white-magic opposite to the Darkhold [DSSS #14], and it contains every counter-spell known [ST #116]. Thus, this good book ironically contains a way to defeat the Montesi Formula and even create vampires. This spell is called the Vampiric Verses.
In Doctor Strange #62, after finally coming into possession of the Darkhold and discovering the Montesi Formula, Doc and his allies performed the ritual and destroyed all the existing vampires (including Dracula and Lillith) in the Marvel Universe- except two. The first was Hannibal King, who had never killed for blood and thus was simply cured of his vampirism. The second was Victor Strange, Doctor Strange's brother and the new Baron Blood.
Huh? Who? Victor Strange had both become a vampire and was granted immunity to the Montesi Formula, because years before, Dr. Strange had cluelessly recited the Vampiric Verses early in his magical career in a desperate attempt to bring his brother Vic back to life.
In Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme #18, Marie Laveau used a spell culled from the Darkhold (which she stole from Doc) to summon Varnae back into our world. Since even Dracula's blood brought to the post-Montesi world from the past could not survive [DSSS #10], this was quite a feat! It seems that Varnae was available for summoning because (a) he is a much greater creature than regular vampires, (b) he was not destroyed directly by the Montesi Formula (he ceded his vampiric dominion to Dracula and destroyed himself centuries earlier), and (c) Victor Strange was present when Laveau cast her spell, adding an essence of the Vampiric Verses to the magic involved (or a loophole).
Varnae escaped after this summoning, so vampires are back in the Marvel Universe. For more on Dracula and his own return, see the excellent Dracula page at the Marvel Appendix.
In DSSS #18, Dr. Strange destroyed the page of the Book of the Vishanti containing the Vampiric Verses to prevent its use in creating future vampires. But in DSSS #20, Doc discovered that the page of the Darkhold with the Montesi Formula was also now blank- cosmic balance is preserved- but now humanity is on its own against the undead.
(I wish that they could have reintroduced vampires without this whole ridiculous business about Doc's brother. Just simply have Laveau steal the Darkhold, re-recite the original spell that created the first vampire, and then in the ensuing final battle, have the new Varnae escape and the Darkhold "lost" again so the Montesi Formula is no longer available to Doc. The Ancient One would have never let Doc out on his own if he was still unenlightened enough to use the Book of the Vishanti blindly to resurrect somebody. This gimmick to introduce (a) a brother, (b) a new Baron Blood, and (c) a loophole to the Montesi Formula (and all at once!) is all bent-over-backwards.)
This long convoluted story line was synopsized by a full page of text twice (Doctor Strange Annual #4 and Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #75).
The War of the Seven Spheres was an incredibly vast war, fought between incredibly powerful beings, spanning all the mystic planes and lasting 5,000 Earth years. It was the enactment of a predestined cyclical conflict. Roles of adversaries and opposing forces were assigned, and battlefields ("planes of combat") were designated [DSSS #48].
The Vishanti, and many others among the powers and principalities, tried to recruit Doc to fight on their side. Doc was reluctant to leave the Earth dimension without his protection as Sorcerer Supreme for 5,000 years (it would be a simple matter for the Vishanti to extend his lifespan). Feeling a greater responsibility to protect Earth than to repay the Vishanti for years of their help, he refused- much to the Vishanti's surprise and disrespect. Doc further emancipated himself from the Vishanti and the other powers and principalities. Thus, he could no longer call upon them in spells, which left him greatly decreased in power level [DSSS #48-49].
During the Strangers Among Us and Last Rites story lines, Doc acquired a new power source of his own: the Gaian Aura.
After those story lines, the Vishanti showed up again. Now that Doc possessed a power source of his own without them, his value as mystic soldier was even higher than before. And this time, the Vishanti threatened incineration if he did not comply. So Doc complied. [Related in DSSS #80.]
Doc participated in the War for the 5,000 years until its completion. After the War was over, the Vishanti returned Doctor Strange to Manhattan- four months after he had left, only aged one year, and utterly powerless (the Gaian Aura was exhausted in the War). But he did return to Earth just in time to perform a ritual he discovered in the Vishanti's libraries, and gain a totally new power source from a one-time syzygy, a special alignment of planets in our solar system. [Again, DSSS #80, a book that was supposed to begin a long run by Warren Ellis.]
Problem A: If Doc was originally going to be using the Vishanti's own power to fight alongside them, and then he becomes more valuable when he had his own power source- then what real value did he add when they tried to draft him the first time? (Ellis suggests this very problem in DSSS #80.)
Problem B: If the Vishanti could return Doc to Earth at any time, what was the big to-do about leaving Earth undefended for 5,000 years in the first place?
(Possible speculated explanation: The Vishanti never actually say that Doc will be absent from Earth for 5,000 years. This is something Doc assumes. The Vishanti never bother to correct his assumption because they are just so shocked when he refuses them.)
Problem C: After passing a trial against Death in Doctor Strange #4, Doc does not age- so supposedly he would not have needed his lifespan extended by the Vishanti. Nor would he have aged even one year during the 5,000 year War.
Problem D: Doc had served the Vishanti in the War, and the War was over. Why wasn't it made clear that Doc was back "in" with the powers and principalities again and able to use their spells immediately afterwards? Why did he need the syzygy for power? Was there a delay between the War's end or Doc's return and when he could use the Vishanti's spells again- and if so, why? (Real-world possible speculated explanation: Ellis probably didn't want to use the same old spells, but rather his new "catastrophe magic" system.)
Problem E: The Gaian Aura- the Earth's mystical power- is depleted. No negative consequences to this have ever been shown. Surely there would be? Can it replenish itself?
Problem F: Doc was in the War for 5,000 years and then returned to Earth four months after he left. Was Doc's return due to time travel back in time (thus creating two concurrent Doc timelines for the next 5,000 years with a one-to-one correspondence between War time and Doc time) or was the War a blip in Earthly time/compressed time?
In an email reply to uber-Doc-fan SantumSanctorumComix posted on the Defenders Message Board in July 2002, Warren Ellis has confirmed that his intention was that the War occurred in a blip of Earthly time, millennia there lasted four months here, time ran at different speeds.
This is the way I had always read DSSS #80 (and especially Sensational Spider-Man #22, a key Doc retcon/re-establishment issue). It is also the cleaner theory (puts it all in the past and over, no double Docs), the more god-like theory (gods are not subject to space-time), and the theory that better explains what is happening in the books as of now (Doc back "in" with the Vishanti after a time without their power). But the official comic book record can be interpreted as vague and contradictory enough to leave wiggle room for us fanboys to have arguments (especially Secret Defenders #25, where Cadaver is doomed to walk the Earth for 5,000 years until the War is over, thus suggesting a one-to-one time correspondence and the War happening concurrently to Earth time). But with Ellis' email, the debate is essentially over. (It still leaves Problem B for us though: if it was just going to be a blip of Earth time, then what was the whole problem in the first place?)
In Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #60, in the Seige of Darkness story line, Doc is confronted with a choice in battle: save Wong's girlfriend Imei from the deadly kiss of Sister Nil, or snap Morbius out of his Bloodthirst funk so Morbius can save everyone else from Sister Nil (except it would be too late to save Imei). Doc picked the option that saved the most people. Wong didn't take it too well.
After a long time with lots of stuff happening- Imei faux-resurrected "into" the skeletal demon Xaos by the evil Salome, Wong working for Salome in return for this blinded-by-grief illusory resurrection, Wong assassination attempts on Doc, Wong and Doc working together for a time in the business world, Wong walking out on Doc a couple times, Imei/Xaos apparently dying a couple times (once while Doc was away in the Seven Spheres war, finally in the light of the Eye of Agamotto), etc.- Wong was able to have some closure by a Doc-facilitated trip to "Heaven" to visit the really dead Imei [DSSS #88].
After that, for all intents and purposes, Wong is back in his status quo as Doc's manservant. But officially, Wong is employed by Doc, they are equals, friends, they live together- it's not the master-servant relationship like with past Sorcerer Supremes and Wong's ancestors. If Wong still calls Doc "Master" it's only because "old habits are hard to break." [DSSS #84; Sensational Spider-Man #22]
In Doctor Strange #4, Doc passed a test by the Ancient One and defeated Death- or more accurately, uber-accepted Death. As a result, from that moment forward, Doc stopped aging. "Death may come only from without, in battle- and not from within." (The Ancient One had once passed the same test himself, and lived 600 years.)
Also from that moment forward, a glowing ankh appears on Doc's forehead when he is in a situation of great danger and his death is imminent- or as it is nicely worded in Sorcerer Supreme #45, "when Doc most needs a reaffirmation of life." Just a shtick to add drama to a situation, IMO.
For a comprehensive history of Doctor Strange's romances, please see Strange Loves by Sanctum Sanctorum Comix.
Please see Neilalien's weblog entry On The Chaos Surrounding Avengers #503.
Presumably it refers to this panel from West Coast Avengers #79:
Thanks to Howard Hallis for finding this and providing a scan.
Not being an insider nor a gossiper, all I have for you is this pieced-together chronology and path-of-questions from only public sources:
1. Marie Javins replaces Evan Skolnick as editor of Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme. On the letters page of DSSS #76, Skolnick writes:
Through circumstances beyond my control, DOCTOR STRANGE #75 will stand as the last issue I edited...
2. Why did Javins replace Skolnick? I don't know for sure, but there were big shakeups at Marvel at the time. This was around the time that Marvel was reorganized under five main Executive Editors with no Editor In Chief.
3. Javins fires Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme writer David Quinn. Usenet post by Javins, May 24, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
In the case of Dr. Strange, I solely did the firing [of David Quinn].
Usenet post by Javins, July 31, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
Just for the record... removing Quinn from Dr. Strange was my move, not Bobbie's [Bobbie Chase, the executive editor].
4. Why did Javins fire Quinn? Usenet post by Javins, May 25, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
Sorry, but I *really* did not [like what David Quinn was doing on the title]. And the fans seemed to be very divided over it.
5. What was Quinn doing with the title? He is credited with writing issues #60-79, which is The Seige of Darkness, Strangers Among Us and Last Rites storylines (see above), the superheroic masked character Strange, Hulk and X-Factor crossovers, etc. Yes, the fans were very divided over all of that; my own opinion is that I didn't like the run.
A point in defense of Quinn: we don't know how much of that came from editorial. In a Usenet post ranting against all of the Dr. Strange changes of the time, poster Space Slippy says, October 22, 1999 [Source: Google Groups]:
Quinn, whom I spoke with at the Chicago Comic Con that year laughed about it and told me it was a superhero costume and Hulk and X-Factor crossovers that Marvel thought they wanted, and that's exactly what they got... According to a text page in Night Music (Rebel Studios, also written by David Quinn) David Quinn apparently did not have this ending in mind after the whole "Last Rites" storyline [#75 when Doc became young again], but higher-ups asked for it, and they got it.
6. How were sales for Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme during Quinn's run?
According to Skolnick himself, Usenet post, December 30, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
Sales on DOCTOR STRANGE were in a serious spiral when David Quinn (and I) took over the writing (and editing) chores. Sales perked up when we took over and stayed elevated from the previous levels throughout Quinn's run, peaking with the milestone issue #75.
According to Quinn's text on the letters page of DSSS #76:
Our run's been considered an achievement, I'm told, for sales figures that trickle down in an environment where "plummeting" is the most-heard word.
7. Javins hires Warren Ellis to write Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme.
Usenet poster Phil Carter commented, May 18, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
I understand Marie helped choose Warren as new writer.
to which Skolnick replied, May 21, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
Except for the word "helped choose" (it should be "chose"), your analysis is extremely perceptive...
8. Javins leaves Marvel. Usenet post by Javins, April 26, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
Today I resigned my editorial position as editor at Marvel.
9. Why did Javins leave Marvel (so soon after bringing Ellis on)? Well, we probably only get a "professional courtesy" public answer. A Usenet poster asked why, and Javins responded, May 1, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
I've been at Marvel for my entire adult life and it's time to do something for myself instead of trying to push the envelope.
Skolnick Usenet post, December 30, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
Finding her editorial position untenable and unbearable (and believe me, I know how she felt), Marie left staff while Warren was only partway through his first story arc.
10. The Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme book falls under editor Bobbie Chase.
11. Ellis quickly quits after this editorial change/getting this new boss.
12. Why did Ellis quit? Ellis had a bibliography page on his old website that stated [Source: Internet Archive]:
Intended to be the start of a long run on this Marvel Comics character, I instead wrote only one issue due to what we politely call "creative differences" with the executive editor [Chase] (not the actual editor [Javins]) under whose purview the book fell. 1995.
Usenet poster Phil Carter commented, May 18, 1995 (the full comment partially quoted above) [Source: Google Groups]:
Perhaps Warren's departure was influenced by Marie's leaving her editorial position. I understand Marie helped choose Warren as new writer. Mayhap Warren didn't like the idea of being supervised by Bobbie Chase (surprise, surprise) without someone else to help intercede.
to which Skolnick replied, May 21, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
Except for the word "helped choose" (it should be "chose"), your analysis is extremely perceptive...
Usenet post by Javins, July 31, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
Warren quit when I left because he didn't know who would get the book or what they had planned for it. We work really well together and it was a team effort that suddenly wasn't the cruise he signed up for.
Usenet post by Skolnick, December 30, 1995 [Source: Google Groups]:
As I understand it, Warren quit the book as soon as he found out [that Javins was leaving], not wanting to deal with anyone else on DOC.
13. So Ellis wanted to work with Javins only. Fair enough. But then why mention "creative differences" on his own website? What was the nature of this difference between Ellis and Chase or anyone else that made working on Doctor Strange untenable? Or is that just a polite way of saying something else?
Well, Ellis' view of "spandex" is well known, and his Druid mini-series, along with Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #80 itself, give good indications of where he was going. Less superhero, more magical, mystical. I find this Usenet post by "Synsidar" strikes a chord [Source: Google Groups]:
In a general sense, one could expect Warren Ellis to restore a sense of the mystical to the series. Quinn's stories were more superhero-oriented...
So what would be so bad about working with Chase? Well, if you Google enough, you'll find both blistering attacks against her and glowing praise and defense. For purposes of this page, I won't go into personal attacks. However, there is plenty of evidence online to suggest that *at the minimum*, she was more interested in a superhero orientation, which would put her at odds with Ellis.
A Usenet post by 'Christopher L. Tumber', April 13, 1995, reprints a Chase promotional package put out for Marvel Edge [Source: Google Groups]. Read it and it's clear. The poster adds his own commentary:
I don't have a lot of hope [Marvel] Edge [under new editor Bobbie Chase] will rise anywhere above standard superhero fare and offer anything at all "challenging".
More evidence of Chase's tastes as opposed to Ellis': Rich Johnston's All The Rage column at Silver Bullet Comics, when Bobbie Chase was eventually fired from Marvel, prints a reader comment [Source: Silver Bullet Comics]:
A regular reader also writes about the reasons behind Bobbie Chase's dismissal from Marvel, saying "Maybe it was Galactus the Devourer? Or perhaps all those Before The Fantastic Four limited series? Iron Man? Iron Man: Bad Blood? Captain America? Captain America/Nick Fury: The Otherworld War? The Fantastic Fourth Voyage of Sinbad? How about every comercial failure she's created short of the successful Fantastic Four run by Carlos Pacheco? Actually, it was most likely the year long bomb she committed to, Fantastic Four: The World's Greatest Comic Magazine. Considering Quesada spotlighted the project as the single greatest sign of everything wrong with Marvel once he took over... not to mention taking 2/3 of Chase's monthlies from her almost immediately..."
14. Chase taps J.M. DeMatteis to write Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme. Momentum could not be stopped, and the book is cancelled in less than a year.