Thursday, October 15, 2009

Magic 101: Magic in the Marvel Universe

As promised here's a brief look for the uninitiated at how magic works in the Marvel Universe.

Magic powers work in basically three ways - each dealing with specific types of mystical energies and how they are utilized.


These are the energies that mages and sorcerers tap into which reside within themselves. Tapping such powers saps their strength but with the proper training and through meditative trances they are able to utilize their personal energies more efficiently.

Some examples of personal energies being wielded are astral projection, where the sorcerer casts their spirit outside of their body, or mental powers such as mesmerism, hypnosis, mind control and telepathy.

While in an ethereal astral form a sorcerer can use those powers which are inherent to their own mind.

Doctor Strange using his Personal mystic energies to project his spirit outside his body via astral projection. He then astrally travels through the window and completely ignores the nekkid lady picture on the wall.


Universal energies are mystical forces that are inherent within the sorcerer's own home dimension, usually (but not always) requiring short words of power or hand gestures. If the sorcerer is casting within his or her own home dimension they may also use these powers while in their ethereal astral form.

Using universal energies allows sorcerers to cast magical bolts or blasts, or to create magical force fields to repel attacks. Such attacks and shields are often referred to as "eldritch." It also allows casters to teleport either inside their own dimensions or from one dimension to another. Universal energy manipulation also allows sorcerers to conjure things (or even people), to create highly convincing illusions and even transmute objects (i.e. change it into something else).

Some artifacts and items, such as the Eye of Agamotto, are also able to utilize universal energy and can also be used by a sorcerer on his own home dimension. This is how, for example, Doctor Strange is able to use his eye of Agamotto on Earth while he is astrally projecting outside his physical body.

Doctor Strange using Universal energies to create a magic bolt as an attack against a Mindless One in the Dark Dimension.


Here's where we get to what Doctor Strange is most known for in the comics - calling upon mystical forces and powerful magical beings through spells and incantations to achieve incredible, astonishing results. Such powers are entirely reliant on the will of whichever mystical entity whose name and power is being invoked. For example, if a sorcerer is calling upon Hoggoth's power that entity can agree or deny that power to the sorcerer. As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange usually enjoys instantaneous granting of those powers whenever he calls upon them.

When you see Doctor Strange yell out "By the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak--!" and then magical purplish-pink bands appear and bind his foe, this is a use of extra-dimensional energies.

Some of the magical entities sorcerers can call upon include, but are not limited to, the following: Agamotto, Oshtur, Hoggoth, the Vishanti (which is Agamotto, Oshtur and Hoggoth working together), the Faltine, the Seraphim, Dormammu, Watoomb, Cyttorak, Raggadorr, Valtorr and Ikonn.

Doctor Strange manipulating Extra-Dimensional energies by calling upon the power of Valtorr, a magical entity.


The 2007 special Tarot added a new type of energies - Necromancy - to these three existing forms but honestly I am not so sure how much Tarot is in continuity or established canon. For one it seems like a lot of what is describe there pertains to energies that already exist under the other three types of Marvel Magic. But to be thorough we'll detail necromancy here.

Necromancy is concerned with utilizing and manipulating "potent energies brought about by the termination of lesser entities (i.e. human sacrifice." The resulting black magic, first established in the Darkhold, often has quick, powerful effects but at a high cost. The creation of vampires and zombies is attributed to this type of magic.

Part of that is essentially right. The Darkhold does contain 'the Vampire Verses' which detail the creation of vampires. This is dealt with during a multi-part Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme arc from the 1990's. But I have trouble seeing how power created via sacrifice or the creation of zombies (perhaps a form of conjuring?) is necessarily it's own type of magic and not, say, Personal, Universal or Extra-Dimensional. But that's just my two-cents.


Voodoo in the Marvel Universe is presented in a far more dramatic fashion than how it's actually practiced and observed in the world today. In Marvel Voodoo there are definitely good and evil sects of Loa (types of spirits who are under God) but in the modern voodoo of today there's less emphasis on good and evil Loa so much as there is an emphasis on good or evil intent in regards to the houngan (voodoo priest) or the mambo (voodoo priestess) and what they're trying to accomplish. Both blessings and curses can come from the same Loas and they are more akin to saints or angels; voodoo itself is a mix of French Catholicism and Yoruba/West African mythos that came together in Haiti when slaves first started arriving there.

So in that sense Marvel voodoo does differ from the actual practice but from a fictional standpoint I can see where Marvel felt, at least in the sensational occult days of the early 70's, like they needed to alter the details a bit to fit Brother Voodoo's stories.

I personally do not see voodoo as a separate type of Marvel magic so much as I see it as existing magic used differently, though Doctor Strange and Doctor Voodoo seem to disagree slightly in Doctor Voodoo #1 in that respect.

So how do we know all this? Well the first time I caught the explanation of the first three types of magic (Personal, Universal and Extra-Dimensional) was in Doctor Strange's entry in the first Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #3 (March, 1983) and was explained by Marvel guru Mark Gruenwald. The first time I'd heard necromancy listed as a separate school was in 2007's Marvel Tarot, and the voodoo information was gathered from Brother Voodoo's appearances as well as from the back-up stories Book of the Vishanti: Mark of the Vodu Parts I - III in Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme in issues #16, #17 and #20.

Tomorrow I'll have a review of Doctor Voodoo #1, which I rather liked!

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