Monday, October 12, 2009

Strange Tales #111:
"Face-to-Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo"

Today we tackle Strange Tales #111 which featuring Doctor Strange's second appearance in the still forming Marvel Universe and also introducing readers to one of his most dangerous and vile enemies - Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo. At this point Doc's still being referred to as the 'Master of Black Magic' in this five-page story from August of 1963 called 'Face-to-Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo.'

The story opens with Mordo plotting in front of a fireplace in his "heavily-guarded, hidden castle in the heart of Europe." Later on in the Doctor Strange comics we'll learn that Mordo's Transylvanian. Since we've established how alike Mordo and Bela Lugosi's character Roxor from Chandu the Magician are it's not too surprising to find out that Mordo hails from the same country as another Lugosi villain - Dracula. Mordo's up to no damn good - as is the norm for Mordo - and he desires to topple Doctor Strange's mentor, the Ancient One, to acquire his magical secrets. This, Mordo surmises, will allow him to finally take down his nemesis Doctor Strange. On one hand it's rather odd that Mordo feels the only way to tackle the student is to slay the teacher. Normally this sort of scenario involves killing the mentor and then the rising star student. But we quickly learn that while the Ancient One is more powerful than Strange he is also more vulnerable.

Taking a page out of Doc's own book, so to speak, Mordo astrally projects himself out of his body after firing up some *cough* "ancient incense." He hurls his ethereal form through the across the world to the Ancient One's temple in Tibet. In my previous review for Strange Tales #110 I mentioned how the Ancient One's home is said to be in Asia and that it would later be established as Tibet despite Doc's origin story in Strange Tales #115 saying the Ancient One's temple was in India. In this particular story writer Stan Lee has it down as Tibet.

Mordo uses his powers of mind control while in astral form on the Ancient One's servant and forces him to create a poison potion and slip it into the Ancient One's food. It must be soup since he's preparing something in a cup (damn, I am getting hungry now!) and since the Ancient One apparently doesn't believe in paying the money for a good, professional Taster the way a king or queen would he succumbs to the potion. With the poison in his system he'll continue to weaken until dead. Mordo gloats over him, as all good Marvel villains do, and tells him he will let the Ancient One die if he does not tell reveal his knowledge and secrets of black magic. Of course the Ancient One refuses.

Meanwhile, back in the states, Strange wraps up a black magic 'experiment' and decides to contact the Ancient One to share the results. Here again we see Strange's place as the student and not the master further cemented, almost like he's got to turn in homework. However he gets no response when he tries to contact the Ancient One via the Lesser Eye of Agamotto and figures he'd better hot foot it astral-style to Tibet and see what's what. Upon arrival he finds that Mordo is threatening his Master and Strange and Mordo begin to astrally beat the Hell out of each other. Mordo rambles off some typical but strong random world conqueror exposition here while Strange makes a desperate attempt to use the Lesser Eye to strengthen the Ancient One - leaving the Doc vulnerable. While Doc and Mordo continue to struggle, the Ancient One tries to come to his senses in time to help his student.

Left with not much else than his astral form and his wits to combat Mordo with, Strange tricks the Baron into leading him to Mordo's body. His ploy works and Mordo's astral form enters his corporeal form once more, allowing Strange to use the Lesser Eye to freeze Mordo and eliminate his plan. This time it's Strange's turn to gloat as he tells Mordo the details of why his trick worked. Clearly the Doc has a long way to go still before he's ready to be the Sorcerer Supreme. Never show all your cards, Doc! Just win, leave and brag about how stupid is to the Ancient One over a cold one back in Tibet.

So what's the bottom line here? Again, it's just five pages so it's not like Stan could do War and Peace with it. The story introduces Mordo well enough and sets up the rivalry between him and Strange and the Ancient One. The story does its job and Ditko throws in almost a dozen images of the protective symbol of the Vishanti via Doc's Sanctum Sanctorum and the Ancient One's Old Tibetan Home. The last page has a panel of Doc inviting the readers to keep following him in Strange Tales, meaning by now Marvel knew it had struck magic gold. And in two months Doc would return to Strange Tales for years on a permanent basis.

On Tuesday we'll examine the history of the current Sorcerer Houngan Supreme of the Marvel Universe, Brother Doctor Voodoo!

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