Well look what we have here. A Marvel Madness about my main man Doctor Doom that’s not even a silly story? That doesn’t seem right. But it is! Because I’ve pulled up one of my favorite comics of all time to discuss for this installment of Marvel Madness with you fine people. Because according to some cursory Googling, I’m pretty sure we’re around the time this comic takes place. Midsummer’s Eve. It’s the vague time period that’s so important in this story, and from what I could tell it’s on June 20th of this year. That may not be right, but for some reason I couldn’t get a really clear answer on what day this lines up with, and even though this comic has a serious Halloween vibe to me, I decided we needed to check it out.
The story comes from an original graphic novel, which was something Marvel used to do a lot more than they currently do, and is pretty spectacular. It’s one of those stories that you see on a lot of “Greatest Comic Book Stories Of All Time” lists, and I personally think that it really does deserve the praise. And it’s not just because it features two of my favorite characters of all time. I’m very much on record with my adoration of Victor Von Doom, but I haven’t really gotten to talk much about Dr. Strange. I love the guy, and I’m so psyched that this new movie coming out is revitalizing interest in the character. A lot of time you can feel kind of irritated as a comic book reader when the movies start to influence the comics, but I’m all on board if that means I’m not only getting a great ongoing Doctor Strange book, but also a whole bunch of cameos. So of course any story that’s going to be all about two of my favorite Marvel characters is going to be pretty great to me, and when you add in the fact that it’s an awesome story with some great Mike Mignola art, of course I’m going to love it.
Our story begins with a weird little character called the Aged Genghis. This guy is a centuries old wizard who is pretty much all-powerful, but also a little crazy. He awakens one day and decides to tell his servant all about the time that some crazy guy named Victor Von Doom showed up in his cave and demanded he fix his face. When the Genghis turned him down, Doom went elsewhere and took over a colony of magical monks who taught him magic and built him the armor that he used to become Dr. Doom. But that whole story feels a little tangential, especially when The Genghis realizes that it’s time for him to start an important task, since it’s the Time of Vishanti. Now, in case you aren’t a big geek about the mystical side of Marvel Comics, the Vishanti are basically the gods of magic in our realm, and the most powerful mystical beings in existence. So this is a big deal. Which is what warrants the Genghis showing up in some Southeast Asian temple and sending out a magical newsletter to all sorcerers on Earth, letting them know to come to the temple and try out for the position of Sorcerer Supreme.
So a whole bunch of sorcerers from around the world heed the call, and head to the Temple of the Three to start the competition. Which is a little weird, because it’s just a bunch of random characters we don’t know, Doctor Doom, and Doctor Strange. There are a lot of magical characters in the Marvel Universe, and it feels kind of strange that they just made up these randoms people, but whatever. They all get to the temple and the Aged Genghis basically tells them that the test involves freeing him from some sort of magical crystal created from the energies of the Vishanti. There aren’t really any rules, and they’re free to do this however they see fit. So of course some hotheaded sorcerers just start blasting the thing with energy, but that just bounces back at them, and freezes them. And when enough of the other idiots have been zapped, they start coming back to life like zombies, and attacking the other sorcerers. Until the only two people are Doom and Strange. And how is Doom doing so well? He programmed his suit to scan the other sorcerers and copies their movements, so that he can keep up.
And the fight just keeps going. And Doom’s actually holding his own. He does everything he can to fight off the zombie sorcerers while Strange starts to wrack his mind and find a way to actually fix this, because it’s obvious that blunt force isn’t the answer. However Doom seems to show his true colors when all the zombies are taken down, by turning on Strange and trying to chain him with a spell. But Strange is able to deflect the spell and lock Doom up with it. And with Doom taken care of, Strange has to figure this puzzle out andslips out of his Earthly body, and has his astral form investigate. And what he ends up finding is that it’s actually a super simple puzzle, and all he has to do is lay hands upon the crystal and pray that the Genghis frees himself. So he does that and the Genghis is freed, letting Stephen Strange remain the Sorcerer Supreme. But the plot thickens when the Genghis reveals that part of this contest is that the winner has to grant the runner-up a boon. And wouldn’t you know, that runner-up happens to be Doom. And he just so happens to have a perfect idea chambered.
Yep, looks like Doctor Doom wants Doctor Strange to help him free his mother’s spirit from Hell. You know, just a normal thing guys ask each other to do. So Strange and Doom head back to Latveria to figure things out. Doom obviously has the whole return to Latveria staged, what with the adoring citizens everywhere singing his graces, but Strange can’t help but wonder if maybe Doom has turned over a new leaf, since his whole boon seems to be pretty selfless. Although Strange can’t help but wonder why Doom never just asked for help. And the answer is pretty classic Doom. “I will bear any ordeal Strange, but Doctor Doom does not beg.” So Doctor Doom participated in that crazy Vishanti test and did everything he possibly could to come in second so that he could request Strange help him with this task instead of just asking him. Right on Doom.
Anyway, we’re then treated to a scene where Strange chats with one of Doom’s servants, and learns his origin story. It’s the basic one we’re heard time and time again, with Doom’s mother Cynthia leading a band of gypsies that are being persecuted by the Latverians, only to sell her soul to Mephisto to gain the power necessary to free them. But making deals with the Devil often doesn’t end well, so Cynthia loses her powers, and is killed. This drives Doom’s father mad, and Doom is left on his own, where he begins studying magic and science before finally becoming the Doctor Doom we all know and love. But that’s not really that important, because the next day is Midsummer’s Eve, time for the pair to enter Hell. So Strange does the incantations, and they teleport into Hell itself.
And once in Hell the pair are immediately set upon by demons, fighting their way through them. But the fight is cut short when Mephisto himself arrives, furious that these foolish mortals have dared enter his domain. He begins mocking the two for how fruitless their whole task is, and begins screwing with them. He causes them to be swallowed up by the ground, gets them attacked by murderous ravens, and blasted by sandstorms. And when the sandstorm hits them, they’re quickly separated. Strange continues to wander Hell and Doom ends up coming across Mephisto, who decides to strike up a deal. Strange ends up meeting a demon who makes him relive his backstory, with the car crash and the Ancient One teaching him magic while Doom chats with Mephisto.
Mephisto’s bargain is basically that he’ll not only release Cynthia’s soul, but animate it as well. All in exchange for Strange’s soul. But before we see Doom’s response we cut over to Strange, who is fighting off demons all on his own. And once that’s taken care of, he begins trying to find Doom, only to see him being taken away by some other demons. So Strange springs into action and zips down to save Doom, only to be electrocuted by Doom’s armor when he touches him. Yep, Doom sold Strange down the river. So Doom encases Strange in some sort of magic ice and brings him to Mephisto to complete the deal. So Mephisto uses his abilities, and brings Cynthia back to life, earning a tear from Doom. However, things aren’t quite as they seem, because Cynthia is less than thrilled about her son making a deal with the Devil to trade souls with a hero. So she gives herself back up, and reverts to stone. Doom’s lost her again.
So yeah, things seem pretty bleak. But it’s at this point that Strange springs into action, because it turns out Doom didn’t screw him, and gave him some sort of little gadget that can shatter the magic ice. So Strange frees himself and blasts Mephisto. Doom then fights through his pain, and begins attacking Mephisto too. Unfortunately even though they’re two incredibly powerful sorcerers, and Doom has a whole arsenal of gadgets at his disposal, they are fighting the Devil. So it doesn’t go great. Strange was able to shield themselves, and Cynthia’s soul, as they fight against Mephisto’s onslaught of hellfire. But Doom didn’t come unprepared, and has Strange drop their shield long enough to fire a little capsule of anti-matter into Mephisto, assuming that that’ll be enough to stop the Devil.
Nope! Mephisto comes back and he is not happy. He begins assaulting the two men with all of his power, trying to burn them out of existence. And they’re pretty much screwed. Doom and Strange’s shield’s are barely enough to keep the hellfire at bay. Doom’s pretty much ready to give up, but Strange has one last idea. And Doom’s not going to like it. Because there’s one thing that can defeat the Prince of Darkness, the light of Oshturr of the Vishanti. And the way to get that light is to exorcise Cynthia’s soul, freeing it. So Strange does the incantation, against Doom’s will, and the two are able to defeat Mephisto enough to escape Hell. So they return to Earth, and Doom is pretty furious. Or is he? Because Strange starts to put some things together, and realizes that they did succeed. Cynthia’s soul has been freed, and she’s no longer in Hell. So the story ends with Strange struggling to figure out if they completely failed, or if Doom is a ridiculous strategist who came up with this whole plan.
There you have it. The Triumph and Torment of Doctors Doom and Strange. I don’t know about you, but I love this story so damn much. Really any story featuring Strange and Doom would be up my alley, but this story is so magnificent. It functions simultaneously as an origin story for both men, a magical competition, and a crazy into the bowels of Hell to save a woman’s soul. It’s got something for everyone! And it really works as an amazing story for both characters. We get to see how selfless and heroic Stephen Strange is throughout the story. True, he’s kind of obligated to help Doom, but he makes it known that he would do it even if he hadn’t been forced to by the laws of the competition, and he does everything in his power to save Cynthia’s soul once their in Hell. He’s a true hero. And then there’s Doom. Holy crap you guys. One of the running threads when it comes to the Doctor Doom stories I spotlight here is his incredibly convoluted plans. Doctor Doom will not mess around or skimp when it comes to a crazy plot. And this may be his craziest. If he actually planned it all. If he did, this plan involved him joining this Vishanti competition, coming in second so that he could get a boon from Strange, heading to Hell, tricking Mephisto into thinking he’d betray Strange, only to actually screw over Mephisto, causing him to go ballistic so the only escape would be cleansing Cynthia’s soul. Yeah. I don’t know if Doom was actually that on the ball, but it’s incredibly possible. Because that’s how Doctor Doom rolls. And not only is it a great story, it’s gorgeous as hell. I mean, what do you expect from Mike Mignola, the dude can draw the hell out of a comic, especially one that takes place in Hell. The whole thing is just beautiful, and one of my favorite comics of all time. So this Midsummer’s Eve, remember that somewhere out there, Doctor Doom is doing everything he can to save his mother’s soul.
Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment was written by Roger Stern, drawn by Mike Mignola, and inked/colored by Mark Badger.