Hey, Spider-Man’s pretty hot right now, right? The PS4 game is kind of blowing up and everyone’s talking about it? At least, they were last week? It’s a great game, I really loved it, and I’ll be talking about it later. But, when people are in a Spider-Man mood, I guess that means I should take another deep dive into the weird world of Spider-Man back issues to find a strange adventure of our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. And, I found one. I’m going to admit something that was probably pretty obvious by this point of Marvel Madness. I’ve spent quite a bit of time searching around for basically every time Doctor Doom has guested in a comic that wasn’t a Fantastic Four book. Primarily because every single time I’ve read a comic where Doctor Doom fought outside his normal wheelhouse, it’s been an absolute delight. And, in the course of that research, I came across this story, an annual from the Amazing Spider-Man. I’m always in the mood for a new weird Doctor Doom story, and seeing the cover of this book had me excited. I mean, Doctor Doom and Doctor Strange is good, and Doctor Doom and Spider-Man is great, so putting the three of them together in one comic, drawn by Frank Miller no less, should be a recipe for success, right? Well, this did end up being a wonderfully weird comic, but I regret to inform you this early that Doctor Doom’s role in this book is nowhere near where I’d like it to be. Which is a bummer. But, at least we get to see Spider-Man stop Doctor Doom from summoning Dormammu thanks to a bunch of hypnotized punk kids. That’s still pretty cool.
The story opens up by showing us some translated pages inside the book of the Vishanti, one of the magical gods that Doctor Strange gains his powers from. This passage explains that once every sixty thousand years a mortal can perform some sort of magical ritual called the Bend Sinister, which will allow for vast evil power to be released into Earth, letting evil triumph. The hows and whys of this ritual, or even what a Bend Sinister is, are never explained, but we do learn that the only way to save the world is if a powerful sorcerer and a man who is half spider team up. Which seems oddly specific. But, none of that really matters at the moment, what does matter is that good old Doctor Doom is familiar with this prophecy, and has forced a minor sorcerer named Lucius Dilby to come to Latveria and help him combine magic and science to bring about the Bend Sinister. And, surprisingly, he succeeds. Dilby then calls Doom into his laboratory, and proudly announces his success, hoping that his will earn him his freedom. It does not.
Word to the wise. Don’t trust Doctor Doom. Anyway, now that Dilby has finished with the project he’s been working on, Doom decides to use it on him. He straps Dilby to a special platform, which is able to pierce the veil and send Dilby rocketing through reality, and into the Dark Dimension, the realm of the Dread Dormammu, arch-nemesis of Doctor Strange and one of the most powerful malevolent entities in all of creation. A parade of horrific demons pick Dilby up, expecting him, and transport him through the realm to the home of Dormammu, who has been waiting for him. See, apparently whatever the Bend Sinister is, it usually kills the person who conducts it, so Doom and Dormammu have decided to use Dilby as their proxy, a stooge to conduct the ritual, and potentially die in their stead.
So, fulfilling their deal, Dormammu starts gifting Dilby with a significant amount of magical powers, letting him create a nigh-unstoppable entity to be his protector on Earth, something to help him pull off the Bend Sinister. And, once that’s done, Dormammu gives Doctor Doom a call, finding the dictator of Latveria chilling, drinking tea, and…watching footage of Hitler speeches? Not a fan of that idea. Anyway, Dormammu and Doctor Doom have a short video conference, and decide it’s time to move onto the next phase of their plan. Which involves them sending Dilby and his robotic guardian to earth, wrapping the guardian up like a mummy, and then delivering the mummy to the Sanctum Sanctorum so it can beat up Doctor Strange, removing him from the board. And, this goes swimmingly.
Whoops, probably shouldn’t accept random packages, Wong! So, yeah, Dilby has created a super-powerful robotic entity to do his dirty work for him, and it’s proving a hefty deterent for Sorcerer Supreme’s. The robot is able to blast Doctor Strange with a bolt of energy, shrug off an assault of martial arts from Wong, and in a move that shakes Doctor Strange to his core, passes right through the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak, the normally unstoppable bands of energy that also power the Juggernaut. So, that’s concerning. So, with his usual trump card rendered useless, Doctor Strange realizes that he’s going to need to do something a little different to get out of this situation.
Strange decides that his body is just slowing him down, and slips out of it and into his astral form, flitting out of the Sanctum in the hopes of flagging down one of New York’s countless other superheroes to lend him a hand. In the process the robot picks up Strange’s unconscious body, carrying it away for the ritual. Unfortunately, when Strange attempts to flee from the Sanctum, he finds that there’s a barrier of demonic entities surrounding his safeguarded home, just outside the barrier of his protection spells. He attempts to fight some of them off, but quickly realizes that he’s out-powered, and responds by sending out a “psychic flare,” which begins flying around New York, looking for back up. The flare then searches the haunts of the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and even Daredevil, only to find them all otherwise occupied. So, with no other alternative, it settles on Spider-Man. Which is pretty rude.
So, yeah, Peter Parker is just hanging out, teaching some sort of chem lab class at Empire State University when the gigantic astral head of Stephen Strange appears before him and yells that there’s “tremendous evil” waiting for him at the Sanctum Sanctorum. It’s quite a life Peter leads. He actually ends up rolling pretty well with the sudden appearance of a magician’s head, and finds a way to end his class early, letting him slip out of his duties and go save the day. And, in doing so he has to break a date with Debbie Whitman, by far Peter’s most boring love interest, and the one that he most frequently treats like crap.
Peter then suits up as Spider-Man, and swings over to Greenwich Village to help Doctor Strange out. And, along the way, he starts running into the demonic forces that are surround the Sanctum. This takes the form of two stone gargoyles who are brought to life attempting to chase Spider-Man away. The gargoyle’s freak him out pretty quickly, and he leads them on a chase through the rooftops of Greenwich Village, smashing into water-towers, ruining edifices, and just generally causing a lot of problems. But, Spider-Man’s able to defeat the gargoyle eventually by wrapping up a pile of rubble with his webs, and smashing them to pieces with it. And, with that taken care of, he heads to the front door of the Sanctum Sanctorum, where something odd happens.
A litany of weird little goblins come pouring out of the sidewalk and quickly begin scaling Spider-Man, doing their best to keep him from entering the building. And, they do a good job. Spider-Man isn’t able to pull the little buggers off, and they end up swarming him to the point where he’s unable to get free. They even manage to pull him to the ground, where things appear to be getting quite dire. However, Spider-Man out-thinks the little monsters, and is able to shoot one of his webs onto the bumper of a passing truck, thus dragging himself along the pavement, and scraping the little goblins loose, thus defeating another wave of defense put on the Sanctum.
So, with the two deterrents taken care of, Spider-Man hops onto the roof of the Sanctum, since the door didn’t work that well, and jumps into a massive hole that was left by Dilby’s weird robot. And, inside Spider-Man finds the Sanctum wrecked, and Wong unconscious. He wakes Wong up, and while making sure that he’s otherwise okay, gets filled in one what’s going on. At least as far as Wong knows. Wong then tells Spider-Man that before he was knocked unconscious he was given a faint psychic warning from Strange, apparently telling his faithful friend the location that he was being transported to. And that location?
Hell. Yes. Lucius Dilby is bringing about the Apocalypse at C.B.G.B.’s, the infamous punk club in the East Village. Wong apparently isn’t into the punk scene, and doesn’t know what the letters stand for, but Peter is shockingly aware of the club, and was apparently planning on going to a concert there that night with Debbie before cancelling, and immediately heads out to save Doctor Strange and stop whatever magical evil is going on.
We then cut to a building nearby C.B.G.B.’s, where Lucius Dilby has Doctor Strange imprisoned with magical energy. Dilby then starts monologuing a bit, explaining that he’s going to sacrifice Strange that night and use his death to fulfill the Bend Sinister, bringing about destruction of the Earth. And it all hinges on a bunch of punks. Because at that same moment Peter Parker is arriving at C.B.G.B.’s, and start wandering around the concert that’s going on, keeping his Spider Sense on high alert to find anything out of the ordinary. But, instead, what he does find is a very confused and jilted Debbie. She assumes that Peter was just trying to ditch her, and runs out of the club in tear. He chases after her, and ends up convincing her to head into a nearby diner and talk for a bit, ignoring the pressing magical doom that’s rapidly approaching. Well, until it’s impossible to ignore it any longer.
The punk band and all the kids who went to the concert come marching past the diner that Peter and Debbie were inside, chanting “Bend Sinister” over and over again. And, every time they pass people, they gain to their numbers, seemingly hypnotizing every passerby they encounter. So, that’s a red flag. Peter realizes that he’s accidentally stumbled onto more evil magic, and ditches Debbie yet again to follow them. He slips into his Spider-Man costume and begins swinging after the line of chanting punks, keeping enough distance so that he doesn’t get hypnotized as well.
Spider-Man then follows the crowd as they continue to march through the streets of Manhattan, slowly but surely growing their numbers until they have a veritable army of chanting people. And, in a strange turn of events to Peter, the army is making their way to the Latverian embassy. Spider-Man then gets into a vantage point, and finds that there’s something very strange atop the embassy. Lucius Dilby is standing there, shouting into the heavens, standing next to a massive gem, in which Doctor Strange is trapped. And, whatever Dilby is shouting is having strange effects, seemingly opening a rift into another dimension, and bathing the streets of Manhattan with an eldritch glow.
Dilby then begins siphoning energy out of the massive army of hypnotized chanters that have surrounded the Latverian embassy, and starts using that energy to call forth the Bend Sinister. But, in true Spider-Man fashion, things are cut a little short by a dose of webbing to the face. Spider-Man shoots some webs at Dibny, momentarily making him lose his concentration, and also summoning the robotic protector that Dibny created in the Dark Dimension.
The robot then attacks Spider-Man, and he quickly realizes that the thing is far more powerful than it seems. Nothing Spider-Man is able to throw at the robot it able to take it down, and things seem like they’re getting pretty dire. And Dilby is just getting more and more powerful, and preparing to kill Doctor Strange. So, thinking fast, Spider-Man decides that the robot still needs to be able to see, and is able to web up the thing’s face, causing it to lash around blindly. He then hops on it’s back, and starts steering it around while it flies with rocket packs. And, once Spider-Man gets a hang of driving the thing, he points the unstoppable robot in the direction of Dilby and Strange, smashing into the magical gem that he’s entombed the Sorcerer Supreme in.
Dilby is thus unable to complete the Bend Sinister, and Doctor Strange is free to conduct some magical revenge. But, before Spider-Man or Doctor Strange can attack Dilby, the hand of the Dread Dormammu fades into reality, and grabs the little necromancer, pulling him out of our reality. Doctor Strange then thanks Spider-Man for saving him, but staunchly refuses to explain what the Bend Sinister is, who Dilby was, or what even happened that night before flying away. The story then ends with Doctor Doom stewing in Latveria over his failed attempt at gaining vast magical powers. But, he does get to amuse himself with a small, presumably dead, Dilby that Dormammu has sent him as a reminder of their failed coup.
Listen, would I have preferred this story if Doctor Doom had played a larger role and actually tussled with Spider-Man and Doctor Strange? Of course I would have. But, as it stands, this is still a pretty crazy story. The cover certainly promises a very different story than what we actually get, but I can’t help but feel satisfied by the end product. I just love Spider-Man so much, and I find him dealing with mystical problems to be really fascinating. He’s so much more suited to street-level crimes or weird science-related supervillainy. Putting him in the context to an evil sorcerer trying to take over the world is something we don’t see very often from Spider-Man, and it was a nice little change of pace. Peter isn’t really someone who is usually portrayed as a magical skeptic, like Tony Stark or Reed Richards, so we don’t have to deal with him hemming or hawing over the strange magical things he’s seeing, desperately seeking a scientific solution, but he’s still completely out of his depth in a way that I enjoy. Spider-Man works best when he’s a little flustered, and dealing with magic is a perfect way to get him there. I also really love that this comic never fully explains what the Bend Sinister is, how it works, or even what it’s really going to accomplish. And, when Spider-Man flat out asks Doctor Strange to explain thing, the good doctor refuses and flies away, leaving Spider-Man as frustrated as the reader. Plus, we got to see C.B.G.B.’s in a Marvel comic, which if the Marvel Wikia is to be trusted, is the first time it was ever even mentioned in a Marvel comic. That’s pretty rad. Plus, the thing is gorgeous, giving us some vintage Frank Miller before he went to DC. It’s just a really fun little story, and a nice segue into the month of spooky Halloween Marvel Madness posts I have in store for you all next month.
The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #14 was written by Denny O’Neil, penciled by Frank Miller, inked by Tom Palmer, colored by Ben Sean, and lettered by Joe Rosen, 1980.
Categories: Marvel Madness