Marvel Madness

That Time Doctor Strange Had a Nightmarish New Year’s Eve

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I’ve talked before about the struggle I have with Doctor Strange comics and this thing I do here on the site. I love Doctor Strange. He’s one of my all-time favorite comics characters, and a surprising majority of his comics are pretty great. But, they’re rarely the type of weirdness that I like to highlight here on Marvel Madness. Which seems weird, since his comics are all goofy and full of magic. But, oddly enough, that kind of works to its detriment in this regard, because when everything is weird, not much stands out in that particular way I love. Occasionally I’ll break the mold and feature a story here that’s just kind of amazing, but when I can I like to focus on something a little more outside the box. And, frustratingly, I don’t come across many Doctor Strange stories that fit that mold. But, while I was researching a story that might fall in line with the New Year, I came across a story of Strange’s that I’d read several years before. I didn’t remember it too well, but there is a surprising lack of superhero stories that revolve around New Year’s Eve, what with a majority of them living in New York City where one of the most iconic New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world resides. So, I figured I’d give this story a second-read, and I don’t know if I just didn’t appreciate it at the time, or if my standards have changed, but I was pleasantly surprised at how utterly weird it is. While, at the same time, beings some of my favorite Doctor Strange stuff of all time. Aside from the fact that this story was from the brief period when Doctor Strange wore that terrible blue mask to make himself look more like a traditional superhero. But, ignoring that, we have New Year’s Eve, some great Doctor Strange magical nonsense, one of his weirdest villains, a surprise antagonist who shows up frequently in these articles, and a bizarre real-life celebrity cameo. So, buckle up and get back into the New Year’s mindset, because it’s going to be a hell of a trip.

The story begins, rather abruptly, with Doctor Strange floating in an unexplained void, with no memory of how he got there, witnessing the impossible majesty of the ethereal being known as Eternity. If you aren’t a big old nerd like me, and have never heard of Eternity, it’s one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe, the literal personification of eternity with all the ambiguity that that entails. Eternity has never really been defined, but rest assured it’s one of the most omnipotent characters in all of Marvel Comics. And, Doctor Strange has somehow stumbled upon Eternity, who has been missing for quite a while after Strange witnessed him in mortal combat with his dread nemesis Dormammu. Strange had thought that Eternity may have been destroyed in this fight, but now is filled with the desire to help Eternity regain his place in the universe. However, as soon as he starts fawning over running into the mightiest being he’s ever encountered, something odd starts to happen. Eternity starts to warp and change, and ends up becoming the gruesome visage of one of Doctor Strange’s most powerful enemies, Nightmare.

 

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So, yeah. That wasn’t actually Eternity, it was Nightmare who was trying to issue a warning to Doctor Strange, informing him that he’s going to find a way to destroy the Earth in an hour. Which, explains why Strange suddenly found himself in a place he had no memory of getting to, because it was all a dream. Doctor Strange is a little confused why Nightmare had to swing by while he was dreaming to issue a threat that will take place in an hour instead of just fighting now though, and tries to pick a fight with Nightmare here in his realm of dreams. But, Nightmare refuses to actually fight in the moment, and he gets a surprising bit of help from Doctor Strange’s associate Wong, who is currently waking Strange up in the real world.

Doctor Strange ends up waking from what appears to have been a nap on New Year’s Eve, and is pretty pissed off about it. He was hoping to just nip things in the bud and attack Nightmare then and there, but now he’s going to have to play along with whatever scheme Nightmare has cooking. And, to make things even more complicated, Strange has other things to worry about. Because, like I said, it’s New Year’s Eve, and only about an hour to go from midnight. And he’s promised his inter-dimensional girlfriend Clea to take her to Time’s Square to celebrate the New Year. Strange is pretty worn out from some recent adventures with both the Black Knight and the Avengers, hence the nap, but he decides to fulfill his commitments to Clea and take her out before dealing with his whole Nightmare issue. But, he still wants to be ready for trouble, so he just casts a spell on himself that changes his traditional robes into something a little more dapper. But, still with a cape. Trendsetter!

 

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Strange then struts over to the apartment that his girlfriend Clea is living in, where she’s trying to get the full Earth experience. See, Clea came from the Dark Dimension, the reality where Dormammu was king, but came to live on Earth to be with Doctor Strange both to learn magic, and to date him. So, Strange arrives at Clea’s apartment to begin their date, at like eleven o’clock I guess. But, he’s a little concerned that her traditional Dark Dimension outfit won’t really fit into Time’s Square. So, he uses the same spell he used on his duds to give her a trendy sixties outfit so they can go enjoy the party.

The two lovebirds then stroll around the streets of New York, as Clea gets to enjoy the first snow that she’s ever experienced. She gets to dance around the streets, playing with what is surely some filthy snow, until Strange realizes that they need to get downtown in time for the ball to drop. So, after a break-neck cab-ride across Manhattan, Doctor Strange and Clea finally reach the revelry. They stand around Times Square, looking at what at the time was the Allied Chemical Tower, while Doctor Strange explains to Clea all the great things about humanity and the promise that New Year’s Eve holds. They also run into Tom Wolfe.

 

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That’s right, the second time that I’ve talked about a Marvel comic featuring Tom Wolfe! This happened before the time that Tom Wolfe attended a charity dinner with the Hulk (comics are crazy!), and he’s apparently a good friend of Doctor Strange’s. They chat for a little while, and then Strange and Clea excuse themselves to enjoy the celebration. Midnight approaches and the bells begin to chime, since this was apparently before they dropped the ball. The crowd begins to celebrate, which takes the form of a drunk man attempting to kiss Clea. But, Doctor Strange takes care of that by using a spell to make the man instead make out with a lightpole, while he steals a kiss from his love.

But, this isn’t just a story about Doctor Strange having a pleasant evening on the town. Because as the chimes strike their final tone, something strange happens. A pterodactyl flies out of nowhere and slams into the giant clock everyone was there for celebrate, killing itself and destroying the clock. Which, is less than ideal. Everyone understandably freaks out, but things are just starting, because a duo of building-sized tyrannosaurus rexs also show up, causing everyone to really start freaking out. Luckily though, there’s a superhero in the crowd, so Doctor Strange drops that spell that gives him his disguise, and starts trying to save people. Clea still doesn’t have enough magical prowess to fight some mysterious dinosaurs, so Strange takes the lead and starts blasting them with magical energy while surrounding bystanders with mystical shields. But, while these spells are able to take care of the dinosaurs, things get even weirder when an army of time-displaced warriors come pouring through a portal, ready to kill the revelers of Time’s Square.

 

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This is all pretty confusing, but Doctor Strange does his best to fight off the warriors and protect the innocents, when it all starts to make sense. An hour has passed since Nightmare’s ultimatum, so now he’s wrecking his vengeance. And, to make matters even crazier, he’s going to up the stakes. He appears in all his malevolent glory above Time’s Square with a new vision for Doctor Strange. He has Eternity, and has him imprisoned after his fight with Dormammu. And, he’s using Eternity’s powers to open gateways throughout history to bombard Earth with destructive forces. So, to save his planet and his reality, Strange agrees to Nightmare’s challenge, and says that he’ll accompany him into the realm of dreams and do battle with him.

Nightmare is delighted to have his nemesis agree to his little duel to the death, but doesn’t want him to get off this easily. So, before Strange can enter the realm of dreams, he has to deal with all of the time-displaced creatures he’s brought to Earth. So, Doctor Strange begins doing battle, all to save the people of New York, while trying to keep his identity safe. Because apparently at this time he actually cared if people knew who he was and what he did. And, after dealing with a bunch of dinosaurs, some Vikings, a pack of cavemen, and a platoon of future star warriors, the people of New York are finally safe. They have no idea what they just witnessed, but they’re safe.

 

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But, that still leaves the matter of Nightmare. So, to prepare himself, Strange heads over to Clea’s apartment to pick her up and bring her to the Sanctum Sanctorum as moral and magical support. She’s thrilled to see that Stephen is still alive, and the two start wandering the streets of New York once again, trying to spend some quality time together before Strange possibly gambles his life away. It’s mostly nice, other than Strange having to briefly turn a drunk man to ice after he attempts to throw a snowball at him. You know, wizard stuff. And, after dealing with that, they reach the Sanctum, and Strange prepares himself to enter the Dream Dimension.

Which, isn’t just taking some Ambien. He places himself in a special room of the Sanctum, away from Wong and Clea, and once again dons his magical robes and ridiculous blue mask. And, ready for battle, he allows his astral form to slip into the Dream Dimension. Which, is pretty trippy. Most alternate dimensions Doctor Strange visits in the comics are pretty weird, but the Dream Dimension is ever in flux, just a kaleidoscope of swirling colors and patterns, shifting to suit any purpose. And, with Nightmare ready for war against the Sorcerer Supreme, that purpose is to kill Doctor Strange. So, he finds himself in a confined space where a pack of horrible monsters can rip Strange to shreds.

 

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These demons apparently have incredibly deadly teeth, so Strange is going to have to think a little outside the box. Luckily, he happens to know a spell that will open up the ground below them, swallowing them into a terrible abyss from which there is no escape. Which, seems like a spell he should maybe toss out more often? I don’t know, I don’t want to tell him how to Sorcerer. However, it kind of backfires on him, because seeing how quickly he dealt with a handful of little monsters makes Nightmare decide he needs to up the ante, causing him to summon a whole mess of legionaries, just swamping Doctor Strange with obstacles.

Strange is doing pretty well blasting the monsters with mystical energies, but does notice something odd. Nightmare challenged him to a duel, but he seems to be refusing to face him, mano a mano. So, Strange comes up with a little plan. First step is to unleash an insane spell that swirls around all the monsters and “congeals” them into one dead pile. Second, he shouts into the void, essentially calling Nightmare a coward, too afraid to take on a mere mortal. And, lastly, he prepares his Eye of Agamotto, his only weapon which consistently can defeat Nightmare. And, sure enough, Nightmare himself finally appears before Strange, ready to kill him. Unfortunately, when Strange then opens the Eye in order to bathe Nightmare in its magical light, something unexpected happens. Nightmare had a contingency plan.

 

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Thinking ahead, Nightmare has discovered an obscure counter-spell that’s able to turn the effects of the Eye back on Strange, paralyzing himself with his own talisman’s power. And, there seems to be no way to defeat it. So, with Strange trapped under the might of the Eye, Nightmare declares himself the victor. He starts strutting around, laughing at Strange and using the strength of the Eye to mess with him, making him do whatever he says. But, after a while, Nightmare decides that it’s high time to start monologuing, and lessens the power of the Eye enough to let Strange stand up and hear his presentation on his evil plan.

Doctor Strange has defeated Nightmare several times over his illustrious history, and it has driven Nightmare quite mad. He’s a metaphysical being, and the fact that a mere mortal from a backwater world like Earth has defeated him so many times has given him a real chip on his shoulder in regards to Strange and the Earth. So, after Nightmare came across the defeated form of Eternity, he bound him with magical energy, and has been drawing power from him to enact vengeance. Because with the power he’s drained from Eternity Nightmare has been able to gain access to every Earth that ever has been or ever would be, which is how he was able to send all the weird manifestations to Time’s Square. And, he’s going to use that power to cause every possible reality to collapse in on each other, causing Earth to explode, all while Doctor Strange is forced to watch. But, while Nightmare is busy explaining his plots to Strange, he’s rudely interrupted by something incredibly unexpected.

 

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Hell yeah! Didn’t see that coming, did you? The Juggernaut, only second to Doctor Doom, has become one of the most frequent participants in Marvel Madness, but who would have guessed that he’d pop up in the Dream Dimension? Well, Doctor Strange for one. See, at some point the Juggernaut found himself drawn into the dimension of Cyttorak, the demon who gives him his powers, where he became trapped in a realm outside of Earth. And, Strange apparently was aware of that fact. So, when Nightmare temporarily weakened the power of the Eye of Agamotto so he could brag to him, Strange was able to send his astral form out of the Dream Dimension, and into the realm of Cyttorak. He then found Juggernaut, and mocked him to the point that Juggernaut was willing to follow him back to the Dream Dimension.

The Juggernaut doesn’t quite understand how or why he’s suddenly found himself in yet another metaphysical plane, but he’s convinced that Doctor Strange is the key to him returning to his reality. Which means he’s going to have to be willing to beat up Nightmare. Nightmare is also rather confused about what’s going on, but he definitely realizes that Strange had something to do with it. So, he bombards Strange with painful rays from the Eye of Agomamotto, all while Wong and Clea watch in horror back on Earth. But, Nightmare makes a bit of a miscalculation, because seeing his ticket home being killed, Juggernaut springs into action and starts attacking Nightmare.

 

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Juggernaut has spent quite a bit of time traversing the various magical dimensions of the Marvel Universe, and has ended up learning some spells. Which means he’s now incredibly strong, unstoppable, and has a spell which can constrain Nightmare and make him shrink down to a size that Juggernaut can wrestle with. And, just like that, Juggernaut and Nightmare start tussling with each other, giving Doctor Strange his chance to  put the next part of his plan into action. Because while Nightmare’s various spells have trapped Strange in one spot, his cloak and the Eye itself is under no such spell. So, using some mental commands, Strange forces his cloak to slip off his back and wrap around the Eye, cutting off it’s power and freeing Strange from the spell.

At this point Nightmare and Juggernaut both realize that they’ve been played, and turn around to see what kind of mischief Strange has gotten up to. And they’re a little surprised to see him just standing in one place, waving at the. They figure he’s up to something, but instead of thinking it through they just both blast bolts of energy at him. Which was a mistake, because that wasn’t Doctor Strange. It was an illusion of himself conveniently placed over the magical binds that keep Eternity captive. And that blast is enough to free Eternity, who has had a whole lot of pent up frustration. Eternity then starts scolding Nightmare and Juggernaut, before using his unimaginable power to cast them both into the mystical corners of the universe. I don’t know where Nightmare ended up, but Juggernaut eventually ended up in Rutland, Vermont, as we’ve discussed.  Eternity then returns Doctor Strange to his reality, apparently without any real emotion. But, as Strange returns to the Sanctum and into the waiting arms of Wong and Clea, he realizes Eternity has given him a gift. He’s created an alter-ego for Strange to use, making it so he doesn’t have to wear that stupid mask anymore.

 

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Yeah, that’s the good stuff. I still can’t believe that there are so few Marvel stories that take place at New Year’s Eve, but I’m glad that I was able to find one that was this utterly insane. I love Doctor Strange, and I love how easily his stories could slide into this kind of oddity. But, this issue takes things just a step beyond the usual insanity. I mean, this story features Doctor Strange fighting dinosaurs in Time’s Square, him meeting Tom Wolfe, a bunch of insanely trippy battles in the Dream Dimension, some revenge from Eternity, and an appearance from the good old Juggernaut. And I love it. It’s the type of insane Marvel nonsense that I love about the House of Ideas. Because who would have guessed that the Juggernaut would come crashing into a Doctor Strange story, and that it would technically make perfect sense? I mean, I’m personally delighted anytime the Juggernaut shows up, ready to whoop some ass regardless of it’s an X-Man or a metaphysical being of unimaginable power. Nightmare himself doesn’t do a whole lot for me as a villain, but I really appreciated his utterly insane plan in this story, especially the hubris involved in imprisoning the manifestation of Eternity to accomplish his insane goals. Plus, we have the joy of discussing Tom Wolfe yet again, this time his initial appearance in Marvel Comics, and since he didn’t seem to mind, he showed up again with the Hulk! This story is just a perfect mixture of all the weird nonsense that I love about Marvel Comics, and propped up with some absolutely stunning art from Gene Colan, one of my all-time favorite comics artists. This is what I love about comics.

 

Doctor Strange #180-182 were written by Roy Thomas, penciled by Gene Colan, inked by Tom Palmer, and lettered by Sam Rosen and Jean Izzo, 1969.

 

 

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