Earlier this month I mentioned that I was going to break from what I did last year, and not regale you with the numerous failures of the Mad Titan, Thanos. But, I’m going to be going back on my word, just a tad. As the world is preparing to watch the epic culmination of this Infinity Saga that has dominated the Marvel Cinematic Universe for more than ten years, I came across a weird little story that just so happens to tie into that story, in an albeit roundabout way. These last two Avengers films have more or less been loose adaptations of one of the most famous Marvel storylines of all time, the Infinity Gauntlet, the story of the epic struggle between Thanos and damn near every sentient being the universe, including some metaphysical personifications of reality. It’s a massive, bizarre story, and really only serves as the basic structure of these last two films. And, honestly, I probably could have gotten away with doing a typical Marvel Madness post on Infinity Gauntlet. But, I found something even stranger. Because, like most massive comic events, Infinity Gauntlet had crossovers with several ongoing books in the Marvel universe. And, if you’ve read Infinity Gauntlet you would know that one of the most important of the human heroes in that story is none other than Doctor Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme. Dr. Strange is a key figure in that story, and unbeknownst to me, his main series at the time had an absolutely insane crossover with the larger event. So, in case you ever wondered what Dr. Strange was up to while providing mystical support to the Avengers as they stormed Thanos’ stronghold…he was apparently flying around ancient Egypt.
This story begins early on in the events of Infinity Gauntlet. In case you’ve never read that story, it begins with Thanos acquiring all six of the Infinity Gems and essentially becoming a God. He forms a giant ziggurat in space while hanging out with Mephisto and the personification of Death. This caught the attention of several beings, including the Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock, who arrived on Earth to seek help from the Avengers, or as many Avengers as survived Thanos’ infamous Snap, which removed half of the universe’s population. Doctor Strange offered to lend some magical support to the main fighting forces, while Adam Warlock plotted the real downfall of Thanos, more or less using the Avengers as fodder. And, this story takes place while Doctor Strange is floating inside the Sanctum Sanctorum, channeling all of his energy towards the Earth-based heroes, trying to lend a helping hand while doing his best to ignore the prattling of Pip the Troll. And, that interference from Strange does end up coming to Thanos’ attention, as he realizes these meddlesome heroes are being protected in a manner he can’t quite beat. So, he decides to handle the situation directly, and sends a wave of Infinity energy through space, directly into the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Thanos seems to have used the Time Gem to create a small vortex in the middle of the Sanctum, opening up a portal that will send Stephen Strange hurtling backwards in time, and out of the Mad Titan’s hair. Dr. Strange does his best to fight against this vortex, but all he accomplishes is drawing the attention of his disciple and love interest, Clea. She comes racing into the room just in time to see Dr. Strange get pulled into the vortex, his spells unable to save himself. And, not wanting to just stand by while he presumably dies, Clea leaps into action and attempts to save Strange, earning her a trip into the vortex as well.
Dr. Strange and Clea are then dragged into the time vortex, being hurtled backward in time. They find themselves in a swirling green maelstrom as word events flicker past them, slowly but surely bringing them further and further away from the present. And, thinking fast, Doctor Strange begins uttering an incantation, hoping to find a powerful magical artifact to anchor himself with. And, with he and Clea’s combined power they’re able to cast a spell that locates a magical artifact in the rapidly descending timeline, and are able to pull themselves out of the vortex and into the past. And where have they ended up?
That’s right! Dr. Strange and Clea have managed to pull themselves out of that time vortex, but they’ve also ended up in a time period when the famous Lighthouse of Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was still standing. Which means that they have ended up in Alexandria, and based on the condition of the Lighthouse Strange posits that they must have ended up somewhere around 48 B.C. Which, as you might have guessed, is less than ideal.
But, their spell did bring them to this time and place for a specific reason, so they begin seeking out the magical artifact that drew their attention, hoping that it will be able to help them transport back to their correct time period. And, it seems pretty obvious where they’re going to have to go, being in Alexandria. So, Dr. Strange informs Clea they have to make their way the the Great Library, while Strange explains to Clea what that even means, since she grew up in a different dimension. Unfortunately, they’ve found themselves in a very tumultuous time to be in Alexandria. Because, if there’s one thing the Great Library is most known for, it’s the fact that it burned down. And, well, it looks like Alexandria is engaged in a civil war between some Roman occupiers and the Egyptian people, and there does seem to be quite a bit of fire going on.
Dr. Strange is pretty bummed to see the library burning, partly because he really wished to have seen the Library, and partly because now they won’t be able to find something to help them travel to the future. However, that does leave the question of what their spell anchored them to this time period, if the Library is already ablaze. So, Strange decides to follow a hunch, and begins flying through the streets of Alexandria with Clea, assuming that people will be too busy with the whole civil war thing to notice two flying wizards. And, the’s mostly right. The general rabble don’t even look up to see the flying pair, but the do catch the attention of an Egyptian sorcerer named Zota, who Dr. Strange just so happens to have dealt with in a prior story. But, as it turns out, that took place further in Zota’s life, so he has no idea who these people are, other than clearly a pair of magic users.
Dr. Strange and Clea follow Strange’s hunch straight to a palace, figuring that this is where the magical artifact is. And, they strike out yet again. But, before Strange can come up with another plan, they’re spotted as interlopers. Strange quickly casts a spell that will allow he and Clea to both speak and understand Latin, just in time to be accosted by none other than Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Which, is a little awkward for Strange, who has actually met Cleopatra before, but during that same incident with Zota, meaning that she hasn’t actually experienced that plot yet, and doesn’t know who Strange is. But, neither Caesar nor Cleopatra seem that alarmed with Strange or Clea, and they end up striking some awkward conversation, wherein Strange learns that the building they saw burning was actually just some warehouse, and not the actual Library. So, he and Clea quickly flee from Caesar and Cleopatra and their complicated political shenanigans, and make their way to the actual Library. And, once inside, Strange is able to cast another spell which draws him directly to the magical artifact, the Book of the Vishanti!
Most likely because he’s the Sorcerer Supreme, Strange has been drawn directly to a very early version of the Book of the Vishanti, one of his most important magical books. Unfortunately, as he begins perusing this scroll, he hears Clea shout out in terror. And, as he turns to see what’s going on, he finds that Clea has become trapped inside of a magic mirror, all thanks to the evil power of Zota. Even though, as we’ve established this version of Zota has never met Strange before, so this isn’t personal. He isn’t seeking revenge, he just thinks that Strange and Clea are Roman sorcerers who have been sent to destroy Egypt and help install Cleopatra as the new head of state, rather than his preferred Egyptian, Ptolemy.
And, what’s more, it turns out that he’s been seeking the Scroll of the Vishanti for months, sneaking into the Library to find it at any opportunity, and yet Strange has just magically located it in moments. Zota demands that Strange give him the Scroll, and thus give him the magical power needed to destroy the Romans and give himself near unlimited power. Clea shouts to Strange, telling him that she’s not worth giving this madman such a powerful relic. But, Strange decides to follow another hunch, and tosses the Scroll to Zota. Which, turns out pretty poorly for Zota.
It turns out that Zota isn’t just a bad scroll-hunter, the Scroll of the Vishanti was actively hiding from him, able to sense that he’d use it for evil. So, Strange figures that if he throws the Scroll right at Zota, it would defend itself. And, he was right. The Scroll is able to knock Zota unconscious in a moment, giving Strange the time he needs to free Clea from her weird mirror prison. And, with that taken care of, Strange begins reading through the Scroll of the Vishanti, locating a spell that could send him and Clea forward in time. They just need to find a sorcerer as strong as Strange for him to anchor onto, pulling them to the right time period.
Which, as Clea point out, is probably going to be difficult, what with Stephen being the Sorcerer Supreme and all. But, he’s confident that there’s another sorcerer of his talent that he can use to anchor the spell, and the pair begin entering back into that time vortex, returning to the present. And, who is this powerful sorcerer? Well, it’s just Doctor Druid, which I’ll admit is a pretty big letdown. I obviously was hoping for Doctor Doom. But, regardless of that quibble, Strange and Clea find themselves back in the Sanctum Sanctorum, along with a baffled Pip the Troll and a confused Doctor Druid, who was summoned to the Sanctum thanks to the spell. And, not wasting any time, Doctor Strange immediately begins casting his protection spells once again, giving the heroes of Earth the backup they need to defeat Thanos.
Okay, I’ll be honest, this maybe wasn’t exactly the most topical story I could have tackled. When I first started reading it, I figured that it would be a perfect little tale to tell right before we all got to see the cinematic defeat of Thanos, but as I went on I slowly realized that this wasn’t really a Thanos story. And yet, it’s still a really fun and goofy issue. It ties into Infinity Gauntlet, one of the most enduring and important Marvel comics ever published, but at its heart it’s just a really weird Doctor Strange story. Which is exactly my wheelhouse. And, honestly, it would have been a little odd to talk about this story at some other time, when it was at least tangentially related to Endgame. But, putting all of that aside, I adore this story. I’ve frequently lamented the fact that I don’t often get to talk about Doctor Strange stories, because they often don’t distinguish themselves as goofy enough to be included here. But, this issue manages to go beyond the typical Dr. Strange weirdness to become that special kind of Marvel comics nonsense that I love. I mean, this is a story where Doctor Strange and Clea get thrown backwards in time, get involved in power struggles involving Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, and features several wonders of the ancient world. That’s exactly the type of story I love to talk about here. Plus, it was nice to see a Doctor Strange story that features Strange and Clea time travelling where Clea doesn’t get seduced by a historical figure. I’ll talk about that rascal Benjamin Franklin one of these days.
Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #33 “The Alexandria Quatrain” was written by Roy Thomas and Dann Thomas, penciled by Chris Marrinan, inked by Mark McKenna, colored by George Roussos, lettered by Pat Brosseau, and edited by Mike Rockwitz and Barry Dutter, 1991.
Categories: Marvel Madness