Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It Came From the Backissue Bin! #8

By Jason Shayer

A drought of horror comics stretched after the 1970s revolution that had been spearheaded by Tomb of Dracula and the edgier 1990s titles like Ghost Rider and Morbius. The 1980s were pretty sparse in terms of horror comic books, in particular for Marvel Comics as DC Comics had their acclaimed and award-winning Swamp Thing title written by Alan Moore. However, one title, Dr. Strange, although more supernatural than horror, kept an eye on the darker corners of the Marvel Universe.

Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystical Arts and Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel Universe, finally turned his attention the hordes of vampires that plague the Earth. The Lord of Vampires and the Sorcerer Supreme had clashed in the 1970s where Strange was victorious and had left Dracula for dead.

Veteran 1980s comic scribe Roger Stern wrote The Montesi Formula story arc running through Doctor Strange #58-62 (1983). What’s refreshing about this story is that while it’s an event that affects the large Marvel Universe, it doesn’t feel like one of the events that currently plagues comic books today like Secret Invasion or Blackest Night.

The art stands up quite well with Dan Green and Steve Leialoha providing the moody, action-filled panels.

Issue #60 stands out with horror slamming into the Marvel Universe as the vampire hordes of Dracula siege Avengers Mansion as the Lord of Vampires tries to get his hands on the famed mystical tome, the Darkhold. The Darkhold contains a spell, The Montesi Formula, that can purge the planet of all vampires.

The storyline culminates with issue #62 bringing together all the carefully woven story threads. In a fine tribute to the 1970s Tomb of Dracula, Blade and Frank Drake are called upon to defend Strange from Dracula as the Sorcerer Supreme attempts to read the Montesi Formula.

If you love vampires, mystical cults, dark sorcery, and the Marvel Universe, this story is worth tracking down. This storyline as well as the 1970s crossover is available in the Dr. Strange vs. Dracula: The Montesi Formula Trade Paperback.

And while on the subject of Doctor Strange and Roger Stern, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the 1989 Marvel Graphic Novel - Dr. Strange/Dr. Doom: Triumph and Torment.

This 1980s gem, written by Stern and drawn by a young Mike Mignola (Hellboy), is truly worthy of the term Graphic Novel. In this story, the Vishanti, a triumvirate of powerful mystical beings, summon the Earth's greatest mystics, including Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom, and put into motion a combat ritual to determine who will be the Earth’s Sorceror Supreme.

In the end, only Dr. Strange and Doom are left standing, but it's Strange who proves himself worthy. As the new Sorceror Supreme, Strange must grant Doom a boon. Doom requests Strange's aid to rescue his mother's soul from hell and the demonic entity Mephisto.

This clever tale not only retells both origins of Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom, it carefully explores their motivations and true characters. Particularly with Doom, who’s been branded as one of Marvel’s greatest villains, is one of the more rational villains as he genuinely believes what he is doing is right rather than being evil.

This graphic novel might be difficult to find as it’s been over twenty years since its original publication (it was available in both softcover and hardcover) but it's well worth your efforts.

--Jason Shayer