The Four Faces of Typhoid Mary

Writer Ann Nocenti, during her time on Daredevil from late 1986 to early 1991, told many unconventional stories that addressed a number of controversial topics.  One of her vehicles for exploring certain issues was the character of Typhoid Mary who she co-created with artist John Romita Jr.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 cover

Typhoid Mary is definitely one of Nocenti’s most memorable creations.  Mary Walker is telepathic, telekinetic and pyrokinetic.  She also suffers from multiple personality disorder, switching between the sweet, innocent, naïve Mary and the sadistic, domineering, seductive Typhoid.  This transformation is not merely mental but also physical, with her pulse rate & temperature changing.

After Nocenti’s departure from Daredevil, she continued to develop Typhoid Mary in a pair of serials that ran in the biweekly anthology Marvel Comics Presents.  Working with artist Steve Lightle, she teamed up Typhoid first with Wolverine and then with Ghost Rider.  The arcs of these two serials culminated in the full-length two-part story “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” that appeared in Marvel Comics Presents #150-151, published in early 1994.  The artwork was by Lightle and Fred Harper.

MCP #150 opens with Typhoid ostensibly in the care of psychiatrist Doctor Hunt.  Unfortunately Hunt is badly in need of a refresher course on professional ethics, as he believes he has fallen in love with Mary, and their “sessions” involve having sex with her.  Hunt is supposedly planning to integrate Mary’s personalities together, although more than one character suspects that what he really intends to do is obliterate the kindly Mary persona so that he will have the kinky Typhoid all to himself.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 pg 5

Wolverine removes Mary from Hunt’s care, not only because he can see that the psychiatrist is a quack, but also because he requires Typhoid’s help.  A young mutant empath & chameleon named Jessie has been abducted by the Fortress, one of those innumerable nefarious scientific conspiracies that populate the Marvel universe.  Wolverine needs Typhoid to infiltrate the Fortress and extricate Jessie.  He is able to sell this mission to Mary by explaining that if Jessie is not rescued she will be subjected to unscrupulous experiments, much as the two of them also have been.

Typhoid’s rescue attempt goes awry and she is captured by the Fortress.  She unconsciously sends out a telepathic SOS to not just Wolverine, but to her old paramour / adversary Daredevil and to Ghost Rider… although at this point in time the flaming-skulled cyclist is dead (well, deader than usual) and the mayday is received by his replacement Vengeance.

The imprisoned Typhoid is probed by the Fortress scientists, which results in a third personality bursting forth.  Bloody Mary is a ruthless man-hater who vows to avenge the crimes “the patriarch” has inflicted upon women.  She brutally decimates the Fortress personnel and departs with Jessie.

Later, arriving at a woman’s shelter, Bloody Mary is shocked to discover that Jessie is, in fact, a boy; his empathic abilities had previously caused him to mimic first Steel Raven, the female mercenary who brought him to the Fortress, and then Mary.  Now, though, he is reverting to his true gender.  Bloody Mary is furious.  Calling Jessie a “filthy liar,” she violently slaps the teenager.  Stealing the shelter’s files on battered women, Mary flees, intending to avenge them.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 pg 24

Bloody Mary embarks upon her mission of retribution, brutalizing the husbands and boyfriends of the women in the shelter, inflicting upon them the exact injuries they gave their victims.  Attempting to track her down are Wolverine, Daredevil and Vengeance, who each have their own ideas about how to deal with Bloody Mary.  The three vigilantes at odds with one another, as they argue over whether Mary deserves psychiatric help, imprisonment, or death.

Added to the mix is Steel Raven, dispatched by the Fortress to retrieve Jessie.  Raven is beginning to have second thoughts about her employers, though, unsettled by their experiments on children.  When Raven catches up to Bloody Mary, she finds that she is in agreement with her quest for retribution against abusive men.  The mercenary holds off Vengeance and Wolverine so that Mary can continue on her mission.

Vacillating back and forth between her three personalities, Mary once again encounters Jessie, who has been looking for her.  The empathic teen begins to copy each of Mary’s personas in rapid succession…

Mary: Look at you, my multiple personalities, they’re contagious. Look at you. You echo all I am. Stay away. I can’t be responsible!

Jessie: I want to be with you, Mary. I want to help you.

Mary: How did you manage to trick me, make me think you were a girl?

Jessie: Because I am a girl. I’m just trapped in this boy’s body. I want to be like you.

Mary: Oh, yeah? Which me? Who shall I be for you?

Jessie: That Wolverine man was right. There’s one more in there. One more that’s the best of all. Don’t you feel it?

Prompted by Jessie, Mary looks within herself, and uncovers a fourth personality, a woman who refers to herself as “Walker.”  This identity shares certain aspects of the other three.  Walker is kind but assertive.  She is not abusive, nor will she allow herself to be abused.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 24

Walker reflects upon her various natures…

“I began to hate all the shrinks and doctors, all the men, and I divided myself into four parts: one helpless before men, one using them, one hating them… and now me, indifferent to them. Beyond them.”

Walker returns to the hospital where she was being treated and confronts Hunt on his unethical, criminal behavior, and then exposes what he did to her.  As he is being led away by the police, she turns to address the reporters on the scene.  Walker vows to continue Bloody Mary’s quest to avenge women, but it is apparent she will be doing so a more rational manner.  And with that she departs, Jessie accompanying her.

The first time I read “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” I was 18 years old.  I found it incredibly thought-provoking.  It raised so many questions that I had never really considered previously, about women’s roles in society and how these are often imposed upon them by men, about homosexuality & gender identity, about crime & punishment.  Two decades later, re-reading it, Nocenti’s story still stirred a great deal of contemplation.

Interviewed in October 1998 by the Daredevil fan site Man Without Fear, Nocenti explained the creation of Typhoid Mary…

“As for where Typhoid came from, you’ll have to ask the shrink I’ve as yet never gone to. I think I wanted to shatter the female stereotypes–virgin, whore, bitch, ditz, feminist, girl scout, all-suffering mother, et al.–into tiny fragments and yet keep all the pieces in the same little female bundle.”

Through her character Nocenti addresses the identities that men often assign to women.  Typhoid Mary is a challenge to the Virgin-Whore Complex, the idea often perpetuated by male-dominant cultures that a woman is either a virtuous, chaste innocent or a sinful, promiscuous seductress, with no middle ground in-between.  Mary is the “virgin” and Typhoid is the “whore,” and neither of them is healthy.  These two halves are the result of fission of personality.  The splitting of an atom initially results in tremendous energy but ultimately leads to radioactive decay.  Likewise, Mary Walker’s personality split to protect her from trauma, but over time this became detrimental, with neither aspect able to function as a whole individual.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 16

Mary by herself is kind and caring, but also helpless and unsophisticated, unprepared to cope with the complexities of the world.  Typhoid, on the other hand, protects herself from harm by acting as the aggressor and manipulating others, but this renders her incapable of forming real friendships and relationships with others.  Both Mary and Typhoid possess attributes that, if united, would make them a strong, independent, healthy person.

Bloody Mary is another unbalanced splinter of Mary Walker’s personality.  Nocenti casts Bloody Mary as an embodiment of the stereotype of the militant feminist, what some derogatorily refer to as a “Feminazi.”  Bloody Mary views the conflict between men and women in absolutes, declaring that “All women are political prisoners.”  She regards all men as victimizers, not realizing that she is guilty of the same broad judgments as those she opposes.

If, however, the determination and convictions of Bloody Mary were united with the qualities of Mary Walker and Typhoid Mary, once again you would have an individual who is secure and balanced.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I think that all of us, men and women, are incredibly complex.  At different times in our lives, in different setting among different people, we play different roles, we assume different identities, emphasize different parts of our personalities.  Sometimes we have trouble deciding exactly who we are.

Even with someone such as Hunt, Nocenti demonstrates that people are complicated.  For all his sins, at one point the psychiatrist does express self-doubt and begins to question his objectivity.  Ultimately, though, Hunt pushes aside his uncertainty.  He attempts to rationalize his actions to Walker with a misogynist rant about how all women are seductive manipulators.  Sometimes, when you get right down to it, people really are jerks.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 28

Jessie is an interesting figure.  Through him/her, Nocenti touches upon the question of what determines sexual orientation and gender identity.  How much of it is conscious individual choice, how much is a result of socialization, and how much of it is biological?

When I was in my teens I was still trying to make up my mind about homosexuality.  I will admit at one point I knew very little about the subject and the thought of people of the same gender having sex seemed really weird.  Then in the early 1990s I read newspaper articles about how homosexuality was likely determined by genetics.  At that point I must have started to understand that if sexual orientation was something that a person was born with, just like skin color or eye color or height or being left-handed, then it was unjust to discriminate against someone on that basis.

As for the transgender aspect of Jessie’s character, two decades later sex change remains even more controversial than homosexuality.  It still seems a bit odd to me.  The concept of a person’s psychological gender identity being different from their physical one is difficult for me to understand.  But just because something is beyond my conception doesn’t make it wrong.  It is important to keep an open mind.  And I recognize that it is crucial for people to be comfortable in their own skin, to be happy with who they are.

“Bloody Mary” is a good story, although not without its flaws.  Perhaps Nocenti’s plot is overly ambitious, attempting to fit in its in-depth exploration of Typhoid Mary, appearances by Wolverine, Daredevil and Vengeance, and the introductions of Steel Raven, Jessie and the Fortress.

There may have been certain editorial directives at work that Nocenti had to work within, such as the use of Vengeance.  It would have made more sense to have Ghost Rider appear but, again, the character was (temporarily) deceased, and so Vengeance was slotted in even though he’d never met Typhoid before.   He doesn’t have much to do in this story.  Daredevil also seems to be fighting for space.  Halfway through MCP #151 he rather abruptly agrees to just let Wolverine handle Typhoid, and then vanishes from the story.

The division of artwork between Steve Lightle and Fred Harper isn’t ideal.  Both Lightle and Harper are very talented artists, but they have extremely different styles.  Consequently the two halves of this story are visually quite different.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 pg 16

Lightle’s detailed artwork on the first half of “Bloody Mary” is amazing.  I have been a fan of his since I first saw his covers for Classic X-Men in 1989.  So I was happy his work began appearing regularly in MCP starting in 1992.

Lightle works in tangent with colorist Maryann Lightle who, as you can probably guess by that last name, is his wife.  It seems likely that her familiarity with her husband’s work enabled Maryann Lightle to do an extremely effective job coloring his art on this issue.

I especially liked Lightle’s design for Wolverine’s stealth uniform.  Lightle also designed the Steel Raven character, and co-plotted the first half of the story with Nocenti.

It appears that Lightle was originally intended to illustrate the entire story.  In late 1993 I met MCP editor Richard Ashford at a store signing.  He had preview artwork for upcoming issues including this story, which he stated was going to run in #149-150.  Fast forward to early 1994 and MCP #149 came out with no sign of Typhoid Mary but instead four stand-alone eight page stories.  “Bloody Mary” by Nocenti & Lightle did begin in the next issue, but the letter column announced that the artist on second part would be Harper.

I don’t know if there were deadline problems and work on this story was running late (hence the story being moved back an issue), or if Ashford was worried that it would come in behind schedule, but whatever the case he assigned the second half to Harper, who was a regular contributor to MCP.  Lightle did illustrate to cover for #151, though.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 5

On the second half of “Bloody Mary,” Harper does very solid work.  His layouts and storytelling on many of his pages are dramatic and inventive.  As I said, Harper’s art is very unlike Lightle’s, but judged on its own merits it is good.

Regrettably sometimes the coloring doesn’t do Harper too many favors.  I don’t blame colorist Joe Andreani, who did quite a bit of work at Marvel in the 1990s.  Apparently MCP didn’t get the best color reproduction that was available at the time.  Or perhaps it is just that Harper’s style with its heavy use of blacks is better-suited to appearing in black & white.  I’ve seen a number of his original pages from MCP and they look so much more impressive in person, revealing a lot of detail that was unclear or obscured when they were printed.

In any case, despite certain problems, Marvel Comics Presents #150-151 are still a strong pair of issues.  Ann Nocenti’s writing on “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” it thoughtful and intelligent.  Nocenti does an excellent job continuing to develop her creation Typhoid Mary, and through her addresses a number of controversial topics while crafting an entertaining story.

UPDATE: I was just notified by Steve Andreski, via the Back Issue Magazine group on Facebook, that there is an upcoming trade paperback from Marvel collecting the Typhoid Mary serials from MCP including “Bloody Mary,” as well as several other excellent stories featuring the character written by Ann Nocenti.  Here’s the info…

Typhoid's Kiss TPB solicitation

I highly recommend purchasing a copy of the Daredevil: Typhoid’s Kiss trade paperback when it comes out.  There are some really great stories that are going to be contained in this volume.  Thanks for the info, Steve!

C.J. Henderson: 1951 – 2014

I was very sorry to hear that author C.J. Henderson had passed away on July 4th at the age of 62.  I knew that he wasn’t well.  About a month ago I had run into a mutual acquaintance, writer James Chambers, for the first time in several years.  I asked Jim if he was still in touch with C.J. and had learned that he was suffering from cancer.  So while his passing is not unexpected, it is still sad.  C.J was a talented writer, as well as a nice, friendly fellow with a distinctive, wry sense of humor.  It was always a pleasure to see him.

CJ Henderson
C.J. Henderson with some of the numerous books that he worked on. Photo courtesy of John Paul.

While I wasn’t close friends with C.J. he was someone who I had encountered numerous times over the years, both socially and at comic book conventions, where he was often a guest.  I first met C.J. back in the mid-1990s, at one of the parties that artist Fred Harper threw at his loft in Brooklyn.  I know I’d read a handful of C.J. Henderson’s stories previously, and afterwards I acquired quite a bit of his work.  In 2003 I hitched a ride to the Pittsburgh Comic Con with C.J., Jim Chambers, and a few other people.  That was a lot of fun.  Fred and I also once spent New Year’s Eve with C.J. and his family, which was a nice, relaxing evening.

C.J.  Henderson was a very prolific author who was extremely fond of both hardboiled detective and horror fiction.  He wrote a number of excellent novels and short stories in those two genres, often deftly mixing the two.  One of Henderson’s ongoing characters was private eye Jack Hagee.  The various Jack Hagee short stories, written throughout the 1980s, were collected together in What You Pay For in 1990.

The Things That Are Not There

Henderson’s other signature P.I. was Teddy London.  Whereas Hagee’s cases were very much grounded in gritty noir, London’s investigations took him into the strange, dark world of the supernatural.  Henderson was a self-avowed fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s “cosmic horror,” and London’s debut novel The Things That Are Not There saw the detective encountering malevolent entities summoned up from another dimension.  Originally published in 1992, the book returned to print a decade later, which is when I finally had an opportunity to read it.  The Things That Are Not There was definitely a riveting book, and I highly recommend it.

C.J.’s fondness for Lovecraft extended through much of his work, including his more humorous writing.  Baby’s First Mythos was a tongue-in-cheek faux children’s book that offered an overview of Lovecraft’s writings from A to Z, i.e. “N is for Necronomicon, That horrid flesh-bound book of magic, The reading of which by mere mortals brings their damned souls, To ends both terrifying and tragic.”  C.J. collaborated on Baby’s First Mythos with his daughter Erica Henderson, who provided the excellent illustrations.

Baby's First Mythos

C.J.’s short fiction appeared in numerous anthologies over the years.  These included Horrors Beyond, Dark Furies, Return To Lovecraft Country and Weird Trails.  Henderson also contributed to X-Men: Legends.  Published in 2000 and starring the mutants of Marvel Comics, the book was a collection of original prose stories set throughout the team’s history.  Henderson penned “The Worst Prison of All,” which featured Professor Xavier encountering a Lovecraftian elder god on the psychic plane.

Henderson was also a non-fiction writer & reviewer.  The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies, clocking in at a mammoth 500 pages, featured hundreds of reviews of sci-fi films.  Henderson’s write-ups were very interesting & insightful.  Even though I must have disagreed with half of his opinions, I found his analyses to nevertheless be thought-provoking and extremely well articulated.

X-Men Legends

C.J. did quite a bit of work in comic books over the years.  In the mid-1990s he wrote several issues of Neil Gaiman’s Lady Justice from Tekno Comix.  Henderson also was quite a prolific contributor to Moonstone Books.  He wrote and edited several Kolchak: The Night Stalker specials (he was a long-time  fan of the character).  Henderson adapted some of his own characters from prose to comic books at Moonstone, as well.  Paired with artist Richard Clark, he wrote a Jack Hagee: Private Eye graphic novel that was published in 2003.  Henderson also wrote two issues of Lai Wan: Tales of the Dreamwalker, featuring the lovely Asian “psychometrist” who assisted Teddy London in the pages of The Things That Are Not There.

In 2004 Moonstone published Slamm! The Hardboiled Fiction of C.J. Henderson, a trade paperback collection of mystery, suspense, and horror stories illustrated by Fred Harper, Richard Clark, Trevor Von Eeden and Ben Fogletto.  I really wish I could locate my copy of that book, because it’s really good.  Unfortunately it’s probably packed up in storage with the majority of my comics.

Batman Joker's Apprentice

I once asked C.J. who his favorite artist had been to work with in comic books.  He stated that Trevor Von Eeden was probably the artist he had most enjoyed collaborating with.  In addition to their time at Moonstone, C.J. and Trevor had worked together on a pair of stories at DC Comics, the two part “Duty” in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #105-106, and Batman: Joker’s Apprentice, with inks by Josef Rubinstein.  Both stories featured Batman’s arch-nemesis the Joker.  “Duty” focused on James Gordon having to thwart the Clown Prince of Crime without the assistance of the Dark Knight.  The Joker’s Apprentice special had Henderson placing the Joker in a Hannibal Lector-esque role, manipulating from within the walls of Arkham Asylum a serial killer protégé who he aims at Batman as a twisted “present.”  It was an extremely dark, macabre, gruesome tale much in the vein of Criminal Minds, although Henderson’s story preceded that television series by several years.

C.J. Henderson was undoubtedly an extremely talented writer who crafted some amazing, entertaining, engaging stories during his lifetime.  He will definitely be missed.

David Quinn’s Doctor Strange, part one

In my June 6th blog post, I talked about how I was tracking down David Quinn’s run on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme.  Having finally done that, I’m going to take an in-depth look at Quinn’s innovative, offbeat, and downright bizarre run.

Unlike many creators who come in to take a series in a brand-new direction, David Quinn did not simply sweep under the rug everything that came before him.  Rather, he built upon what had gone before.  To wit, in the months preceding, in stories by Len Kaminski, Roy Thomas & Geof Isherwood, Doctor Strange’s mystic patrons the Vishanti had called upon him to fight on their behalf in the War of the Seven Spheres.  Believing this conflict would last for several millennia, and not wanting to leave Earth unprotected from other supernatural threats, Strange refused.  As a result, the Vishanti stripped him of the title of Sorcerer Supreme.

So, when Quinn came onboard, his protagonist was vastly reduced in power & ability.  And Quinn totally ran with that, showing just what drastic measures the Master of the Mystic Arts would take to continue in his role of protector of the Earth.

Doctor Strange 61 cover
“Siege of Darkness”

Y’know, in certain respects, I have to think that Quinn didn’t have the most ideal of circumstances under which to begin his stint on Doctor Strange.  Here he is, ready to kick off a brand-new storyline with sweeping changes in issue #60 and, by the way, it just so happens that that issue is going to be part 7 of a multi-title Midnight Sons crossover titled “Siege of Darkness.”  Indeed, Quinn does get off to a bit of a bumpy start.  I mean, Doctor Strange is competing for page space with Ghost Rider, John Blaze, Vengeance, Morbius, the Nightstalkers, and the Darkhold Redeemers, all fighting off an assault on Strange’s Bleecker Street home by the demon sorceress Lilith, and her children the Lilin.

(Having said that, I’m sure that being part of a huge crossover centered on Ghost Rider was a really great way to hook new readers!)

Quinn manages to squeeze in a couple of key plot points in #60.  First, Doctor Strange has a brief premonition of the future.  Second, one of the Lilin, Sister Nil, penetrates Strange’s house and attacks the Midnight Sons.  The de-powered Strange is unable to fight Nil himself, and is forced to make a terrible choice.  He uses his remaining power to summon Morbius to save them, but as a result is unable to prevent Nil from using her cancerous touch to murder Imei, the fiancé of his longtime ally Wong.  And, as the issue concludes, the Doctor’s house is destroyed in a mystic explosion.

Anyway, long story short, the Lilin get banished, but their ally Zarathos is still hanging around.  And he immediately finds another group of supernatural baddies, the Fallen, who take up the battle against the Midnight Sons.

Salome arrives, first in Doctor Strange's nightmares, and then on Earth
Salome arrives, first in Doctor Strange’s nightmares, and then on Earth

Quinn actually introduces a major player in his own overarching storyline in between Doctor Strange #s 60 and 61.  Marvel Comics Presents #146 was part 14 of “Siege of Darkness,” and in an eight page tale illustrated by Isherwood, Strange finds himself in a bizarre dream along with his ancient foe Nightmare.  However, this time the lord of the dream dimension isn’t Strange’s true enemy.  Rather, he comes face to face with the mysterious and lethal Salome, a vampire-like being who feeds on dark emotions.

This leads right into part 15 of “Siege” in Doctor Strange #61.  Salome, who is one of the Fallen, finally returns to Earth after thousands of years of exile in another dimension.  This is an altogether more focused issue, as Quinn has the other Fallen, uncertain of how Salome is going to affect their plans, decide that they are better off waiting things out on the sidelines.  That enables Quinn to focus on the conflict between Doctor Strange and Salome, the latter of whom makes a beeline to the Midnight Sons, who are gathered at the ruins of Strange’s house.

(For the nitty-gritty, click on the above images to enlarge!)

Engaging Doctor Strange and his allies in battle, Salome declares that she was “Sorceress Supreme” of Earth millennia before, and that she is now ready to reclaim her title.  Strange, already depowered and weakened from the battles with the Lilith and the Fallen, is obviously in no shape to fight off this lethal contender.  Ceding the title to her, he vanishes in a vortex of mystic energy, all his arcane possessions disappearing along with him.  The furious Salome is ready to vent her anger on the remaining Midnight Sons, when suddenly a bizarre figure appears.  His face covered in a mask, his costume superficially resembling that of the Master of the Mystic Arts, this being known only as “Strange” drives off Salome with a berserker fury.

It is in issue #s 62 and 63, freed from dealing with the whole “Siege” crossover, Quinn really begins to advance his story arc.  Skipping forward four months, we see that the masked being “Strange” has been crisscrossing the globe, collecting various mystic artifacts with a ruthless efficiency.  Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, a man named Vincent Stevens, who bears a striking resemblance to a somewhat younger Doctor Strange, has been using his powers of hypnosis to both manipulate the financial market and establish ties with organized crime.  Constructing a towering skyscraper known as the Tempo, Stevens leads a hedonistic lifestyle, throwing lavish erotic parties for the wealthy.

Neither of these individuals is the genuine article, though.  The true, original Doctor Stephen Strange is dwelling in his new Sanctum Sanctorum located in a “null space” in a vast cavern a mile beneath Trinity Church on Wall Street.  Gaunt, haggard, and decidedly short of temper, the former Sorcerer Supreme is clearly in trouble.

Quinn takes a detour in Midnight Sons Unlimited #5, bringing the sixth century sorcerer Modred the Mystic into the proceedings.  Modred’s philosophy can be summed up with the saying “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”  He firmly believes that the key to protecting the Earth from the forces of darkness is to master those very forces to use against his foes.  In past stories this has predictably backfired, and on at least one occasion he ended up a pawn of the elder god Chthon.  Obviously not having learned from his mistakes, Modred, along with his new disciple Wildpride, manipulate several members of the Midnight Sons into attacking Salome.  The whole affair is merely a ruse, an attempt to make Salome his servant so she can aid him in killing Doctor Strange, enabling Modred to become the new Sorcerer Supreme.  Of course this spectacularly blows up in Modred’s face, and as the story closes we see the sullen, humiliated Mystic being mocked by Wildpride.  (Not to worry, though, those two will pop up again soon!)

Obviously Quinn set up a lot of mysteries in these first several stories.  Once again, unlike many of his contemporaries on other 1990s Marvel titles, having set up these subplots, Quinn quickly followed through, delivering a number of unusual answers in the four part “Strangers Among Us” arc that ran in Doctor Strange #s 64-66 and Annual #4.  As editor Evan Skolnick quite reasonable explained in the letters page of #66…

“When a writer presents his readers with a mystery, it behooves him or her to eventually reveal the previously-hidden facts. We’ve been leaking them slowly over the past six months, giving you enough hints for you to guess… but it’s a fatal error to raise a question and then wait too long to answer it.”

A very strange arrival
A very strange arrival

Quinn reveals that the mystic treasure hunt by “Strange” has been conducted on behalf of the real Doctor Strange.  The sorcerer is amassing these objects in his new Sanctum.  There, he is also keeping Sister Nil as a prisoner, a constant reminder to himself of Imei’s death so that he will not fail again.  After the Doctor is unable to convince his one-time ally Namor the Sub-Mariner to give up an ancient Atlantean artifact, the Coral Crab, “Strange” takes it upon himself to retrieve the object from the ocean floor.  This brings him into conflict with not only Namor, but also a mystic sea serpent and, upon returning to New York City, former ally Vengeance.

All of this attracts the attention of Salome.  A necromancer, the Sorceress Supreme divines events by peering into mystic skins literally made from the flesh of her followers.  She observes “Strange” referring to “the Other,” and learns this is Vincent Stevens, who she mistakes for Stephen Strange.  Salome has brought the disenchanted Wong into her service by convincing him that she has resurrected Imei, although in fact it is actually a winged skeletal demon named Xaos.  Wong and Xaos abduct Stevens and transport him to Salome’s sanctuary in Iraq.  Salome quickly realizes that Stevens is not Doctor Strange.  And then “Strange” appears, ready to once again battle Salome.  It is at this point that the Sorceress Supreme finally deduces what has been going on.  In an effort to convince both “Strange” and Stevens to ally with her, Salome offers up explanations.

During the events of issue #61, in the midst of Doctor Strange’s explosive disappearance, he created a “stasis spiral,” stopping time.  In that frozen moment, he literally created “Strange” and Vincent Stevens via “aetheric discharges.”  Because Doctor Strange could not generate life from nothing, he derived their personalities from aspects of his own.  “Strange” was the savagery and violence he had long repressed.  Vincent Stevens embodied the selfishness and materialism of his former life as a wealthy surgeon which he overcame many years before when he studied under the Ancient One.  Doctor Strange had to create these twin beings to act as his agents in the outside world.  Because he had been infected by the energies of “Salome’s Dance,” if he left the null space of his new Sanctum, he would instantly disintegrate.

The origin of the Strangers.
The origin of the Strangers

From within his Sanctum, the Doctor manages to take psychic control of Vincent Stevens and, through his form, engages Salome in battle.  But even with the help of “Strange,” the Doctor cannot best Salome.  He is forced to channel the energy of Salome’s Dance in his body and use it against her.  This finally drives her off, but the Doctor knows that it is only a temporary victory.  And he wonders if his use of her dark powers has corrupted him.

There is also a back-up story in Annual #4 written by Tom Brevoort & Mike Kanterovich.  “Desperate Needs” brings us up to date with Clea, the lover and student of Doctor Strange.  The War of the Seven Spheres has touched upon her native Dark Dimension, causing horrific carnage.  Clea, unaware of her former partner’s own dire circumstances, sets out to journey back to Earth’s dimension and recruit Doctor Strange’s assistance in saving her world.  Brevoort & Kanterovich’s story works as both a nice stand-alone character piece and as a lead-in to issue #67.  But I’ll be looking at that in the next installment.

Sooooooo, what do I think of David Quinn’s work on Doctor Strange?  In this first arc he does very good work.  After an understandably rocky start during “Siege of Darkness,” the writing really takes off.  I realize, reading through the letters pages of these issues, that at the time these drastic changes were met with very mixed reactions.  But, in hindsight, I think that the series did need shaking up.  Roy Thomas did some decent writing, and he worked well with both Jackson Guice and Geof Isherwood.  But after more than four years, Doctor Strange was due for a change.

In his editorial in issue #60, Skolnick stated that he was trying to recapture “the original, defining aspects” of the Steve Ditko & Stan Lee stories from Strange Tales.  If you look at those original Ditko & Lee tales (go out and get Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1) you will see that it did take several issues for them to really hit their groove.  I think the exact moment when that occurred can be pinned down: Strange Tales #126, the introduction of the dread Dormammu.  This kicked off a more or less uninterrupted storyline that lasted until #146, Ditko’s final issue.  And during this 21 issue arc, there really was no status quo.  Doctor Strange spent most of the time on the run from Baron Mordo and his myriad disciples who had been empowered by Dormammu, searching across the Earth and through various dimensions for the means to overcome his awesomely powerful adversaries.

David Quinn’s writing on Doctor Strange definitely contains the same sort of tension and unpredictability as that classic storyline, the suspense and mystery inherent in waiting to see how the Master of the Mystic Arts would outwit his enemies.  Quinn puts his own unique spin on it, via the moral ambiguity of the Stephen Strange’s actions, the mystery of the two “Strangers,” the alienation of his allies, and the introduction of a brand-new arch-villainess, Salome.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, I really did enjoy the work of Mel Rubi and Fred Harper, who were the art team on the first several issues of Quinn’s run.  I believe that this was Rubi’s very first published work.  He starts off a bit shaky, but you can see him grow from issue to issue.  As for Fred Harper, I’m probably biased since I’m friends with him, but his inking is great.  It really gives the art a tangible mood and atmosphere.  He is another artist who has really grown, consistently getting better & better.  If you look at his current painting & illustration work, it is absolutely fantastic.

The artwork on the Annual was courtesy of Kyle Hotz.  He reminds me a bit of Kelly Jones.  There is this sort of twisted, intricate detail to Hotz’s art that really suits the final chapter of “Strangers Among Us.”  And his layouts & storytelling are extremely dramatic.  He really gives the battle between the Strangers and Salome a hell of a punch.

Strange vs Namor the Sub-Mariner
Strange vs Namor the Sub-Mariner

And, of course, Mark Buckingham contributes several excellent covers for the “Strangers Among Us” arc.  We’ll be seeing more from him in upcoming issues.

One last thing: the lettering on the Annual is courtesy of Janice Chiang.  She has always been one of my favorite comic book letterers.  Every time I see her work, I can spot it almost instantly.  There is an element of calligraphy incorporated into Chiang’s fonts.  It works wonderfully well, and feels very organic.  The role of letterers is usually overlooked, so I wanted to make sure to highlight her efforts here.

Okay, this post went on much longer than I intended.  In part two, when I cover Doctor Strange #s 67-71 and Midnight Sons Unlimited #6, I promise I won’t ramble on so much!

Strange Mails

I got a package in the mail today containing some inexpensive comic book back issues that I purchased on Ebay last week.  Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m trying to get rid of stuff, not accumulate more of it.  But when I was over at my parents’ house a few weeks ago to get some boxes of comics that I was planning to either sell or give away, I also made sure to take home a handful of issues that I wanted to hold on to.  Among those were Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #s 60-62 and 69.

Let’s cast a glance back at far-off 1993… twenty years ago, believe it or not!  After several years of Roy Thomas writing Doctor Strange, the book underwent a radical shift.  The series moved under the “Midnight Sons” umbrella of titles, just in time for a massive and (admittedly) rambling crossover titled “Siege of Darkness.”  And as this change-over was taking place, brand new Doctor Strange editor Evan Skolnick came up with the mad genius idea to set Faust: Love of the Damned co-creator David Quinn loose on Marvel’s master of the mystic arts.

I was in high school when all this was going on, so I seriously doubt I had ever even heard of Faust at that point.  I don’t think I would actually even read an issue of David Quinn & Tim Vigil’s erotic horror magnum opus until I was in my twenties, and it would be several years more before I became a hugely passionate fan of the book.  So when Quinn came aboard Doctor Strange in the autumn of 1993, I had no idea who he was.  I certainly did not know what to expect.  Those few issues of Doctor Strange written by Quinn that I did pick up back then seemed majorly bizarre, as well as somewhat confusing.

Doctor Strange 64 cover

Looking back on it, a couple of things occur to me.  First, I believe that if Quinn’s Doctor Strange run had been published even a few years later, I would have had a much greater appreciation for it.  By that time, I was well on my way out of the Marvel/DC/Image superhero niche, exploring a number of independent and small press titles.  Second, keeping in mind just how homogenized so much of Marvel’s output was in the mid-1990s, as the company attempted in myriad ways to somehow duplicate the titanic success of some of the early Image Comics titles, it really was a gutsy move on Skolnick’s part to recruit an edgy independent creator like Quinn to helm a long-term property such as Doctor Strange.

Fast forward back to 2013.  A couple of months ago I came across a very well written blog post by a Gary M. Miller wherein he detailed his picks for the top ten greatest Doctor Strange stories.  Among his choices was Quinn’s run on the series.  And soon after that, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I re-read my copy of Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1, which collected the original Strange Tales stories by Steve Ditko & Stan Lee.  So once I had the chance to dig through all those comics in my parents’ basement I thought to myself, “Hey, why not take another look at those David Quinn issues?”  Reading Doctor Strange #s 60-62 last week, I really enjoyed them, and I immediately decided I wanted to pick up the rest of the run.  I was able to order copies of issues #s 63-68 and Annual #4 pretty much for cover price.  Hopefully I’ll get the rest of Quinn’s issues at a later date.

Doctor Strange 67 cover

Once I am able to read the entirety of Quinn’s run, perhaps I’ll have an opportunity to write up another post detailing the specifics of his issues.  For now, though, it is worth pointing out that not only is the writing on these comics top-notch, so is the artwork.  The first several issues are penciled by Mel Rubi and inked by Fred Harper.  Rubi would go on to work on a variety of titles, refining his style along the way.  Several years back he had a lengthy run illustrating Red Sonja for Dynamite Entertainment.

At the time he was inking Doctor Strange, Harper was also doing some great work drawing the Ghost Rider and Vengeance features in the bi-weekly Marvel Comics Presents anthology series.  A couple of years later, I met him at a convention, and we soon became friends.  Fred has such a unique, atmospheric style, and I love his inking over Rubi on these issues.

Another artistic contributor well worth mentioning is Mark Buckingham, who contributes several extremely striking covers.  Soon after, Buckingham would go on to become the series’ regular interior artist, as well, working on the book for the next few years until its cancellation in 1996.

That’s the nitty-gritty.  I’m definitely looking forward to digging in to these issues.  Should be quite interesting.  I’ll be sure to let you all know.