Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Meet Me at the Sphinx Part 2: Doctor Strange #53

Welcome to part two of a three-part series examining one of Marvel’s strangest crossovers, a story that took 24 years to complete and spans Fantastic Four #19, Doctor Strange #53, and West Coast Avengers #22. In part one, we covered Fantastic Four #19, published in 1963. The story was a simple silver-age tale of the FF’s adventure in ancient Egypt, and their confrontation with Pharaoh Rama-Tut, a time traveler from the distant future.

In 1982, Doctor Strange was being written by Roger Stern and drawn by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. In their final storyline together, Doctor Strange was traveling through time chasing a shard of Morgana Blessing's soul. Doctor Strange #53 brought him to ancient Egypt and a certain familiar Sphinx. The Doctor was about become entwined in the events of Fantastic Four #19, though the FF would never know he was there.

(Click images to enlarge)

Doctor Strange arrives in Egypt, landing atop the Sphinx, and the Eye of Aggamotto alerts him that the woman he seeks is inside. Strange enters through a trap door on the Sphinx, finding halls of machinery and technology far beyond even present-day capabilities. He starts to head towards the center of the Sphinx, but is suddenly beset by automated security traps, and is knocked unconscious by a force beam. After some subplot, we see Doctor Strange being carried away by four golden robots:

The Pharaoh is busy with the Fantastic Four, so the robots deposit Strange in a futuristic sarcophagus for further study. Doctor Strange’s astral form escapes and flies free, headed to Rama-Tut’s throne room:

Once in the throne room, events play out much as they did in FF #19, with the added presence of an invisible, intangible Doctor Strange. Doc brings himself up to speed, but is helpless to physically interfere:

Rama-Tut delivers his monologue, much as he did in FF#19, and Doc debates getting involved. The issue is decided for him when he recognizes Morgana Blessing’s incarnation in one of the Pharaoh’s handmaidens:

Strange reveals himself to the girl, enlisting her to free him from the sarcophagus, then leaves to create a diversion. He tracks down the Thing, who has been assigned work as a galley slave. The same scene appeared in FF #19, where we were told that “inscrutable forces” transformed Ben back to human form. As it turns out, Doctor Strange was the force that reverted him and helped him find his way back to the Sphinx:

Back at the throne room, events play out much as they did in FF#19:

As the FF escape, Doctor Strange’s physical form is freed by the slave girl, and the two promptly run into Rama-Tut, who traps them rather than bother with a fight. Doc has gotten what he came for though, and is content to leave the Sphinx, doing so just before the Fantastic Four arrive:

Outside the Sphinx, Doctor Strange retrieves Morgana's soul-shard from the girl, then watches as first the Pharaoh, then the FF escape the Sphinx. He then returns to his own time, leaving the handmaiden behind.

Writer Roger Stern did a great job weaving the events of Fantastic Four #19 into his overall saga. Doctor Strange’s ability to travel in his astral form was used to great effect in this story, allowing him to affect events without being seen by any of the other characters. Marshall Rogers wove the old and new stories together seamlessly, and re-reading this really drove home what a loss his recent death was. This wasn’t the end of the story, however, as five years would pass before Steve Englehart would send the West Coast Avengers on a year-long time travel saga – one that would lead some of them straight to Rama-Tut’s Sphinx, the Fantastic Four, and Doctor Strange!

Meet me at the Sphinx for part 3: West Coast Avengers #22!

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