Loki receives a house visit as Strange gets a helping hand from an unpredictable source and we finally find out what was hidden behind that door. Let’s just say Loki might soon wish he had left well enough alone.
DOCTOR STRANGE #384
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
What You Need to Know:
Strange enlists the help of The Sentry and the magic of the World Tree. But what price will he pay in his bid to stop Loki discovering the Exile of Singhsoon and endangering the life of Zelma Stanton?
What You’ll Find Out:
Strange arrives at Bleeker Street, crackling with energy and intent on ousting the unwelcome squatter who has taken his mantle and his home. As he muses on the cost of his recent actions he picks up a rock and using his staff punts it at the window of his floating abode to get the attention of Loki. As Loki greets him at the door incredulous as to Stephens sheer tenacity Strange simply asks if Zelma is home. Ignoring the question Loki warns him that he is dangerously close to trying his patience and commands him to leave. When Stephen insists on an answer Loki concedes and admits no she isn’t home and asks if he can help, with a stern look that clearly implies he has no intention of doing so. Strange replies with barely a word and a display of magic that not only literally brings the house down but shocks Loki to his very core. As the implications sink in he asks what Strange has done. Strange replies by echoing Loki’s earlier sentiment of diminishing patience and again unleashes the awesome power of Yggdrasil which causes a physical transformation in himself. And draws a clear line in the rubble. Loki doubts Strange is capable of wielding the power of the World Tree against him and says so.
What follows is a magical dual as Strange simply teleports them high above the city and Loki responds by opening a portal to the Dimension Blood (previously seen in Loki’s bragging narrative in The Bar With No Doors back in issue #381) and drags Strange into it with mystical bindings and a grin. Breaking free Strange fights off the denizens of the hell dimension before transforming the Cancerous Vampa Cabra Warriors into harmless fluffy bunny rabbits and the hell dimension into a wondrous summer meadow (clearly never having seen Buffy or he’d be aware of the ex-demon Anya’s insistence of them being evil…but I digress). Loki ignores Strange’s request for his cloak and shocked at the powers he is easily wielding begins to suspect he is in trouble and asks how he is paying for the use of such powerful magic.
The answer lies in the Himalayan mountains and as Strange narrates his history with the Disciples of Strange we discover, not only their role in his recent past but how he has had to reassess his standing on their role. His ex-assistant Wong has just been engaging in some mystical activities of his own and forming protection spells for Strange with the help of a cross-legged, levitating Sentry…the real reason Strange has brought the troubled hero out of retirement. Painting his forehead with the symbol of the Anomaly Rue (as depicted in the window of Strange’s house) it seems whatever damage is to be inflicted on the mage during his confrontation is to be absorbed by The Sentry. As Wong goes into the process of dire warnings, The Sentry simply smiles, dons a face-mask and says he’s going to have a nap.
As is usually the case when men fight over a woman Strange and Loki are discovered in their fracas by the very source of the drama. Zelma is in the process of leaving Loki a rather humdrum voicemail when she walks in on their godlike bickering. Hands on hips she declares enough is enough, uses the Sands of Nishanti spell (another Golden oldie last seen in Doctor Strange: The Oath) and strips them both of any magic, making them look like fools as she declares them equal. Strange is about to point out that Loki is a god and far from equal when Loki sneakily seizes the opportunity and punches him into the front door of his own house. As Strange slams through the front door and lands in front of the door to the very room Loki has been so desperately trying to gain access to since arriving at the house, Strange muses on the possibility that his plan might not work after all Loki engages in some fairly ominous trash talk.
As Loki demands Strange opens the door he concedes and warns Loki whatever happens he has asked for this. As he taps out the familiar door knock of “shave and a haircut….two bit’s” Loki is stunned at the simplicity of the method he so clearly overlooked. He’s about to go from stunned to outright horrified though. As Strange is enveloped by insidious black tendrils Loki is hurled out the window onto the street in front of Zelma and he begs her to run as he gapes at what stands in front of him…. Suddenly we know what Strange has been keeping locked in that room all this time. The Void looms large and clearly not only remembers what he did to Loki in Siege but seems rather keen to perform an encore.
What Just Happened?
It’s with no hesitation that I say there was not a thing wrong with this issue. A battle royale as the two adversaries slug it out between dimensions and only one sideways segue to The Himalayas to discover how Strange has gathered the best of the best to play his defense. The scene of Strange casually transforming the demon dimension into woodland wonders was enough to stun even Loki. Prepared to go to any lengths to defend those he loves Strange invokes some serious magicks and risks all, knowing the ultimate cost to himself and his very soul. He goes toe to toe with a god for the ultimate prize. He makes some very clear sacrifices to stop what he knows could be the biggest disaster of his personal life. Strange has never been more formidable to me than this arc. And the very person he is defending AND the one he squares off against have not a clue between them of the reasons or the implications. This whole arc speaks volumes of the merits of keeping the same creative team throughout. The artistic team has kept the look running perfect and smoothly consistent and in line with the feel of the story and the writing has been top notch. Donny Cates knows his characters and calls on past history and blends it seamlessly without overpowering the pace. As usual, the underlying dark humor is present and perfectly in keeping with the theme. We have gone from the fun duo of Zelma and Loki to Strange and Bats and now we get the double act that is Bob and Wong. The undercurrent of humor is crackling as Wong and Sentry prepare Strange for battle (weirdly I had recall of the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Willow goes White Witch) The sheer Wile E. Coyote of Strange’s spell catching Loki out and his fall from grace was understated but hilarious. Not to mention the sucker punch delivered by Loki is barely enough to stop him. Think Hulk v Thor in Avengers Assemble the movie.
Right down to “shave and a haircut” to open the door and Loki’s dumbfounded look of incredulity made me laugh, just in time for the shock uppercut to the brain of the revelation of what was behind door number one. It literally took my breath away when the door burst open at the end and we discover alongside Loki that he might have bitten off more than he can chew. I didn’t think the return of The Sentry could be topped. I was so wrong. And we haven’t even got to Damnation yet.
The finale of this arc is going to have to pull out all the stops here and I don’t think it will disappoint. I do wonder if the balance of humor may suffer when the final confrontation is played out. I hope not as its been a roller-coaster so far and perfectly balanced. Like a carefully crafted spell, it has all the right ingredients to keep us in its thrall.