It’s the last great show in town and the Midnight Sons have a ringside seat. Well, most of them! With Ghost Rider out of the picture the darkness is looming and our heroes have to fight their own friends to win the battle.
DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4
Author: Donny Cates & Nick Spencer
Artist: Rod Reis
Epilogue Artists: Szymon Kudranski & Dan Brown
Letters: VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover: Rod Reis
Variant Covers: Ron Lim & Rachelle Rosenberg; Greg Smallwood (connecting)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
What You Need to Know:
The Midnight Sons have joined the battle for the soul of Vegas, while Bats took control of the possessed Doctor Strange. Meanwhile, Johnny Blaze entered Inferno Tower to confront Mephisto on his own turf and in return, Mephisto snuffed the flame that was Ghost Rider and sent the all too human Johnny plunging to his death from on high. The Sons have lost one of their key players and are now fighting the possessed Avengers to save the city and the lost souls of its people.
What You’ll Find Out:
In a pitched battle with the possessed Avengers and the demon horde, the Midnight Son’s have to pull their punches, knowing that they face former friends and also the innocent people of Las Vegas. Wong also believes that even if they were to fight with all they had they would still probably be outmatched. The battle is taking its toll and has been going on for hours and the team is losing ground as the two opposing forces do battle.
Suddenly Mephisto makes a grandstand entrance, astride Ghost Riders machine and welcomes them all, thanking them for the bike. Gloating in the way only a Lord of Hell can he has his demons turf the prone body of Johnny unceremoniously onto the floor and asks if this was their master plan all along. Addressing Wong, who stands head bowed, he goes on to tell him he knows it must have been his plan and goes on to mock him, calling him a glorified butler, telling him he has led Johnny to his death and asks how that feels. As Wong looks up and simply smiles he gets his answer and as Mephisto lies in complete shock Wong asks the same question.
As the control of the possessed heroes switches and the others take in what has happened Wong apologizes for not telling them and reassures them all will be well. He knew Mephisto was too strong in his realm, but points out that Vegas is NOT his realm and goes on to reminds him that while he was playing at Damnation his throne was left empty. As this sinks in Wong reveals he had a man on the inside. It seems this was the plan all along. The man on the inside…it wasn’t Scarlet Spider, Clea or even Zelma. It was Johnny Blaze. The Ghost Rider. Now the new Lord of Hell.
He goes on to tell Mephisto that Ghost Rider has been busy while he was there and has also taken control of the lost souls, as the short time he has been gone from the earthly plane has been much longer in Hell and instructs Bats to leave Strange’s body. As Wong welcomes Stephen back to the land of the living and warns him not to move his legs, Mephisto says he wants to see for himself if what Wong says is true. With a grin, he makes a gesture and opens up the ground beneath them and they watch on helpless, as the ground opens up and Mephisto attempts to not only flee back to Hell but take Vegas with him. As the rift grows wider Wong falls in towards the flames and Strange tries to save him and misses.
Man-Thing manages to grab Wong, but as Strange tells him to climb up Wong says they should trust him and let him go, that the touch of Man-Thing burns those who fear…and he is not afraid. Stephen looks on helplessly and in horror as his friend lets go. He arrives in the underworld and is surprised at the terrain around him. Johnny greets him and tells him it’s a new Hell and it’s been a long time. Wong points out it’s actually been about fifteen minutes since he’s been gone. As this sinks in Wong thanks him for the sacrifice but Johnny can sense there is more, saying whatever Wong needs, it’s his. Wong corrects him and says it isn’t for him but for Stephen.
While the battle between Strange and Mephisto rages above them and Strange blocks a punch aimed at his head with a clenched fist imbued with eldritch energies, Wong goes on to say they need to give him something to remind him he’s not alone. Johnny says he was wondering what to do with all the Avenger souls he has lying around and asks if maybe he’d like one of those to “give him some extra juice”. Wong says no, not just one.
As the two shake hands Wong swears to come back for him and Johnny says there is no rush, that Hell isn’t so bad when you’re a king. But as Wong fades into smoke Johnny asks only that if Mephisto gets away, to make sure he is sent back to him. Meanwhile, the tide clearly turns in the battle above as Strange screams the rallying cry of the Avengers. As Wong’s team can only stand aside and watch Elsa wonders if they should help and Moon Knight declares Strange has become a one-man Avengers team and is single-handedly beating Mephisto to death and it’s not a job for the Midnight Sons, to which Elsa asks “for the what Sons?” and finally Thor is heard to utter the words “do you hear it?” as Strange unleashes a blast of energy and Mephisto gives in telling Strange he gives in. As Strange is enveloped with lightning and simply declares he doesn’t care a transformation occurs in the possessed heroes.
Finally, the Avengers are themselves again and wonder what’s been happening. As Carol notes they all smell of Brimstone, Thor says it is the smell of victory and declares the Avengers have again saved the day. Off to one side, the Midnight Sons look on and Elsa makes her own assessment and Strange sits in the crater and notes Mephisto escaped.
As they sit in the rubble and ruminate on the events as well as the past Strange tells Wong he doesn’t know how to thank him for all the sacrifices he;’s made for him after all he did to him. Wong refuses to see there was any other choice, Stephen would do the same for him, to which Stephen agrees, without a second thought. Wong says, actually he DID give his plan a second thought. And a third, which is why it worked, while Stephen’s didn’t. After a brief silence, the two friends laugh at the joke together and Stephen apologizes for ruining the plan and letting Mephisto go. Wong tells him not to worry, it’s all been taken care of.
After dealing with Mephisto as promised, Johnny Storm and his army of Ghost Riders drop him off, gagged and in chains with a note, telling them to go easy as he’s “had a rough one hundred years in the last few seconds. Or, you know, don’t” prompting the two teams to wonder what to do with him. Iron Fist, it seems, has the very solution. Give him what he wanted all along, a penthouse suite looking down on Vegas in his tower…behind bars. After Voodoo and Wong fix Strange’s legs, Wong decides to stay in Vegas to watch over Mephisto and promises to be back eventually. As Strange and Bats watch Vegas rebuild and recount how having a real Devil as a tourist attraction is helping pay for the repairs, despite how bad things got, it all ended well and Strange says despite the trauma he’d do it all again and Bats makes him promise no more hell jokes as they walk off into the sunset.
…POST CREDIT SCENE…
Back at Bleeker Street and Strange is thanking the Midnight Sons for their help in the pitched battle they just waged to save Las Vegas. Elsa is her usual taciturn self, Blade and Voodoo agree it was the least they could do and Moon Knight asks if he can ask a favor in return and get Strange to look in his head. Strange ignores him and simply reminds them all that they left a man behind and they owe it to him to go and get him back, but this will create a void in leadership in Hell. He goes on to say luckily Wong had a plan and throws a familiar looking file on the desk. Elsa and Blade agree they aren’t enough to do the job alone and there isn’t anyone else crazy enough to go to Hell. Strange disagrees.
What Just Happened?
Strange sacrifices friend after friend. Or more accurately they sacrifice themselves for him. He watches on helpless as Wong falls into the pit, so soon after leaving his allies behind in the Necro Realm (over in Doctor Strange #389) but all is not lost and Wong has a plan. And as with Bats over in the aforementioned issue, the sitting and discussing their own problems and Strange’s insecurities in the aftermath of battle is truly an exposé of real friendship and a heartfelt one at that. The shot of the determination that Strange shows, before being imbued with the power of the possessed Avengers is a thing of beauty, as is the assembled Riders waiting for Mephisto for some righteous punishment.
Elsa still has trouble with names. Before it was Scarlet Spider, now her own team. I’m sure she has heard worse team names in the past, especially having shared a place on Nextwave…with Boom Boom. Some hilarious moments despite the drama. Everyone has a chance to revel in the revenge against Mephisto and the little “idiots” aside from Elsa was truly in keeping, as was the Avengers taking all the credit. I also loved the little “hope you survive” touch as they deal with Mephisto, nice to see this isn’t just the remit of X-Folk.
What a way to end this great arc. Donny Cates and Nick Spencer went all out on this one. Four issues were barely enough to contain the two teams and solo battles and was a massively satisfying sprawl of different interwoven stories all culminating in the epic team-up to end all team-ups. So many great characters, all utilized so well. And a pivotal change in the status quo for Ghost Rider to boot. And it’s not even the end. Strange is going back to Bleeker Street with his two brilliant sidekicks, Bats and Zelma and he’s even putting together a team!! The Midnight Sons are going to be marching into Hell to retrieve the one lost hero.
As well as the awesome Rod Reis cover, we are treated to him completing the artwork for the grand finale, and what an epic undertaking it was. With so many satisfying images and scenes, from Johnny resplendent on the throne of Hell, to the returning of the Avengers powers as well as Strange wielding them for his final knock-out fight with Mephisto, a great payback for all the hassle he’s caused him over this arc. The artwork alone was worth a reread, at least three even! And to top it off we are treated to an epilogue by Szymon Kudranski & Dan Brown, which brings the tone back to unquestionable reality in a great way, setting the theme for a more prudent and circumspect Doctor Strange.
Final Thought: This whole epic was worthy of Sin City, with high stakes and huge gambles taken and people risk everything for the biggest prize of all. Their very souls.
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