Geeks is powered by Vocal creators. You support F. Simon Grant by reading, sharing and tipping stories... more

Geeks is powered by Vocal.
Vocal is a platform that provides storytelling tools and engaged communities for writers, musicians, filmmakers, podcasters, and other creators to get discovered and fund their creativity.

How does Vocal work?
Creators share their stories on Vocal’s communities. In return, creators earn money when they are tipped and when their stories are read.

How do I join Vocal?
Vocal welcomes creators of all shapes and sizes. Join for free and start creating.

To learn more about Vocal, visit our resources.

Show less

Nightmare: Dr. Strange's First Enemy in the Shadow of Sandman

The Forgotten and Undying Ones, Part Four

Nightmare, the likely villain of the Dr. Strange movie sequel, proves that Doc has one of the greatest rogues galleries in comics. I would describe Nightmare to any DC fan as the Joker with the power of Morpheus from Sandman though Nightmare's depiction over the years has been even more jarringly inconsistent than Joker's: at times Nightmare has been essentially the most powerful villain in the Marvel Universe (when he incapacitated Eternity, the embodiment of existence, during a classic Roy Thomas story), but at other times Hulk can beat him to death for some reason. In the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, Spider-Man beats Nightmare by simply not being afraid of him. When I saw that episode, I imagined a thickly sarcastic Benedict Cumberbatch saying, "If only the embodiment of all of existence had realized he could simply not be afraid. If only he had a teenage spider bite victim to teach him how to so simply beat a fellow god."

Nightmare's superficial similarity to Morpheus from Sandman is a bit more significant since Sandman's success created a shadow over every Nightmare appearance that followed though Nightmare predates Sandman by two decades (and Neil Gaiman has claimed to be a Dr. Strange fan, and that rumored Neil Gaiman Dr. Strange project has been a long, long tease for fans of both magical monoliths that will never, ever come to fruition). For example, Nightmare was the main character in a quirky little miniseries (written by Ann Nocenti with art by Joe Bennett) in 1994, when the Sandman comic was still coming out and widely considered by audiences and critics the best comic on the planet. In what may seem cynically like an unoriginal cash grab, Marvel gave a miniseries to Nightmare (a pale, skinny lord of dreams who lives in the Dream Dimension and interferes in human affairs on a regular basis, and the similarities continue) despite Nightmare not necessarily being a villain with his own built-in audience. Anybody who loved Dr. Strange already would appreciate such a compelling character getting his own miniseries, but most fans likely considered this comic's existence only possible due to Sandman's popularity (which, I'll admit, is probably true). The story itself definitely doesn't benefit from direct comparison to Sandman, but what comic could ever benefit from direct comparison to the best comic of all time?

Divorced from this Sandman comparison, it's a fun, quirky little comic. It has more of the purposeful cheesiness of a Rob Zombie movie than the high literary ambition of Sandman, but proper preparation for that kind of tone only benefits Nocenti's story. The plot involves Nightmare taking on a human identity, falling in love with a horror movie actress, and the Dream Dimension falling apart in his absence. The heavy melodrama of the romance may be a turn off to some readers, but just think of it like a David Lynch comic with the romance between Roxanne and Edvard Haberdash (Nightmare's human name—just go with it) being like the heavy cheese of James and Donna (or any Twin Peaks couple). Lynchian Surrealism also abounds in the miniseries, especially in Bennett's sprawling depiction of the Dream Dimension full of bones and tentacles and various other biomorphs requisite of the best post-Ditko Dr. Strange stories. Nocenti and Bennett put some effort into world building with the secondary characters who populate the Dream Dimension, showing the potential of an on-going series that never happened.

Also, Nightmare battles a giant baby. If you don't find that sentence appealing, you're definitely not going to like this miniseries, but that probably also applies to a substantial amount of Dr. Strange as well. The giant baby battle is reminiscent of my favorite Nightmare story by Stan Lee/Steve Ditko (of course) which features the Gulgol, the only creature who frightens Nightmare because it doesn't sleep—and that's the only explanation we ever get of what the Gulgol is. This is the essential pattern Stan Lee establishes early on for Dr. Strange stories (and Lee loved to recycle stories, hence why Doc's origin is superficially similar to Iron Man's): Doc rarely ever beats his villains outright because they're usually several thousand times more powerful than Doc. He constantly plays chess with gods and villains, placing powerful entities in deadlock positions. In this case, he summons another ultra powerful deity to keep Nightmare in check because otherwise, he'd have no way to win. Lee uses a similar gimmick with Dormammu and the Mindless Ones, and plenty of later writers explore exactly what the Mindless Ones are (even if some lesser writers forgot they are indestructible which is kind of the whole point of the Mindless Ones, and again the Ultimate Spider-Man writers think Spider-Man can very easily destroy indestructible Mindless Ones with a little web goo or whatever, but that's a rant for another day). But nobody ever really explains what is up with the Gulgol. The creature has such a great, super weird Ditko design, I wish somebody would tackle the great epic history of that Gulgol/Nightmare relationship, but at the same time, I love it as a complete mystery. The giant baby functions similarly in the Nightmare miniseries to balance Nightmare's power (in this case, convincing him to end his brief earthly romance) though the giant baby does get more explanation than the Gulgol by the end of the miniseries. Sandman never goes quite that broad, opting instead for Shakespeare references and high fallutin' mythologizing, but there is plenty of room in comicdom for Sandman-like story to indulge in camp and weirdness.

One more reason the Nightmare miniseries deserves more spotlight is Ann Nocenti, one of the great under-celebrated female comic book writers in a period when Marvel didn't make a concerted effort to highlight its female writers (it's honestly not that much better these days, but they at least make progressiveness of their writer hirings a marketing gimmick). She's perhaps best known for her run on Daredevil, thanklessly following Frank Miller's historic run on that title. Writing Nightmare is also a thankless job since Marvel had to know the inevitable unfavorable comparison to Neil Gaiman, but in many ways, the solid, rarely-appreciated workhorses deserve as much respect. Occasionally, workhorses like Roger Stern or Roy Thomas will get some respect with a transcendent run while so many of the solid workers like Nocenti get unjustifiably forgotten. It would be in keeping with Marvel's supposedly progressive intentions of recent years to give great female writers of their past, like Nocenti, the celebration they deserve.

Now Reading
Nightmare: Dr. Strange's First Enemy in the Shadow of Sandman
Read Next
Have You Caught The Riverdale Bug?