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The Forgotten and Undying Ones, Part Seven: Dr. Strange in the Original Infinity War

An Excuse for Agamotto to Battle Galactus, Let's Face It

The funny thing about Dr. Strange being featured so prominently in leaked imagery from the set of Avengers: Infinity War is the weird and randomly truncated appearance in the original Infinity War miniseries, the sequel to Infinity Gauntlet (which was the story that made me fall in love with comics generally and Dr. Strange specifically, but more on that later).

I speak as a hardcore Jim Starlin fan, and Starlin can handle Doc better than most writers who never wrote the core Doc title (and exponentially better than any crossover writer has written him in the last decade and a half), but loving Starlin means loving all his quirks and flaws. He can juggle a hundred characters quite well, but unless those characters are called Thanos or Warlock, he can fumble and kick a few dropped balls off the stage, hoping we won’t notice. Doc’s part of the plot involves tracking magical signatures across the universe in the employ of Galactus (due to a convenient blind spot in the Devourer’s great cosmic awareness).

It’s nice to see Doc play a part in this big crossover and hang out on a world-consuming ship with Silver Surfer (his old Defenders teammate), but there’s no payoff. They eventually end up in the same spot as all the other heroes in the story, so Doc has no special reason for being there or doing anything. After that, he doesn’t really do anything in the story. There’s a later plot development in which somebody has to enter the body of Eternity to discover why he has become comatose, and this would have been the perfect role for Doc to play: he’s a former surgeon now doing cosmic surgery.

It also would be a throwback to the greatest Dr. Strange story of all time: The Eternity Saga, the story where Eternity first appeared in comics. That role goes instead to Gamora for no clear reason. Gamora is still in my top ten favorite characters, only slightly below Doc, so I don’t mind her taking this central role, but Doc would have made so much more sense. I suspect editorial fiddling, as so many other baffling story decisions in crossovers come down to editorial fiddling, but I still loved the whole crossover. I may be alone in my love for Infinity War (the filmmakers were likely only interested in the name), but Starlin is very Starlin here, and Starlin at the extremes of his Starlin-ness is an acquired taste.

The delight of Doc’s involvement in Infinity War comes in the tie-ins. Doc tie-ins are fairly extensive for the first two installments of the Infinity Trilogy (and the tie-ins during Gauntlet certainly got me hooked). This also happens to be the end of Roy Thomas’s run on volume 3, so there’s a sense of reckless abandon to some of the plotting. For example, we get a fight between Galactus and Agamotto. If all you know about Agamotto is the brief movie reference to him as the first Sorcerer Supreme whose eye Doc happens to gruesomely wear, you might not get the full King Kong vs. Godzilla gloriousness of this battle. Agamotto is actually a giant caterpillar monster (sometimes a giant spider monster, but in Dr. Strange, Vol. 3, Number 43, he’s a giant, snarling caterpillar monster dripping with ectoplasmic gnarliness in Geoff Isherwood’s horrific rendering).

Agamotto doesn’t appreciate that Galactus wants to make Doc his slave since Doc is supposed to be slave to him (hinting at layers of moral complexity in Doc’s dealings with these sometimes amoral deities), and Big A draws Galactus into his realm to battle, giving him the advantage (one of the classic rules of magic battles: never fight a sorcerer or a deity in his or her own realm). It’s one great use of such crossovers: seeing fun matchups you might otherwise never see and otherwise might only ever speculate about. At one point Doc unified the cosmic comics and the horror comics like no other character (just like Lovecraft drew on cosmic horror), and such a match up was conceivable back then, but in the post-Ditko era, cosmic and horror were segregated into separate genres only crossovers could bring together.

The other main plot of the tie-ins is Doc meeting his doppelganger, the Necromancer, who wears a throwback black costume from the first Roy Thomas run at the end of volume one in the 60s (hinting at Thomas himself dealing with shadows of his own past). The main plot of Infinity War involved the Magus creating doppelgangers of all the heroes (a plot that likely has zero percent in common with the plot of the upcoming Avengers movie), and most of the tie ins involved simple one off encounters where the doppelganger gets defeated and forgotten (with rare exceptions like the Spider-Man doppelganger who stuck around for a while).

Thomas instead demonstrates his great continuity love by making the Necromancer the Counter Earth version of Doc who got stuck in the body of Eternity during one of Eternity’s previous Dr. Strange appearances in the early days. The Necromancer becomes way, way overpowered by tapping into Eternity’s infinite (by definition) well of power, and Doc manipulates this to let Necromancer essentially blow himself up.

It’s a great way to use a doppelganger in a story since Doc is tapping into his own greatest flaw: his arrogance. If only all of Doc’s crossover appearances, especially ones in the last decade and a half, could have been so respectful of Doc’s history and personality – but also downright fun.

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The Forgotten and Undying Ones, Part Seven: Dr. Strange in the Original Infinity War
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