Doctor Strange #15 (1976)

What happens to a hero after he’s saved the universe? For most heroes, nothing special. Saving the universe is all in a day’s work for a super-hero, after all, so why should it shake him up? That’s true of most action heroes, but it’s not true of Stephen Strange. Strange is a hero of the mind, one whose mental commitment to his mystic arts helps him in the work he does to save the world. So it should be no suprise that his reactions are different.

In Doctor Strange #15, we see exactly how different Strange is from most heroes. In previous issues, Strange has seen the Earth destroyed and recreated again by the great cosmic entity Eternity. With most heroes, this would be no big deal. After all, those sorts of odd moments are part and parcel of the business of saving the universe. If the world gets destroyed and recreated, then what is the end problem? The world exists, that’s what’s important. Quit moping and brooding on the negatives of it. But Strange just isn’t that kind of hero.

Instead, we see that Stephen is tortured by these events. Even though he knows intellectually that the new Earth is exactly the same as the old Earth, Stephen is still bugged by a feeling of inauthenticity in the world. He says on page 7, "Everything is the same, and yet different! I cannot tell it is different – it looks and feels the same – but I know! I know so much that other men could never even expect – and I worried before that I had opened byself to too much! What sort of victory did I win, when Eternity re-created the world? I knew reality was but an illusion, but to be reminded every minute by everything I see… The mind of man needs the illusion."

Even more, the ramifications of this revelation profoundly affect Strange’s relationship with Clea, his disciple and lover. Clea senses that Strange is keeping a secret from her, so she resents her man’s attitude. At the same time, Strange knows that revealing the truth to Clea would upset his fragile disciple’s mind. It’s truly a no-win situation, and a truly adult dilemma for a simple comic book.

The issue improves from there, with the bizarre suicide attempt of James Mandarin, and the amazing, shocking conclusion, but I should leave those scenes as ones you can discover for yourself.

The art in this issue shows perfectly the strengths of the Gene Colan/Tom Palmer team. Colan is one of the finest artists in comics history at conveying subtle emotions, and he’s at his best in this comic. His depiction of MandarinĀ  shows the over-the-top desperation of the man, while his illustrations of Strange and Clea show the conflicted feelings each have. He also uses panel grids in an interesting and subtle manner: in the non-mystical scenes, Colan uses standard page grids, but when the comic turns towards the mystical, the page turns akimbo, with odd and unique panel arrangements. He obviously gave deep thought to the feel he wanted to convey at different sections of the tale, and does a magnificent job of doing so in a subtle way.

I’ve gone all this way without identifying the writer of this wonderful comic. Steve Englehart is the man’s name, and he produced several wonderful ’70s comics. In this one he’s especially strong.

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