Comics : Marvel Team-Up #21

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Totalistic Team-Ups

This review was first published on: 2003.

Background...

Marvel Team-Up 21 pairs up our favorite webslinger with Steve Ditko's other major contribution to the Marvel Universe, Doctor Strange. I have to say I've been looking forward to this one since I started doing these reviews, because the good Doctor is a favorite of mine. When I was younger his comics used to confuse and even frighten me a little bit, especially the bizarre alternate dimensions Ditko used to draw wherein resided menaces like Nightmare and the Dread Dormammu. As I grew older that fear and confusion slowly turned into delight and awe, and today the crown jewel of my non-Spidey collection is a nice clean copy of Strange Tales #110, Doc Strange's first appearance. I'd reccomend the 1970's Doc Strange issues to anyone, and if you ever see a bootleg copy of the 70's album "Beyond the Grave" on Ebay featuring Spidey & the Doc against the Kingpin I'd advise you to pick it up, it's great fun.

But who is this guy? Stephen Strange was a brilliant surgeon, but also an egomaniacal prick. Money, fame and reputation were all that mattered to him, and healing the sick was a secondary concern at best. Then one fateful evening Strange got into a car accident, and though overall his injuries were minor he suffered some nerve damage that made his hands too unsteady to perform surgery ever again. Too prideful to be a "mere teacher" or some other surgeon's assistant, Strange used all his money in the search of some miracle cure. These all failed, and he eventually fell into a spiral of alcoholism and despair. It was as he lay at rock bottom that he heard rumors of the Ancient One, an old man who could cure any ailment. Making his way to the Ancient One's temple Strange demanded treatment, only to learn that none existed. Unable to leave the temple because of a sudden blizzard, Strange settled in to wait for the thaw. While there he ran afoul of the Ancient One's student Mordo, and after a confrontation with him decided to change his ways and study sorcery under the Ancient One himself. After years of gaining knowledge and rehabilitating his spirit, Strange stepped up to assume the mantle of Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, and guard us against all manner of mystic threats.

Dr. Strange was a founding member of the Defenders, and had some moderate success in his own title in the 70's and then again in the 90's. So far in the new milennium mainstream popularity eludes him, though he's been making a lot of guest appearances lately and JMS is said to be working on a new miniseries for him. I for one hope to see him in a regular monthly again asap.

Well, now that we know about our co-star what say we get reading Marvel Team-Up 21!

In Detail...

"The Spider and the Sorcerer!"
Marvel Team-Up #21
May 1974 : SM Title
Summary: Spider-Man & Dr. Strange (vs. Xandu)
Editor:  Roy Thomas
Writer:  Len Wein
Pencils:  Sal Buscema
Inker:  David Hunt, Frank Giacoia
Cover Art:  Gil Kane
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 Reprinted In: Marvel Treasury Edition #22
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Family (Vol. 2) #5 (Story 4)
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Pocket Book #4
Articles: Doctor Strange, Xandu

Like the initial caption says, "It begins as a rather average night in the life of your neighborhood Spider-Man". Spidey is swinging about town when he sees a quartet of muggers preparing to put a beat-down on an old man. Their plan goes awry when Spidey drops down and gives them a little beating of their own, sending them running off. Spidey turns to check on the man he's just rescued, but in addition to a "thank you" he also gets a command to "look deep into my eyes..." In a moment Spidey is hypnotized, and completely under the power of Xandu the Magician!

Xandu has a little errand he wants Spidey to run for him. He wants the Crystal of Kadavus, a mystic artifact kept in the home of Dr. Strange. Since he can hardly stroll in the front door and help himself, he's sending Spidey to get it for him. Just for good measure Xandu tells the hypnotized Spider-Man that Dr. Strange is his mortal enemy and has vowed to kill him on sight, and Spidey must be ready to defend himself. His instructions given, Xandu casts a spell and teleports Spidey away.

Down in Greenwich Village, in the abode of Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme levitates in a lotus position reading the arcane writings of the Ancient One. Spider-Man, under the sway of Xandu's spell, suddenly materializes in the hallway. As Spidey passes by his room he rouses Dr. Strange from his meditation, naturally prompting him to get up and investigate. Seeing his friend Spidey in the hall (the two have met previously in ASM Annual #2 and ASM V1 #109) he gives a friendly greeting.

Unfortunately, with his mind clouded by Xandu's spell Spidey hears not a greeting but a threatening challenge. Leaping into an aggressive stance, Spidey fires both webshooters at the confused Doctor, who's able to destroy the webbing with a simple spell. The two heroes begin to fight, and the whole while Spidey hear's Dr. Strange's offers of help and understanding to be curses and threats. Spidey finally renders the Doc unconscious by dropping a nice sized piece of masonry on his head.

With Strange out of the way Spidey is able to let Xandu into the house, and he quickly tracks down the Crystal of Kadavus. Xandu needs the crystal to reconstitute the dreaded Wand of Watoomb, previously destroyed in ASM Annual #2 (and reprinted in Doctor Strange V1 #179). Xandu needs the wand to revive his ill fated disciple & lover Melinda, who remains in a coma after being hit by a stray mystic bolt while the two were studying. Of course, being a villain he also wants some payback, so he plans on killing Spidey for good measure. He presently uses the crystal to retrieve the wand he seeks.

Good thing for Spder-Man that Dr. Strange comes to at that moment! Xandu, holding the mighty Wand, is unconcerned, and in a flash he transports all three of them to a mystic dimension, within which he's over 20 feet tall and commands the limitless power of the Wand of Watoomb. Within this dimension, Xandu assures the heroes, "neither of you may use your powers against me, but I have no such problem using them against you!"

The two heroes fight valiantly, but it seems to be to no avail. With the Wand in his hand Xandu is nearly omnipotent, and he's able to turn their attacks back against them with ease. In a sign of his utter contempt for their abilities, he transforms Spidey's webbing into marionette strings and makes the heroes dance around like puppets.

But then Xandu gets a big surprise, when bolts of mystic force strike him in the face fired by... Spider-Man! Xandu is as confused as we are, and it gets worse for him when Dr. Strange fires webbing at him. See, Xandu made a rookie mistake and forgot that magic spells tend to be followed very literally. Realizing this, Dr. Strange cast a spell of his own to swap his powers with Spidey's. Now, Spidey isn't "using his powers", he's using Dr. Strange's! Caught flat footed by this development Xadu is quickly subdued by the heroes, after which the Doctor switches their powers back and brings everyone back to our own dimension.

The heroes are victorious, but though Dr. Strange sees Xandu's methods as being completely wrong his basic aim of reviving Melinda is a worthy goal. So he offers to accompany Xandu back to his lair and try to use his own powers to do it. Alas, when Strange examines her it becomes clear that she is not in a mystic coma but actually dead, and beyond Strange's help. The heroes leave the sobbing Xandu behind them as they turn and go.

Next Issue: Spidey and Hawkeye team up against Quasimod, the living computer!

In General...

The high point of this issue, besides a strong co-star, is the art. I generally enjoy Sal Buscema'a art, and the cover (unsigned, but looks like Gil Kane's work to me) is one of my favorites.

There's a huge problem with this issue though, and that is it's story is pretty much a direct rip-off of "The Wonderous World of Doctor Strange" that appeared in ASM annual #2. And considering that that story was reprinted in Doctor Strange #179, this makes the third time I'm reading it! Seriously, this story is so freaking similar that I thought I was reading a flashback, or a re-telling, until they actually mentioned DS 179 in here as a seperate incident. I don't know what Len Wein was doing that month, but it certainly wasn't writing a team-up story.

Elsewhere in Spidey's world: After a long absence, Liz Allen returns to the pages of Amazing Spider-Man in issue 132. Unfortunately, the Molten Man came with her!!

And meanwhile, in the real world:.The music world suffers a tragedy this month when Duke Ellington passes away at age 75 from cancer. It suffers another one when novelty song "The Streak" hits #1 on the charts. .

Overall Rating...

I sure do hate to do this to an issue with Dr. Strange in it, but I just can't excuse passing off a reprint as a new story. One web, and they're lucky to get that.