Did this ever happen to you? You checked out the comics on the spinning rack looking for the latest Marvels. You came upon an issue from one of your favorite series with an unfamiliar cover and you snapped it up, took it to the cashier, bought it, took it home and, finally, opened it…only to discover it was a reprint. Allow me to introduce you to Dr. Strange #179.
The cover is by Barry Windsor-Smith, back when he was Barry Smith and still developing as an artist. He was 19 years old and about a year and a half away from Conan the Barbarian. Early Barry Smith artwork has a heavy Jack Kirby influence but this cover looks like he is going for Steve Ditko (for obvious reasons) What we end up with is a sort of Ditko-Kirby mishmash that seems a bit cluttered. The blurb tells us the issue is “Guest Starring Spider-Man!” which is entirely unnecessary since Spidey dominates the cover. He is floating in mystic space, holding the Wand of Watoomb while Xandu races towards him, his hands aglow with magic spells. Dr. Strange is reduced to a disembodied head on his own cover, although he is right below the logo so that he is probably the first thing you’d look at. (This may be a tip-off that this is a reprint since Doc is wearing a full-face mask at this point in his career and this disembodied head doesn’t have it.) Now, if you’re a long-time Spidey fan, you probably looked at this cover and thought, “Cool! It’s a sequel to Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, 1965! And, if you still haven’t caught on, you might open the book and first think, “And look at that! They got Steve Ditko back for the artwork!” But it wouldn’t be long before reality set in, particularly after you read this splash page blurb: “Our loss is your gain! When Genial Gene Colan got the flu-bug, we found ourselves caught short for a Dr. Strange epic for this month! But rather than miss an ish, we decided to reprint one of our most requested sagas of all time - - in which Doc shared billing with everybody’s favorite wall-crawler! So, enjoy, Pilgrim - - the excitement starts on Page Two - - !!” So, rather than this issue being a sequel to ASM Annual #2, it is a reprint of ASM Annual #2 and that splash page blurb is one of the only differences from the original. (The title has been redone, eliminating the Spider-Signal design in the original and adding “Co-Starring Spider-Man!” below The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange! The reprint blurb replaces the “Be Nice to Steve Ditko” blurb. And the coloring is different, as is true for all the reprints of this period. But the story keeps the caption from page 6 panel 6 that reads, “And now, for those who may think we’ve forgotten what magazine this is supposed to be, we offer proof that we do remember…because here comes Spidey now!” after the story has spent a couple of pages with Dr. Strange.) Okay, there is one other difference. Instead of using the final caption from ASM Annual #2, which says, “Special Earth-Shaking Notice: Dr. Strange appeared through the courtesy of the publishers of Strange Tales! (Namely, us!),” it now says, “Next Ish: All-New thrills, as our mystic master again faces the man called…Nightmare!!” If that has your interest, I’m sorry. It has no Spidey in it so I won’t be covering it. But I don’t want to leave you completely stranded so here’s the cover image…
If you’re looking for a Spidey story that has Nightmare plus Dr. Strange and Xandu, too, check out the newspaper strip story at Spider-Man Newspaper Strip: 22 February 2016 -17 July 2016. Or don’t, because it drones on forever and only received one and a half webs.
I might as well finish up this reprint by reprinting what I wrote in my review for ASM Annual #2: “Xandu returns in Marvel Team-Up #21, May 1974 in which he reveals that he ‘sent my memory reeling off into the ethos’ moments before Strange cast his spell. This left Xandu ‘virtually catatonic’ (though he somehow managed to come up with some grubby clothes and become an alcoholic derelict) until his mind came back to him, as planned. Now, he uses the Crystal of Kadavus to regenerate the power of the Wand of Watoomb and he explains to Spider-Man that he tracked down the Wand in the first place because he hoped it would revive his betrothed Melinda who has been in a ‘trance-like state resembling death’ ever since Xandu accidentally zapped her with a mystic bolt. (This is all retcon hogwash, of course, having nothing to do with the original story and far too reminiscent of Kang's attempts to revive his beloved Ravonna but now we're stuck with it.) He uses the Wand to beef himself up and starts calling himself ‘Xandu the Unspeakable’ and ‘Xandu the All-Powerful’ but it all turns to ashes when Dr. Strange informs him that Melinda is not in a death-like trance but is actually dead. Xandu cracks up, pawing Melinda's casket and promising to save her, as Spidey and Doc walk away. The old boy makes a comeback when he infuses the body of Melinda with the spirit of the Scarlet Witch in Marvel Fanfare #6, January 1983 which ultimately draws Melinda's own spirit back into her body. In exchange for Melinda's escape from the Death Dimension, Xandu is forced to take her place. Later, freed from the Death Dimension, Xandu pits the Hulk against the Thing in Marvel Fanfare #20-21, May-July 1985. This scheme does not work out as planned. Most recently, Xandu popped up in Spider-Man/Dr. Strange: The Way to Dusty Death, 1992 and then in The Secret Defenders #6-8, August-October 1993 where Melinda becomes the ruler of the Death Dimension. Xandu is exiled back to earth without Melinda, without the Wand of Watoomb, without anything that makes his life worthwhile. Along the way, his monocle switches from his right eye to his left eye and he even calls his beloved Melinda "Melissa" one time which just goes to show you that the relationship was never going to work.”
And, since that review, he was one of the villains at the wake for Stilt-Man in Punisher War Journal (Vol. 2) #4, April 2007 who was poisoned and likely blown up by the Punisher. But, you know, Marvel villains have survived worse.
I gave ASM Annual #2 five webs when I reviewed it but I can’t do the same here, simply because I feel hoodwinked by this issue. After all, this isn’t Marvel Tales where you know you’re buying reprints. And don’t forget that blurb in The Mighty Marvel Checklist for this issue: “Out of the shrouded mists of the past! Dr. Strange fights side by side with the one and only Spider-Man! Put this one on your must list!” And, yes, as a reprint, it is certainly “out of the shrouded mists of the past” but, no, you don’t have to “put this one on your must list” unless you didn’t read ASM Annual #2 or you want to collect the new cover (which is kinda cool in its cluttered way). Still, it is a Lee-Ditko Spider-Man classic. So, let’s drop it down two webs for the deception, add one web for the cover, and call it a solid four webs.
The last “most shockingly unexpected super-foe of them all” turned out to be Quicksilver but this “most shocking foe of all” is who you expect it to be: the Shocker. ASM #72 is next.