Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #115 (Story 1)

Background

The Sandman's second appearance, only two months after being sucked into a vacuum cleaner, was not in Amazing Spider-Man but in the Human Torch's solo feature that used to appear in Strange Tales. Spidey has a tiny role in the proceedings.

Story 'The Sandman Strikes!'

  Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #115 (Story 1)
Summary: Spider-Man Appears
Editor: Stan Lee
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Dick Ayers
Reprinted In: Essential Human Torch #1
Reprinted In: Origins Of Marvel Comics
Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #18
Reprinted In: Marvel 70th Anniversary Collection
Reprinted In: Spider-Man Classics #1

Spider-Man briefly appears to ease the transition of the Sandman from a Spidey villain to a Torch (and subsequently a Fantastic Four) villain. His head appears on the cover thinking, "The Torch will have to save himself without the help of Spider-Man! But I wonder... can he do it?" Page three of the story flashes back to Spidey's victory over the Sandman in ASM #4 (September 1963). Later, by all appearances, the wall-crawler challenges the Sandman to a fight (from the top of the Empire State Building) but this turns out to be the Human Torch in disguise. In reality, Spidey's only appearance is in the very last panel. The Torch has defeated the Sandman and the police take the villain off to jail. In the shadows, Spider-Man watches and thinks, "I'm glad that flaming freak didn't get clobbered by Sandman, but I don't like the idea of him cutting in on my capers! Sooner or later, this town will be too small for the Torch and me!"

General Comments

A solid if unspectacular Silver Age showdown. The Sandman is always entertaining but more fun when he faces the wall-crawler. If you squint while you read it, you can almost pretend it is Spidey in the lead instead of ol' matchhead. Two and a half webs.

Overall Rating

Footnote

It’s been 18 years since I wrote this short review. Since then, I have taken to writing longer synopses even of minor Spidey appearances and have come to regret that I didn’t cover all the stories that appear in these issues. So, I have taken advantage of the reprint of this story in Marvel Tales #18, January 1969 to write a fuller account. If that’s what you’re looking for, check it out over there. Having done that, this now seemed the right time to add this issue’s second story. It’s a rather significant one starring Dr. Strange and it begins with a lengthy Editor’s Note which tells us “with three published stories of Dr. Strange under our belts, we have been overwhelmed by a flood of letters reminding us that we forgot to give you his origin…Stan and Steve dropped everything and rushed this extra-long 8-pager into production…If there’s anything else they’ve forgotten, don’t tell ‘em! They’re out resting up by trying to finish the latest issue of Spider-Man on time!” So, here’s the “extra-long 8-pager” (Doc’s previous stories versus Nightmare [Strange Tales #110, July 1963] and Baron Mordo [Strange Tales #111, August 1963] and [Strange Tales #114, November 1963] were five-pagers). The long version of the title is In Answer to an Avalanche of Requests, We Present: The Origin of Dr. Strange.

Doc’s origin is probably as familiar to everyone as Spidey’s, especially after the 2016 movie. But here goes:

In “India, land of mystic enchantment,” Stephen Strange finally finds the man he’s been looking for: The Ancient One. (I’m not sure about this but I think the Ancient One’s dwelling is now in Tibet.) Strange has traveled there because he has heard the Ancient One has “magic healing powers.” The Ancient One tells him that he “must prove [he is] worthy.” Strange tries to physically force the Ancient One to help but finds himself floating in the air “just by a gesture.” The Ancient One then peers into his brain and learns that he was once “a famous surgeon” but “proud, haughty, successful…you cared little for your fellow man.” To illustrate that, we see Strange light a cigarette after an operation, telling another doctor that he can’t be bothered with thanks from the patient. “Just be sure he pays his bill!” He also turns down patients who can’t pay and refuses to engage in “charity work.” Then, he ends up in a single car accident “on a lonely road.” He survives but suffers nerve damage to his hands, preventing him from ever performing an operation again.

Too bitter and “full of pent-up self-pity” to work for anyone else (“I must be the best…the greatest…or else…nothing!”), he winds up as a drifter…” little more than a human derelict.” He hangs out on the docks where he hears two sailors talking about the Ancient One and decides to journey to Asia to see if he can be healed. (No word on how he manages to travel halfway around the world.)

Having learned all this, the Ancient One decides not to help him because his motives are selfish. “And yet,” he says, “I seem to see a spark within you…a spark of decency…of goodness…which I might be able to fan into a flame!” He asks Stephen to stay and study with him but Stephen turns him down. “You’re nothing but an old fraud!” he says and tries to leave, only to find his way blocked by snow which wasn’t there before. He wonders if it is the Ancient One’s doing, then chides himself for believing in such magic. For his part, the Ancient One tells him he “will have to remain until it thaws” and then introduces him to his pupil, Baron Mordo. (“What a creepy-looking character!” thinks Strange, pegging Mordo immediately.)

So, Strange spends his days wandering around the temple as Mordo studies scrolls and “recite[s] his empty dirges.” Entering the Ancient One’s chamber, Strange sees a “vapor swirling around him.” It is the Vapors of Valtorr, an attack “by an unseen enemy” that the Ancient One fends off. Concerned, Stephen tells the Ancient One that “you’re weak…ill…you need rest” but the Ancient One replies, “I must remain until I find a successor” since “the evil forces must not be allowed here on Earth.”

By this time, the “snows are almost gone” and Strange decides to “get away before I become a part of all this madness.” As he heads out, though, he stumbles on Mordo, calling on Dormammu and subjecting a small replica of the Ancient One to swirling vapors.

He now realizes that Mordo is the one trying to kill the Ancient One but Mordo spots him and casts two spells on him to keep him from giving away his secret. One spell places an iron clamp over Stephen’s mouth so he cannot warn the Ancient One and the other binds his wrists so he cannot attack Mordo, but neither spell is visible to anyone but Strange.

Still, Stephen tries to warn the Ancient One. First, “bolts of pure force” trap his feet and then when he tries to speak (“Listen to me! I…uhh…oww!”) his mouth is clamped shut. He now realizes that magic is real and that “Mordo must never be allowed to defeat the Ancient One.” But what can he do about it?

Since Mordo’s spell only prevents him from speaking when he tries to warn the Ancient One, he asks to be taught the mystic arts instead. “At last I have reached the real Dr. Strange,” says the Ancient One and he banishes Mordo’s spells. How does he know about Mordo’s spells? Because “the pupil can have no secrets from his master! But, although he is evil, I prefer to keep Mordo here where I can control him, rather than banish him! One day, my son, when I am gone, it will be your task to battle Mordo…to the finish!”

And so, Stephen begins years of training and “prepared himself for the epic battle ahead, the battles which could only be won by Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic!” Say what? Well, yeah. The “Black Magic” tag doesn’t play well and gets dropped with Strange Tales #117, February 1964. Doc doesn’t get the “Master of the Mystic Arts” tag until Strange Tales #120, May 1964.

There’s also a two-page text story entitled Zero of Time. Reporter John Pearson visits wacky Professor Thomas Benton who has a time machine that combines with a telescope and is too convoluted to bother to explain. John trips and dumps them both through the time machine and into some chairs on a space ship flown by…wait for it…Father Time, who tells them “We are traveling on the absolute zero of time. It consists of the interval between the events of the past and the events of the future.” And, oh yes, they have to stay there forever. Then we get these two very dated paragraphs:

The reporter was worried. For to the best of his knowledge he had visited the experimental laboratory on a Tuesday. And on Wednesday night he had a date with Helen Randlings to take her to a party. And Helen wasn’t the kind of a girl you could give a stand up and ever get another date.

“Look, Father Time,” protested the young reporter,” I have to be back on earth for a very important engagement. There is a certain young lady whom I hope someday to make Mrs. Pearson. She’s the most wonderful girl in the world. But she has a temper. If I don’t show up there will be trouble.”

Father Time doesn’t much care but he checks his Events Book that has every event that has ever happened or ever will happen and he discovers that the two men are not mentioned. By entering the “absolute zero of time,” they have messed things up rather badly. Father Time knows they must go back but doesn’t know how to do it. John suggests that they take Father Time’s “peculiar clock” with a “face with a dial with all zeroes” and fall into the chairs in which they appeared on the spaceship. Maybe that will send them back! There’s no reason why it should but it does.

They find themselves back in the lab, surrounded by people who tell them that the building was struck by lightning. It wrecked all the equipment and shocked the two men. And then the big finish…

The young reporter was going to keep his date with a certain lady who didn’t like a stand up. It was Wednesday and he was going to put on his new suit. John placed his hand in his coat pocket, and looked at the object he was holding. He managed to get one word past his lips. “Migosh.” For he was holding the zero clock he had taken from Father Time.

As with Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962, it’s hard to put a web-rating on a story like “The Origin of Dr. Strange” because it’s so iconic. But, like AF #15, it’s a great tale of a selfish man who learns his lesson, tries to rectify his mistakes, and becomes a hero. So, let’s bow to the inevitable and give it five webs. This makes the whole issue average out to three and three-quarters webs (or three and a half, if you subtract a bit for the sorry text story) but I’m going to leave the official rating at two-and-a-half for old time’s sake. And maybe one day I’ll even get back to the AF #15 backup stories, too.

Now then, what's next? The Vulture's back! Already? Yep, it's ASM #7!