Oh, you’ll be afraid … but not for the right reasons.
There are some collected editions of comics that people clamor and wait for. Many were relieved when Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX came back into print, and ridiculous eBay prices no longer had to be contemplated. Old school monster guys were happy to have the first appearances of Ulysses Bloodstone, originally published in magazine format, turn up last year.
I’m not sure who was asking for Doctor Strange: Lords of Fear. Maybe Scott Edelman?
He pens the book’s foreword, and he’s understandably thrilled that a good chunk of this volume is devoted to the Scarecrow character he created, along with penciller Rico Rival, in 1975’s Dead of Night #11 (the last issue of that series).
Edelman picks up the thread he started there in Marvel Spotlight #26, with artist Ruben Yandoc, and finally finishes(?) it in Marvel Two-in-One, with Bill Mantlo and artist Ron Wilson. It’s a tale of a supernatural protector trapped in a painting (which is, of course, also a doorway to another realm), an invincible guardian forever tasked with keeping what’s on the other side out of our dimension. There’s a cult, and a giant fish, and a swinging-cool couple and the Thing somehow refuses to believe any of it. At least the colors by Glynis Wein, Petra Goldberg and Hubert Paley are nice.
The Scarecrow (miraculously) appears again in a three-part 1992 Doctor Strange story called “The Great Fear,” in which he immediately spurns the other “Fear Lords” assembled at the behest of Nightmare and the Dweller-in-Darkness. The group that also boasted the Lurking Unknown, Nox, D’spayre and something called a “fear-eater,” came together to make the world afraid … just for kicks, or so they could feed on it, or something, I don’t know.
Dr. Strange is assisted by the Scarecrow (who’s taken to calling himself “Straw Man” now, since the Ghost Rider villain with the same name has become more popular), as well as by Clea, a dim-witted green minotaur named Rintrah and (briefly) Daredevil, for reasons he’s not even sure of. The whole ordeal ends after Dr. Strange desperately puts a gun to his own head, something writers Roy and Dann Thomas probably didn’t realize the readers would sympathize with. The art by Geof Isherwood and colors by Jim Sanders III are dynamic enough, but nothing was going to save the impish head of the Dweller-in-Darkness disembarking from the mechanical body it rode.
The rest of Lords of Fear is made up of the first appearances of the members of that frightening faction. Nightmare debuted in the same story as Dr. Strange, in Strange Tales #110, and both are back in #116. Yes, this is the legendary work of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, but guys, I have to tell you — it isn’t very good. Sure, it’s trippy and weird, but it also shows where the Marvel Method can go wrong, as I’m sure Lee wasn’t expecting a dog-sized pin cushion as the final monster for Strange to slay.
“Just want the fuck am I supposed to do with this,” you can imagine Lee sputtering, “this, this, SPINY BEAST?”
“There, that’s it, fuck it; we’re calling it the spinybeast.”
The best thing in this volume is probably the material from Thor #136, and that’s really just because of the Jack Kirby art. The story introduces the Lurking Unknown, and features Jane Foster dressing up in sci-fi fantasy robes and trying to become an Asgardian. Artist Rich Buckler and colorist Linda Lessmann do an outstanding Kirby impersonation in Thor #229 and 230, the debut of the Dweller-in-Darkness, but the story by Gerry Conway isn’t up to his usual standards. Aside from a couple Hercules quips, “Where Dwells Darkness, Dwell I!” is largely forgettable.
Marvel Team-Up #68 is written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Byrne, so you’d think it’d be better than it is. It’s not BAD, but Man-Thing lights himself on fire about three different times during this first story of D’spayre (which is probably two times too many) and since he never talks, Claremont’s worst narration instincts kick into overdrive. But if you’re looking for a country girl chained up in a cabin, pre-Black Snake Moan, look no further.
And oh yeah, remember that “fear-eater” thing? I bet you wanted to read pretty much the same story with him and his “race” three times over through issues of Marvel Comics Presents, written and drawn by Al Milgrom. The fourth and final installment had them defeated by — who else? — Daredevil.
Doctor Strange: Lords of Fear is a good reminder that not everything old is good, and even when we gripe about a particular story today, we should be grateful that modern comics at least almost always make narrative sense. Don’t be afraid to call out Silver and Bronze Age weakness when you see it.