October 31, 2006

Strange Tales #136 [1965]

"What Lurks Beneath the Mask?" is in the middle of Ditko's long final storyline for Doctor Strange, with Doc on the quest for the secret of Eternity to save the Ancient One while pursued by Baron Mordo, who is being backed by Dormammu. Doc spends the first half of the story going to various mystics around the world for a clue, while agents of Mordo search for him. A lot of great stuff in that sequence, giving a feeling of great breadth to the wider mystic world that Doc inhabits.

Doc finally finds a clue in the possession of a crazy old mystic whose memory the Ancient One had once erased, bringing him to one of those surreal realms, this one filled with odd masks and a demon who traps Doc by switching bodies through eye contact and then covering his face with a mask. Fortunately Doc retains control of his cloak of levitation, which leads to a funny scene of the cloak tossing around the demon wearing it and freeing Doc of the mask. Free to use his powers, Doc then frees all the previous captives of the demon and destroys the realm, then returns to the orient to try to get the secret of Eternity straight from the Ancient One's mind.

This year of Doctor Strange stories is among Ditko's finest work, with a lot of strong short stories full of great imagery building up the suspense for the main story.

Ditko plots and draws the 10-page story.

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