Doctor Strange is out, and it’s looking to be one of the biggest and best-received blockbusters of 2016. In true #Marvel fashion, many of the various fan theories were confirmed or proved wrong throughout the course of the film, whilst prompting the birth of many more based on the great many Easter Eggs that are dotted throughout the movie. Now, an old Spider-Man comic has given us a brand new one to add to the collection!
Indeed, this one comes from the pages of a 2003 Spider-Man comic no less, which, in a crazy twist of fate, foreshadows just how the last battle in Doctor Strange movie would play out. Comic book movies are known for closely replicating the panels of their comics, but this is different. Instead of life imitating art, it’s a case of art imitating art!
How does it do this? Is it a coincidence, or something more? Well, read on to find out!
*Warning, this piece contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the end of Doctor Strange!*
Setting the Scene
In the movie, we find ourselves following Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is learning the ropes of the Mystic Arts. However, the comic book in question is The Amazing Spider-Man Happy Birthday arc (Issues #57–58 and #500...yup the numbering is weird!) which features an older Spider-Man and an experienced Doctor Strange.
It’s worth mentioning that this arc is part of the J. Michael Straczynski run on Spider-Man, in which ol’ Spidey goes through a rather mystical menagerie of villains, revolving around the fact that his powers may supernaturally derive from the Spider-Totem. Through his battles with Shathra, the Shade and Ezekiel, the Wall-crawler frequently consulted with Doctor Strange for help and advice.
The Happy Birthday issues celebrate - you guessed it - Peter Parker’s birthday, as well as Amazing Spider-Man's 500 issue milestone. In quintessential Spider-Man fashion, we open with a troubled Peter, seeing him dealing with the kind of things that plague us all: trouble at work, brooding over power and responsibility, having to snuggle with your supermodel wife, fight an army of Mindless Ones...you know, the usual stuff...
Peter races with the other heroes to fight the Mindless Ones who have invaded Times Square, but things only get worse when the good guys inadvertently bring forth the Dread Dormmamu. The fiery-headed arch nemesis of Doctor Strange had been previously killed, but now that he's alive, he swiftly restarts his campaign of taking over the world.
But he isn’t around long before Strange arrives and confronts the inter-dimensional terror in an epic and colorful battle. Whilst sparks fly and the Mindless Ones grow in number, this little and very interesting bit of dialogue crops up in their declarative conversation:
At this point, some readers might simply shrug and ask: so? Isn’t this just typically heroic dialogue? Doesn’t is just show how deeply Doctor Strange is committed to sparing the Earth from Dormmamu’s wrath? Initially that would have been the case; however, in lieu of the release of Doctor Strange, it’s hard not to see it in a new light...
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“I’ve Come to Bargain!”
Cast your minds back towards the end of Doctor Strange. In desperation, our hero-in-training enters the Dark Dimension to confront Dormammu, who quickly dispatches our protagonist with a powerful energy blast...only, he doesn’t!
As the movie explains, the Dark Dimension is a place outside time, but Strange has used the Eye of Agamotto (containing the Time Stone) to bring time into Dormammu's domain to create a time loop. This means that he will keep coming to confront Dormammu for all of existence, and continue to be killed. Yet in doing so, the villain is unable to leave there and invade Earth either.
It’s a brilliantly realized scene, in which we watch Dormammu repeatedly kill Strange with his spells and lots of sharp and pointy objects, laughing and cheering at that now iconic line.
Strange's deaths may only happen a few times onscreen, but the movie implies that this cycle occurs far more than what we see, before Dormmamu finally submits to Strange’s terms of the bargain. May it have happened, say, a thousand times? Who knows?
I’m sure that some readers will scoff at this, and say that a similarity with one throwaway line of dialogue is nothing to rave about. But that assertion doesn’t take into account how many other similarities there are between the comic book arc and the movie...
“The Bill Always Comes Due”
Certainly, the fact that Strange and Dormmamu are stuck in time, destined to spend eternity going through the same motions and having the same conversation is very significant. In Happy Birthday, the battle between the two mystics is interrupted by Spider-Man, and he and Strange are stranded outside the time stream as a result.
After a great many quips and spells, the two heroes re-enter the timeline, but they get separated with Doctor Strange trapped in the far flung future, and Spider-Man stuck between the moment where he gained his powers and the moments where he will die fighting a group of lethal police officers. With Strange’s help, Spidey [SPOILERS] manages to get back to Times Square to change the course of history and prevent Dormammu from ever being summoned. But this occurs only after our exhausted hero is forced to relive every battle from his many years of crime fighting until he reaches that point.
Re-living the same moments over and over, like Groundhog Day? Sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?
And that’s not all! After the present-day Strange arrives to cast out the Mindless Ones (who may or may not have appeared at the end of the movie) someone else arrives. Baron Mordo attacks the unsuspecting sorcerer, gloating over the fact that Strange and Spidey’s meddling with time has created massive weaknesses which he and other forces can exploit.
Funnily enough, throughout Doctor Strange, the rigid and resolute Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) repeatedly warns Strange against upsetting the natural order of the universe. After learning of the Ancient One’s (Tilda Swinton) dubious practices, as well as Strange’s conflict with Dormmamu, Mordo lashes out and leaves the Masters of the Mystic Arts, prophesying that something monumental and terrible will occur as a result of their actions.
What to Make of This
Director Scott Derrickson, and his fellow writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill were evidently very thorough in their research for the movie, so they could have very well have read this arc and incorporated these elements into the movie. However, it does seem a little, ahem, strange if the writers were to have borrowed these traits from such an obscure Spider-Man story over many of the huge variety of weird and wonderful Doctor Strange stories on offer.
Then again, it could just be a startling coincidence that the books and movie match like this. The characters of Mordo and Dormmamu are central to the Doctor Strange mythos after all, and the manipulation or repetition of time has been used a great many times in science fiction, particularly in episodes of Doctor Who, so it isn’t too original of a concept.
Either way, it’s still a cool thing to realize just how much the stories are linked, even between the two mediums of film and their original comic books. I’d really recommend the Happy Birthday arc to any readers who are interested. The contrast between the jokey #SpiderMan and serious Stephen Strange is brilliant to witness, and it has a great insight into what makes the Wall-crawling hero so appealing and admirable. And I am sure that Mordo’s warning in both tales spells trouble, and doom, will come true.
Stephen Strange better watch out in his upcoming adventures in the MCU!