The following contains spoilers for Doctor Strange #388 by Donny Cates, Nico Henrichon, and Laura Grossat.
It hasn’t been a fun time for Doctor Strange during this whole Damnation event. The Sorcerer Supreme has had his legs broken by a demonic Thor, and was then turned into a Ghost Rider after Mephisto stole his soul. That would be bad in and of itself, but Stephen’s greatest enemy here is his ego and how easy it is for him to get angry at himself for screwing up.
Fortunately his dead Basset Hound Bats, who Loki brought back from the dead as apology for accidentally killing him, took control of Strange’s body. While he’s quick to express joy over having thumbs for once in his life and notes how “bananas” it is to be in Stephen’s body, Bats quickly manages to find Stephen’s soul in Hell.
In Stephen’s mind, he’s still fighting Mephisto’s horde of demons alongside Loki and the Scarlet Witch. Once he realizes what’s going on, the demonic apparition drops, and the two of them are left alone in a blank, white void known as the Nether-realm that houses souls. Stephen’s quick to start another of his many pity parties, but Bats isn’t having any of his owner’s crap. It’s here where the dog just lays into Stephen: he had a bad year, but Bats lost his original owner of 16 years to a heart attack and was alone in a shelter, adopted twice, and left at Stephen’s animal clinic before his death by a God.
Stephen has no right to complain about a bad day or two when his listening board is his own dog who is a literal ghost, and that’s exactly what he needs to hear to get out of his funk. After giving Bats a much needed scratching and apology, the two opt to exit through the giant neon sign that says as such. But despite the promise of leaving the Nether-realm, both of them are actively aware that they’re walking into a trap.
Luckily, Thor and the other Avengers who had been trapped in Vegas, and were previously turned into Ghost Riders themselves, are in the sub-realm as well — Thor, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Falcon and Captain Marvel, plus a physical manifestation of Thor’s alternate persona Jane Foster. The beast escapes from their brief battle with Clea as his captor, and the Avengers find themselves face to face with another of Stephen’s enemies, Dormammu. The fire-headed demon is in charge of a small demon army, but rather than pile on to Stephen’s woes, it appears he’s decided that since his sworn enemy and his heroic associates are trapped in here, they may as well team up and “get the hell out of here.”
Strange #388 serves as a fun counterpoint to his previous issue, which ended with Mephisto smugly declaring that Stephen had no friends. Unsurprisingly, that’s proved to be quite the opposite; like any superhero, Strange does have friends, and they’ve all come to help him out of his jam.
Despite everything that they’ve been through, Wong wouldn’t have come to save Stephen with extra backup if the bad blood between them was that strong. And now, as Damnation winds down to its hellish climax with the final issue and an epilogue in Strange #389, Stephen will have all the help he needs to truly save Vegas. Mephisto counted on Strange and the Avengers succumbing to their sins, but he didn’t expect them all to seek forgiveness during their time in Hell.
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