The following contains spoilers for Doctor Strange #387 by Donny Cates, Niko Henrichon, and Laurent Grossat.
When we last left Doctor Strange, Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts was in a bit of a sticky situation. His plan to resurrect the people of Las Vegas that were killed during Secret Empire went off without a hitch… at least, until Hell literally broke loose when a tower called the Hotel Inferno popped out of the ground. The Inferno, run by Mephisto, has turned the Vegas denizens into people of pure instinct that commit every sin possible so the Dark Lord can take their souls back.
In a desperate bid to quickly defeat Mephisto, Strange played a card game against the demon to save the city of Sin, but it didn’t exactly go his way. After he tried to cheat, he had his legs broken by Thor and her mighty hammer, who had been turned into a Ghost Rider shortly after the Inferno popped up.
Later in the Damnation event, we saw Stephen transformed into a Rider himself, ready to face off against Wong. Doctor Strange #387 rewinds the clock so we see just how the mighty Sorcerer Supreme wound up in this situation. And, as it turns out, it all boils down to classic Mephisto trickery.
Lying imprisoned with his legs shattered, Strange gets a magical message from Wong’s astral form, who tells him of the magical crew of heroes that he’s been assembling for the majority of Damnation’s second issue. (We learn in Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider’s tie-in issue that they’re known as the Midnight Sons.) All Stephen needs to do is sit tight until they rescue him, and as Wong’s message begins to cut out, he informs Stephen of someone in Vegas coming to his rescue, but he doesn’t disclose their identity. It’s not long until we find out who it is: Strange’s old partner, Clea. Stephen is convinced that it’s a trick, but she tells him that she got captured by Mephisto not long after he did while snooping around and getting a lay of the land, and even hugs him so he realizes that she’s the real deal. After setting his legs, the two are sprung out by Clea’s cavalry: the Scarlet Witch and Loki, aka the “big guns.”
Wanda quickly uses her magic to make it so Stephen can walk, and the four sorcerers proceed to do what they do best, do magic and bicker back and forth. Loki, ever the dramatic God, uses his powers and quickly gets them caught by Mephisto’s horde of demons, and a fight breaks out. While Stephen and Loki trade barbs and Wanda demands they shut up, Clea gets nabbed by a demon. It’s at that point that things get bad for Stephen.
See, the Clea that came to save him wasn’t really his former partner and lover: it was Captain Marvel, previously turned into a Ghost Rider and disguised as someone Stephen would trust. As she and Mephisto overlook the battle playing out below, she informs him that she was successful in grabbing Stephen’s soul. Thanks to a glamour spell, Stephen thinks that he’s fighting his fellow Avengers that were converted into Riders alongside Loki and Wanda, but in reality, it’s the opposite. He’s been Ghost Ridered up, and is actually fighting the Midnight Sons alongside a pair of Mephisto’s friends made to look like the Scarlet Witch and Trickster God. And as the last panel shows us, it’s not looking too well for the Sons.
Throughout this issue, and the event itself, Spencer and Cates have been playing up the idea that Stephen doesn’t really have any friends anymore. Anyone who was his friend has either left him, like former assistant Zelma Stanton of the Bronx or Wong, or is dead, like his talking dog Bats. Mephisto cruelly points this out as Stephen is laying waste to his rescuers, reminding us all that for all the good the Sorcerer Supreme has done over the years, one of his greatest enemies will always be himself.
Stephen is sure to be reverted to his original self soon, but the fact that he was able to even be converted will be a bitter pill for him to swallow. Considering how easily he was tempted into stealing Asgardian magic and almost destroyed New York because of it, Damnation has showed us that not even he is above sinning.
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