WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Doctor Strange #385 by Donny Cates, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire and Cory Petit, on sale now.
When writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo launched the newest volume of Marvel's Doctor Strange, the pair helped establish what the rules of magic would be in the Marvel Universe going forward. The major takeaway is that for every spell cast, a price must be paid to maintain balance in the universe.
Stephen Strange gladly paid that price to protect our realm from mystic threats, but not everyone believes in the virtues of the supernatural. Some worship at the altar of science, including the members of the Empirikul, who see magic as a cancer that must be wiped clean from every dimension. During their assault, the Empirikul succeeded in eliminating the majority of magic in the Marvel Universe, save for a few rare artifacts that still possessed its energy. Doctor Strange made the best out of a bad situation, until he lost the title of Sorcerer Supreme to the Asgardian god Loki in a staged tournament.
By the time Doctor Strange #385 concludes, Loki has forfeited the Sorcerer Supreme title back to Stephen, but that's not his only parting gift. Before he leaves, Loki restores magic back to the Earthly realm, though his true motives remain questionable at best.
Magic The Gathering
Doctor Strange cut a few corners in his quest to take down Loki, with two glaring examples being the theft of magic from Asgard's World Tree, and recruiting the Sentry to be the one to pay the price for all of the magic he intends to use. But where there's the Sentry, his evil opposite the Void is not far behind. Stephen put the force of nature to work by letting himself be possessed by the Void, knowing it would increase his chances of beating Loki and blocking the Exile of Singhsoon -- a magical spell that grants its user all of the world's magic -- from being unleashed from Zelma Stanton's soul.
Even though this wasn't a wise gamble, Doctor Strange's line of thinking makes a little sense in hindsight. If there is one thing in this world that Loki fears, it's the Void, who murdered him during the Marvel event series Siege. Loki doesn't want to fall victim to the same attacker twice, however, and purges Stephen from the Void, while also using the Exile of Singhsoon to consolidate all of Earth's magic into himself. Instead of using the powerful spell for a selfish reason, Loki enables a power-up to Doctor Strange so they can tag team the Void.
Loki claims that because of the Empirikul's actions, his good deed is not a permanent fix for Earth's magic problems. However, it is enough for Doctor Strange to banish the Void to the Sanctum Sanctorum, where it was originally held captive. As for Loki's pronouncement regarding magic not returning permanently to Midgard, it should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, one of his many nicknames is the "God of Lies," so who's to say he's not lying here?
Something else Loki may have lied about is his reasoning behind tricking Doctor Strange out of the Sorcerer Supreme title. Loki warns of impending disasters that will strike the Marvel Universe, including the War of the Realms in The Mighty Thor; Damnation’s Hell on Earth, arriving this week in Doctor Strange: Damnation#1; the hunt for the Infinity Stones in Infinity Countdown (also beginning this week); and Marvel Legacy #1’s Final Host.
The former Sorcerer Supreme's goal was to prepare Stephen Strange for the long road ahead, but neither he or Zelma are buying it. It's hard to get a read on what motivates Loki -- one minute he's playing the hero, the next he's conniving and backstabbing those closest to him. In any event, with Loki's time in Doctor Strange at an end, we can expect to see him show his face in even more Marvel titles going forward.