WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Doctor Strange: Damnation #1 by Donny Cates, Nick Spencer, and Rod Reis.
All magic comes at a cost. This is what Doctor Strange’s solo book has been teaching us for the past three years, even as magic itself has depleted thanks to the actions of the Empirikul. With Loki now having restored magic in the Marvel Universe, Stephen has opted to use his regained power to fix a massive catastrophe that occurred during last year’s Secret Empire. And of course, it comes at a cost that only the Sorcerer Supreme could be forced to pay.
In the opening act of Secret Empire, the then-HYDRA leader Captain America ordered HYDRA Helicarriers to raze the city of Las Vegas, Nevada. Now that there’s been enough quiet time, America is ready to hold a vigil for the fallen city at the start of Doctor Strange: Damnation. The somber ceremony, however, is interrupted by Strange, who summons all of his power to restore the city to its former glory. And it works; all of Las Vegas is brought back, even the civilians whose lives were ended during the razing. The cost doesn’t matter, it’s worth any price for the souls that were saved and the families reunited.
But about that cost…
Almost immediately after Vegas’ restoration, a new venue pops up in the city: the Hotel Inferno, a casino hosted by none other than Mephisto, who Doctor Strange has fought in the past to save the soul of Dr. Doom’s mother. Dressed to the nines like a casino owner, Mephisto claims he’s the true victim of Strange’s magic. As he explains to Stephen via Inferno’s movie theater, complete with popcorn, all he was doing was sitting around in Hell at the beginning of Secret Empire, bored out of his mind, when Sin City just dropped into his lap. Needless to say, the Dark Lord and his legion spent the subsequent time torturing the city’s souls, only to have it all yanked away by Stephen mere minutes ago.
If there’s one good thing that comes from this situation for Mephisto, it’s that now that everyone is alive again, they’re embracing their new leases on life. Men are courting sex workers, people are getting beaten for debts they owed before they died, and shops are being looted while the city is celebrating. The sinful actions means that he’s got a literal vault full of money and gold bars that serve as visual shorthand for the souls of the sinful, and any act — even not feeding the parking meter — means that person’s soul is ripe for the taking. And since Las Vegas is literally nicknamed Sin City, he’s making a fortune off the whole thing without any real effort.
This is where things get very interesting. Stephen challenges Mephisto to a “friendly wager” of good versus evil. Should Stephen win, Mephisto goes back to his realm and the vault is emptied of his souls, and Mephisto keeps the souls if he wins, plus Stephen’s. To tip the odds in his favor, creates Riders out of the five Avengers who were attending the Las Vegas memorial — Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Falcon and Thor. It’s easy enough to convert them, since the arrival of Hotel Inferno has caused them all to bring up past conflicts with one another, such as Captain Marvel’s actions during Civil War II, or Sam’s ignorance of Steve’s HYDRA maneuvers.
Fortunately, Stephen won’t be alone in his fight against Mephisto. The ghost of his talking dog Bats seeks out Stephen’s former partner. Wong, busy watching Jeopardy! and having just missed the Daily Double, is urged by Bats to help his old friend out of his current jam. But it obviously can’t be just the three of them fighting Mephisto, so Wong calls upon those who’ve tangled with Mephisto or magic based villains in the past: Iron Fist, Blade, Elsa Bloodstone, Moon Knight, Man-Thing, Brother Voodoo, Scarlet Spider, and Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze).
Can this team of magic-based Avengers save Las Vegas and the world from Mephisto? We’ll find out as Doctor Strange: Damnation continues through the Spring.
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