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Marvel Database

Appearing in "If Not For Love"

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Synopsis for "If Not For Love"

It is Saturday night, and Spider-Man is enjoying himself swinging across Washington Square. Soon he passes by Dr. Strange's Greenwich Village sanctum, and the mystic master sees him through a window. Strange wonders what brings Spider-Man into the neighborhood and calls out to him, but Spider-Man seems preoccupied and does not respond. Strange thinks Spider-Man's appearance is more than coincidence, for just this morning he received a deck of tarot cards by special delivery, with no return address. It was an ancient deck, heavily charged with power, and as soon as he touched it he felt compelled to do a reading, even though he had not done one in years. The ten cards are still laid out on a table, and as he returns to contemplate them, Clea enters the room. She tries to distract him, but he is far too busy trying to penetrate the arcane forces that seem to be clouding his perception. Clea is annoyed that Strange is excluding her from his work, and as they leave the room quarreling, neither one notices that Dr. Strange's Orb of Agamotto has begun to glow. A few blocks away, Spider-Man finds an alley and changes into his street clothes, wondering why his spider-sense started to tingle. Trying not to think about his studies, he starts to walk back toward Dr. Strange's house, still too preoccupied to care about where he is headed. At the same time, having calmed Clea down, Dr. Strange returns to once more contemplate the tarot layout, but he still fails to note the glowing Orb behind him.

Near Abingdon Square, a few blocks away, Carol Danvers, editor of Woman magazine, disembarks from a bus. Having spent thirty hours working without a break to get the latest issue to the printers, she is looking forward to a hot bath. Unfortunately, a rude man behind her pushes her out onto the sidewalk, and she stumbles into Wong, Dr. Strange's servant, who is homeward bound with groceries. She recognizes him, but he does not know her and introduces himself, and she helps him pick up the provisions.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange continues to contemplate the tarot, but when Clea looks in on him she finds his study cold and the air reeking of evil. Then she sees the glowing Orb and shouts a warning, but before Strange can react, a demon form erupts from the object and attacks. Ectoplasmic tentacles hit Dr. Strange like steel bars as the monster attacks his mind. Strange utters a spell, but it has no effect, and when Clea begins to scream, the telepathic rapport Strange shares with his disciple transmits her agony, and he feels her soul wrenched from her. As Carol Danvers finishes repacking Wong's shopping bag, he suddenly receives a mental alarm from Dr. Strange and rushes away. Carol realizes something is wrong and follows him, and when he runs by Peter Parker, Peter's spider-sense tingles a strong warning. Peter recognizes Wong, and he quickly ducks into an alley, changes into his Spider-Man costume, and follows Wong to Dr. Strange's sanctum. The first bad sign Spider-Man notices is that the door is unlocked, which means that Strange's mystic defenses are down. Finding the first floor empty, he rushes upstairs, noting that the interior of the house seems a lot larger than it looks from outside. Finally he reaches Strange's study, where he finds Wong staring in shock at the unconscious forms of the mystic master and his disciple. As Wong and Spider-Man whisper together, Spider-Man's spider-sense starts to tingle, and he turns to see Ms. Marvel behind him. Her costume has changed since Spider-Man last saw her, and at first he does not recognize her. Just then Dr. Strange very weakly asks for Wong, and Ms. Marvel tells Spider-Man to take Strange into the next room while she takes care of Clea.

Sometime later, in the library, Dr. Strange restores his strength with a Spell of Rejuvenation. With Clea's life at stake, he explains, he does not have the time to recover naturally. Unfortunately, he cannot use the Spell of Rejuvenation on Clea, because her soul has been torn from her body and is now imprisoned in the mystic Orb of Agamotto. Strange's strongest spells have failed to bring her back. It is imperative that they rescue her quickly, he continues, lest the realm of unreality within the Orb drive her mad or kill her. The tarot cards he received earlier that day were clearly sent to warn him about this, says Strange, and the only clue they have about the sender is the postmark — New Orleans. Spider-Man replies that black magic has always been out of his league and starts to leave, but Dr. Strange persuades him to stay. Then Strange casts a spell, and he, Spider-Man, and Ms. Marvel vanish, leaving Clea's body lying on a bed in the care of Wong.

Soon the three companions materialize on Bourbon Street in New Orleans's fabled French Quarter, much to the astonishment of two tourists, Billy and Lode. Strange magically erases the tourists' memory and quickly casts a spell to disguise himself, Spider-Man, and Ms. Marvel as ordinary people. Then Strange detects an astral energy trail leading out of the city into the bayou country along the Mississippi River. Whoever sent the cards is making it very easy to find him, says Strange as they approach an isolated shanty. The dilapidated appearance of the structure, however, belies the ornate and beautiful interior they see when they enter. A woman seated at a long table welcomes them and tells Strange to "enter freely and of his own will." When Strange asks her who she is, she says she is Marie LaVeau, the Witch-Queen of New Orleans. Dr. Strange can see that Marie LaVeau is contemplating a tarot-card layout identical to the one he laid out in New York. He senses power in the woman, but no threat. Then he asks what part she plays in this "nightmare," and she replies that it was she who sent him the warning, as a friend. She explains that his being there means her warning came too late. As the cards foretold, she continues, he has fought malign magical forces and lost, and now the woman he loves stands in peril of her soul, for which he and his companions must do battle. The identity of his foe, she says, is Silver Dagger. At the mention of that name, Dr. Strange recalls his last battle against Silver Dagger, which nearly killed Strange and forced him to enter the realm within the Orb of Agamotto. There Strange died, but he was soon reborn as the Sorcerer Supreme, and with Clea's help he defeated Silver Dagger and imprisoned him within the Orb forever, or so Strange thought. As Marie LaVeau continues, sinister cloaked figures carrying swords creep through the shadows of the night outside and surround her abode. Strange thought Silver Dagger was trapped forever, continues Marie, but he forgot that what the Eye of Agamotto knows the Orb knows, and what the Orb knows all within it know. Silver Dagger was helpless until a few weeks ago, but then the Eye of Agamotto — Dr. Strange's amulet — was stolen by the Harvesters of Eyes, who used it as a gateway to bring an ancient demon race to Earth. Strange and the Defenders fought the cultists and regained the Eye, sealing the gateway and preventing the day of Xenogenesis. But while the Eye was being used as a gateway, continues Marie, it was flooded with "the totality of the demon race's eldritch lore," and this allowed Silver Dagger to gain control of the Orb and plot his revenge against Dr. Strange.

As Dr. Strange removes his mystic amulet, he asks the witch queen why she is helping him. If Silver Dagger slays him, she replies, it will not be long before he comes after her. But Strange is not convinced, because his reading of the tarot cards indicated a betrayal. Then he lays his amulet on the table and casts a spell that causes it to reveal Silver Dagger, his disciples, and Clea, all within the realm of the Orb. Clea is shouting for help, and Silver Dagger and his disciples surround a pyre on which they plan to burn Clea alive. Strange knows that if Clea's soul dies within the Orb, her body will die on Earth. But Sliver Dagger has closed the Orb to him, Strange says, and he has no way to enter it.There is a way, replies Marie, but he must first master The Shiatra Book of the Damned. Meanwhile, one of the figures outside whispers to the others that at their mistress's signal, they will attack and destroy all those within but her. Unaware of what is happening outside, Strange continues to discuss magic with Marie. The Shiatra book is supposedly the oldest occult tome in creation, he says. The dreaded Necronomicon is derived from a small part of Shiatra lore, and legend says that the lore is evil. But Marie LaVeau replies that it is merely power that can be used for evil or for good, depending on the sorcerer who wields it.

Knowing that he has no choice as far as Clea's life is concerned, Strange agrees to accept the witch-queen's aid, and as she casts a spell that causes herself to vanish she carries away Strange's astral form. Then, as Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel view Dr. Strange's entranced body. Spider-Man's spider-sense starts to tingle strongly. Meanwhile, in the astral plane, Marie LaVeau funnels volumes of eldritch Shiatra lore into the mind of Dr. Strange. It takes all of his strength of will to keep from being overwhelmed with evil. It is a terrible risk, but he endures for Clea's sake, until suddenly a mystic ankh appears on his forehead signaling mortal danger. The trap is sprung, says the witch-queen as she casts a spell that seems to shatter his astral form. A pity, she says, because he was her "last real hope." At the same time, a chaos of light and sound surrounds Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel, and suddenly Silver Dagger, accompanied by Marie LaVeau, materializes in her sanctum. Marie's violet-robed acolytes vanish, while Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel are instantly entrapped in the mystic Crimson Bands of Cyttorak. The Orb of Agamotto is transported there as well. Spider-Man can see that Dr. Strange is still entranced but barely alive, so he asks Dagger what he has done with him. Dagger gloats that Strange trusted Marie LaVeau, but he did not know that Dagger had mystically enslaved her. When Strange dropped his guard, Marie cast a Spell of Transference that returned Dagger to Earth and trapped Strange within the realm of the Orb of Agamotto. When Spider-Man looks into the Orb, he can see Dr. Strange's astral form reviving.

The first thing Strange sees is the talking caterpillar — a permanent resident of the insane world within the Orb. Then Strange quickly flies to the White Queen's castle, where Clea was to be burned at the stake. Unfortunately, the mystic fire has nearly consumed her, and all of his spells prove ineffective. He can only watch as the woman he loves dies, and part of his soul dies with her. Fortunately, nothing, not even death, is as it seems within the Orb. As Strange continues to watch, the fire turns into a chrysalis of energy that bursts to reveal Clea reborn as a fiery demon. She is no longer the Clea that Strange loves, but as she might have been, had she been raised as her true mother's daughter. (Although Dr. Strange does not yet know it, Clea's mother is Omar the Unspeakable,[verification needed] sister of the dread Domnammu.) Clea immediately attacks Strange with a barrage of Barring spells.

Silver Dagger is too preoccupied by what is happening to Dr. Strange in the Orb to notice Spider-Man pull a picture to the floor with a web-strand. The noise distracts him, but when he tries to investigate, he falls on his face because Spider-Man has webbed his ankles together. This breaks his spell of imprisonment, and the Bands of Cyttorak shatter, freeing Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel. They slam him through the ceiling and then follow him to the roof, trying to keep him from casting more spells. They do not see Marie LaVeau reach for Sliver Dagger's shiny blade, which fell from his boot when he toppled. Arrogant beyond measure, Dagger floods his muscles with the strength of Satannish and punches Spider-Man in the Jaw.

Dr. Strange protects himself from Clea's onslaught behind the shield of the Seraphim. He is amazed that she counters his spells almost before he casts them, keeping him continually on the defensive. Thus the battle rages on two fronts at the same time: Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel versus Sliver Dagger on Earth, and Dr. Strange versus the Clea demon in the realm of the Orb of Agamotto. As Silver Dagger pummels Spider-Man, Clea uses the fatal Fangs of Farallah, and Strange tries to trap Clea within the Rings of Raggadorr. Strange realizes that Sliver Dagger's spell was a masterstroke, because it forces him to choose between sacrificing his own life and that of the woman he loves. That thought causes Strange to hesitate briefly, and the spells disguising Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man cease, and their costumes once more become visible. Just then Spider-Man's spider-sense tingles, and suddenly the door bursts open and the purple-costumed figures, armed with guns and swords, who had surrounded Marie LaVeau's shack break-in. Ms. Marvel quickly tells Spider-Man to get Dr. Strange's body to safety, because as long as he is entranced, he is vulnerable. Then she flashes through the attackers, her fists flying. Spider-Man, too, knocks some of them away. Unfortunately, as soon as the battle seems over, the assailants rise up unscathed and attack once more. Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man are forced back toward Dr. Strange, who is the real target of the assault, and they realize that against such an army they must eventually lose.


Continuity Notes

  • Carol Danvers remembers Wong, as she met him as Ms. Marvel back in Defenders #57.
  • At first Spider-Man doesn't recognize Ms. Marvel because she was wearing a different costume when they first met in Marvel Team-Up #62. She just started wearing this new costume in Ms. Marvel #20.
  • Doctor Strange recounts his deadly past encounter with the Silver Dager in Doctor Strange (Vol. 2) #15. He also recounts how he recently stopped the Harvester of Eyes attempt to bring about Xenogenesis with the Eye of Agamotto. That happened in Defenders #5860.

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