The blue-skinned supposed doppelganger of Dr Stephen Strange wears a hat with a red, white and blue stripe around it. He grins, and calls out ‘Welcome’ in several languages, as he stands on the edge of a small stage. A demon hoists the apparent true Dr Stephen Strange up off the stage, while in the audience, a horde of a demons watch on, as do four of Dr Strange’s mystical allies - Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, Alpha Flight’s Dr Michael Twoyoungmen a.k.a. Shaman, the mage Dr Anthony Druid, and the aged witch, Agatha Harkness. ‘Welcome to the wild and wooly and wonderful and wacky world of Dr Strange (that’s me!)’ the doppelganger exclaims.
The other mystics are held in magical bonds, restricting them from moving, as Druid declares ‘Listen, friend - you call yourself “Dr Strange” - but the real Stephen Strange is the one he’s got hanging there!’ But, Shaman tells Druid not to be too certain there, and Agatha agrees, stating that a magician more than most should remember that things are far from always what they seem. The doppelganger grins and announces that he is precisely what he seems. ‘I.e. Dr Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts! While this pour soul was and is Dr Stephen Strange, which turned out, in the end, to be no more than a meaningless title’. He orders his demonic minion to raise him higher, to give their captive audience an unobstructed view.
Wanda narrows her eyes and decides that this is an unqualified disaster. She recalls that they came here to try and free Earth’s populace from the Magus who rendered everyone else totally immobile, and even joined forces temporarily with that weird Sleepwalker character, who, in turn, was linked up mentally with Professor Xavier and the other psychics - Jean Grey, Psylocke and Moondragon - on Galactus’s ship. ‘But so far, all that’s happened is that evidently we’ve been rendered helpless by the doppelganger of Stephen!’ she tells herself.
Suddenly the doppelganger orders her to pay attention as he moves forward and holds his hat out.
‘Release us for two minutes and you’ll see who’s -’ Druid begins, but Wanda interrupts him, pointing out that he will not goad the doppelganger into freeing them. ‘Indeed not! Actually, my victory over all of you has put me in rather an expansive mood… but the principal member of the audience in whom I’m interested persists in sleeping the day away’ the doppelganger exclaims, turning back to Dr Strange hanging above the stage. ‘And just because I struck him with the Sword of the Ultimate Shadow, too’. He decides that a wake-up call is in order, and a whip appears in his hand, which he then uses to crack against Dr Strange, ‘Rise and shine!’ he calls out. ‘Time’s a wasting, and you just dangle there like a slab of beef!’ The attack of the whip does cause Stephen Strange to stir. ‘That’s more like it’ the doppelganger remarks.
‘Wh - what?’ Dr Stranger utters as he looks around, before remembering that everyone on this plane is frozen, then minor demons poured out of his mansion, then this doppelganger getting past his mystic shield. ‘You look like me - like I once did, anyway - but - who are you?’ Dr Strange asks. ‘If it looks like a Doc, walks like a Doc and quacks like a Doc - then it must be a Doc! I’m you, Strange! I told you that before, remember?’ he grins. ‘Liar! There is only one Dr Strange - I ought to know, since I was his precursor - his forerunner!’ Druid calls out. ‘And perhaps there was another of you, as well, even on my home-world - on Counter-Earth!’ the doppelganger muses. ‘Counter-Earth?’ someone asks. ‘Ah, that got your attention, didn’t it?’ the doppelganger remarks, before launching into a story.
The doppelganger’s narration:
‘Or perchance some of you didn’t know about that nigh-absolute duplicate of Earth’ the doppelganger comments. He reveals that once it shared this planet’s solar orbit, hidden from all detection, on the opposite side of the sun. He states that the High Evolutionary meant it to be his ultimate creation, an Earth on which violent evil would never gain a foothold. ‘He was a fool!’ the doppelganger exclaims, revealing that the Man-Beast, one of hid New-Men, soon proved to be the serpent in that particular Eden. He explains that from that day, the new world also repeated the less savory aspects of their history, though usually with a subtle difference.
For instance, on Counter-Earth, as here, one Stephen Strange became a brilliant but greed-driven surgeon. ‘They say he’s still got the first referral fee he ever earned’ someone remarked. Then, Strange wrapped his sports car around an unyielding tree, and his operating days forever ended, but eventually, he found his way to Counter-Earth’s Ancient One, who asked him to stay and study with him. Even in those Himalayas, a Baron Mordo was already the greybeard’s disciple. Just as here, he schemed to ultimately unseat his mentor, even slay him - but unlike on the other Earth, this Mordo soon succeeded. Strange avenged the Ancient One’s death, killing Mordo ith a spell Mordo did not suspect he knew. By then, Strange had learned much from the old man.
This world’s Dr Strange hangs his head as he listens to the story, as the man who claims to be the real Dr Strange states that by then, as he knows now, he had duplicated many of his early exploits, though he had never been taught how to cross over to alien dimensions. ‘The Ancient One must have suspected you’d one day succumb to your darker instincts - as you did when you killed Mordo, instead of capturing him’ Dr Strange explains. ‘That’s why I never learned of you!’ he adds, remarking that, Counter-Earth was on his astral plane - there was not Counter-Earth versions of other dimensions. ‘If you’d met Dormammu, Nightmare on their ilk - they’d surely have told me about you’ Stephen explains. ‘And vice-versa’ the “new” Strange replies, before continuing with his story:
With the old man gone, Strange studied his spell books, without his “loving guidance”, and when he decided to return to the world, he took this disguise that he wears now, and with the alter ego of “Necromancer”, there was no hiding his light under a bushel for him. In time, he meant to conquer his planet, this world also, once he learned about it through magic. To do that, he needed more power, and the Book of Vishanti made certain oblique references to an entity called Eternity, so Strange decided that with Eternity’s might added to his own, he would be invincible. He took a chance on a spell for dimensional travel, and soon faced Eternity - some time before this world’s Dr Strange ever did.
Eternity asked Strange what he wanted, and the reply was ‘Your very essence - and I mean to wrest it from you!’ This time, it was Strange who was the fool, as the paltry incantations he gleaned were as nothing next to Eternity’s power. Eternity simply stretched out his great star-filled hand, and pulled strange inexorably into his own gigantic frame.
Dr Strange listens still, as his doppelganger reveals that he was still inside Eternity’s frame to behold him, when he first encountered Eternity many months later. ‘Clearly, he didn’t think your presence worth mentioning’ Dr Strange replies, calmly, as the doppelganger remarks ‘My ego to the contrary, you are probably right’ , as he continues his story:
Strange remained locked inside Eternity’s massive universe-containing form through all Counter-Earth’s trials and tribulations - until not so very long ago, it exploded. Deep within Eternity, Strange grieved for his poor, destroyed vision of Earth. But, fortunately for him, there was another one, on the far side of the sun, and recently, when Eternity was rendered catatonic by the Magus, Galactus sought to cure him, by hurling the Gamora into his midst, as she was told by Galactus that on this day, she is a healer, and her patient all of reality. As Gamora sought a way to help Eternity, Strange observed her, unsuspected, quietly affixing his own essence to Gamora’s, so that when she spewed forth again later, he managed to escape on her psychic coattails - something he could never have done if Eternity had not been weakened by his ordeal, and Strange made his escape undetected while Gamora raged: ‘Blast you, Galactus - you used me!’ she screamed, while Galactus explained he would have done the same to anyone, to save his reality.
Propelled by his own mystic energy, how enhanced by some of Eternity’s as well, Strange hurtled away, fearful lest he be seen and apprehended, before he could make good his escape. ‘Free! Free at last!’ he shouted, but discovered that his fierce exertions had hurled him into another dimension. This dimension was ruled by the witch Shazana, whose weaker sdister had been put on the throne in her place, by none other than this Dr Strange. But, what one Stephen Strange can do, another can undo, and Eternity’s purloined power enabled to him overcome both siblings.
‘It is their demon subjects you see all about you, even now!’ the doppelganger Strange announces, while continuing his tale:
It took Strange little effort after that to locate this world’s place of power, and pass through all dimensional barriers to it. He had lost his own Earth during his long confinement within Eternity, and he meant to have a replacement. He arrived at this world’s Dr Strange’s mansion, there were no protective spells nor even a locked door. He moved towards a figure which seemed from the back not unlike himself. ‘Dr Strange!’ he called out. But it wasn’t Stephen Strange who turned around. ‘Yessss?’ a demon replied. This, not himself, was the Dr Strange doppelganger who served the so-called Magus. He had taken over Dr Strange’s mansion and meant to take both his talismans and his life. Strange was recognized as a natural enemy and the doppelganger attacked - but was easily defeated.
Strange tells Dr Strange that he saved him the trouble of defeating the doppelganger, by killing him himself. ‘Your precious talismans were safe - even your Counter-Earth alter ego, as it turned out’. Suddenly, he drops a book, and cries out in pain. Dr Strange tells the Counter-Earth Strange that this book of the Vishanti is attuned to his vibrations. ‘The Magus may have found a way for my doppelganger to imitate them- but yours would be subtly different’ he explains. Shaman asks the alternate Dr Strange if he is not the Magus’s lackey, then why did he launch an assault on the original Dr Strange? ‘Not to mention us!’ Druid points out, while the Scarlet Witch asks him to free them, so they can work together to protect the universe. ‘Good people - I said I wasn’t a Magus-created doppelganger - not that I wasn’t in the Magus’s employee!’ the alternate Dr Strange exclaims.
He continues, stating that, in point of fact, he has already offered his services to the Magus telepathically, and has been accepted. He remarks that the Magus is a very practical fellow, and that his major requirement was that he kill Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. ‘Something I’ll be happy to do - since then I’ll be the only Dr Strange, which may easy my way to his talismans’ the alternate Strange announces, before casting some magic at the chained Dr Strange. Stephen knows that there is no use telling his counterpart, as the Vapors of Valtoor start to surround Stephen, that the Magus will eliminate him when he has no more use for him. But, Dr Strange does no an incantation which he has been muttering under his breath, which can utilize the familiar spell being used by his other self, so that when a sudden flash of light blinds the alternate Dr Strange, he believes he has obliterated this world’s Dr Strange, and his companions - and the alternate Strange smiles.
But, in truth, Dr Strange, Wanda, Shaman, Druid and Agatha Harkness are floating on a small piece of rock through the stars, as Dr Strange added his counterpart’s eternity-enhanced force to Strange’s own, propelling himself and his friends, and even his cloak, to an asteroid floating somewhere in space, along with the aura-held oxygen in their immediate vicinity, of course. ‘Thank Hoggath - you’re all safe! And yet - we’ve failed. The Magus has won this round’ Dr Strange tells his companions. ‘But - Earth?’ Shaman asks, to which Dr Strange tells him that he suspects Ms Harkness’s cat can get them back there in short order. ‘Her cat?’ Druid asks. Wanda realizes that the cat is missing, and that Agatha is not moving. Dr Strange replies that Agatha’s soul has left the building, and he only prays that she accomplishes the task the two of them agreed upon, before they run out of air - or before that ersatz Dr Strange wreaks total havoc back on terra firma.
At that moment, the alternate Dr Strange tells his demons that they have done well tonight, and thus they deserve a treat. ‘Go forth and do anything you like to the immobilized mortals without!’ he instructs them. ‘I shall be here, familiarizing myself with -’ he begins, when he hears something creak behind him. He turns and sees a curtain half-pulled, and a shadow resembling that of Dr Strange’s. ‘Dr Strange/ Did you barely survive my bolt of oblivion somehow…and return to force me to dole out more of the same?’ the alternate Dr Strange calls out, but gets no response.
Back on the asteroid, the oxygen aura is running low fast, as the heroes gather around Agatha Harkness. Wanda remarks that she hopes Agatha is all right, as she has always seemed to frail. ‘Only her body - not her spirit’ Dr Strange explains, while proceeding to contact Ebony, Agatha’ cat. He sees Ebony in Times Square, dodging demons who are terrorizing the area. Some of the demons throw a taxi car over, while Dr Strange confirms that Agatha’ soul is inside Ebony, but in the furor, their minds have become intertwined and confused. Dr Strange states that Agatha is their anchor, their pathway home, but this way, there is nothing in her mind that they can grab onto. Shaman asks Dr Strange if they can make the great leap back to Earth, but Dr Strange replies that he is not sure, and that if they try and fail, it could prove fatal to them all.
Dr Strange informs his companions that one of the demons has captured Ebony, and although the chase began as a vicious prank, the demon now senses a powerful witch’s mind intermingled with that of her familiar. ‘Another second and it will have squeezed the life out of Ms Harkness!’ Dr Strange declares, while telling his fellow wizards to hang on to his hats, as they are going to make the jump. An instant later, a portal opens in Times Square, and Dr Strange, Shaman and the Scarlet Witch leap through it, energies cast forth to battle the demons. One of them drops Ebony, while Strange shouts ‘By the direful Demons of Denak - I now abjure thee - hurl thee back!’ and Shamana tells Strange not to waste his powers any further one these minor monsters. ‘Let us deal with them - while you seek our your evil counterpart’ he tells the Sorcerer Supreme. Dr Strange smiles, and replies ‘Just what I was going to suggest, Michael Twoyoungmen’.
As if through the open-air halls of a museum full of statues carved in peculiarly awkward poses, Strange hurls himself towards the eerie domicile which he has called home, ever since his first return to America from Tibet. But now, its beckoning doorway seems not unlike the wide-gaping haws of a mammoth shark. And to enter through that portal, is to enter the belly of the beast. Still, one needn’t walk in blindly, Strange decides, not when one can dispatch his senteint sendings before him, to search for the hidden foe. Three green, glowing sendings appear before Strange, and he disperses them to do their work. Strange recalls that Wong and Imei are safe, and that Sara Wolfe, Morganna Blessing and his vampire brother Vic are all out of town at the moment. Strange races up a flight of stairs, as far as he can tell, that means there can’t possibly be anyone else in the house except himself, his alter ego, and perhaps, ‘Rintrah?!’ Dr Strange gasps as he enters another room, and finds the bull-like, green-skinned alien floating in the middle of the room, chained with mystical bonds.
Dr Strange tells his old friend not to worry, as a simple spell should free him, and does so, but Rintrah casts energy back at Dr Strange, ‘A thousand thanks “Master”!’ Rintrah declares as Strange slams against the wall. ‘Can we spell “doppelganger”, boys and girls? With or without the correct German umlaut over the “a”?’ the Counter-Earth Dr Strange grins as he appears behind Rintrah, before attacking Strange, stating ‘Now that I’ve restored your Magus-given double to its original form “Sorcerer Supremo”, I’m sure you’ll agree there are a few Dr Stranges too many. But, fear not - for in a second, we’ll be back down to two again!’ the doppelganger shouts gleefully as the doppelganger disguised as Rintrah vanishes, and the evil Magus-doppelganger Dr Strange pushes the real Dr Strange upwards. ‘Why stop there? Let’s go all the way back to one!’ Dr Strange replies, as he retaliates by casting energy down on the doppelganger, who screams, as he is trapped inside a crust of energy, rendering him stone-like. Dr Strange then throws the stone-like doppelganger at the Counter Earth Strange, knocking him back.
‘Do not confuse me with this hunk of mystically animated clay, wizard - he was but a carbon copy, with all the imperfections that technologically outmoded term implies. ‘While I, on the other hand, am you - with none of your sentimental weaknesses, which I have burned like dross from my mind’ he boasts, as he casts the stone doppelganger back at Strange, smacking it into him. ‘Now follow me - if you dare!’ the Counter Earthy Dr Strange calls out, as he flies out of the mansion and into the air. ‘You’re the one who cut and ran, fella!’ Dr Strange tells his impostor as he follows him. ‘I only pretended to flee, you fool - so I won’t wreck my future home when I unleash the last of the residual power I still retain from my sojourn within Eternity!’ the alternate Dr Strange explains.
‘By the Winds of Watoomb - NO!’ Dr Strange gasps, as Eternity’s universe-like state emanates from the alternate Dr Strange. This world’s Dr Strange tells his impostor that he doesn’t have the experience to know how to handle that much power, to which the alternate Strange replies ‘What’s to handle? Mystic power is mystic power - and with some of Eternity’s at my disposal, mine is definitely far greater than thine!’ he claims. Dr Strange realizes that his alternate self is right, as far as it goes. ‘I’ve always known that, even as Sorcerer Supreme, my power couldn’t hold a cosmic candle to that of Eternity. But, as I desperately call on every entity I can think of in the Multiversal phone book, it suddenly occurs to me - that maybe I don’t have to be as strong as my overly-ambitious counterpart in order to defeat him’ Dr Strange realizes.
In fact, Dr Strange decides that perhaps he has defeated him merely by answering his challenge. His spells prodded the alternate Strange into, as he put it, “unleashing” any of Eternity’s power still inside him, and this alternate Strange is too inexperienced to realize that even an infinitesimal shard of Eternity’s essence is far more than any human being could possibly hope to control. Dr Strange realizes that his counterpart has thought of himself as some living storage battery, when, in fact, he is really more like a doorway through which Eternity’s trans-dimensional will flow into this universe. A doorway which is far too small, and which the power within instinctively, inexorably, unendurably begins to widen. The Counter-Earth Dr Strange screams as he cannot handle what he has set out to accomplish, and, in an instant, it is all over. As the Counter-Earth Dr Strange vanishes.
‘It all feels - dare I say it - strange. For today, I’ve defeated myself - and I wonder - would the universe really have noticed the difference if I had lost?’ Strange asks himself as he flies back to the others. ‘Welcome back, Stephen. It is you, isn’t it, and not ol’ Blue Eyes in disguise?’ Druid asks. ‘It is he, Dr Druid’ Agatha confirms, while Wanda, Shaman and Druid use their combined powers to trap the demons in a bubble. Shaman tells Strange that it was an uphill fight, but he thinks they have corralled all of the demons his semi-double set free on Earth. ‘With their master distracted, that was the easy part’ Wanda adds, before asking ‘If New York thinks getting rid of its garbage is hard - what place is going to take these guys?’ Strange tells Wanda that, actually, there is no place like home, and casts a spell over the demon bubble, sending the demons back to Shazana’s reality.
Wanda reminds Strange that the demons’s rightful queen is imprisoned back in their own dimension, so Strange announces that he will free her with another spell, on their way back to Galactus’s ship. Dr Druid asks Strange if he thinks their work here is done, to which Strange tells him that, to the Magus at least, all this was only a side show, and asks the others if they are ready. Agatha states that she shall remain here, to deal with the odd left over demon who may pop up after the others leave. Strange tells Agatha that is a good idea, while Agatha turns to Wanda and tells her to take care, for she sensed weird emanations when she touched her before. ‘What kind of emanations?’ Wanda enquires. ‘If I were certain of that, my child, you may be certain that I would tell you’ Agatha replies.
Dr Strange opens a portal and orders everyone through before it collapses on itself. He tells Wanda that if she wants to stay here, but Wanda replies that her place is fighting for her world, for her universe. Dr Strange turns back to Agatha, ‘Wish us luck, Ms Harkness’ he calls back. ‘It is not luck which will sustain you, Stephen, but rather courage’ the old woman replies, and as the portal closes, with the four heroes gone, Agatha turns, and holding her cat, Ebony, announces ‘And that is one quality to which no man living can lay more worthy claim…than Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme!’