In the heart of the city, two urban youths investigate their latest find. Crouching down, one examines a tattered item, wondering what it is. It’s like… It’s like skin… Shiny, sticky skin. Taking the item, the second youth stretches it, declaring that it isn’t skin. It’s – whaddya call it – spa… Span-dex. Suddenly, the first youth calls out to the second, Marlon, pointing out a trail that leads from where they found the spandex into the alley. Blood! the boy yells. Lots and lots of blood!
Following the trail, the two find a trashcan, with a corpse inside, wrapped in purple bandages. Hearing his friend surmise that it’s a dead super hero, Marlon scoffs. Does that look like Thor? Or Captain America? Does that look like Daredevil? Huhm? Super heroes don’t get beat up. Not like that they don’t. So, the first asks, if that ain’t a super hero… it must be a… Right on, Einstein, Marlon mocks. It’s a super-villain. Or what’s left of one.
Kicking the air in mock action, the first youth, Larry, asks if it wouldn’t be cool to be a super-villain. Go around doing evil an’ terrorizin’ society? Telling Larry that his stupidity is becoming embarrassing, Marlon asks him if he knows what a super-villain does. When Larry asks back, Marlon informs him that it’s to get beat up on by heroes. Over and over again. Now, what kinda job is that? He’d rather go fight in Vietnam, like his daddy. When Larry mocks that Marlon isn’t old enough to fight in no Vietnam, he replies that he will be soon. To this, Larry remarks that it’ll be over by then. Hearing this, Maron looks over to Larry and tells him his @$$ really is stupid.
Lost in their argument, the two youths do not notice a garbage truck pulling up, nor the two garbage men getting out and approach the trash can. Lost in their own tasks, the two men pick up the trash can containing the corpse and empty it into the truck without noticing the dead man. Still arguing, Larry asks Marlon is they shouldn’t, like, tell someone about what they saw? Irate, Marlon denies, pointing out that they’d only find a way to blame them. “Keep yo’ head down an’ yo’ mouth shut, brother.” As the two walk away, leaving the corpse in the back of the garbage truck, Larry asks Marlon what he thinks happens to super-villains when they die.
It is a cavernous world, filled with the ruins of buildings and wooden ships, along with the skeletal remains of both human and inhuman figures. Through this nightmare reality, the purple spandex-wrapped corpse crawls. How much further? he thinks. How much deeper? Reaching for a soda can, he thinks that they told him he would know… when he found it… He would know it by its smell… unlike the rotting reek of decay…
Realizing that the soda can is not what he seeks, the corpse throws the can back into the ground and continues on. Seeing something in the distance, the corpse makes his way toward mound of green substance. As he nears it, he can smell it. This smell, the thinks, as he grabs a handful and examines it. When he found it, it would be like… would be like…
(the Sanctum of Doctor Stephen Strange)
Green Tea and dry cookies, master? Wong asks. Lost in thought as he studies a luminous energy field, Strange does not hear his servant at first. However, when Wong follows up his question by asking if Strange would prefer he stir-fry some vegetables, Doctor Strange replies no. Dry cookie will suffice.
Pondering his turn of phrase, Strange wonders aloud to Wong since when did he start using words like “suffice.” Who the heck says “suffice” these days? Pouring a cup of tea, Wong cocks his eyebrows and notes that master seems irritable. His hemorrhoids are painful? Returning to his examination of the energy field, albeit now with dry cookies and tea, Strange remarks that Wong had better believe it.
Now referring to the energy, Strange notes that it is ironic, eh? Here he is, vanquisher of Dormammu… and he can’t shift a few blasted piles. Asked by the doctor what he sees in the energy, Wong apologies and replies that he sees nothing. Ah, Strange notes and apologies himself. Of course he doesn’t. Now activating the Eye of Agamotto, which produces a mist that transforms the world around them, Strange asks how about now. In stupefying marvel, Wong regards the swirling energy around them. Oh, it’s… it’s beautiful, he answers. Hmm, replies Strange, examining his snack. He thinks these cookies are a little stale.
Once again regarding their swirling environment, Strange asks Wong if he thinks he light show is pretty. When he replies that it’s beautiful, Strange informs him that it is Hell. To be more precise, he continues, as a mass of green substance begins to coalesce on his right hand, this middle section is a representation of Hell. A magical mappa mundi of the netherworld. Its where the lower life-forms congregate. Where those souls that are corrupted or spoiled descend. Not quite as beautiful when you know what it is, is it? Strange asks, closing his eyes in thought. Just like life when you think about it.
You may wonder why I’m so interested in the afterworld today, he asks Wong, reopening his eyes. “Master feeling especially morbid?” Wong guesses. No, Strange replies. He instructs Wong to look in the very center of what they term Hell… Something unusual happened. In the deepest recess of that great merciless bowel or sorrow… something has been disturbed. This could only mean that…
Yes, Master?, Wong asks. You were saying? Regaining his thoughts, Strange asks if he was saying something. Oh, it doesn’t matter, he then thinks aloud. Hell, heaven, Earth, life, death. Who cares? With this, the green substance disappears in a puff of green smoke and Strange leaves for the door. As his master departs, Wong produces a mobile phone and dials a number. Reaching his party, Wong introduces himself, stating that he’d like to bring forward their appointment. He’s getting worse.
There’s only one thing worse than being dead… and that is being forgotten, states the now-animated, purple spandex-wearing corpse. In one hand, he has a mortar of the green substance, ground into sticky paste. Dipping his finger and thumb of the other hand into it, he takes enough to begin to mark a symbol on the forehead of a brown-haired woman. The symbol is a simple circle, with a horizontal line running through it. Don’t get that stuff in my hair, honey, she instructs him. The woman is Miss America, the deceased super-heroine of the Invaders from WWII.
Along with the purple corpse and Miss America are several other people, all deceased as well. Mysterio, replete with his purple cape, green costume and fishbowl orb mask, as well as Kraven the Hunter and Tike Alicar, known in life as the Anarchist. There’s nothin’ happening’, the Anarchist protests. He doesn’t feel anything… except a little dumb for believing this would work. There’s still a slight time delay, the purple corpse defends. Don’t worry.
Sniffing at the substance, which he took off the symbol on his own head, Kraven notes that it smells like… Snapping back, the purple corpse reminds him that he had told him not to touch it. If it smudges, it might not work. Sometimes, he sighs, you people are worse than a bunch of children.
Interrupting, Mysterio points out to the purple corpse that Manhattan was where Spider-Man kept beating him up – do they have to go there? Yes, the corpse replies, not even turning to face him. Stop quibbling… and remember they’ll only have twenty-four hours…
Before the corpse can finish, Mysterio disappears in a haze of light. Seeing this, the corpse remarks that there he goes. To this, the Anarchist remarks that he can’t wait to join him. This place is so depressing. Hearing this, Kraven notes that that’s because it’s full of ill-bred people him him. A thoroughly uncivilized…
Kraven’s tirade abruptly ends, along with his own presence, as he disappears like Mysterio did before. Ah!, the purple corpse rejoices. The resurrection of Kraven the Hunter, and not a moment too soon. Seeing this, the Anarchist calls for the purple corpse to throw him some more of that gloop. He always did have a high tolerance for…Without further ado, the affect takes over Tike Alicar, removing him from the land of the dead.
Turning to the purple corpse, Miss America looks up into his eyes with sorrowed ones of her own. When she asks if it’s kinda scary, the purple corpse agrees. Very scary. But not for them. With this, the corpse uses the green substance to trace the symbol on his own forehead.
Examining one of the diplomas on the wall of a doctor’s office, Doctor Strange tells Wong that he doesn’t know why he let him talk him into this. Sitting nearby in a chair, reading a magazine, Won replies that, deep down, master knows he’s right. Master sick. Needs doctor. He is a doctor, Strange replies. And he should talk proper English. They both know he can.
Opening the door to the waiting room, the doctor introduces himself as Doctor Young. Mister Wong told him that… Finally taking stock of who is in his waiting room, he stops himself. Stephen? Stephen Strange? Hello, Richard, Strange replies, his face stern and stoic. Announcing that this is incredible, Dr. Young smiles, saying that he hasn’t seen him since Medical School. He heard that had an accident, something about his hands… Examining his left hand, Strange replies meekly that he did. A long time ago… Leading Strange into his office, Dr. Young asks Strange to tell him what he’s been up to – and what’s all this about him being depressed?
Elsewhere in the world of the living, the purple corpse and his crew stand outside of the United Nations building in New York. Though he asks them if they are ready, the others are too intoxicated by their surroundings. Breathing deeply, the Anarchist remakes that the air smelling fresh; real live air! Real car fumes, Miss America replies sarcastically. delicious.
Ignoring her, Tike remarks that he’s hungry. He’s thinking ribs with chili sauce. And cold beer. Ice-cold beer. Him, Kraven chimes, he would like to chase down a man and watch him choke to death on his own vomit. To each their own, Miss America supposes. As the group approaches the front door of the UN building, they are intercepted by a security guard, who informs them that this is a restricted area and asks if they have passes. Effortlessly tossing the guard aside, the purple corpse asks the rest if it isn’t great o be alive.
In Dr. Young’s office, Strange – still in full costume - reclines on the psychiatrist’s Roman-style couch. To Wong’s bored demeanor, Strange continues his dialogue, stating that that’s what passes for his life. He left out the more harrowing details. Taking this in with a smile, Dr. Young replies that Strange has no reason to be depressed. He’s… he’s lucky!
Lucky? Strange repeats, he’s the loneliest man on the planet. He’s dead from the amulet down. But, Dr. Young rejoins, he has a fascinating, unusual life. He has nothing, Strange counters, rising from the couch. If he overlooks an uncanny knowledge of the mystic arts, he replies. And that isn’t quite as much fun as it sounds, he then adds. Particularly on a wet Saturday evening when there’s nothing on TV.
Now examining a photo of Dr. Young’s with a woman and two children, Strange says that he can’t even look at a woman like a normal man. When he sees a woman, all he’s interested in is her aura. Referring to the other in the photo, Strange states the doctor if they are his wife and children, he presumes. His loved ones. He has a real life, he points out to Richard. He has love. How he envies him.
Taking the photo and returning it to the shelf, Dr. Young replies that he’ll tell Strange about his life. It’s boring. He’s bored. He works hard, earns money. His wife and he hardly speak anymore. He’s raising two kids, who in a couple years will probably despise him. Is that the kind of life he’d like? Is it?
Turning to Strange, Dr. Young is surprised that he is standing so closely. Manipulating his hands with their thumbs straight up and the forefinger and pinky expended parallel, Strange looks into Dr. Young’s inner self. To the doctor’s surprise, Strange informs him that he has a blockage in his life-force, caused by a transient minor demon that entered him many lives ago. As Strange moves his hands further, gas begins to escape via Dr. Young’s nostrils and ears. This blockage, Strange explains, stops him from enjoying his life and will give him a coronary in eight years and six months. Now chanting, Strange recites an incantation. “In the name of the eternal Vishanti and the omnipotent Osthar, I cleanse you and allow you t enjoy your time in the world.”
A short time later, Wong walks Strange away from the Dr. Young’s office. Wong tells Strange that that was very magnanimous. However, he thought the idea of visiting a doctor was that the doctor cures the patient. Not necessarily, Strange replies. Pausing in thought, Strange remarks that he feels something. The balance of life and death… the very cosmic equilibrium itself… is out of kilter.
“This is an emergency!” an officer yells over his radio, while looking at flames and smoke coming from multiple areas of the building. The United Nations building is under attack! They keep shooting them… but they don’t die! Inside the building, the quintet of walking dead make their way deeper into the building and are met with a host of firearms, none of which slow them down in the least.
Watching this via the safety of a television, an adult Marlon asks Larry to turn it over to the sports channel. No way, Marlon replies, this looks big. Turn over, stupid, Larry presses rudely.
Marlon, Larry replies, the next time he calls him stupid, sittin’ in his house, with the food his wife cooked inside his belly, he’s gonna kick his skinny @$$ out. Understand?
Ah, yeah, Marlon replies, apologizing.
Continuing his report, the news anchor states that the hostage takers say they will kill all the Untied Nations delegates unless their demands are met. They refuse to negotiate with anyone except the one man they’ve asked for. This mysterious negotiator should be arriving any minute now… They should he’s the whole ball of wax…
By the moons of the Lilac planet…, Doctor Strange notes, arriving on the scene, I sense a malign hand at work. Thank God you’re there, a guard calls to him. They’re holed up inside. He’ll need a loud speaker, offering the device to him. No, Strange replies. No loud speaker. Instead, producing a luminescent sphere, Strange states that the enigmatic Orb of SNNNR will suffice. I mean, do, he then corrects, until finally adding “It’ll do.” Looking over his shoulder at the confused officer, Strange provides a defensive “whatever.”
Now returning his attention to the orb of light, which now begins swirling with energy, Strange orders the unseen forces to reveal itself. He commands them, in the name of the timeless dominions. It must show its face that they may converse. Suddenly, the energy erupts, forming a green vortex above the orb, from which the visage of the purple corpse emerges, the symbol of green substance appearing on his masked face. Doctor Strange, the corpse greets, thank you for coming. “Who are you?” Strange immediately asks, not waiting on pleasantries himself.
“I have given myself the name of the Pitiful One…” the corpse replies. Once, when he was living, he had another name. A name synonymous with defeat and pain and mockery. He was what was known as a super-villain. The Fantastic Four increased their win-to-lose ration with him on more than one occasion… Thor and Daredevil even teamed up to have a piece of him.
Enough bleating, Pitiful One, Strange spits angrily. “What does he want?” the Pitiful One spits back. “Simple, magician, he replies. I want LIFE.” Life? Strange repeats. Why bother? It’s really not as good as everyone makes it out to be. Take his advice. Stay where he is. I want life, the Pitiful One replies angrily, and don’t try telling him it’s impossible. It happens all the time. Look at Colossus. Elektra. Psylocke. You name it. Appearing from behind the Pitiful One’s shoulder is the Anarchist, who tells Strange that, when he’s done with him, he can shuffle him some of that resurrection too. He shouldn’t even be in that place.
Arriving on the scene of the conversation, a three star general yells is displeasure, even as he grabs the orb of SNNNR. What in the name of sweet Oliver North is goin’ on here?
Touch not the venerable orb, Strange replies to the general’s theft. He is trying to negotiate with these shades… This is now an army matter, the general interrupts, and I don’t negotiate with terrorists. Alive or dead. With this, he then adds that he’s sending his pretty boys in.
That might not be such a good idea, Strange prognosticates.
Some time later, the radio news reports that, after the slaughter, in which many hostages, servicemen and civilians perished, the terrorists vanished…
Yes, I am sure they vanished, Strange concurs in his library. Back to the underworld. Until the next time they gate-crash this plane, demanding right of abode… Searching through the stacks of books, literally stacked on top of each other in column rising toward the ceiling, Strange eventually finds his book of interest. Opening it up, he finds what he is looking for: a disc, embedded in a hollow within the large tome. Taking the disc, he places it in a CD player, from which thousands of symbols begin to float in the air, displaying visually what a regular CD player would project audibly.
Examining these thousands of multi-colored symbols, Strange states that it is as he suspected. The arcane scripts confirm that the green clay daubed on the shades’ foreheads comes from the lowest pit of Hell… and gives the shades approximately twenty-four hours of life… Returning the disc to the book, Strange tells Wong that the Pitiful One must be stopped. And it looks like the job has fallen to him. To this, Wong suggests that his master had maybe better have an extra-dry cookie for dinner tonight. No, Strange disagrees. Tonight, he thinks he’ll have a coffee. And… a glass of good red wine. Yes, master, Wong agrees with a wide smile.
I, who usually travel alone, Strange continues, will need help in this mission. Hearing this, Wong bows with a smile, telling his master that he is at his service. Thanks, Wong, Strange replie, placing his hand on his faithful servant’s shoulder. He will need someone who knows the land of the dead. Who can move freely through its many terrible passageways…
At that moment, in another section of the realm of the dead, three women relax. While Mockingbird reclines against some rubble, resting her bo staff against her shoulder, and the smiling Gwen Stacy sits on the steps leading to the ruins, Dead Girl raises her eyes from her folded arms, where her chin had been resting comfortably just moments before. Sensing something which has just occurred, or perhaps just been said, she calls to her two friends. Hey, sisters, she asks them, ever get the feeling someone’s walking over your grave?