What If... Dr. Strange Had Not Become Master of the Mystic Arts?

We're now getting to the short golden age of What If? From here to the end, the double-sized issues have the feel of specials, each with only a single story, no more back-ups, and all attacking important turning points for the Marvel Universe. The stories are mostly by Peter Gillis, while the art by the various artists, universally strong. These are the best looking issues of What If will be for a long time. Somebody raised the bar at Marvel, and it's really too bad that the series had to be canceled with #47. In #40, the art is handled by Butch Guice doing a pretty amazing riff on the Ditkoverse of Dr. Strange. Enough with the praise, let's get into the story...

What If Vol.1 #40 (August 1983)
Based on: Strange Tales #110
The true history: Surgeon Stephen Strange gets into a car accident and loses the fine motor function required to perform surgery. He goes to Tibet for a cure and finds the Sorcerer Supreme known as the Ancient One. The latter's disciple, Baron Mordo, is up to no good and summons a dark fiend, but Strange sees him. Though he is silenced by a spell, he still manages to communicate Mordo's treachery to his master and Mordo is ejected. Strange becomes the Ancient One's new disciple, and in time, the new Sorcerer Supreme.
Turning point: What if Mordo was a little quicker to communicate with the underworld or if Dr. Strange took a little longer to find the Ancient One?
Story type: Reset (mystical mumbo-jumbo edition)
Watcher's mood: Bibbed Buddha
Altered history: In this reality, Mordo contacts the netherworlds before Strange ever arrives and becomes the minion of a dark entity. However, he plays the good boy in front of the Ancient One.
Strange eventually arrives and the Ancient One teaches him to find his inner strength and fight against his inner jerk. Strange does a lot of meditation and realizes he can still do some good, so he leaves the Ancient One to go teach medicine (one of his students is sickly Don Blake). Mordo, for his part, completes his training and basically takes Strange's place in the timeline, earning the weird house, the manservant, the cloak of levitation and the Eye of Agamotto, and fighting all the mystical threats Strange would have.
Meanwhile, Dr. Strange is having nightmares and can't get a proper night's sleep. It explains his unkempt appearance and lapses in concentration which threaten to release his inner jackass.
Tired of all the pill-popping, he goes to Mordo's house for help. Mordo enters his dreams, or rather, the dream dimension, to fight Nightmare. But wouldn't you know it? Nightmare is exactly the entity Mordo made a deal with. Treachery!
But that's the thing about Stephen Strange. He's DESTINED to become Sorcerer Supreme. He's innately magical. And through stranded in the dream dimension, he finds a way to meditate himself out of Nightmare's cage, and then navigate back to Earth. On the way, he meets Clea who apparently dies (but only dream-dies) and fights Mordo with raw magic.
Meanwhile, Dormammu has killed the Ancient One as revenge for the bloody nose (does he have a nose) Mordo gave him, and now he and Nightmare are playing tug of war over the Eye of Agamotto, which Mordo had surrendered to his master.
Enter Dr. Strange, fresh off a victory against Mordo, and he throws all his latent power at the would-be gods, breaking their hold on the Eye and banishing them to their respective dimensions. It also burns him out.
Clea cries over him and I guess that's that... But wait? What is this last panel?
As Keanu Reeves would say: "Whoah."
Books canceled as a result: None. In fact, how about GIVING Dr. Strange a good monthly title?
These things happen: I guess Dr. Strange isn't Sorcerer Supreme anymore - it's Brother Voodoo. Which begs the question: Do you need a title in front of your name to become Sorcerer Supreme? If so, you can call me Corporal Siskoid.

Next week: What if Sub-Mariner Had Saved Atlantis from its Destiny?
My guess: Namor quantum leaps and prevents Atlantis from sinking, righting what once went wrong.



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