The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Not quite.
Now that we finally have our first look at the much-anticipated (to put it mildly) Spider-Man: No Way Home, we can start piecing elements of the story together with a bit more ease. Plenty of mysteries remain in what’s shaping up to be the most epic Spider-Man event in arguably any medium, but we can dispatch some of the old rumors (there’s no way the Savage Land gets introduced, right?) and of course, devise new ones (Does Peter get astral projected into the bodies of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Men?).
There’s magic in the air, folks!
With Spider-Man’s identity revealed by Mysterio in the finale of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker turns to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to help restore his secret identity. Of course, things don’t go as expected, and with the Multiverse of Madness building across WandaVision, Loki, and What If...?, Peter Parker seemingly finds himself besieged by variants who might be new faces to him, but are familiar to longtime Spider-Man fans: Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), and maybe more.
Spidey’s reliance on magic isn’t an unfamiliar scenario, nor is his penchant for turning to Doctor Strange when his “Parker luck” gets the better of him. In fact, Peter’s history with Doctor Strange and magic may provide some indication of just how messy his life is about to become.
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Spider-Man and Doctor Strange
Steve Ditko’s most famous superhero creations, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, first met in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual Vol. 1 #2 in 1965, where the two team up to fight the evil sorcerer Xandu, who has plans to steal the Wand of Watoomb. Spidey witnesses the break-in at Strange’s Sanctum Santorum, but his interference leads to him being trapped in an alternate dimension by Xandu’s henchmen. Naturally, he’s brought back home to Earth, where he fights alongside Strange’s astral form — with the Master of the Mystic Arts’ body lying unconscious nearby. In the end, Strange wipes Xandu’s mind of the memory of the events and his evil nature.
Strange’s ability to alter memory would come back more than 40 years later during the infamous comic book story One More Day. While the events of this encounter aren’t referenced, one can’t help but wonder if that planted the seed in Peter’s head for the deal that was to come.
We’ll get to that, but first…
Spider-Man and Doctor Strange teamed up several more times during the ‘70s and ‘80s in the pages of Marvel Team-Up. Issues #21, #50, #76, #80, and Annual #5 all saw the web-slinger and Sorcerer Supreme join forces, often to stop some magical menace or recover some mystic artifact, be it a wand, orb, or thing-a-ma-jig. In #80, Spider-Man actually joins forces with Strange’s witchy girlfriend, Clea, to stop a demonically possessed Strange.
So, for those theorizing that the Strange we see in the trailer who casts the spell for Peter is actually Mephisto or a possessed Strange, well there’s a precedent for it. Though I don’t necessarily buy it, given Strange has a long history of being one of the more morally dubious Marvel heroes.
As for Annual #5, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange join forces with the Scarlet Witch, among others, to stop the demon, Set, who has invaded Earth from another dimension. While there’s no word of whether Parker will play a role in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, this issue showcases a dynamic between the three heroes that would certainly be enticing to see onscreen. (And Wanda is already confirmed for the Doctor Strange sequel.)
Spider-Man and Doctor Strange’s journey came full circle with the one-shot graphic novel, Spider-Man/Dr. Strange: The Way to Dusty Death by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. The graphic novel sees the two heroes once again facing off against Xandu.
Spider-Man finds himself in the Death Dimension, providing a chance encounter with the spirits of Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacey. When he’s brought back to Earth, he finds himself in Xandu’s body, before Strange returns their souls to their respective bodies.
This story makes the idea that Peter astral projects into variant versions of Peter Parker even more likely and may explain why in the trailer Holland’s Parker is wearing the exact same suit Maguire’s Parker wears in Spider-Man 3. Perhaps only when Strange places Peter’s spirit back in the right body will we see all three Spider-Men, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland, together. As for the Death Dimension, will we finally meet the MCU’s Uncle Ben?
Spider-Man’s deal with the devil
I’ll be upfront, One More Day (2007) isn’t a good Spider-Man story, but it is one of the most influential ones ever told. And if the trailer for No Way Home is any indication, a loose adaptation of the story would do wonders for the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In this story by J. Michael Straczynski and artist Joe Quesada, Peter asks Doctor Strange for help after Aunt May is nearly murdered by the Kingpin. It’s unlikely that she’ll live, and so Peter asks the Sorcerer Supreme to restore her life. Strange tells him that resurrecting the dead (or soon-to-be-dead) are powers beyond even him. Peter, in his desperation, attempts to cast a spell on his own. As a result, Peter severely injures himself. After Strange heals him, Peter turns to Mephisto and makes a bargain to trade his marriage to Mary Jane to bring Aunt May back to full health. It’s a dumb choice, but that’s only part of the story.
In 2010, this story was followed up with One Moment in Time, by Joe Quesada, in which it was revealed that the reason why everyone seemingly forgot Peter Parker was Spider-Man after he revealed it during the events of Civil War was because Doctor Strange, Tony Stark, and Reed Richards, devised a plan to mindwipe everyone’s memory of his secret identity, including Aunt May’s and MJ’s. It’s a complicated bit of comic book retconning that looks to be handled in a far more interesting way in No Way Home — and unleash some dire consequences.
It’s likely that elements from Spider-Man and Doctor Strange’s various encounters will play a role in No Way Home, but the bones of the story seem to be most directly inspired by One Moment in Time. If that’s the case, will the following MCU adventure of Spider-Man begin with no one knowing his identity? Or will there be some last-minute spell that allows Peter Parker to get his secret identity back and keep his most treasured relationships intact?
This is Peter Parker we’re talking about, so it’s not likely. But every time Spider-Man has had a major interaction with Doctor Strange it’s left him changed on a physical, mental, emotional, and dimensional level. We expect nothing less by the end of No Way Home. The devil may be in the details, but Spidey and Strange are capable of upending all they hold sacred entirely by themselves.
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