Urthona and Rintrah: The Last Days of Dr. Strange, Vol. 2

The Forgotten and Undying Ones, Part Three

Urthona and Rintrah: The Last Days of Dr. Strange, Vol. 2

Peter B. Gillis, my favorite Dr. Strange writer of the 1980s, debuted two underrated and tragically forgotten alien creatures in the same storyline that brought volume 2 to an end: Rintrah, the green minotaur apprentice, and the great devastating villain Urthona. Rintrah remained essentially just a quirky secondary character for the first few years of volume 3, but Urthona made a more significant first impression that should earn him a place on the top ten Dr. Strange villains of all time (though no one puts him on that list but me). Urthona essentially debuted in issue 79, and his storyline led to the end of volume 2 with issue 81 in 1987. Besides ending a volume, in his first appearance he achieved all of the following: 1) stealing all of Doc's stuff (and Doc, as a neurotic hoarder, loves his stuff [and it's also a major source of his power]); 2) stealing Doc's whole house; 3) torturing Wong (but all Dr. Strange villains torture Wong at some point [it's the one universal truth about Dr. Strange villainry]); 4) hospitalizing Doc (so he has to do the classic Doc-has-to-operate-on-himself-by-possessing-the-surgeon routine [yes, he's done that many times]); 5) and finally forcing him to destroy all his stuff (and Doc loves his stuff) because he has no other choice (many great Dr. Strange stories end with "because he had no other choice"). That's a heckuva a debut for Urthona.

Plus Chris Warner gives him one of the scariest and weirdest versions of the Chthuloid cephalopod look that several Doc villains have (considering Shuma Gorath and Dweller in Darkness also have that look, that's really saying something). Though Urthona only has a few more brief appearances after this, his actions lead indirectly to another classic confrontation with Shuma Gorath (a villain who always makes the top ten) because Doc, in losing all his magical objects, loses essentially everything and dabbles guiltily in black magic (as he does at least once a decade). Destroying all his stuff also opens the gates for the disciples of Shuma Gorath to swarm a now-vulnerable Doc, a storyline that plays out in the short-lived Strange Tales comic the following year, but that forgotten gem deserves its own entry.

The part of the movie where Dr. Strange aids in the surgery of his own injured body while he's in astral form is an echo of this Urthona story, though it is likely a nod to the 2006 miniseries The Oath by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin. However, Peter B. Gillis and Chris Warner did it 20 years earlier in Dr. Strange vol. 2, no. 80 in 1986, and in my opinion it's a much better story. Urthona is a far more compelling villain than Nicodemus West or Brigand because he is an opponent of nearly equal magical ability, and his goal is to turn this dimension into the Dark Dimension and become the new Dormammu, a motivation both deeply tied to Doc's mythos and pretty badass. In the Vaughan story, Doc is injured by Brigand, a thief with zero magical ability who breaks into the most heavily fortified house in existence (which must be that heavily fortified to keep existence in existence as the Urthona story demonstrates) and the explanation for why he can break in? *shrug* He just kinda can. And the villains' motivation? Pharmacy? Or something? This is one of many problems I have with The Oath, but the echo of the earlier Gillis story at least shows that Vaughan had read a Dr. Strange comic in the past while the rest of the story makes that seem dubious.

By the way, on the subject of throwbacks and easter eggs, Valkyrie appears as an afterlife image in the surgery scene in number 80 as Doc is dying because she died when The New Defenders comic got canceled, and she and Doc are old Defenders teammates. The New Defenders was cancelled, and Doc was doubled up with Cloak and Dagger for Strange Tales, so Marvel could make room on their slate for the New Universe, so Valkyrie's presence here foreshadows the cancellation of this volume of Dr. Strange a few issues later. When the New Universe failed, Doc was back with volume 3, but The Defenders wouldn't get their own comic again for another decade (unless you count The Secret Defenders, but that's another issue entirely).

I hate to leave Rintrah as an afterthought, but he's always been an afterthought. He was a green minotaur (an arresting, unforgettable image for anyone flipping through comics) and he remained Doc's disciple for a substantial part of the early 90s, yet he was killed off in a transitional issue and forgotten. Most of the decade of his hovering presence didn't feature him doing much of anything, but in his first story, he gets a good blast in on Urthona, at least, as Doc is possessing his body. And, yes, in those first few issues he looked like ALF back then. This was the 80s after all. ALF was huge. For the rest of his tenure, he looked a bit more like a standard green minotaur (if there is such a thing as a standard green minotaur).

Perhaps Rintrah's most significant long-term role in the Dr. Strange mythos is apprentice of Enitharmon the Weaver, the guy who made the Cloak of Levitation (one of the very Disney-fied stars of the Dr. Strange film [it is much less like the carpet from Aladdin in the comic book, more like a prehinsile appendage]). In another example of Gillis-did-it-first, the Cloak gets ripped to shreds by the Inquisitor of the Empirikull in the "Last Days of Magic" storyline (in the recent vol. 4 run by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo), hence why he's been wearing the blue cloak he originally wore in his first 20 or so Ditko-designed adventures, but hardcore fans know where he'd go to get his cloak fixed: Enitharmon the Weaver, a little purple protoceratops. Doc first came into contact with Rintrah via Enitharmon who fixes his cloak after it gets torn by a Khat demon (who works for Erlik Khan who works for Shuma Gorath who is the space octopus who inspires the Inquisitor of the Empirikull to hate magic—you see, it's all connected, and that's one of many things I love about it).

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F. Simon Grant

I'm a fiction writer and a collage artist.

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