Warning: this review contains spoilers for a 38-year-old comic book.
Last week two DLC characters for Marvel vs Capcom 3 were released. From the Capcom side was Resident Evil’s Jill Valentine, who’s been having trouble with mind-controlling parasites lately. On the Marvel side is Shuma-Gorath, a sassy one-eyed tentacled monster who few people who work at Marvel Comics, let alone read them, have ever heard of. Except for a handful of encounters with Dr. Strange and the Fantastic Four in the 1970s and 80s, he barely exists at all.
At Toronto’s Comic-Con last weekend I managed to find one of the few comics in which the squid-dude appeared, an issue of Marvel Premiere featuring Dr. Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts from September 1973. It’s the final part of an arc where Shuma-Gorath, a mystical creature of godlike power who hopes to enslave the Earth and eventually the rest of the cosmos has tried to enter the physical realm through the consciousness of The Ancient One, Dr. Strange’s mentor. After thwarting several of Shuma’s heralds and breaking its illusions – including a negative version of The Ancient One just to mess with him even more – Strange dives into his dying master’s consciousness to confront the inhuman god who threatens all creation.
After confronting Shuma-Gorath’s tentacled form, Strange kills the ego of The Ancient One. It’s the only way to stop Shuma, who has inextricably attached himself to the old man’s mind. Shuma is banished back to The Chaos Dimension (probably), and Strange is wracked with guilt at the murder of his teacher and best friend. That is, until The Ancient One reveals that killing his ego allowed him to become one with the universe in a frankly ridiculous series of panels featuring his face talking from, among other items, the trunk of a tree and the head of a spider.
It’s an old-school tale in every way, with all-powerful threats, inscrutable magical trump cards and Strange narrating the tale with a Hoary Host of Hoggoth or two. Dormammu, Strange’s arch nemesis and another star of Marvel vs Capcom 3, makes an insubstantial (literally) cameo as well. But the real star is artist Frank Brunner’s depiction of Ol’ One-Eye. Present only in The Ancient One’s mind, Shuma-Gorath’s form changes from panel to panel. Often he forms the bulbous purple backdrops, illustrating both his corruption of The Ancient One and augmenting Dr. Strange’s confusion and horror. It’s fantastic scene-setting and does well to portray the mystic threat he represents.
Marvel Premiere #10 is a lot of fun to thumb through for any Marvel vs Capcom fans who have never heard of Shuma-Gorath (just like the vast majority of everyone else on this planet). But now, when you’re whipping opponents with his Hyper Mystic Stare, you can rub some salt on the wound with your rare knowledge of his vintage comic book roots.