“Like House, but with wizards.”
That’s always been one of my favorite single-sentence ideas for a Dr. Strange series. The problem, of course, is that in the Marvel Universe right now there is a distinct… shortage of sorcerers, wizards, mages and so forth. The Scarlet Witch is crazy and/or depowered, and even before that she was a mutant who accessed magical energy rather than an actual practiced magic-user (which is what you need). Wiccan is also a mutant, although thankfully not insane. Daimon Hellstrom is too pushy for Strange to want to bother with. (Also, sometimes a bit evil.) Jennifer Kale is recovering from a zombie attack. Agatha Harkness is dead. So is Dr. Druid. Brother Voodoo’s skillset is too limited. The second Dr. Druid is green. Dr. Doom isn’t exactly what you’d call “trustworthy.” Man-Thing is a plant. And so on.
(Yes, I did read the most recent issue of New Avengers. Rest assured it will be mentioned eventually.)
Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t others more suitable for the job. Sorcerers have a knack of not showing up in top-secret government files; it’s easy to stay off the radar if you’re talented and know what you’re doing. Strange needs a team of “interns,” much like House needs the black guy and the Australian guy and the girl and eventually Kumar. So who does he get?
Sir Humphrey Clarkson, Lord of Wattlesbury-on-Parbeck, wasn’t from a particularly rich aristocratic family. This suited him fine; his yearly income from family holdings and investments was enough to fund his magical studies and travels, and beyond that he lived quite modestly. By 1922 he had mastered Hermetic magic well enough to slow his aging to a crawl, placed his assets in extremely long-term debt instruments (Pater always insisted on maintaining the estate), and faked his death, reappearing as his own bastard son at the funeral with a few skilled magical facial alterations, just enough that there was a resemblance but not so much that anyone would doubt the papers proving his parentage.
He did this about every thirty years and continued study into the Hermetic traditions; as the discipline grew to encompass machinomancy and eventually technomancy, he grew proficient in these emergent arts as well. He occasionally glanced into other magical styles, of course, and probably would have begun advanced study into them – if not for the Incident about ten years ago.
That was when Zzzax, the beast-man of living lightning, went on a rage through a certain chunk of rural England. Now, the fine folks of MI-13, working in concert with S.H.I.E.L.D., captured and reimprisoned Zzzax in short order. But that was unfortunately after Zzzax absorbed the electrocardial life-forces of fourteen Englishmen. Including Sir Humphrey, of course.
However, as you might have guessed, Sir Humphrey did not, in fact, die of this. Any good Hermetic knows the value of preparation – especially defensive spell rituals performed months or years or even decades in advance. His protection rituals interacted with Zzzax’s living electricity in ways as yet unseen. Sir Humphrey’s electrical life-force was indeed absorbed by Zzzax – but equal electricity was siphoned back from Zzzax, which kept him alive.
But the new electricity from Zzzax wasn’t quite the same as his normal bioelectricity – and so, Sir Humphrey found that he had an edge most other magicians simply did not. Namely, a healthy supply of raw, regenerating magical force, the creation of his practiced magical auras colliding with the sheer power of the Living Lightning Bolt.
Of course, this new advantage came with a degree of difficulty, considering that raw magilectricity tends to interfere with fine-tuned rituals. So he went back into seclusion, and continued his studies – but his old, methodical nature of spellcasting and research was, he found, now somewhat unsatisfying anyway. He enjoyed visceral magical experience more and more, discovering at the age of one hundred and twenty-three that he had a sudden desire for adventure. (Whether this is the aggressive influence of Zzzax or simply the result of a traumatic event causing a profound personality shift is a topic for debate.)
All of this? The experience, the impressive research skills, the sudden influx of talent at making things explode, and of course the sheer Britishness (which, let’s be honest, is the sort of thing which Stephen might not himself affect, but would definitely be comfortable with)? Made him an ideal candidate to assist Stephen Strange. But there was one other reason for Strange to select Sir Humphrey, one he didn’t mention when he approached the Englishman.
See, the Zzzax energies combined with the magical energies represented a strange conflux of the real and unreal, almost unprecedented in magic. More on the nature of magic coming up later, but for now, understand that easy access to extant magical energies which are simultaneously normal energies explicable by physics is almost impossible. When Dr. Strange casts the Magical Fires Of Faltoor upon his foes, it’s not normal fire, it’s magical energy masquerading as fire, or alternately it’s regular old-fashioned fire that he transported from somewhere else (like that forest fire he knows is happening in Uganda). It’s never both. Except that in Sir Humphrey’s case, it is.
It would, Stephen believed, prove exceptionally useful as a surprise…
Top comment: He’s not a magical being, he’s a really smart guy who learned how to do this. Ghost Rider might be the bitchinest Gibson Guitar with a custom neck and airbrushed flames on the front, but Dr. Strange is Eric Clapton. — John