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That Guy said on April 9th, 2009 at 9:21 am

Any Sorcerer running on monkey burgers gets my vote.

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Constantine would still kick his ass.

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NCallahan said on April 9th, 2009 at 9:50 am

This is pretty good. I thought you were going somewhere with the title of Sorcerer Supreme being a permission by a pantheon of “good” powers to invoke them freely. But this is still good.

guayec:

Well, duh. He’s John the Laughing Magician. You aren’t born a living incarnation of a major arcana and not turn out fuckall dangerous.

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Screaming Yellow Zonker Harris said on April 9th, 2009 at 9:53 am

I would like a monkey burger with extra bananas.

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I just don’t get how this makes him the “Sorcerer Supreme” though. I mean, that’s kinda a big title. Saying, “Well you can do shit the Vishanti have been doing for the last fifty thousand eons” strikes me as the kind of thing that would earn you the title “Sorcerer Very Very Impressive” but not “Supreme”.

If this is how the magic system works, he just seems over-billed. I mean, why have a SS at all, when the Seraphim or Cytorrak or the Vishanti could get it all done so much easier. I imagine that they’ve got just as much invested in the perpetuation of the universe as anybody.

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Sage Freehaven said on April 9th, 2009 at 10:27 am

An excellent addressing of the complaints about Strange’s powers.

Does this mean Squirrel Girl owes somebody a huge favor for her insane plot armor?

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Zifnab: I’m assuming that this is what put him on the short list for Sorcerer Supreme and that as a candidate he’d learn other skills(and due to his massive power levels would be a source of favor trading on an entirely higher level)and then, once decided upon as the next sorceror supreme would learn even deeper magic and would thus, despite not knowing EVERYTHING, be better than any other individual sorceror and quite a few collectives of sorcerors. Alternatively, Sorceror Supreme is more like Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and thus he’s much more significant because of his official powers than his personal abilities.

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I could be way wrong, but I had thought most magic in the Marvel Universe involved tapping power from alternate or parallel dimensions: if you need, say, cold air, you can tap a little pinhole into an entire universe that’s nothing but cold air and suck a little out. Some mutants work like that: Cyclops’ eyebeams suck energy from a dimension that’s just energy. (At least they used to…) Nightcrawler teleports through his brimstone-smelling pocket dimension, and Pym particles work by shunting or pulling mass from another dimension.

The problem would be, if the universe slipped off it’s alignment just a little, and none of these pocket dimensions lined up where they should: instead of pulling cold air, you could tap anti-matter. Or dishwashing soap. Or fire ants. And that might not just affect Dr. Strange, it might affect mutants, the Wasp, other heroes…I would pay good money to see Cyclops shooting, I don’t know, creamed corn out of his eyes.

Hope you have a whole month of these ready, these are fun! I’m more used to Strange having to be ‘on-call’ for guest-spots in other comics than reading his own: do you have one ready for that?

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Andrew W. said on April 9th, 2009 at 11:04 am

The first rule we’ve already seen mostly in Thor stories: whenever Odin or Thor did something particularly impressive with the Odinpower, they had to enter the Odinsleep. And there was a keen What If? that posited that Wanda managed to do House of M by harnessing the power of the Avengers she killed prior to it.

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Andrew W. said on April 9th, 2009 at 11:11 am

Also, Wakanda already has had the cure for cancer for like thousands of years so doing it by magic is pretty unimpressive.

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If this is how the magic system works, he just seems over-billed. I mean, why have a SS at all, when the Seraphim or Cytorrak or the Vishanti could get it all done so much easier. I imagine that they’ve got just as much invested in the perpetuation of the universe as anybody.

Because the Seraphim and Cytorrak and the Vishanti don’t really care. Well, the Vishanti care (particularly Agamotto, who’s always had a sentimental attachment to 616), but protecting Universe-616 is a relatively low priority for them since their primary worry is balancing the Trinity of Ashes; 616 surviving would be nice but they’re concerned with bigger stakes.

As for all the other entities with which Strange has dealt or bargained with – well, lemme put it this way. Cytorrak, Watoomb, Ikonn and a bunch of the others once made a bet to basically use Earth as a giant game-board and its population as its pieces. Not maliciously or anything, but – they don’t give a shit. They are wholly self-interested entities.

Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme because he’s the most powerful sorcerer in this universe, and the universe in turn recognizes that he is the best choice for its protector. But he’s a small fish in a big pond. He’s a smart small fish, because Sorcerer Supremes have to be smart to survive. But a small fish nonetheless.

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Alright, I’ll accept all of that.

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Setting aside Squirrel Girl’s insane plot armor for a moment, Alan Moore did a full run of 32 issues of Promethea completely dedicated to this particular topic:

http://fullbodytransplant.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/promethea-reborn/

That’s real magick, not tricks.

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Real magic isn’t spelled with a “K.”

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Lister Sage said on April 9th, 2009 at 11:33 am

“Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme because he’s the most powerful sorcerer in this universe”

Huh, I always assumed the Doc was just the Sorcerer Supreme for are planet, not the whole Universe. If for no other reason then we barely ever see him leave Earth outside of Infinity Gauntlet-ish, Holy shit the whole Universe is going to end, crossovers. Kind of like that League of Spider-Men from one of the Spider-Man comics a few years ago (though that might not have been canon).

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Moore and Morrison would kick Strange’s ass too. And Raistlin! Raistlin would eat Strange’s fried moustache for dinner!

PS: I really hate Strange.

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“He called it “chaos magic,” mostly because there are certain phrases Warren Ellis really loves and that is one of them. Also, “monkey burgers.” ”

He called it “catastrophe magic,” in the single script that survived the Marvel publishing process of the time. You’re mistaking “chaos magic” for another writer entirely, in general.

But I love monkey burgers.

– W

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NCallahan said on April 9th, 2009 at 12:31 pm

It’s true! Warren Ellis does know every time his name is posted on the internet!

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He called it “catastrophe magic,” in the single script that survived the Marvel publishing process of the time.

Correction noted.

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Screaming Yellow Zonker Harris said on April 9th, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Now I have this image of Warren Ellis furiously Googling himself during his lunch hour . . .

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Some of this seems kind of familiar (heavy emphasis on the “kind of”).

The old Marvel RPG (which I read the rules for, but never played — I have a weird fascination with codified systems) categorised magic into three types of power — Personal, Universal and Dimensional. Pretty self-explanatory, and more or less what you’ve detailed above, except that calling on beings from another dimension was more difficult than drawing on the energy of the world around you.

For what it’s worth, I like your explanation.

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See, I figured the Sorcerer Supreme title was warranted simply because all those entities that were more powerful than him weren’t “sorcerers,” they were deities or demigods or what have you.

So while he is a “small [goldfish] in a big pond,” of those goldfish he is the top dog, er…fish. The Piranha and Siamese Fighting fish are still gonna laugh in his face though. :)

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Squirrel Girl owes nothing.

The multiverse and everyone in or out of it owe her for every second she chooses not to destroy all.

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What about magic items, like the Cloak of Levitation and the Wand of Watoomb?

Also, you totally stole my idea… inspired by D&D divine magic, right?

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Im still not digging this.

It just seems overly complex to the point of desperation. I like the ‘pay a price to cast a spell’ element, but I still feel his powers are vague enough that, no matter how well-intended the author of a story may be, he can just cheat his way out of an ending and use magical technobabble to explain it away.

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ps238principal said on April 9th, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Magic is a bear, and I want to thank MGK for this article, as I’m currently pitching a comic concept that’s very magic-heavy.

Magic is like a technology that can do anything, but you’re still expected to set limits and boundaries that can preserve suspense without taking away any of the wonder. Usually, it’s assumed that magicians have an array of “magic missile” type spells along with some form of “mage armor” so they’re not helpless in a fight. Teleportation is also a trope, though more often than not it’s a last-ditch escape hatch instead of a common power (like Nightcrawler’s mutant abilities).

The trouble is, unless you have some kind of “leveling” system (like in D&D), the most common limitation on magic doing everything is either (1) knowledge of how to do it or (2) not having a key component the spell needs. Magical knowledge goes into the “Harry Potter” realm, where as long as you can find a book and practice, you’re going to successfully cast the spell you need and it practically becomes an innate power. Beyond that, confrontations between magicians become some kind of version of Dragonball Z where some arbitrary “power level” determines the winner.

The challenges to a fictional magician are almost closed systems: To solve problem X you must do/get/destroy ritual/object/person Y, and no matter how powerful you are, you can’t solve problem X without the stated solution.

In short, magic is a royal pain in the ass to pull off successfully when writing about it. There’s always the Lovecraft solution: Make magic so dangerous that only the bad guys and the insane would even touch a grimoire with anything gentler than a Molotov cocktail.

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wordswordswordswords

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Liquidben said on April 9th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

*gasp!* The devil himself has Google Alerts! Wow, this post is already the second hit on Google for “monkey burgers warren ellis” after Amazon’s Transmetropolitan page.

Lulz aside, I have to say I always thought of Marvel magic as being somewhat like programming computers. Bear with me here, it’s orthogonal to the conservation of power concept but parallel to the remainder of the concept already presented.

Programming starts with binary 1s and 0s, translating to your magical raw forces: Power or absence of power. Of course base 2 is friggin useless for practical counting and/or programming, so there are higher things like your elemental base4 or Japanese elements for base5. Above that stuff you’ve got your assembly language which equates to rough crude runic magic. You can do powerful stuff with it, but you’ll have to turn your brain sideways to get it. I’d like to think that the Celestials use this. Then above that you’ve got your programming languages, which equate out to magical languages. Of course these are just ways of organizing your magical power/ideas. It takes some labor to take the raw language and turn it into a functional program. And then you’ve got have some hardware/power to run it.

So you’ve got your off the shelf programs, available from your fine retailers such as Apple/Agamotto (make up your own pairings, kids!).

So this leads to two ends: Is one of the magical entities (Wattomb, Cyttorakk, etc) not really a magic hacker and is just a sublime deal cutter that got himself atop of bunch of smart crafters. Who is the Bill Gates of magic?

And also, what if a bunch of dirty little earthlings/aliens/etc get sick of being beholden to these magical schmucks and start working open source? Where’s our magic linux?

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You want to know the secret behind Squirrel Girl?

Consider the level of influence the Norse pantheon has in the Marvel Universe. Then Google “Ratatoskr.”

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I like the ‘magic has a price’ direction but I feel the description here is kinda pat. I guess I tend to like the Terry Pratchett model where magic itself is just a little bit alive, a little bit prone to doing exactly what you asked for and the opposite of what you wanted. It’s different for an magical creature like Thor or Wanda or whoever because the magic is just there for them, but for Doc Strange it should be something like a man putting reins and a saddle on the back of a wild tiger and shouting “Yah, boy!”

Like you don’t usually see Constantine accused of being overpowered, even despite him pulling off some pretty insane feats in his time, because (in his better stories anyway) you see that this or that bit of deus ex machina would just as gladly kill him, anyone in his general vicinity, and the entire human race than do whatever it was he needs done.

Which isn’t to say you should write Doc Strange as John Constantine because, well, we have a John Constantine, so much as that I think the best balancing mechanism for the Doc’s powers is that for anything he does, from tearing Dormammu a new one to something as mundane as astral-projecting himself to a Phillies game, it should always be in the back of the writer’s mind, “how can this go catastrophically wrong, what is Doc doing to keep that from happening, and what does he do when it does?”

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So now who’s going around killing giants and mass-collecting favors? It’s the color blue, isn’t it? Darn shifty color – never trusted it.

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Ratatoskr Shmatatoskr, I just found out that Steve Ditko created Squirrel Girl way before 1992 when she first got published:

http://fullbodytransplant.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/squirrel-girl-epic/

Did everyone else know that?

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Constantine would still kick his ass.

John Constantine?!? That clown?!

Ambrose Bierce all the way!

I have to say I always thought of Marvel magic as being somewhat like programming computers.

So, uh, what happens when you’re debugging?

“Oshtur: Hey guys, I came up with this really great spell!
Hoggoth: Was it supposed to destroy that planet?
Oshtur: Dammit! I thought I fixed that! Hold on….”

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So you’ve got your off the shelf programs, available from your fine retailers such as Apple/Agamotto (make up your own pairings, kids!).

I think – pulling on your metaphor – that only these higher powers are capable of programming anything. Humans capable of higher level communion with these master programs can go so far as to move the mouse, so to speak, but they can’t even begin to master the delicate nuance or the heavy lifting necessary in shaping/programming reality themselves.

It’s the difference between a cat at a keyboard that’s figured out how to make the screen turn on (zomg, i can haz lite spelz!) and a user that sits around writing scripts. The cat can, if it’s really clever, figure out how to run a script or two, but programming is a whole level.

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Screaming Yellow Zonker Harris: If I were Warren Ellis, I would furiously google myself as often as possible.

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Brad Reed said on April 9th, 2009 at 3:18 pm

The old Marvel RPG…categorised magic into three types of power — Personal, Universal and Dimensional. Pretty self-explanatory, and more or less what you’ve detailed above…

My (slightly different from MGK’s) version used the old Marvel RPG’s magic framework as a starting point. You can see that framework suggested in the comics, too, though I don’t know if it was ever spelled out. The structure is helpful to differentiate between the stuff Doc can do without chanting or ritual (the basics: fly, zap stuff, astrally project), and the stuff usually that requires chanting or ritual (the crazy stuff: banishment, time travel, etc.).

Putting bounds on Vishanti magic is key to limiting Doc. Not bounds of power, but bounds of type. A super-strong hero’s ability to lift stuff may vary from writer to writer, or wax and wane as the plot requires, but the hero could never use his super-strength to teleport or transmute elements. The power, as crazy and open to interpretation as it is, has boundaries.

Doc can do amazing things easily within the Vishanti range. Messing with light, space, and time all are relatively easy for him and come without significant costs. But what happens when he needs to do something that the Vishanti can’t or won’t help him with? He’ll either have to get creative, which could be cool, or he’ll have to strike deals with difficult gods, which could be the seeds of a couple of good stories.

Also, by openly stating the Vishanti magic’s boundaries, even as vague as they are, it’ll encourage later writers to maintain them, rather than promote the abstract “Doc is weaker” approach.

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Brad Reed said on April 9th, 2009 at 3:25 pm

I also tried to figure out what “Catastrophe Magic” was, based upon Warren Ellis’s very brief run. Basically, all of you guys calling for magic that backfires and is out of control? Like “riding a tiger and hanging on for dear life?” Yeah, it’s sorta like that. It gives all the power the extradimensional beings provide you, but with none of the help shaping it. Mastery takes millenia and blowback is almost a given.

I am damn curious to see how Ellis would have defined it.

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I am damn curious to see how Ellis would have defined it.

Probably in terms of drinking, violent beatings, and copious amounts of kinky sex.

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Wouldn’t controlling sound just be a matter of manipulating the air that the sound travels through? And any sort of creation or suggestion of sound would fall under an illusionary spell?

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Lister Sage said on April 9th, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Warren Ellis: I’m looking forward to your animated G.I. Joe feature.

Liquidben: That is probably one of the best explanations for the nature of magic I’ve ever heard.

MerQtio: Somebody get Straczynski on the phone. We’ve got a team-up story for him.

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ps238principal said on April 9th, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Hmmm. A video-game look at magic, but still kind of relevant: http://www.gamespy.com/articles/967/967523p1.html

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HitTheTargets said on April 9th, 2009 at 4:14 pm

That’s a really elegant approach to the “it’s magic, how the hell do we explain it?” problem. When you hear about, say, Michael Moorcock writing a magic bible for the DCU, you don’t tend to imagine it as a handful of paragraphs with convenient lists and examples. It’s probably much better to keep it simple and easy to remember; I’d call it a magic ten commandments, but then no one would get it when there aren’t ten rules.

And of course I love anything that avoids the thing where any magic can cure a guy’s cancer but OH NO NOW HIS MOMMA HAS SARS! Save that for the deal with the Devil, man.

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I think one of the problems is that Dr. Strange has been used in team books where lazy writers have been tempted to use him as a deus ex machina. He works perfectly well in his own book, but like many other powerful characters, he doesn’t work as well in team books because he clearly outclasses most of his teammates.

Besides, there’s no doubt that the Sorcerer Supreme has better things to do than chase down HYDRA’s thugs and so on (yeah, I *really* don’t like ‘New Avengers’) unless their actions pose some magical threat that only he can solve.

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Ok, I get what you’re doing, and it makes sense, but how does this fit with your “real vs. magical” distinction re: Sir Humphery? If entry-level spells use energy, electrical energy in the brain, is that a conversion of the physical to the mystical? If Strange, or more likely someone who doesn’t know better than to do this, tries to do a little telepathy spell while sitting under some high tension wires (or during a bad thunderstorm) do they find their consciousness slingshotted by all that extra energy in the air to the far end of the biforst bridge? Or is that bioelectric energy some facet of the soul that will regenerate (which makes a good argument why Mephisto wants souls as an external power source for some infernal machine).

and liquidjoe that’s a neat analogy, But I’d say that magic was the internet. You need all that computer stuff to access it. All these magical beings are the servers that allow access to the individual pages.

Hell, but magic is better than the internet. All you can get on the internet is porn. Dr Strange created duplicates of himself to have an orgy once.

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How does Strange’s being Sorcerer Supreme (and protector of U-616) interact with Quasar having been Protector of the Universe?

Marvel has lots of cosmic beings. The Vishanti and Eon both have appointed various mortals to be protectors of the universe. Is there a conflict, and have other cosmic beings done the same thing, and are any of them lying for sinister purposes?

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You know, thinking about this, why doesn’t Vaughn’s idea of Science vs. Magic work? Leaving aside the cosmic argument (what’s left after the Kree, or skrull, or other advanced alien races. What would be left) what you’re left with is a process vs. outcome argument. An aircraft flying is a process of speed + air pressure to generate lift. Strange is levitating. A Tesla Coil is shooting ionized energy Strange is accessing magical lightning.

This would, of course, give a scientifically trained man like Strange an advantage. Once Reed or Pym (“Magic is just science I haven’t figured out yet”) makes a levitation machine every other magician is stuck, but Strange figures out a spell to locally warp gravity, or reduce his mass. The fact that he understands physics makes him a better magician.

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If he can do telepathy he can affect emotions. He could also likely stop people from being evil.

Remember, telepaths a lot less powerful than Charles Xavier can brainwash people.

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But here’s a list of things he can’t do:…- transmute matter or energy

So he couldn’t turn SHIELD into muskrats whenever he finds himself in a bad mood?

- overcome death

Wasn’t there a comic where he did just that? Kicked Death’s ass? I think it was an Infinity War tie-in.

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So what this storyline needs now is a savant who can not only conjure great magic but can actually forge the spells it would typically take someone several hundred years to understand in less than a month.

And one the various deities find out about this individual, then their gonna have a true holy war.

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I figured the swarm of “Dr. Strange can do anything and that’s why he sucks” comments would be reaching critical mass about now

I just noticed that nobody cares to make this complaint if it’s Doctor Doom who can do anything, at which point it suddenly becomes cool.

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Yeah, but Doom is a villain (and that makes all the difference).

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The old Marvel RPG (which I read the rules for, but never played — I have a weird fascination with codified systems) categorised magic into three types of power — Personal, Universal and Dimensional. Pretty self-explanatory, and more or less what you’ve detailed above, except that calling on beings from another dimension was more difficult than drawing on the energy of the world around you.

Which made little sense to me, but otherwise, I freely admit that I used the old Marvel RPG as inspiration. God, was that a great roleplaying game!

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“Also, Wakanda already has had the cure for cancer for like thousands of years so doing it by magic is pretty unimpressive.”

It’s only impressive if you share it. Otherwise you’re just being a dick.

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See, I always thought Strange was Sorcerer Supreme of the multiverse, not just 616. Otherwise, why wouldn’t Dormammu make a move against the Zombieverse or Howard the Duck’s universe or any other parallel universe? Or you’d think there’d be turf battles all the time between Strange and the various parallel-U Sorcerer Supremes, some of whom may not be as inclined toward justice as Strange is, others who may be outright evil.

I see Strange as the guardian of all the branches of the multiversal tree, on alert against predators from all the other nearby trees who might swoop by.

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Where does Doom fit into your system, MGK? He is not likely to go begging entities for power. If he wants something, he takes it. Between his basic nature and his personal history, I don’t see him ever putting himself in the position of owing any mystical entity if he could help it. Even so, Doom is one of the most impressive human magi in the MU. It can’t all come from mind magic, and he hasn’t had the time for the insane studying he would need.

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Where does Doom fit into your system, MGK? He is not likely to go begging entities for power. If he wants something, he takes it.

1.) Doom isn’t above bargaining if he can mentally frame it in terms of a “trade” rather than being a supplicant.

2.) Doom cheats. Go read Dr. Strange/Dr. Doom: Triumph and Torment. He literally programs his armor to scan and mimick the spellcastings of other mages around him. The idea here, putting it into the computing terms used upthread, is that Doom is creating false IDs for himself and then scamming systems to get the resources he wants. It’s very dangerous if you get caught, but since when is Doom scared about that?

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i thought i detected hints of the old marvel RPG system in there

man, i love that system. which is good since i still run it for my friends LoL

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MGK: Okay, both of those make perfect sense.

Also, there’s his MLP Project. The more he assembles, the more he will understand of reality’s true nature. The more he understands, the less he’ll have to trade for.

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Kelberon said on April 10th, 2009 at 3:52 am

Man, I wish I’d read this earlier in the day. Anyway:

I think this is a great way to start things off, but I wonder if the title “Sorcerer Supreme” also carries some power of its own. Not simply in impressing people, but also in making certain basic spells easier/brainless to cast (it would be embarrassing if the SS died because he fumbled on how to create a magic light source, and was then stabbed in the back by a random thug while he tried to redo the spell correctly), and making certain favors cheaper-for example, Agamotto going “Yeah, here’s the spell you asked for. Don’t worry, I see that you’re saving the universe with it, consider it a freebie this time.” And he only does that because Agamotto instantly recognizes the title Strange is holding-anyone else, even if they were being selfless, they’d owe a favor. In that sense, the title isn’t just pomp and circumstance, it is itself a source of power, and one of the reasons why it means something beyond Strange being the biggest (mortal) fish in the ocean-someone might amass more power than Strange, but they are still not the Sorcerer Supreme.

As for Jason’s point, about Strange using telepathy to stop someone being evil…let’s say he does that. Regardless of the ethical implications, that is a perfectly legitimate way to use his telepathy/hypnotism, and I doubt he would suddenly be blocked from using them because of the purpose. But I think the point of the list is that he can’t just cast a spell that makes you good, he would have to sit down and try to change your personality through his existing abilities, or he would have to trade those favors that were mentioned before to do it. And that would probably take a while-certainly more time than he’d have in the middle of a pitched battle.

I think this also makes Strange more limited in that he might know exactly what spell to cast to fix a problem, but since he doesn’t have half a millenia to study the long form version, he’ll end up searching for that quick, favor based incantation to cast it….making the solution much more complicated than it might seem. Sure, the Fantastic Four sees him appearing to beat Dormammu, but they didn’t see him having to enter an ancient cave near the border between China and Mongolia, fighting hopping Chinese vampires, to get the spell he needed to beat Dormammu this time.

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Now, there’s always a cost – and in this case, the cost to Joe is that he now owes the Seraphim a favour.

Hmm. If Strange has apprentices, will he be able to teach them how to cast the Vishanti spells directly, too? If he could, would he do so?

And do these magical people ever actually call in the favors?
“Minoru, we saw you called for 12 shields of the seraphim. Now you have to go get us an ice cream cone.”
“That’s it?”
“One each.”
“That’s not so bad.”
“There are millions of us.”
“…crap.”

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So… you still haven’t answered my question about magic items…

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What about magic items, like the Cloak of Levitation and the Wand of Watoomb?

Again going back to the software metaphor – if spells are software, then magic items are executable software stored on a floppy disk. You need to know how to write the program in order to make the floppy, but then you give someone that floppy and if they know how to run the program they can use it.

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So no DRM on them then… (i was more interested in he rules for using them, i guess you’re saying there aren’t any beyond item X does Y).

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Oh, and in keeping with the software analogy… do real magicians deride item users as script-kiddies?

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I always found the argument that Dr. Strange doesn’t work because Magic makes him too powerful to be really silly. They used to feel the same way about Superman until they realized that what he really needed was good stories. Superman was pretty much a God in All-Star Superman and no one complained he was too powerful because they didn’t care. The story was what was important.

I think the other problem is that right now Marvel writers have no respect for magic. They see magic as a way to reboot continuity or a way to change characters for the next big event. Until Marvel stops treating magic as Bad Writer Fix, Dr. Strange will never exist as a character again.

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Isn’t magic as much bad writing (One More Day) as fixing it?

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Love to see the old TSR MSH RPG get so much attention… such a slick sytem, you could play it intoxicated!

Anyhow, “magic” is whatever the writer makes of it; it’s essentially science-fiction, but with the starting rules (i.e., the science we already know) edited. To be a “good” magical system, all you really need to do is make those rules understood at the beginning so that the reader can follow the “logic” of what comes next. You want a universe where “magic” is based solely on alchemy? Viola. How about one where it’s based entirely on Tantric practices? Poof! How about one where there are three possible routes, but none of them get along? Introduce the mage with multiple personalities…

In the Marvel universe, the big problem is that the magical system is at the mercy of many, many writers, editors, and meddling publishers. A consistent, logical overarching system of magic is thus not likely to emerge until you get a “critical mass” of collected stories, at which point you can make a generalized guess at the parameters of the system, much like statistical analysis. Marvel and DC have been around long enough where you can do such a thing, but I also think they’ve benefitted from Roddenberry’s Law: why explain it? It’s enough to know what it can and can’t do. After all, You might say “I’m driving to White Castle; who wants a slider?” However, you will not then go on a lengthy explanation of how an internal combustion engine works. If it mattered, a good writer might say, “There’s no way I can drive from here to Chicago on half a tank of gas, in the dark, wearing sungasses,” but would not then go on to vomit a massive expository passage on the hows and whys of engine efficiency, etc… the action would simply move on to the issue of overcoming said limitations.

Sci-fi and fantasy fiction, done well, pose philosophical questions in simplified terms, in a way that allows readers to see the issue free of their subjective biases. The alteration of “reality” through magic or super-science enables the writer to do this. Need to address racism? As the song says, everyone’s a little bit racist… so you need to invent a completely fictional race (or better yet, two). Enter the Sneetches. Or those half-black/half-white folks from ST:TOS. Of course, you need a way to get there, but you don’t need to explain warp drive.

Thus with Marvel magic. It doesn’t matter precisely how you cure cancer. The real issue is, is it worth the price you have to pay? For example: you can completely immolate a being by consuming it with fire produced from the combustion of the being’s own soul… thus, you can only burn living things that possess a soul (an obvious limit to your power), but consider the ethics of using such a spell… now you have an interesting story along with a character that will very soon become horribly unpopular.

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One thing that isn’t clear to me is the nature of favours owed, specifically what mortal mages are offering in trade. What exactly can Joe the Mage do for the Seraphim that makes them think it’s worthwhile to give Joe the time of day, much less a powerful spell? When the Seraphim decide to collect, how would they go about doing so?

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Evil Abraham Lincoln said on April 13th, 2009 at 8:20 pm

@Beacon

Ignore Hudlin’s bad writing, please. Everyone else with a whit of common sense does.

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People keep asking about favors owed, so I thought I’d take a swing at it.

It’s probably difficult, uncomfortable, or more bother than it’s worth for beings like the Vishanti to directly further their interests in the mortal world. Enter the mortal who owes these beings a favor. “There’s a park sacred to Hogosoth where some developer wants condos? Go stop ‘em, debt-monkey.” This leaves the mortal supplicant facing the choice of casting more spells (and thus, incurring further debts) to get the job done, or working through more mundane means.

Second, there’s the oft-used trope of gods and higher beings getting some tangible benefit from worship. You can pray alone to make little payments, but if you start a cult you’ll have a legion of glaze-eyed hippies paying off your magical charge card. Of course, the rites that actually appeal to various higher powers might be objectionable to other higher powers, or it may simply be in, say, the Seraphim’s best interests that Cytorrak not have too many cults funneling power his way.

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[...] Posted by brenatevi on April 15, 2009 An interesting post about how magic works in the Marvel universe. [...]

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Radiate said on June 5th, 2009 at 8:20 am

Wow, love the reasoning of MGK’s explanation behind Marvel Magic. God knows Marvel really needs someone to sort out the “rules” to magic in the Marvel U! I’ll echo what the majority of people have said: i like the bargaining idea when it comes to casting spells etc. I especially like the concept of the universe’s “cheat codes” to affect things; if you know it great, if you don’t you gotta do things the hard way!

But I have to agree with Kelberon’s post above: the very title of being Sorceror Supreme must grant the bearer more power than those who aren’t Sorceror Supreme. Nothing big mind you, but perhaps a better grasp of controlling their own personal energy or as Kelberon stated perhaps “free” gifts from the deities he invokes merely cos he is Sorceror Supreme?

Overall though, great ideas!

RADIATE!

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[...] and still doesn’t quite understand how the linking rings work). This was one of the first bargains Strange made during his magical career (he figured out how badly he needed it in the first two [...]

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