Aaaar… why does… learning… hurt?
– actual dialog
I swear, I don’t seek out these weird, weird examples for my reviews, they just keeps happening this way. This is Be with Me from Doctor Strange #69, published in September 1994, and I’m reading it as a part of my journey through all the X-Men franchise books in pretty-much chronological order. As such, this book sees a crossover from X-Factor, taking place between issues 105 and 106 of that title.
My knowledge of Doctor Strange is cursory at best: I know his as the deux ex machina of the Marvel Universe through his guest-appearances in other titles, and not much else. I suspect I’ll learn about him a lot more when he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch in his own upcoming feature film.
But we learn early on that that knowledge (or lack thereof) doesn’t hamper me at all, as this comic doesn’t even feature Doctor Strange: it instead stars Strange, an magical android created by Stephen Strange to take his place in times of dire need. Strange is having issues dealing with his incomplete AI and is on a bit of a rampage, which is when Polaris and Forge come across him.
Strange is attempting to use his odd powers to merge with other beings in order to better understand them, first attacking a doe before letting it go. When Polaris and Forge show up to try and investigate the weird readings, Strange attacks.
And this is where things get… uncomfortable. Intrigued by this new life form (Polaris) Strange attempts to merge with her in a way that is very reminiscent of a sexual assault (through dialog, not visuals). And before you accuse me of reading to much into it: Polaris makes the same assumption, calling Strange a “pervert.” This has even deeper consequences when you factor in Polaris’s character development in the main X-Factor title, being portrayed as often emotionally unstable and lacking self-esteem regarding her appearance after having been ‘taken advantage of’ by Magneto, Mr. Sinister, Malice, and still others.
Strange forces them to “merge” (so yup… we’re seeing a allegory for rape here), and Forge comes to her rescue, blasting their molecules apart and separating them… at which point Polaris berates him for attacking before he understood, as she now does. So this becomes a Stockholm-syndrome-like story, wherein the rape victim ends up identifying with her attacker and understanding his motives once the deed is done.
This is so uncomfortable… but I’m not going to knock it too much for it, as I believe that’s what the author, David Quinn, was going for here. If this had been played off without being addressed I’d slam it down, but as it stands it seems as though this type of ambiguous, dark story was what Quinn was going for, and did his best to make that clear while still sneaking it past the then-oppressive Comics Code Authority. And I can respect that. There’s nothing wrong with tackling these themes. They’re not offensive in and of themselves, no subject is, it’s how we deal with them that is offensive (or not).
The title, “Be with Me” really drives it home that that’s what this is about. Strange isn’t portrayed as an outright villain (but strangely also not the protagonist in what is, currently, his own book) but as someone who craves understanding and connections with other living beings, but who doesn’t have the knowledge of how to go about it and lashes out. It doesn’t apologize for him — far from it — but seeks to help us understand him. That’s a really interesting place to go, especially given the metaphor at play here.
The ending drops the ball a little, with Strange escaping and Polaris’s experience having convinced Forge that he was wrong on a certain mutant debate point that they had been arguing over, while Polaris hopes that Strange will find whatever he’s looking for. That is a creepy, weird note to end on given the story structure to this point, but again, I think that’s kind of the point. I don’t think I ‘like’ this story, but I have respect for the daringness of the creators and what they were trying to do.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“This is so uncomfortable… but I’m not going to knock it too much for it, as I believe that’s what the author, David Quinn, was going for here.”