CONTENTS | PROLEPSIS | INTROIT | VOLUME ONE | INTERMEZZO | VOLUME TWO | APPENDICES
THE EVOLUTION OF AN ENCHANTRESS
by cat yronwode
The Comics Heroine (Fan Club) Showcase #15,
edited by Steven R. Johnson; Fall 1978, pgs. 4-11.
Tonight as I write it's Samhain -- Hallowe'en -- an appropriate time to take pen in hand and recount the life history of a beautiful sorceress, a princess who left her home in a far-off world and lost her magic to follow the man she loved, a woman who fell from extra-dimensional enchantment to the relative normalcy of New York City's Greenwich village. Samhain is the feast-night of Our Lady of Darkness, Queen of the Dead, but in this age she is portrayed by ignorant children as a crazy lady on a broom -- and like The White Goddess, Marvel's Mystic Maiden is but a shadow of her former self. This Samhain night the Moon is new. As it grows may the Goddess wax in power! As above, so below!
Clea is introduced in Strange Tales #126 as a beautiful unnamed denizen of the Dark Dimension. At least I think she's beautiful -- it's hard to tell with Steve Ditko women sometimes. Doctor Strange has been sent to the Dark Domain by his occult master, The Ancient One, to deal with Dormammu, a flame-headed demi-god whom both of them have frequently worshipped in times gone by, but who now threatens the safety of Earth in his mad lust for power. Clea, smitten with cosmic love at first sight for the handsome earthling, tries to warn Dr. Strange away in order to save his life, but the mystic naturally ignores her entreaties and goes on to confront the Dread One. By Strange Tales #127, we are faced with the fact that Clea, still unnamed and wearing a slightly different costume, is willing to do anything within her occult power to aid Dr. Strange, whom she loves in the peculiar and bizarre way which only women in comics, fairy tales, Victorian novels and Italian operas are capable of.
The human heart is complex. How sad it is that comics so often fail to show the human heart and give us simple stereotypes instead. Oh well, in 1964, at 12 cents a copy, it was cheap enough and I didn't really care if Clea's actions lacked both motivation and good sense. The art alone was sufficiently mindbending to render the personalities of the protagonists irrelevant.
Clea. Clea thinking she mustn't let any harm befall her Handsome Stranger. Clea flying[page 5]
through a surrealistic landscape in wide-eyed determination, stealing an occult device from The Dread Dormammu's floating gizmo stash, running on her delicate little princess feet to the abode of The Mindless Ones. Clea risking her life to loose the terrible shambling cyclopean monsters upon her own homeland so that Dormammu must cease his battle with The Man She Loves. Ridiculous, yes -- but only on the face of it. Inside each melodrama is a small and golden kernel of truth about the human heart. And that, in case you wondered, is why I read comics.
Clea's desperate tactic works almost too well. The Mindless Ones are so powerful that even the Dread Dormammu himself can't halt their rampage. In the end Dr. Strange must also lend his aid, thus earning the Dread One's promise to never enter Earth's dimension. This ends Clea's first encounter with the Mystic Master. Strange returns home without so much as a kiss for the woman who saved his life and his world. A kiss? Hell, he doesn't even ask her what her name is!
Of course Dormammu knows who has betrayed him so, by Strange Tales #136, Clea, who has changed her costume again, is "ensnared within the confines of a sinister spell." Steve Ditko is very fond of bondage scenes, and as long as he drew the strip, Clea spent more time in various types of confinement than she did in freedom. Meanwhile, in order to initiate one of those patented Stan Lee revenge plots without breaking his promise to stay off Earth, Dormammu gives the wicked Baron Mordo power to fight for him. While Strange flees from Mordo and his minions, first on Earth and then on various other continua, the "helpless captive," Clea, is forced to watch his peril via interdimensional television. The "lovely prisoner" has changed her personality along with her costume this time. She is "fearful," has given up all hope, and, like the sole survivor of some doomed Greek Chorus, she cries out in horror as her Champion is forced to battle first the evil Mordo and then the enraged Dormammu. Her endurance is remarkable -- she manages to keep the same look of wide-eyed terror on her face issue after issue as the fight drags on and on.
Needless to say, Our Hero wins the duel at last, in Strange Tales #141, but Dormammu has the last laugh. He contacts Dr. Strange on his astral video set, shows him the captive Clea and then, before Strange's astonished eyes, he hurls the "brave girl" into an unknown interdimensional void, where she languishes unseen for several issues, in spite of both The Ancient One's and Dr. Strange's attempts to find her. The conflict between Strange and Dormammu escalates until Strange Tales #146, when a galactic entity known as Eternity enters the fray. The Dread One, in a fit of hubris, leaps upon the interloper and to all appearances meets his fatal doom. The end of Dormammu has one particular side-effect -- all his enchantments are undone at the moment of his disintegration, including the ones which have kept his victims trapped in cosmic prisons. Thus, after 10 issues, Clea, wearing a new costume, is free at last. Also at last, Dr. Strange learns the name of his devoted admirer. They part regretfully, hoping to meet again someday.
Not much of a heroine so far, is she, folks? Well, don't hold your breath.
With Dormammu out of the way, his sister, Umar the Unrelenting, takes over the Dark Domain. Her first act of power, shown in Strange Tales #150, is to capture poor Clea. "That hapless silver-haired female" (yes, she's wearing a new costume) is set adrift in an interdimensional vibrational barrier land and her cries for help are telepathically beamed to the Mystic Master. Like a Cecropia moth in rut, he responds to the scent-lure of the maiden's fear, and soon he is tangling with Umar on her own turf. At one point in the battle Umar decides to kill Clea -- but Strange intercepts the spell (as if[page 6]
a magic spell were a projectile!) and saves the Lady in Distress.
At this point, Clea agrees to flee with her saviour to the relative safety of Earth. Because she is weak, Strange can't take her there by the normal means (whatever *those* are) and together they must traverse the Forbidden Dimensions. Clea's basic posture during this flight, well depicted by Marie Severin in Strange Tales #155, is one of utter gibbering breast-clutching panic.
With the help of The Ancient One, the trans-dimensional travellers make it home in one piece, only to face one of the most unbelievably crude plot-twists Stan Lee has ever had the gracelessness to foist upon his doting public. The trip through the Forbidden Dimensions has proved to be too strenuous for Clea and she has fainted. Before she revives, before Dr. Strange can even ask her for a date (or vice versa), The Ancient One decides that, for her own safety, the alien woman must be cast forever into the Realm of Vanishment!The absurdity of Clea's avowed protector agreeing to jeopardize her life thus is compounded by the fact that neither of the sorcerers know to recall a victim of this form of banishment -- furthermore, they have not the vaguest idea about the nature of the dimension to which they are sending the unconscious woman. Worst of all, yet typically for comics of the period, nobody ever asks Clea if she wants to submit to vanishment!
Dr. Strange turns away in grief, The Ancient One reads a spell -- and poof! -- Clea is gone, not to be seen for another 17 months! This isn't even good (i.e. believable) plotting, much less a satisfactory reward for saving Dr. Strange's life. Plots like this have made comic books the laughing stock of the world of literature for years.
Dr. Strange's life during the ensuing months doesn't concern us here. Suffice it to say that although he becomes romantically involved with Victoria Bentley, an Englishwoman who has also saved his life (way back in Strange Tales #114), he still remembers Clea, even while slogging through the jungle on an alien dimension.
At length, after rescuing Victoria enough times to repay any debt he might owe her, Strange decides to retrieve Clea from the exile he and his mentor have inflicted upon her. It seems that one can get people out of the Realm of Vanishment, after all, as is shown in Doctor Strange #171.
Strange coerces Victoria into accompanying him on this venture, but once in the otherworldly Realm, she freezes up in terror and refuses to move from the spot. Strange simply leaves her and, journeying on, encounters one danger after another, until at last he comes upon ... Dormammu! The Dread One apparently landed here after he blew up in Eternity and, unable to leave, he has set up a little fiefdom, complete with demoniac Dykkors for servants and a couple of pretty captive women, one of whom is wearing (sigh) a new costume.
Women in fear. Women in bondage. Hapless, helpless, hopeless women. Guess who.
Dr. Strange frees Victoria and Clea and sends them back to Earth, following along after he disposes of Dormammu. At this point author Roy Thomas tailors the plot to fit the artist Gene Colan's really exceptional talent for drawing love comics. Victoria tearfully realizes that Dr. Strange loves Clea. She (sob) "always knew it would be this way." Choking back her sorrow, she returns to England. And Clea? Well, Clea rents an apartment in Greenwich Village.
I want to pause here for a moment. Narrating plot synopses is not the most compelling form of creative writing. Let's go back and consider Clea as a woman. Who is she? What have the authors told us about her so far? Is she "real" to you?
Clea falls in love at first sight with a handsome magician. She risks her life to save his, stoically facing the inevitable reprisals which she knows will follow. Suddenly, a few short issues later, this once-courageous and willful woman is shrieking for help on the astral planes and clutching her bosom in panic, fainting dead away at the sight of a few surreal landscapes. What has happened? Why has Clea changed?
If this were a novel, the outraged readers would demand an explanation. But Strange Tales is "only a comic book," "just a kid's story" -- and the only explanation I can offer to satisfy my own outrage is that there is no "Clea," merely a staff of Marvel Comics scripters, each one using or abusing the character as he or she sees fit. Stan Lee's plot first demands a Clea who is a brave and daring heroine. Later the action calls for a Damsel in Distress and so Clea becomes the necessary terrified ankle-clinger. The character is cut to fit the plot and not vice versa. Does this tell you anything about Clea? No, but it does tell you something about comics, I hope.
Fortunately, once Clea arrives on Earth (and therefore becomes a regular member of Dr.[page 7]
Strange's supporting cast) her actions have to make sense. This period (Doctor Strange #172-183) is notable for the "realistic" treatment given to to both art and story by Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer. Strange and Clea are often seen in street clothes. Charming snow scenes and picturesque walks through the city abound. Clea's frightened personality (and her costume) are modified again. She is now seen as the Alien-Princess-in-a-Strange-Land. She has a playful disposition and an amusingly short temper. Roy also attempts to rationalize the fact that the original Clea had been shown to possess magical powers before the onset of her fearful phase. He does this by stating that for some utterly unknown reason Clea's innate sorcerous ability is "fading" now that she had left her own dimension. This explanation is of course preposterous because, if magick was a function of staying at home, Dr. Strange would never have been able to carve out a heroic career on far-flung dimenmsions. Had Roy come up with some mechanism to explain Clea's failure, I might have believed he was doing more than promoting the usual sex-role stereotypes. As it is, Clea-the-Alien-Princess is too powerless to function as a heroine. She is simply one of these lovely female burdens most heroes are saddled with.
To tell the story of Lord Nekron and the Sons of Satannish (Dr. Strange #174-177) from Clea's point of view would not do it justice. In spite of the fact that the Mystic Maiden is little more than a kidnap victim and a hypnotized pawn, this multi-parter is one of the most tightly-constructed episodes in Dr. Strange's history -- that is, up until issue #177 when the Doctor is given a super-hero costume and the mood is irrevocably destroyed. I've never forgiven Roy and Stan for perpetrating this travesty, but it's been 10 years now and anyway, this is supposed to be an article about Clea, not about old wounds to my psyche. In subsequent issues, Clea continues to act like a charming alien pixie, not a heroine. She worries about her fading powers, lives alone in her apartment, and experiences snow for the first time.
Thus matters stood when, without warning, Dr. Strange was cancelled with issue #183.
It was exactly two years before Clea's life-story was taken up again -- unless one counts John Thompson's pirate underground comic, Dr. Strenge #184, which is unfortunately both rare and out of print. This tale, "Black Quasar," is told entirely from Clea's point of view. After all the changes her costume had been through in the authorized comics, it is rather refreshing to note that she neatly side-steps the problem here by appearing without any clothes at all. As for the plot of this bizarre little item -- have you ever wondered how cancelled heroes spend their time in limbo? Well, to quote blues singer Georgia Tom Dorsey, "If ya don't know, I'll tell ya who do -- just see Tampa Red and his best gal too -- and they'll tell ya what tastes like gravy, boys, if ya really wanna know." 'Nuff said.
Dr. Strange's re-entry into the Marvel Universe occurred in Marvel Feature (Defenders) #1. Shortly thereafter, he also began to star in Marvel Premiere (Dr. Strange), commencing with issue #3. Clea didn't appear in these first revival stories but when she did return, she subsequently played a role in both Strange's mainline continuity (Marvel Premiere #3-14 and Dr. Strange #1-up) and his "non-team" activities (Marvel Feature #1-3 and Defenders #1-up).
In Marvel Premiere #5, written by Gardner Fox, Clea is reintroduced to the public. Whatever other faults Fox may have as a writer, he certainly didn't waste time putting Clea back into action. The story reads like an old DC comic as Clea (hyperbolically referred to as a "once-queen from another dimension") wakes up with a premonition (sent by Umar!) that Dr. Strange is in peril. She rushes to the Sanctum Sanctorum where she confers with Wong, casts a spell to repair the broken Orb of Agamotto, and then, with Wong in tow, sets out to rescue her man, who is stranded in an evil New England village. No pixie, this. Clea-the-Sidekick is as efficient as Hawkgirl. A fading princess? Not on your Amulet! This New Improved Clea (with Wong as the Sidekick's Sidekick) blazes a trail through Marvel Premiere #5-7, aiding Dr. Strange in his battles against the sea-born servitors of Shuma-Gorath, racing from Starksboro, Vermont, to Penmallow, Cornwall, and finally on to Stonehenge itself for the ultimate confrontation. For the first time in 9 years, Clea is a heroine again! Of course, continuity buffs like me do tend to wonder how the near-helpless "fading" Clea managed to suddenly revert to her former courageous and resourceful self. Maybe the simplest explanation is that Gardner Fox is just an old-school no-nonsense comics author who believes that every hero[page 8]
needs a good sidekick -- but I prefer to think that Clea's little jaunt in Dr. Strenge #184 had something to do with her renewed self-confidence.
In any case, it didn't last.
Fannish digression: I'm one of those perverse souls who love to watch grade B science fiction movies with an eye for spotting faulty matte shots. Rather than diminishing my enjoyment of such films, this critical attitude actually heightens my pleasure. I can tell that real people worked hard to create the illusion when I can see a few minor imperfections in it. Fandom being what it is, I doubt that I need to justify my attitude on these pages. Spotting continuity flaws in comics is fun and you know that as well as I do, right? Right.
Now, it is common knowledge among comics readers that the first thing a new author does when he begins work on an old established strip is fiddle around with the supporting cast, often with ludicrous results. Steve Englehart, who took over Marvel Premiere with issue #8, is no exception. As much as I dislike what he did to the personality of Clea, I have to admit that I had a good laugh over the bald-faced way he did it. I mean, here's this powerful sorceress who has just flown across the Atlantic Ocean to take part in a perilous battle at Stonehenge, a battle of Earth-shaking importance on the astral planes and then ... and then she turns to her Oriental sidekick and tells him it's time to turn around and go "home, faithful one. This is to be a battle of masters ... you and I would be of less import than rain on rock."
That's so transparent it deserves some kind of no-prize, don't you think?
Here's something else to ponder folks: why do "old hacks" like Lee and Fox portray Clea (at least part of the time) as a hardy, capable woman while "sensitive hip young authors" like Thomas and Englehart see her as a powerless-but-decorative encumbrance? To give Englehart his due, he later did upgrade his treatment of Clea considerably, but for the entirety of his partnership with artist Frank Brunner (Marvel Premiere #8-14, Dr. Strange #1-5) the Mystic Maiden looked and acted about as powerful as Tinkerbell.
The Lover-Disciple Clea was introduced in Marvel Premiere #12. Dr. Strange has just had to murder his beloved mentor, The Ancient One. After this emotionally charged episode, he is meditating alone in the Mexican desert when Clea and Wong arrive in a rented jeep, having traced his mental emanations through the aethyr. Strange gives a beautiful Carlos Castaneda-inspired speech about life and lizards which moves Clea to tears. They embrace as the sun sets, lovers in heart and in soul. Back home in New York City, Englehart subtly and sneakily finalizes their union by a clever trick: he simply never mentions Clea's apartment again. Henceforward she lives in Strange's sanctum, an arrangement which is given a legitimizing cover-story when the Master of the Mystic Arts takes her on as his disciple. The happy occult pair take to calling each other "darling" and "my love" and sneaking off-panel together for a bit of Tantrik relaxation. I found it amazing at the time that the usually puritanical Marvel office let this blatant shacking up go on under their noses, but now, five years later, such things are as commonplace in comics as they are in real life.
Englehart took time to make Clea-the-Disciple believable by showing her (in a newly modified costume) wistfully studying an occult tome in Dr. Strange's library. It is evident that the loss of her powers still bothers her. When Strange offers to retrain her in sorcery, she asks bitterly if he does so out of pity. His reply, a firm and rational statement of her worthiness, sets the tone for their subsequent relationship to date. From this time forward Clea is treated as a "real" character, not merely a combination love-interest and bondage pinup model -- but unfortunately, the character which has been finally settled upon is one who lacks self-confidence and who views her lover as an authority-figure.
In Dr. Strange #1-5 Clea reverts to her former role as a hypnotized kidnap victim and bondage model, this time to an ex-Catholic cardinal, the demonic Silver Dagger. However, this hoary old plotline is given a refreshing new twist -- Strange can't rescue the damsel-in-distress because he is dead, and with his soul temporarily bereft of its body he is so disoriented that only by flowing into Clea's mind is he even able to survive. Clea, on the other hand, has been nearly broken by Silver Dagger's torture and lacks the strength to free herself. Only in union does the pair have both the power and the will to effect their escape -- thus in the end they rescue each other. Once Strange recovers his powers, the lovers fight side by side until the villain is vanquished. The Silver Dagger story is a real high point in the history of both Dr. Strange and Clea.
Dr. Strange #6-9 portrays Clea in an even more positive role. This sequence is also interesting because it displays to good advantage Steve Englehart's charming technique of reintroducing minor characters from long-past issues and presenting them in a new way. Unlike his work on Detective Comics, where he essentially rewrote some Batman stories from the early 1940s, this evocation of images from Strange Tales #127-155 is actually an original story in its own right. The action opens when Umar threatens Earth's safety once again and Dr. Strange asks Clea to travel with him to the Dark Dimension to investigate. Clea refuses to return to her homeland but won't explain why. Once Strange is gone, the Earth Spirit appears to Clea and implores her aid -- something is growing inside her which should not be there, but more than that she cannot say. Using her "fledgling" powers, Clea journeys on the astral planes to the center of the Earth, where she is trapped by demons and discovers ... Dormammu! The Dread One gives a very strange account of himself at this point, relevant because of what it later implies about Clea. He says he is "a concept, a shared belief ... as long as others worship me, energy shall form itself to become me. The masses' cry of 'Dormammu' is Dormammu!"
Clea manages to escape, but meanwhile Dr. Strange has been overpowered by Umar (here, for the first time, referred to as a "goddess") and her servant Orini, chief disciple of Dormammu (who had a one-panel cameo in Strange Tales #132, but was not named at that time). The vanquished Doctor is drained of his sorcerous knowledge by the G'uranthic Guardian, another hitherto nameless Steve Ditko creation (from Strange Tales #127), and Orini is about to kill him when Clea arrives on the spot just in the nick of time to ... to refuse to fight Orini because he is ... her father! With Clea controlling Stephen's cloak of levitation, the pair flees to the relative safety of Clea's childhood hideout. Once there, she directs the now-helpless Dr. Strange in a pagan ritual which results in the Guardian transferring all of her master's erstwhile magicks into her mind. Thus armed, she overcomes Orini and his demon horde before relinquishing her power to its rightful host. The two return to Earth, where Dormammu has finally erupted, only to find himself betrayed by Umar. During the long and complex battle which follows, Clea once again wields Strange's powers, freeing the Earth Spirit while Strange acts as a decoy -- but in the end it is the Earth herself who conquers the combined forces of Dormammu and Umar.
Doctor Strange #9 is certainly the most important story ever written about Clea because it forever alters her personality by giving her, at long last, an origin. It is revealed that Dormammu and Umar are only half-brother and sister, their father being one of the Flawless Flaming Faltine, a group of deities first mentioned in Strange Tales #145. More importantly, the readers are let in on a fact unknown to anyone but Orini and Umar -- Clea is the daughter of the Unrelenting One! Besides giving Clea a noble (albeit unacknowledged) pedigree, this information raises a delicate philosophical question. If the Faltinian "god" Dormammu is by his own admission a "concept" and if Umar is a half-human "goddess"/"concept," then Clea must be one quarter Faltine/"goddess"/"concept." Can you imagine a reality in which humans like Orini can mate with "concepts" and produce offspring? Odd, isn't it? At any rate, not only are Clea's short temper and her unruly hair explained by her Faltinian ancestry, so is her resemblance to Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell, as you might recall, was an embodied concept too. We had to clap our hands to keep her alive in much the same way that Dormammu was kept alive by "the cry of the masses."
From issue #10 up to #28, Clea's persona (and her costume) remain fairly stable, but, instead of growing in strength from the experiences of Doctor Strange #1-9, she becomes slowly and steadily weaker. Her relationship with Dr. Strange deteriorates to that of child and parent, not two passionate lovers. When the Earth is destroyed and recreated in Doctor Strange #10-13, Strange confides his knowledge of this disturbing fact to a pair of visiting mystics but is reluctant to speak to Clea on the subject for fear that she'll be unable to handle the shock. When James Mandarin sells out to Satan in Doctor Strange #15-16, Clea returns to her old hapless-captive-female-in-bondage routine. In a series of Bicentennial Battles (Doctor Strange #17-19), she makes a fool of herself by falling in lust with Benjamin Franklin.
Steve Englehart left the book at this point but Marv Wolfman and Jim Starlin didn't do much better -- Xander the Merciless renders Clea mindless in Doctor Strange #20 and she attacks the N.Y.C.P.D., turning them into swine. Once restored to sanity, she stays home and minds the Sanctum while Strange spends the next several issues battling the Creators in another continuum.
Meanwhile, in the rather more prosaic pages of the Defenders, Dr. Strange's Sanctum is the "non-team's" New York City meeting place. Clea is often seen in the background there, watching television with the Hulk, drinking coffee with Valkyrie, and occasionally casting a spell or two when Dr. Strange is busy in another universe. Although her part in Defenders is a minor one, she has never been portrayed there (by Steve Gerber, David Kraft, et al) as fearful, unconfident, or incompetent, which is more than can be said for the fate she endures in the pages of Dr. Strange.
In Defenders #42 Dr. Strange's mind is sucked into an esoteric ruby called the Star of Capistan, turning the mage into a menacing messenger of Universal Peace. One by one, the male Defenders fall under his hypnotic spell, along with most of the inhabitants of New York City. In Defenders #45 it is Clea (aided on the physical plane by Valkyrie, Hellcat, and the Red Guardian) who saves the day by helping her mentor free himself from the confines of the sentient gem.
A five-page backup feature in Defenders #53 is Clea's only solo story to date. While walking alone through Central Park one night, the Mystic Maiden is psychically mugged by a minor mage named Nicodemus who places her in an enchanted pentangle and drains all of her occult powers into himself. Undaunted by the loss of her magick (she ought to be used to it by now), she resourcefully bashes him over the head with a piece of statuary and calls Stephen on the telephone to come and straighten things out. This thoroughly delightful short story was written by Naomi Basner and illustrated by Sandy Plunkett and Tony Salmons. I hope there will be others to follow in the same vein.
When Roger Stern and Tom Sutton took over Dr. Strange with issue #27, they immediately revised Clea again. Her costume hasn't been the same for two issues in a row since that time, what with an experimentally added cape, a sleeveless tank-top which has given way to a halter, and even a few complete changes from leotards and tights to various diaphanous long gowns which, like Umar's, are slit to the thighs. These outward manifestations actually reflect an inward development in Clea's character. In Dr. Strange #29, the Doctor leaves her at home while he helps Nighthawk battle Deathstalker. Clea becomes violently angry at this treatment and confronts Strange with her grievance in issue #30. Her resemblance to Umar is uncanny as she accuses her mentor of being so lovingly protective that he's failing to teach her anything. Strange capitulates at once and apologizes. This issue sees Clea casting her own rhymed spells for the first time in years (outside of Defenders) but at the crucial moment of conflict, she succumbs to her old nemesis, fear, and has to be talked out of her terror by Dr. Strange. However, once she calms down, they do fight as a team, even casting a joint spell together. Dr. Strange #31-33 shows more of the same -- the sorcerer and his apprentice cast a number of spells together and fight side by side, but Clea's lack of self-confidence and her recurrent fearfulness tend to hamper her effectiveness in battle.
The theme of Clea as Umar's daughter is combined with the image of the kidnapped Clea in Marvel Team-Up #76-77. Captured again by Silver Dagger, the Mystic Maiden is transformed into a cruel Dormammu-like energy-form intent upon destroying Dr. Strange. Author Chris Claremont refers to this as "the Clea who might have been -- had she been raised as her mother's daughter." The idea is intriguing -- no one else has really explored Clea's Faltine heritage -- but by the end of the tale we are left with a whimpering girl-child Clea who is being comforted by loving Daddy Strange.
As this synopsis of her character shows, Clea is a manic-depressive heroine, unstable in mood, unreliable in a crisis, hampered by low self-esteem, and prone to episodes of crippling panic and anxiety. Granddaughter of some of the Omniverse's most powerful forces, daughter of a ruthless extra-dimensional goddess, raised as a princess by an authoritarian sorcerer, she is subject to unaccountable and irrational bouts of terror during which she doubts her own abilities and even her capacity for survival. In some ways her relationship to Dr. Strange is a transference of her frustrated desires to please her stern unloving father, but when she is in a confident or playful mood she can be as willful and as proud as her mother. Because Clea is not a full-fledged heroine in her own right, but merely a sidekick, her personality has only rarely been explored beyond the superficial "action" levels most comic book authors are content to deal with. Clea's bipolar behavior could be regarded as a sign of her bizarre genetic makeup, but I fear the truth is much simpler than that -- too many writers have worked their will on the character.
The Clea of today, while not the woman she might have been, is much stronger than she has been in years. I hope, now that Ralph Macchio has taken over the scripting chores on Dr. Strange, that she will continue to grow in power. Most comic book authors are men and I believe that their concept of heroines is a direct reflection of their current attitude toward the women they love or toward women in general. This is not a condemnation of male authors -- I do not feel, as some feminist critics do, that only women are capable of writing heroine titles -- but it is something to think about, particularly if one is a female reader and one wonders why a character changes so often and so drastically. Male authors seem to base their heroes on their own fantasized selves. Again, this is observation, not condemnation. But the fact remains that one is rarely hurt, angered or frustrated by oneself, while the chances that one will experience these emotions at the hands of the opposite sex at one time or another are virtually certain. The reflection of such events in an author's writing are, in my opinion, responsible for a lot of the inconsistencies surrounding most heroines in comics. A man at ease with women may write a good heroine yarn but, until there are more women writing comics, we are unlikely to see very many internally coherent or emotionally stable heroines. Clea may be an extreme example of the irrationally inconsistent heroine but, sadly, she is by no means unique.
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