Magic is common in the Marvel Universe, and even unlikely heroes like Spider-Man and Captain Marvel have used it for a mystical upgrade!
The Marvel Universe is a world where magic is as real as science – but the two are very different, and only a handful of beings have ever mastered both. Because magic is everywhere in the Marvel Universe, though, even heroes who aren’t traditionally associated with sorcery have found themselves struggling against mystical threats. Indeed, only in Marvel Comics could street-level hero Daredevil have a running feud with the actual devil, or Spider-Man fight a wasp spirit that tries to ruin his life by pretending they had an affair.
To compete against mystical threats, Marvel’s heroes often need mystical upgrades. These power-ups are typically short-lived, simply because Marvel don’t want to forever change some of their greatest heroes by permanently adding an element of magic to them. Still, they often offer a unique twist on traditional characters, and even grant them awesome new powers that can crop up again in future stories. Here are some of the best.
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Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is easily Marvel’s most unlikely sorcerer, but in Mark Waid’s “Unthinkable” arc he was forced to learn the mystic arts from Doctor Strange himself. Doctor Doom forged an alliance with demons to enhance his already prodigious magical power, and succeeded in taking Strange out of the picture while he attempted (of course) to avenge himself on the Fantastic Four.
Fortunately Strange’s astral form was able to tutor Mr. Fantastic in the basics of magic, but Reed was hardly a good student – he tended to attack the spells like they were some sort of formula, assuming precision was a part of the incantation and lacking any faith and conviction. “At heart, you won’t accept there are things Reed Richards can never know,” Strange snapped, confronting the arrogance of Marvel’s premiere scientific genius. “Reed, you’re working with energies and forces and deities outside of your comprehension, and they have some say in that exchange. And they will not respond to you until you remove your ego from that equation.” Reed succeeded after a fashion, and he’s not the type to forget a newly acquired skill, but he’s avoided magic ever since.
Spider-Man has teamed up with Doctor Strange countless times, but the weirdest of them all was told in the Symbiote Spider-Man: Alien Reality miniseries. Set during Spider-Man’s time wearing the symbiote costume, this saw the wall-crawler plunged into a twisted reality where the Hobgoblin had become one of Earth’s pre-eminent sorcerers, and Doctor Strange had been rendered unable to use his own abilities. Strange decided to teach Spider-Man the mystic arts at Kamar-Taj – but there was one major twist. A trauma experienced early in his time in this reality caused Peter Parker’s psyche to retreat, and the Venom symbiote was actually the one who received the training, presumably knowing it to this day, and perhaps able to pass it on to the right host.
Even Marvel tend to forget that Elektra was resurrected by the Hand, and as a result she has a deep bond with the Beast, the monstrous being they worship. As depicted in Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz’ Elektra: Assassin, this granted Elektra a range of supernatural abilities, such as the power to psychically track or even switch minds with a target. Elektra keeps her cards close to her chest even from readers, but many adventures have suggested she retains subtle mental powers to this day, often using them for protection against more overtly powerful foes.
The latest Marvel superhero to receive an unexpected mystical upgrade is Captain Marvel, whose current arc “The New World” has seen Carol Danvers stranded in a dystopian future timeline. According to Captain Marvel writer Kelly Thompson, Carol Danvers will come to realize she is particularly vulnerable to magic – and she’s never been one to accept a weakness. Given her existing energy powers, Captain Marvel is her own battery, and as Doctor Strange is fond of saying, magic is really just knowledge: could this be the rare mystical change that sticks with the character for good?
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