Synopsis for “A King Comes Riding”
Spider-Man feels himself floating through space, his arm bleeding and sore, his head throbbing with pain. He recalls how he and Devil-Slayer battled Serpent Men and Spider-People, and how those he thought were the Defenders — including Devil-Slayer — turned out to be more Serpent Men in disguise. Then he remembers Serpent Men’s fangs stabbing into his arm, their venom mingling with his blood. The images slowly fade and are replaced by the familiar visages of Wong and Dr. Strange. Wong informs his master that Spider-Man is awake. As Spider-Man clears his head, Wong tells him that he is in Dr. Strange’s Greenwich Village sanctum, and Strange, levitating nearby, says that Spider-Man has been feverish and delirious for hours. Spider-Man wonders why he is so ill, and Strange says that he is dying of the serpent bite sustained during his recent battle. Ordinarily, he continues, the bite would not be fatal, but the venom is deadly to Spider-People, the Serpent Men’s hereditary enemies. Spider-Man has much in common with them, says Strange, including their reaction to the poison. Suddenly, Spider-Man keels over in pain, and Strange casts a spell that levitates him back onto the couch. Strange tells Spider-Man to stare at a lit brazier that he calls the Cauldron of the Cosmos. Within its flames Spider-Man begins to see the vague outlines of a castle and people marching. Strange says that he is seeing a world of 20,000 years ago, when Atlantis still stood above the sea and King Kull was monarch of the Earth’s greatest nation, Valusia. Strange explains that after Kull drove the Serpent Men into hiding, his scholars studied the serpent ways and wrote down descriptions of their obscene rites and arcane magicks. Unfortunately, few Valuslan works survive, he continues as he removes a tome from a shelf, and there is only one way to cure his condition. Spider-Man, however, is unwilling to travel backward in time. But before he can say any more, he faints. Strange says that he could not send Spider-Man physically back in time because it would cause untold temporal chaos. Instead, he weaves a spell to bring out Spider-Man’s astral form. The astral form will be sent into the past, and another spell will give Spider-Man the power to possess a human host for a limited time. Thus equipped, Spider-Man should be able to find the cure on his own. Strange will remain in the present to protect Spider-Man’s corporeal body. Spider-Man is so bewildered to be outside his body that Strange has to cast a Spell of Acceptance to calm him. Then he chants an incantation that sends the astral form back to the Age of Valusia. Spider-Man sees many historical events as he passes backward through time, arriving in Valusia just as King Kull is leading his loyal Red Slayers into his capital city. As Spider-Man watches the cheering throng from above, he notices a bowman on a roof overlooking the plaza take aim at the king. He swoops down and possesses the body of a citizen. He is pleased to discover that when he takes over a host, the person gains his spider-powers. The citizen sheds his boots and quickly clambers up to a roof, from which he leaps down onto the assassin before he can shoot his arrow. Kull and his right-hand man, Brute the Spear-Slayer, note what happened, and Kull summons the man who saved him to his court and is astounded that the man has no idea what he did. The man says that something seemed to enter his body, but he can remember nothing more. Uttering an oath, Kull admits that it smacks of sorcery. There are many wizards who would like to see him dead, he muses, but none, as far as he knows, who would aid him. Then Spider-Man, through Brule, asks Kull for the mystic potion to counter the effects of the serpent venom. But Tu, Kull’s advisor, explains that there is no such potion in Valusia. At this Spider-Man becomes angry and grabs Tu by the lapels. He has journeyed 20,000 years into the past seeking a cure, he rages, and now he is told that the cure does not exist. Then his time in Brute’s body expires, and he leaves Brule standing before Tu, who is on his knees begging the “great spirit” not to do away with him. Brule is bewildered, but after Kull explains what happened, Brule says that there is indeed a man who has such a potion. He is Ju-Lak, a Pict like Brule, and an outcast shaman. His knowledge of the dark arts is as great as his lust for power, says Brule, but he is quite insane. Kull feels that he owes his life to whatever spirit possessed his rescuer, so he arranges an expedition to the Pictish mountains to find the shaman. Soon Kull and Brule are at the head of a column of horsemen headed into Pictish territory, with the astral form of Spider-Man floating invisibly above them. Unfortunately, Ju-Lak himself observes them from afar within the flames of a brazier similar to Dr. Strange’s Cauldron of the Cosmos. Spider-Man’s spider-sense tingles, but before he can possess a body to warn Kull, the king halts his men, saying he smells “death in the air and blood on the wind.” Suddenly a group of leather-skinned beast-men descend from the trees and attack. The horsemen dismount to defend themselves against the demons, who are armed with swords and shields. Spider-Man possesses one of the soldiers, who gains spider-powers and starts to wreak havoc among the creatures. Kull exhorts his troops to match Spider-Man’s feats and courage, and the men start to beat the demons back. Ju-Lak curses Kull’s prowess. But, he thinks, much more dangerous than Kull is the spirit that serves him. He decides that he must own the powerful spirit himself, so he changes his tactics. Dropping a sparkling powder into his cauldron, he creates a hot wind and blots out the sky with black clouds where Kull is battling. Then an enormous hand appears in the air above Kull, and everything turns black. When consciousness returns, Kull is bound on his knees in the middle of Ju-Lak’s village surrounded by Pict warriors, his men are likewise held captive, and Spider-Man’s astral form is floating in a mystic cage. Remarkably, the cage makes that astral form visible. Ju-Lak gloats over his victory and the power of his spells, but Kull is not interested in the boasts and simply asks what the shaman wants. Ju-Lak proposes a “fair” contest between himself and Kull. But first he will mortify himself by absorbing the “spider-spirit.” This Spider-Man refuses to do, but the shaman chants a mystic spell that compels Spider-Man’s astral form to enter his body. Having gained Spider-Man’s powers, Ju-Lak sets Kull free and challenges him to battle. Kull replies that he fears no sorcery of Ju-Lak’s, for he has his own spiritual links to the Tiger God. Then Ju-Lak and Kull battle. They are almost evenly matched, until Kull is distracted when a Pict warrior starts to beat up the helpless Brule, allowing Ju-Lak to knock Kull out. As Ju-Lak prepares to sink his spear point into Kull’s body, Spider-Man suddenly starts to battle the shaman from within. This immobilizes Ju-Lak long enough for Kull to regain consciousness and kick him into a totem pole. Claiming victory, Kull raises his sword to behead the shaman, but then he remembers to spare him, because only the shaman knows how to make the potion that will save Spider-Man’s life. As the shaman revives, Kull tells him to brew the potion or die. He swears to do it and releases Spider-Man’s astral form. Soon the liquid is ready, and as Kull prepares to drink it, Spider-Man enters his body. Then, as Kull gags over the vile-tasting substance, Spider-Man is pulled swiftly forward to the twentieth century and the mansion of Dr. Strange. As soon as his astral form re-enters his body, Spider-Man rises from the couch feeling perfectly cured. He discards his sling and does some acrobatics. Unfortunately, he remembers nothing of his strange experience, which Dr. Strange believes is just as well, for it could drive him insane. Spider-Man thanks Strange for whatever it was that he did -the “old hocus-pocus” – and web-swings out the window. As he passes by a theater showing the movie Excalibur, he thinks about inviting Debra Whitman on a date to see it. He enjoys sword-and-sorcery stories, he muses, even if they are a bit far-fetched.