The Doctor Strange story in the 1987 Strange Tales series by Peter Gillis, saw Doctor Strange killing an innocent person with black magic to defend the Earth. Stephen Strange has to compromise his soul in order to defend humanity with a significant body county.
The comic picks up with Doctor Strange’s life going into free fall after defeating Urthona. Strange had to destroy most of his white magic artifacts in order to save his friends Rintrah, Topaz, Wong, and Sara Wolfe. This left the Earth open to attack by ancient evils that had been held at bay by the now destroyed talismans.
A Water Elemental that once ruled the Earth with other ancients attacked Doctor Strange at his mansion. This demon had unleashed a storm that was having extreme effects on New York City, a farm in Ohio with giant worms, and a fishing vessel that had a giant hole ripped in its nets.
The Water Elemental claimed his storm would cause New York City to stop within a day, within a week drown, and within a month, an unstated horror. The demon effectively was threatening a new Great Flood on humanity. Strange Tales, volume 2, issue 2, page 9.
The demon possessed a man named Martin Fein. The Elemental told Strange how it possessed Fein and that all of humanity would “scream like poor Martin,” unless Strange stopped the demon. Strange Tales, volume 2, issue 2, page 10.
The problem: the only way for Doctor Strange to stop the Water Elemental, thus protect humanity, was to kill Martin Fein.
New York allows for the physical force on another person if a “defender” reasonably believes force is necessary stop the harm caused by the other person. N.Y. Penal Law § 35.15.
The Water Elemental posed an active threat to all of humanity. New York was flooding, giant worms on the slither, and one soggy demon was beating up Doctor Strange while threatening to drown New York City. These facts objectively show Doctor Strange would be legally justified in destroying the Water Elemental.
This would also mean killing Martin Fein. While the Water Elemental was the clear and present danger to humanity, Martin Fein was just a person who was possessed. Perhaps if Doctor Strange had been at full power he could have expelled the demon from Fein. However, Strange was not at full power.
The law is silent on the legality of killing a demonically possessed person in order to save humanity. One could argue that Fein was “dead” the moment he was possessed. Moreover, if the Water Elemental was not stopped, everyone in New York City could have died, including Martin Fein.
The legal analysis is further complicated by the use of “black magic.” According to the Water Elemental, it was originally stopped by bloody human sacrifice. Doctor Strange would have to stray from “the path of purity” to stop the demon. Strange Tales, volume 2, issue 2, page 9.
The law does not allow human sacrifices. Doctor Strange was faced with a mystic “trolley problem,” that would require killing Martin Fein in order to stop demonic trolley from harming others.
A wrongful death case likely would find in favor of Doctor Strange, because of the impossibility of saving Martin Fein from the Water Elemental. On one level, if Fein was already “dead” because of the possession, destroying Fein’s body was like using a corpse to stop a runaway trolley. This is substantially different than using a live person to stop a runaway trolley.
Stopping the Water Elemental by killing Fein could be legally justifiable under the circumstances. However, this is still morally wrong. As the story continued in later issues, Doctor Strange’s “white magic” powers continued to weaken as he increased his use of black magic. Strange paid a price, which we will explore in future blog posts.