A few days ago, Vic Sage posted some phenomenal art work featuring Marvel’s supernatural superstar, the sensational Dr. Strange, and called upon me to provide an article detailing the merits of the character. Never one to turn down a fellow member of Team Retroist, I present to you the strange tale of Stephen Strange!
Dr. Strange first debuted in Strange Tales #110 in 1963. Created by Stan Lee, with art by Steve Ditko, Strange filled a gap that existed in the heroic pantheon of Marvel’s characters. Marvel comics of the time featured the likes of gods, heroes that were science spawned monsters and mutations, radioactively enhanced super humans, and cryogenically frozen, drug enhanced defenders, but there were no supernatural heroes.
Renowned surgeon Doctor Stephen Strange was, to put it mildly, a prize winning ass. As arrogant as he was talented, Strange seemed to have the world in his hands, until one fateful night when a tragic car accident damaged his hands so badly that his surgical career was immediately ended. After an exhaustive search for a cure brings him Tibet, Strange asks the world’s foremost mystic, The Ancient One for help, but is refused. Strange soon witness The Ancient One attacked by his former student Baron Mordo. Acting unselfishly for the first time in years, Strange attempts to warn The Ancient One. Soon Strange offers himself as The Ancient One’s new pupil, and after years of mystic instruction, becomes Sorcerer Supreme!
In the next several issues of Strange Tales (after issue 168 the series underwent a title change to simply Doctor Strange) Strange battled various supernatural entities, including his chief foe, the dread Dormammu, utilized mystical artifacts such as The Orb of Agamotto and the Book of the Vishanti, gained a magic stronghold, the Sanctum Sanctorum and a faithful man servant named Wong. But while the writing of these tales was wild enough (and directly foreshadowed the nation’s, in particular the youth’s, fascination with the occult that surfaced in the early 70’s), the visuals are what really grabbed reader’s attention.
As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange offered readers a bizarre journey through psychotropic landscapes so alien that most readers of the time, especially college students, believed that the creative team must be hardcore psychedelic drug users, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Cut free from the moorings of the rather conventional locations present in most early Marvel yarns (i.e. Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs), Ditko could create landscapes based on pure fanciful imagination, twisting surrealistic realms, exploding with color which called to mind the works of Salavador Dali.
While the character’s popularity has varied over the years, Doctor Strange has left an indelible mark on pop culture. Talks of a live action film adaptation (not his first, the character had a TV movie in the 70’s which could be the subject of a post all its own) continue to this day, and an animated film was released in 2007. Doctor Strange is also a combatant in the upgrade to Capcom’s excellent fighting game Marvel vs. Capcom 3. If you would like to embark on a supernatural journey with Strange, a great place to start is with Essential Doctor Strange Volume One, available here! Until next time, stay spooky!