Doctor Strange draws on the power of many mystic dimensions. Artist: Steve Ditko.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1963
Creators: Stan Lee (writer) and Steve Ditko (artist)
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Of all the classic characters that flowed out of Marvel Comics during the early 1960s — Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider-Man, etc. — Only two were created …

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… without any input from Jack Kirby. Daredevil was one. A far more interesting one was Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts.

Doctor Strange debuted in the back pages of Strange Tales #110 (July, 1963) where The Human Torch was the cover feature. At first, Marvel treated him as mere filler, giving him only five pages per issue. Apparently, they didn't expect much from the mage — and why should they? He wasn't young and handsome like a standard superhero. In fact, he was gray-haired and creepy-looking.

So little confidence and interest did Marvel show in Doctor Strange, they dropped him after only two appearances. But there was something about the other-worldly stories of Stan Lee, and something truly other-worldly about the art of Steve Ditko, that caught a whiff of fan interest right from the very beginning. The Master of the Mystic Arts was back in #114; and in #115, his slot was expanded to eight pages. Less than a year later, he was getting at least ten. With #117 (February, 1964) he started getting a little space on the cover.

When it was starting to look like Doctor Strange was going to stick around, Lee took the trouble to give him an origin. Stephen Strange had been a world-famous surgeon, but totally cold and self-absorbed. When an accident rendered his hands incapable of the delicate movements required of his practice, he lost everything. Too proud to do consulting work, he sank to the level of a street derelict. In desperation, he sought out a Tibetan alleged miracle worker known only as The Ancient One, but was deemed unworthy of assistance. Bad weather forced him to stay the winter, during which he accidentally uncovered a plot on the part of The Ancient One's pupil, Baron Mordo, to seize power. Mordo magically prevented Strange from revealing the plan, so to thwart Mordo, Strange asked to become a student of magic himself. The Ancient One, who had known of Mordo's plot all along, thereupon nullified the spell and accepted Strange as a worthy disciple.

In the months that followed, Lee and Ditko crafted a unique magical milieu for Doctor Strange to adventure in. It was connected to the mainstream Marvel Universe (in one early story, he came up against Loki, Thor's arch-enemy), but not quite congruent with it. Strange's villains included Nightmare (no relation), the living embodiment of unrestful sleep, and The Dread Dormammu, an other-dimensional despot with open flame where his head should be. And when Doctor Strange travelled to some mystical dimension, the reader could see that he was in an unearthly environment. Ditko created a look unlike any that had been seen in comics before, full of floating pathways and disembodied faces and doorways set in empty space. In a way, Ditko's alien dimensions fit right in with the psychedelic sixties — but in other ways, they didn't fit in with anything on Earth.

Ditko left Marvel in 1966, and went on to create characters like The Blue Beetle for Charlton Comics and The Creeper for DC. His last Doctor Strange story appeared in Strange Tales #146, dated July of that year. Ironically, that was the first issue in which Doctor Strange occupied the entire cover, not sharing it with any other series. Ditko was succeeded by Bill Everett (creator of The Sub-Mariner), Marie Severin (who had worked for the old EC line), Gene Colan (also known for his later work on Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck), and many other outstanding artists. All of them followed Ditko's lead in designing alien dimensions, but nobody ever did it quite like Ditko.

In 1968, the other series in Strange Tales (Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. — which had replaced The Human Torch in 1965) was moved out into its own comic. The Doctor Strange series was expanded to fill the whole book, which was retitled Doctor Strange. Unfortunately, while his following was fairly strong by this time, it was not yet strong enough to sustain him in his own monthly. Eight issues later, the Master of the Mystic Arts was subjected to the indignity of being re-designed along more standard superhero lines. Three issues after that, he was demoted to bimonthly publication. With #183 (November, 1969) the series ended.

By then, it had become standard practice for series-less Marvel characters to hang around in the background, appearing as guest stars or group members instead of just dropping out of sight. Doctor Strange abandoned the skin-tights and reverted to his robes and cloaks, and continued to pop up here and there for the next several years. In 1971, he got together with The Sub-Mariner and The Hulk to form The Defenders, a "non-team" that managed to keep on keepin' on until 1986 (although Strange was seldom seen with it during its later years).

In 1972, a Doctor Strange series began in Marvel Premiere, which the publisher had launched earlier that year as a try-out comic along the lines of DC's Showcase. He was back in his own comic again in '74, and this time, managed to hold onto it until 1987. A year later, a new series began, and by then he'd been promoted from a mere Master of the Mystic Arts to full-fledged Sorcerer Supreme. The monthly Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme continues to this day.

Doctor Strange was made into a TV movie, which aired on CBS September 6, 1978, with Peter Hooten in the title role. He didn't have another media breakout until August 14, 2007, when Marvel released an animated feature about him direct to home video. There, his voice was done by Chris Edgerly, who also voiced The Flash in 2006 animated series Justice League Heroes.

Quite a few writers and artists have handled Doctor Strange over the years. The writers generally do fine with the character, whereas the artists … Well, nobody can honestly claim Barry Windsor-Smith, Frank Brunner, Gil Kane, Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, and others who have drawn Doctor Strange aren't top talents — in fact, the character seems a magnet for top talents — but none of them are Steve Ditko.


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Text ©2000-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.