Superhero 101: Doctor Strange

Before you watch the new Doctor Strange movie, discover his origins according to the comics.

One of the benefits of the Hollywood superhero phenomenon is that moviegoers are meeting characters previously known to only niche groups of comic book readers. Everyone knew Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, but now the general public know Iron Man, the Avengers and even Ant-Man.

On November 4, mainstream audiences will meet another superhero: Doctor Strange. Superhero flicks are accessible to anyone without a preexisting knowledge of the source material, but moviegoers can miss so much by going into a new comic book universe blind. Before you enter this new Doctor Strange movie world, let’s answer the question: Who is Doctor Strange?

Steve Ditko created Doctor Strange in 1963. While the average moviegoer may not know Ditko, his impact on the medium of comics has been profound. Ditko is the cocreator of Spider-Man, so it makes sense that when his idea for Doctor Strange was born, he brought his new character to Stan Lee.

drstrange 110 - Doctor Strange movieThe First Appearance of Doctor Strange.

Originally Lee thought the character of Doctor Strange was nothing extraordinary but hoped it would become something greater over time.

Strange fittingly debuted in Strange Tales #110 in mid-1963. His traits were indebted to the 1930s radio program Chandu the Magician. With abilities such as casting spells and incarnating mythological creatures, Doctor Strange became a rather strange character in the Marvel universe.

The stories in which Strange appeared in the ’60s were timely, dealing with psychedelic experiences and philosophical pursuits. His arcs were often tied in with ancient Egyptian myths and Sumerian gods.

In order to launch Marvel into an age of mysticism, Strange needed a fitting backstory.

drstrange origin - Doctor Strange movieDoctor Strange #56. Pencils by Paul Smith, inks by Terry Austin, colors by Bob Sharen. Via Marvel Comics.

Stephen Strange was born while his parents were vacationing in Philadelphia, and he was raised on a Nebraska farm. When he was just a boy, Stephen was possessed by demons controlled by the good-turned-evil Baron Karl Mordo. Mordo’s mentor, the Ancient One or “Supreme Sorcerer,” and protector of Earth, stepped in to aid young Stephen. It was prophesied that Strange would take over the role of Sorcerer Supreme when he came of age. When Stephen was 11, he nursed his sister Donna back to health, which inspired him to pursue a career in medicine.

While Strange was in medical school, Donna drowned. Strange became weary with simply practicing medicine. Too much was beyond his control. Despite his pain, he went on to receive his medical license, thus becoming Doctor Strange.

Strange was an ingenious practicing surgeon, until a car accident irreparably damaged his hands. While he could have transitioned to teaching medical classes, Stephen wallowed until his money ran dry.

Self-pity turning to anger and eventually boiling over into resolve, Strange traveled across the world to find answers for his ailment. Along the way, he reencountered the Ancient One. Under the Ancient One’s tutelage, Strange became a master of mystical and martial arts, consequently fulfilling his destiny to become Sorcerer Supreme.

drstrange mystic arts - Doctor Strange movieDoctor Strange #28 with pencils by Tom Sutton, inks by Ernie Chan, colors by Janice Cohen. Via Marvel Comics.

In addition to spells and physical skills, Strange began to don a superhero costume of his own, one fit for a burgeoning sorcerer. The intricate costume was fitted with The Cloak of Levitation, a cape that gives its wearer the ability to fly, and the Eye of Agamotto, an all-knowing amulet and protector against and deterrent of demonic evil. Over time, Strange even had his own “Robin,” in the form of his friend Wong, along with a trove of magical objects that puts Batman’s lair to shame.

Doctor Strange’s adventures took him around the world and beyond, specifically the treacherous Dark Dimension. While in the Dark Dimension seeking the destruction of the shadowy Dormammu, Stephen met Clea, who warned him not to continue his war against her uncle, Dormammu. While it’s conventional in comics for superheroes to be related to villains, the relationship between Clea and Stephen Strange is unique because she, at times, was the ruler of the Dark Dimension. When he didn’t listen, she was impressed by Stephen’s courage. Soon after, a relationship blossomed. Like all great superhero romances, Stephen and Clea’s bond is tested over and over again. Their love affair is strained throughout the war against sorcerers who chose to practice evil rather than preach goodness.

The bond between Stephen and Clea is different from other standard superhero romances in that they’re both extremely astute in the dark arts. Clea also has her own mighty powers as Sorceress Supreme of the Dark Dimension. She is a master of manipulation and transmutation and can create magical bursts of energy to hurl at evildoers. Together, these two are arguably the most formidable couple in the superhero medium. They act as a bridge of understanding between the Dark Dimension and Earth, providing the knowledge that both good and evil can originate from each realm.

alan davis drstrange clea - Doctor Strange movieDoctor Strange and Clea. Art by Alan Davis.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Strange is that we don’t know how powerful he actually is. It has been detailed in the comics that he is one of the most powerful sorcerers in existence. Since his backstory is rooted heavily in mystics and powers that are hard to describe in words, it will be intriguing to see what range of his many magical powers will be implemented in the Doctor Strange movie and just how powerful he may be.

Because the character of Strange is such a departure from other Marvel heroes of the time, and even those created after his inception, he has struggled to work inside the Marvel Universe with other heroes. He has appeared in his own arcs and in supporting roles in each decade since his creation. He has also been a member of the Avengers (Hulk, Iron Man, Thor); the Order, which later turned into the Defenders (the Incredible Hulk, Silver Surfer); and Midnight Sons.

For the Doctor Strange movie adaptation, it has been confirmed that Baron Mordo, the villain Stephen has known since he was a boy, will be the primary nemesis. The other main foes throughout the comic books — the aforementioned Dormammu, Loki Laufeyson and even Marvel’s version of Dracula — may or may not make appearances in supporting roles.

What we do know from the comics is that Doctor Strange is, despite his powers, incredibly human. He is certainly brash, arrogant and more than a bit narcissistic, but his intentions, not unlike those of other troubled heroes, are pure and for the good of humanity.

drstrange alex ross - Doctor Strange movieThe Master of Mystic Arts! Art by Alex Ross.

The complexities of his powers and the origin of their influence make Doctor Strange one of the most compelling and wrought characters in the Marvel Universe. Eternity, the sentience (God) of the Marvel Universe, has claimed that Doctor Strange is more powerful than any other humanoid.

The world Doctor Strange originates from is one we all know, but the places he travels to can only be read about, watched in theaters or imagined. Ostensibly, Doctor Strange toils with black magic and alternate dimensions, but really his universal problems are ones everyone can relate to: love, friendship and justice.

Rife with mythological elements and ancient mysteries, Doctor Strange has a cache of material to work with on-screen.

While the quality of the upcoming Doctor Strange movie is still up for speculation, one thing’s for sure: this will be one of Marvel’s strangest films yet. end

 

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