PRIMARILY A PUSILLANIMOUS PRACTITIONER OF PRESTIDIGITATION

KC Carlson is practically perfect in purple

KC Carlson is practically perfect in purple


A KC COLUMN By KC Carlson

In 1963, Steve Ditko created Doctor Strange for Marvel Comics. Even Stan Lee says so, repeatedly and generously, whenever given the chance. (Stan does get a co-creator credit for the character, but in interviews, he pushes Ditko to the forefront more often than not.)

Strange Tales #118 Doctor Strange's first cover appearance

Strange Tales #118 Doctor Strange’s first cover appearance


The character wasn’t a breakout success. The first two Dr. Strange stories (in Strange Tales #110 and #111) were only five pages long, while other new character introductions got more space. Strange doesn’t appear again until three issues later, in Strange Tales #114, again a five-page story. Several key characters including the Master (later called The Ancient One), Nightmare, and Baron Mordo first appear here.

Finally, in Strange Tales #115, we get “The Origin of Dr. Strange” — an eight-page extravaganza! It seems he has some crazy magic powers!

Doctor Strange in all his Steve Ditko glory

Doctor Strange in all his Steve Ditko glory


After the origin, he became a fixture in every issue. Interestingly, the stories and characters in the Doctor Strange series predicted the 1960s youth counterculture’s fascination with Eastern mysticism and psychedelia. Many readers of that era avidly followed the Dr. Strange stories looking for “deeper meaning”. Phrases like “Eye of Agamotto”, “Wand of Watoomb”, and “Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth” probably enhanced the search, but Stan insists the phases were used because “they sounded mystical and mysterious” and he never had any idea what they meant.

Strange Tales #146

Strange Tales #146


Meanwhile, Ditko created a cosmic character called Eternity and casually told stories that extended up to 17 issues long (Strange Tales #130-146). Later, after the character got his own title, writer Steve Englehart possibly told the origin of God (called Sise-Neg in the story), which caused problems in the Marvel offices. Dr. Strange also eventually meets both Dracula and Benjamin Franklin (but not at the same time).

GERBER “GETS IT”

For many years, even decades, Dr. Strange was a supporting character for the Marvel Universe. Perhaps his best role was as “host” of the The Defenders, starting in Marvel Feature #1 (1971). At first, regular co-stars included the Hulk; Namor, the Sub-Mariner; and (infrequently) the Silver Surfer.

Defenders #33 Things got pretty strange during Gerber's run

Defenders #33 Things got pretty strange during Gerber’s run


When noted writer Steve Gerber took over the series in 1975, he introduced the concept of the Defenders being a “non-team”. The characters, a group of loners, came together only as needed instead of regularly hanging out together.

Gerber revived the Guardians of the Galaxy (1st team) in The Defenders. He also couldn’t resist pairing the Defenders and Gerber’s creation Howard the Duck. Many historians consider Gerber’s Defenders run one of the best of its era, and Doctor Strange was a big part of that.

WHAT IS THAT MOVIE BEHIND THAT CURTAIN?

Doctor Strange #2

Doctor Strange #2


The 2016 Doctor Strange film (starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Doctor) led to the relaunch of the character in a new comic book series. The comic came first, written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend. (Although, truth be told, it seems this book is frequently under the gun to hit its deadlines, often requiring the aid of other inker/artists — including Al Vey, Mark Irwin, John Livesay, Wayne Faucher, and others.)

Doctor Strange #3

Doctor Strange #3


But the craftsmanship is what shows through in the final product. This run of Doctor Strange has been one of Marvel’s best series in a long time. It’s always my #1 read of the week that it appears. What makes it work for me is that the artwork retains the “weird” (and somewhat undefinable) aspect that should always be present in a good Doctor Strange series — going all the way back to Steve Ditko’s stories in Strange Tales — the earliest ones now over 50 years old!

Also helping: Jason Aaron’s natural knack for making this title both horribly scary and hysterically funny at the absolute same instant. And then Chris Bachalo draws it exactly the same way. I get out of breath reading Doctor Strange because I’m constantly shifting from gasping “AH!” to guffawing “HA!” — and the longer this series goes on, the more chance there is of them forcing actual silly words through my nose. (Yes, not a pleasant image, I’m told…)

Doctor Strange Book 1

Doctor Strange Book 1


So why am I talking about this now? Because today (6 Dec 17) is the day that a new Doctor Strange hardcover collection (cleverly called Doctor Strange Book 1) hits your local comic shop (and everywhere else in a week or two). It’s 280 pages of gloriously colored art and story and slightly oversized compared to the floppy comics at 7.5 x 0.8 x 11.1 inches. It collects the complete Aaron/Bachalo/Townsend storyline from Doctor Strange (2015) #1-10, as well as the Doctor Strange: Last Days of Magic one-shot.

If you can’t afford it right now, maybe Santa can help out a little! Christmas magic is just as powerful as sorcery — in the right hands!


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KC CARLSON: Sorcerer Supremo! (My mother was so proud!)

WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. Is this year over yet?

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