31.10.11

Hallowe'en: Ten (Doctor) Strange Tales

Happy Hallowe'en, all!

Welcome to one of my Hallowe'en installments of Delusional Honesty. Originally, I was going to get to some comments on "I...Vampire!" the original series by J.M. DeMatteis, Tom Sutton and a host of other talent. It's still going to be a few more days until I can make that article just the way I want it, so I wanted to give everyone something else that's closely involved with the macabre.

Saturday night on Google+, Marvel and Aspen writer Greg Pak (whose Dead Man's Hand #0 is now available!) posed a question after having read a particular story: Which Doctor Strange stories are fans' favorites? Well, let me tell you, that suggestion made the wheels begin to turn!

Although most of you know me as a die-hard Hulk fan, and those of you who listen to me at Comic Book Noise know I'm well-versed in the ways of Spider-Man, you might not know I'm also of the opinion that Stephen Strange is one of Marvel's best, most underrated heroes. Indeed, between five volumes of Marvel Masterworks and hundreds of back issues, I've read every issue of Doc's adventures in his solo mags. (And from a certain Green Goliath's association with an unusual Non-Team, I've got each of his appearances in Defenders, too!)

Forthwith is my assemblage of Doc's ten greatest adventures, in chronological order. (Greg, don't let anybody tell you I never gave you anything.)

Shall we begin? Tamam Shud!

1. Strange Tales (1951) #126-146
By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

Lee and Ditko, also famous for creating the amazing Spider-Man, created Doctor Strange in Strange Tales #110, cover-dated July 1963. Although it took them a few issues to get their feet under them, the first time everything really "clicked" for the duo was issue #126, "The Domain of the Dread Dormammu!" The storyline introduced Dormammu, an other-dimensional sorcerer, as well as the then-nameless girl who'd soon become Strange's student and paramour, Clea. A number of other noteworthy events occurred within these pages, too, like the Ancient One's gifting of the Cloak of Levitation that has become a trademark of Strange's look. Having then-established villain Baron Mordo as Dormammu's earthly servant sealed the deal. And even if it didn't, well, there's always Eternity...!

Currently available in graphic novel format in Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vols. 1-2 or Essential Doctor Strange, Vol. 1.


2. Doctor Strange (1968) #175-178
By Roy Thomas & Gene Colan

After spending years as a co-feature in Strange Tales, Doc finally graduated to his own series in 1968, with the numbering scheme picking up from there. Roy Thomas first teamed with Wally Wood protege Dan Adkins, and then Tom Palmer, but then hit the big time with the arrival of Gene "The Dean" Colan. The stories, running from #172 until the series' premature conclusion in 183, were the most mature Doc tales we'd seen to that point, in large part due to Colan's influence as a visual storyteller, and Palmer's incredible inking style. Those talents were on prime display in "Unto Us...The Sons of Satannish!" where Doc takes on a demonic cult and emerges nearly a different character. (This is the birth of the "costumed" Strange you may have heard about, but believe me, nothing about it belies Doc's history.) The storyline comes to a head in Avengers #61 and Dr. Strange #178, wherein Doc teams with the Black Knight to face both Ymir and Surtur. What more needs be said?

Currently available in graphic novel format in Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 3 or Essential Doctor Strange, Vol. 2.


3. Doctor Strange (1974) #1-2, 4-5
By Steve Englehart & Frank Brunner

Doc may have been left his career as a sorcerer behind shortly after the conclusion of his first series, but once he came back as a founder of the Defenders, could a new solo series be far behind? After spending the first few issues in a quasi-adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, Marvel handed the reins to Defenders scripter Steve Englehart and artist Frank Brunner, then known for his work on Warren's horror magazines. The two deftly concluded the Lovecraft storyline before launching into a pair of epics: "The Sise-Neg Genesis" and this four-part storyline that introduced a dark analogue to Strange--disgraced man-of-the-cloth Isaiah Curwen, the Silver Dagger. This epic struggle starts with Strange's death, and stretches across other dimensions with their own challenges. (Ever wonder why an ankh sometimes appeared on Strange's brow during a battle? You'll discover that secret here.)

The Silver Dagger is handily defeated in this storyline, but he would return later to menace Dr. Strange plus Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel in Marvel Team-Up #76-77 and 80-81, which get an honorable mention here. In a story by Chris Claremont, Doc is driven to the edge of sanity and beyond, eventually becoming a werewolf. Unusual? Yes. One of my guilty-pleasure favorites? Absolutely.

Currently available in graphic novel format in Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 5 or Essential Doctor Strange, Vol. 3. The Marvel Team-Up tales are currently unavailable.


4. Doctor Strange (1974) #10-13
By Steve Englehart & Gene Colan

Englehart continued on the series after Brunner left, and the series only increased in intensity. Gene Colan and Tom Palmer returned, illustrating this book on even months and Tomb of Dracula on the odd. As books like Warlock and Captain Marvel flirted with cosmic concepts, so too did Strange's, with this gem among the most powerful. Eternity comes to the Doctor, telling him the world will end! Meanwhile, Baron Mordo, reduced to a babbling idiot after having glimpsed the birth of the universe, may not be so powerless as he appears. Doc faces iterations of his past selves as he fights to save the Earth, and it all climaxes explosively! (And hey, what is the secret of Adam Qadmon?) Certainly not to be missed by any "cosmic Marvel" or Doc aficionado.

If you're a fan of cosmic Marvel stories, you may also want to check out Jim Starlin's too-short tenure, as Doc fights the Creators with their "Cosmic Wheel of Change" and tries to disrupt their deadly scheme of transforming themselves into stars (which had the effect of changing stars into humanoid entities). Starlin only worked on #24-26, but the entire "Creators" epic took place over #19-20, 22-28 with work from writers Marv Wolfman and Roger Stern.

Currently available in graphic novel format in Essential Doctor Strange, Vol. 3.

Speaking of Roger Stern...


5. Doctor Strange (1974) #48-53, 56
By Roger Stern & Marshall Rogers

World's worst-kept secret: Once upon a time, comics superstar Frank Miller (no relation!) was to have been artist on Doctor Strange alongside writer Roger Stern. You can even see house ads in 1981 announcing this combo, accentuated by a thrilling piece by Miller. Unfortunately, that supreme duo wasn't to be, but we may have seen something better in its place. Enter: Marshall Rogers.

This storyline, in six parts with an unofficial epilogue in #56, began with the introduction of a new companion of sorts for Doc in Morgana Blessing. She, like Strange's friend Victoria Bentley before her, possesses a degree of untapped supernatural potential. Intrigued by Strange, she attempts to get closer, only to find herself in the middle of an epic involving the return of Baron Mordo, his transformation into a cat (!), and their travels through time to stop Dormammu from escaping the Dark Dimension (alongside Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos) as well as into Ancient Egypt where we see the Fantastic Four's first battle with Rama-Tut from a different perspective! The story also brings to a head developments with Clea, caught in the quandary of being both Strange's disciple and lover. Much of the storyline falls into "seen to be believed" territory, and the epilogue, an interview between Blessing and Doc with art by Paul Smith, is sublime.

Currently available in graphic novel format in Essential Doctor Strange, Vol. 4. 


6. Doctor Strange (1974) #58-62
By Roger Stern,  Dan Green & Steve Leialoha

Just as I've got two stories by Steve Englehart on this list, now we've got a second story by Doctor Strange scribe supreme Roger Stern! This one serves as an epilogue to the late, lamented Tomb of Dracula series, with Doc teaming with the Avengers, Blade, Frank Drake and Hannibal King to take down the Lord of Vampires, who'd seen something of an uptick in appearances with the absence of his own book. He appeared in Uncanny X-Men; he appeared in Thor. Doc and Dracula both race to find the demon bible called the Darkhold, but for different reasons. A passage inside, called the Montesi Formula, contains the secret to ending the vampire threat once and for all. But, what will that solution mean for heroic vampire Hannibal King...?

The "Destroy All Vampires" storyline took these things that go bump in the night out of the Marvel mythos for the better part of the eighties, and set up some interesting stories. Its direct sequel, "The Vampiric Verses" (its title a riff on the controversial Salman Rushdie thriller, The Satanic Verses) returned vampires to the Marvel Universe, and is also generally well-done. Roy Thomas and Jackson Guice's story is in Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #14-18, but its threads begin with #9. It also features the intriguing (at first, anyway) tale of Strange's heretofore-unknown brother, Victor.

Currently available in graphic novel format in Dr. Strange Vs. Dracula: The Montesi Formula. "The Vampiric Verses" currently unavailable.


7. Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa
By J.M. DeMatteis & Dan Green

J.M. DeMatteis has handled Dr. Strange for a number of years, going back to his tenure on Defenders in the early eighties. Is it any wonder he remains one of his favorite characters? I don't want to spoil much of the story here, as it's really brilliant and plays to the character's strengths--why, exactly, wasn't DeMatteis a Doc writer beyond this book and seven issues of his regular series in the nineties?--suffice to say, it's lyrical, it's brilliant, and it's very nearly everything a Dr. Strange story should be. When Strange returns to the Ancient One's former abode, he comes upon a puzzle box. Contacted by the Lords of Shamballa, he embarks on an odyssey whose ultimate goal is the enlightenment of humanity. But then, he discovers the Lords' terrifying secret, and finds himself faced with an awesome dilemma.

Just breathtaking. Go. Now.

Currently unavailable in graphic novel format.


8. Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #5-8
By Roy & Dann Thomas & Jackson Guice

Roy Thomas returns for his second go-round as Doctor Strange scripter, this time alongside his wife, Dann, as well as artist Jackson "Butch" Guice. Once Roger Stern departed the title, writer Peter B. Gillis trod Strange into dark waters, removing many of his mystic talismans, poking out his eye, having him rely on black magic and bringing him into mortal combat with Shuma-Gorath and other entities that roamed the Earth at the dawn of humanity. The duty fell to the Thomases to bring Doc back from the abyss, and they did it in style here.

In "The Faust Gambit," Baron Mordo returns to menace our resident Sorcerer Supreme, imbued with power far beyond anything he has demonstrated before. Doc is still able to defeat him, however, and traps his soul inside a small sphere before he learns the horrifying truth. Mordo's newfound power comes from promising his soul to not one, but two of Marvel's demonic heavies: Satannish and the mighty Mephisto! With the soul of one of Doc's friends also in the sphere, how can our favorite magician save the world from Mordo's mad scheme? It's an intriguing tale that brings together disparate corners of the Marvel Universe as only Thomas can, echoing various pieces of previous continuity. We even meet Mephista, the daughter of you-know-who, who's got a crush on Strange, much to her daddy's consternation! What more do you need?

Currently unavailable in graphic novel format. Go find the back issues!


9. Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment
By Roger Stern, Mike Mignola & Mark Badger

Third time's the charm for writer emeritus Roger Stern, who outdid himself in this graphic novel which absolutely deserved the hardcover treatment it got upon its 1989 release. Picking up on plot points from several previous Doctor Doom stories (particularly from Astonishing Tales) and presaged by Stern's own meeting between the Doctors in Doctor Strange (1974) #57, Triumph & Torment tells the tale of Doom's annual attempt to free his mother's soul from the clutches of Mephisto. This time, through special circumstance, Strange assists Doom, and the results are unusual and mind-blowing. Add to this rich story some breathtaking artwork by a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola as well as Mark Badger, and this graphic novel becomes a can't-miss fable in desperate need of being reprinted in the same oversize format as it was introduced.

Currently unavailable in graphic novel format.


10. Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #60-75 & Annual #4
By David Quinn, Melvin Rubi, Kyle Hotz, Peter Gross & others

Don't let the "Siege of Darkness" crossover stamp on the above issue's cover fool you: This Doctor Strange very much did his own thing during his time among the "Midnight Sons" horror line. The old gave way to the new when Roy Thomas and Geof Isherwood left the book, replaced by Faust writer David Quinn and a herd of artists including then-neophyte Mel Rubi (now known for his work on Dynamite's Red Sonja) and a pre-Lucifer Peter Gross.

His powers severely limited after he declined to participate in a cosmic war at the behest of the Vishanti he served, Strange coordinates many a dark scheme as result. Salome, previous holder of the title of Sorcerer Supreme, returns from the dimension to which she'd been banished, and begins an onslaught on the current title holder. Too weak to resist, Strange cedes his title to the madwoman and begins a series of schemes to regain his former power. Cue the disappearance of Stephen Strange as we knew him, and the arrival of two mysterious entities, each of whom seems to reflect a facet of the man we knew: Victor Stevens, a ruthless businessman, and Strange, a similarly ruthless being of pure elemental magick force. Add Clea into the mix, in the middle of a challenge to her own rule in the Dark Dimension, and what do you have? An intensely fascinating, and daringly different, Dr. Strange epic.

Currently unavailable in graphic novel format. Go find the back issues!



What are some of your favorite Dr. Strange stories?

~G.

6 comments:

  1. I'm quite fond of all of Roger Stern's run on Doctor Strange, and am only disappointed in that it ended rather abruptly after the Beyonder issue.

    The last major story arc was collected recently in hardcover under the title Into The Dark Dimension, which I reviewed here. Also quite good, with great art by Paul Smith - it's better than the Dracula arc, for my money. I'd love to see Stern's whole run collected someday. (Even better, I'd love to see him return to the character.)

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  2. Hi Gary. Great article. I did not know you were also a Dr Strange fan as well a Hulk fan. Like you, I think he is one of Marvels best characters. It is shame it he has not had a ongoing series since 1996. You actually have read more Dr Strange comics than me.

    I have heard one of the reasons there has not been another Dr Strange ongoing series is because Quesada dislikes the chracter. Is there any truth to that?

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  3. Hello, Gary! I discovered your blog a few months ago.

    This great post motivated me to A) re-read my copy of Essential Doctor Strange Vol 1, which gave me a much greater appreciation for the original Ditko & Lee stories and B) to finally track down David Quinn's complete run on Doctor Strange. I was so inspired by those weird, wonderful stories that I wrote up a three-part examination of Quinn's work. Here is a link to the first part:

    http://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/david-quinns-doctor-strange-part-one/

    I hope you enjoy reading these. Thanks for taking a look.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. To be honest, If marvel auctions the Doctor Strange Benedict Cumberbatch Red Coat at an affordable amount of a couple of thousand dollars, I will be the first one to grab it. Well you know this is not gonna be that cheaper.

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  6. Spot on with this write-up, I truly think this website needs much more consideration. I'll probably be again to read much more, thanks for that info.
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I can never tell if two comments from "Anonymous" are really by the same person, so please, especially if I know you from other websites, leave a name or alias or something! Thanks!