When Lee and Ditko first debuted Doctor Strange in Strange Tales, the character was introduced as having been well trained and working for years. Imagine that for a moment. What if we first met Spidey after he graduated from college and had been fighting crime for 5 years. What happened in the time before? You couldn’t make stories about him struggling, as he had time to hone his craft and really up his game. It was only decades after the fact that Marvel tried to fill in his background details.
Stephen Strange was preordained to be the Sorcerer Supreme. Before his birth, Baron Karl Mordo tracked down his family to a farm in Nebraska and beset them with various demons. Think about that, kids. A hero’s arch nemesis was blasting him with black magic while he was a fetus. That’s so f**king metal. Yan aka The Ancient One detected Mordo’s misdeeds and began his efforts to save and groom Doctor Strange into his replacement. While that sounds great, The Ancient One did the Obi-Wan Kenobi thing and left Strange to be tormented for 20 years. During this time, Strange’s sister would drown and this would traumatize Strange into becoming a surgeon. Also, Strange would still be mentally traumatized by the demons sicced on him by Mordo before his birth.
It would be years before Strange learned that he was The Ancient One’s third option. Previous efforts to recruit Dr. Druid and Baron Mordo into being the Sorcerer Supreme were met with failure. All the while, The Ancient One traversed the world and realms beyond our understanding as he chronicled magic. The cosmic entity known as Eternity bequeathed the Eye of Agamotto to the Ancient One, which is what bequeathed him his extended life. While the Marvel movies are going to turn the Eye of Agamotto into an Infinity Gem, the comics had a weirder origin. Originally, the Eye was part of a demonic tiger bestial sorcerer that ruled over the Dark Dimensions. Now, it’s a decorative bolo tie for the Sorcerer Supreme’s cape. Connect the dots to figure out how it got there.
What eventually drove Stephen Strange into studying at the feet of The Ancient One was that shortly after his sister died, his other relatives began dropping off one by one. After his brother died, Stephen was left as the last living Strange. Drinking heavily and performing poorly at work, Stephen Strange declined to the point that he ended up in a serious car wreck. His hands were ruined, but Strange couldn’t let it go. Feeling a mystical compulsion, Strange sought out the Ancient One as a means to cure his hands and give him back his medical career. The Ancient One refused to treat his condition but made him begin his path into sorcery. Years pass, enemies are made and Dr. Strange is reborn as a cool dude with a sweet pad in Greenwich Village.
But, what do we make of a hero who never got a proper origin story? We know what drove him to learn magic, but there’s never been a falling on their face era with Dr. Strange. He just trained in his personal Dagobah offscreen and then debuted as a magical badass. Does a character really need an extended origin to connect with an audience? How many times must the Waynes be shot, Frank Castle’s family gunned down in Central Park or Krypton explode? Doctor Strange doesn’t need a Year One story, so much as an examination of his mental health.
Strange is a mortal who has been traumatized by magical types since before his birth. After losing his entire family, his wealth and forced into the magical lifestyle; he has now been given to the magical keys to the mortal kingdom. Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme of our reality with what amounts to a great deal of PTSD. The first time Strange teamed up with Spider-Man, Spidey begged Strange to remove the memories of what happened from his mind. What was routine for Strange shook the young Peter Parker to his very core. But, what about the Ancient One?
The Ancient One never had the opportunity to examine why he chose Stephen Strange or explain the choice to Doc Strange. When Strange actually worked up the nerve to question his motives, the Earth was attacked by Shuma Gorath. Shuma Gorath took over the Ancient One’s mind and was going to use his magic to bring Earth back into a subservient state to the Old Ones. Following the Ancient One’s orders, Strange killed his master and completely became the Sorcerer Supreme. There have been papers arguing that this was the real capstone on Strange’s origins, but it doesn’t ring true.
An origin story ends when a hero becomes comfortable enough in their identity to carry on a duty. Spider-Man realized he had to be responsible in his powers after Uncle Ben’s death and Captain America took up the cause after Dr. Rothstein died. Doctor Strange was comfortable in his identity as a sorcerer before the Ancient One died. Strange had 7 to 8 years of comics under his belt before his mentor kicked the bucket. No other hero has done what has been thrust on Doctor Strange and it makes the character quite the individual. Hopefully, the film adaptation holds up.