Marvel’s latest addition to their Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange, opens on November 4. After introducing some of their more well-known superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America to the film-going public, Marvel is digging deeper into their comic book properties to bring some of their lesser-known characters to the big screen. Chief among them is the Sorcerer Supreme and Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange. Now, here’s everything you need to know about the character’s comic book history.
Who Is Doctor Strange?
Played by Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch, film audiences can be forgiven for not knowing the long comic book history of Doctor Strange, or even who the character is in the first place!
We take a look at the history of Doctor Strange and explore his role as the protector of Earth.
Doctor Strange is a former neurosurgeon and the current Sorcerer Supreme. He is responsible for protecting the Earth from all manner of magical and mystical threats. Created by comic book artist and writer Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange debuted in issue 110 of Marvel’s anthology series Strange Tales in July 1963.
The comic soon gained a following among college students due to the distinct visual style of the comic. Ditko’s artwork had a surreal quality and regularly featured fantastical landscapes to depict the various alternate dimensions that Strange traveled in. Ditko’s take on the twisting dimensions and bizarre worlds and alternate dimensions were inspired by the style of Salvador Dali’s paintings.
Doctor Strange also pre-empted ’60s youth culture fascination with Eastern mysticism and psychedelia. As a result, Doctor Strange may not have been one of Marvel’s most popular or even accessible characters, but it did strike a chord with its readers and found a cult and niche following.
A Broken Career
Doctor Stephen Strange is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon who was obsessed with wealth and status. Personal tragedies in his own life led to Strange’s cold and callous demeanor, and his interest in his patients ended once they had paid their bills.
A car accident ended Strange’s medical career. Although he survived, the nerves in his hands were damaged enough that he could not perform surgery. Strange’s vanity led him to refuse positions as a consultant to continue his career. He instead spent his fortune on chasing every rumored treatment in an effort to regain the full use of his hands.
Eventually, his fortune ran out. Pawning his remaining possessions, Strange bought a ticket to the Far East to investigate one last rumor involving a mystical person known as the Ancient One. The Ancient One refused to heal Strange’s hands but did offer to teach him in the arts of mysticism. Strange was skeptical and refused. However, he was trapped in the Ancient One’s palace due to the onset of a blizzard.
While he waited out the storm, Strange witnessed the Ancient One’s apprentice, Baron Mordo, secretly attack his master. Strange’s skepticism about magic began to fade, and he confronted Mordo. Strange was targeted with restraining spells that stopped him from warning the Ancient One about Mordo’s treachery or from even attacking Mordo.
Strange resolved to take up the Ancient One’s offer in order to confront and defeat Baron Mordo. The Ancient One took Strange as his apprentice, pleased that he had chosen his new path for an unselfish reason. The Ancient One was well aware of Mordo’s treachery, but kept him close in order to curb his machinations and to possibly change him.
After years of study under the Ancient One, Strange returned to the United States and established his Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village, New York. He protected the Earth from the demonic threats of entities such as Nightmare and Dormammu. As the Heroic Age began, Strange initially kept himself apart. However, frequent encounters with members of the superhero community including Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the X-Men pulled him into the superhero world.
Fighting alongside other heroes on many occasions, Doctor Strange defended the Earth from multiple threats. Over the years, he has been part of several super-teams, including the Defenders and various incarnations of the Avengers.
Doctor Strange was also one of the principal members of the Illuminati, a secret cabal of influential heroes who convened only in the direst of times. Other members included the Inhuman Black Bolt, X-Men leader Professor X, Mister Fantastic, Prince Namor, and Iron Man.
As the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, Doctor Strange calls upon the patronage of various divine sources known as the Principalities. In return for invoking their power, the beings sometimes call upon Strange to aid them. However, simply invoking their power and acknowledging their existence increases the powers of the entity.
Strange’s principal patrons are the Vishanti (a trio of godly entities comprised of Agamotto, Hoggoth, and Oshtur), the Octessence (eight beings made up of Balthakk, Cyttorak, Farallah, Ikonn, Krakkan, Raggadorr, Valtorr, and Watoomb), and those beings that owe Strange a debt, which includes Satannish and even Dormammu. They allow Strange to command the mystic arts to defend his reality against all forms of interdimensional and otherworldly threats. Among Strange’s powers are intangibility, transmutation, telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation, astral projection, and the projection of energy bolts. It is said that Doctor Strange is as powerful as the entity he invokes.
Doctor Strange also makes use of several magical items. The Eye of Agamotto is a powerful artifact that resides in the Amulet of Agamotto, which Doctor Strange wears around his neck. It has many uses, including allowing Doctor Strange to see through any lie, deception, or illusion, and increasing his psychic abilities. The nearly-indestructible Cloak of Levitation gives Doctor Strange the power of flight and can be used to attack foes even if Strange is incapacitated.
The Sash of Dr. Strange is an enchanted item worn around the waist that can extend its length ten-fold. The Orb of Agamotto is a crystal ball that allows Strange to monitor his world and other dimensions for trouble. The Wand of Watoomb can amplify Strange’s powers. The Book of Vishanti is a book of white magic spells holding the multiverse’s most powerful and secret spells. All of these allow Doctor Strange to combat the forces of evil.
The film adaptation of Doctor Strange will introduce the world of magic and mysticism to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it’s not the first time Doctor Strange has been adapted into a live-action feature. That honor goes to 1978’s Dr. Strange, where the title role was played by Peter Hooten. Doctor Strange has also been depicted in various media, including cartoons and video games.
Despite being one of the less known properties of Marvel’s superhero pantheon, it’s clear that Doctor Strange is destined for greater things. Some of the character’s best stories challenge the concepts of reality, presented in a unique artistic style that separates it from the rest of Marvel’s output.
If the film version of Doctor Strange encourages new readers the chance to experience these stories for the first time, then they’ll be in for a treat.