Doctor Strange: The Oath – a comic that should be a movie

Feature Rob Leane 17 Apr 2014 - 06:52

Could the 2006 Doctor Strange comic book arc be the inspiration for an upcoming cinematic outing for the Sorcerer Supreme? Rob has a look…

Kevin Feige has been dropping hints about Stephen Strange joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a long while. Now that he’s been namedropped in the canon of the films, a feature length adventure for the Sorcerer Supreme seems inevitable.

Like most comic book characters, the Master of Mysticism’s origin has been retooled numerous times since he first appeared in Marvel’s long-running Strange Tales series way back in July 1963.

Doctor Strange: The Oath is one of the most recent attempts – a five part adventure which sees Strange solving a mystery around an attempt on his own life while regaling his origins to a new ally, superhero stitcher-upper Night Nurse.

The Oath unfolds as a thriller with a mystical edge. Strange, Night Nurse and Wong (Strange’s assistant/martial arts master) face twists and turns at every corner as an underworld of mysticism running underneath society is revealed and Strange realises he’s not the only one with a few tricks up his sleeve. Packed with fights, break-ins, personal trauma and life-on-the-line danger, The Oath took the potentially-turgid Doctor Strange property and gave it an injection of excitement, action and engaging characters.

Written by Brian K. Vaughan and pencilled by Marcos Martin, the series ran from late 2006 to early 2007 and has been republished since as a graphic novel which is well worth a read. We had a look at why The Oath could be an ideal way to introduce Stephen Strange and the dark arts to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Why it would work

Put simply, The Oath could work as an on-screen way to introduce Stephen Strange because it has served a similar purpose before. Discussing the intentions of the story back in 2006, Vaughan told ComicBookResources.com that his and Martin’s intention had been “to take a character who maybe wasn't firing on all cylinders, and see if we could pump some new life into him,” and that they “both wanted to tell a Strange story that was a little more grounded in reality.”

Updating, rejuvenating and grounding fantastical elements as slightly more believable is exactly what Marvel Studios have aimed to do with all their properties so far. This could be a great way to introduce mysticism using the same techniques Marvel utilised to introduce Thor and his Asgardian abilities in 2011 using pseudo-science.

Although no ‘it’s all science really’ retcons occur in The Oath, by explaining how Strange and his former surgeon colleague Nicodemus both came to learn the mystic arts, this story at least aims to make these mystic revelations more palatable – if serious, scientifically-minded characters can be convinced by the existence of black magic, hopefully audiences can too.

Another factor which could make The Oath a hot candidate for screen adaption is its mode of storytelling. The recap of Strange’s first foray with magic is told as fleeting conversations and brief flashbacks, creating a non-linear narrative which helps make wacky elements more bearable for mainstream audiences by breaking them up into small chunks.

These flashbacks occur during Strange’s aforementioned investigation into an attempt on his own life, which plays out like a quirky detective story stuffed with references to Sherlock Holmes. After the Sorcerer Supreme is shot, his assistant Wong takes him to Night Nurse a.k.a. Linda Carter, a former medical student who turned her hand to helping superheroes after being rescued by one.

Linda becomes the Watson to Stephen’s Holmes, assisting him, arguing with him and pestering him for more details about his past, albeit with slightly more screwball comedy flirting than you get with the iconic detective duo. Just as Watson’s writings and obsession with Holmes have always been the audience’s way in to those classic stories, Night Nurse is the real-world grounding for Strange as well as being an intriguing and likeable character.

With Sherlock stock being higher than ever, introducing Strange as a sleuth-like sorcerer could be a great way to draw audiences in to a film which might otherwise look a bit too odd. Bringing his mystical elements into a real-world-style detective story would also allow Marvel Studios to expand the powers and abilities in the Earth-bound universe without it seeming too jarring.

The non-linear storytelling would probably help too. Audiences have been bombarded with traditional superhero origin stories for years now, so a story that jumps into action straight away and gives character details in flashback could be a refreshing change of tune akin to the first hour and a half of Man of Steel.
The Oath is an entertaining attempted-murder investigation which reveals just enough about Strange for new viewers to understand what’s going on, and leaves enough out to keep them intrigued. This would make a perfect screen debut for the character which could effectively set up characters, motivations and villains for further adventures if the film became a hit.

With only a handful of big magical segments, the budget could be kept relatively small compared to huge projects like Guardians of the Galaxy too, which is bound to reduce the risk-factor and make The Oath more appealing for Marvel Studios.

Potential problems

The main problem with adapting The Oath to screen is its length. Even when compiled together with a short prequel, The Oath is still much shorter than the other comics we have suggested for the screen in these features before.

Beefing up a few sections wouldn’t be the hardest thing in the world though, with sidekick Wong perhaps needing the most extra development. Giving Wong more to do through a separate side-plot would actually help grow his character into something more, as well as helping to extend the running time. If Marvel were willing to grant a bigger budget, a few more big magical set-pieces could be added too.

There are couple of rights issues too, but nothing that couldn’t be easily written out. A brief trip into an enemy’s mind sees a quick cameo from Doctor Doom, and Spider-Man ally Arana appears at the start. Neither of these cameos are vital to the plot though, they could both be either replaced by a hero Marvel does have the rights to or written out altogether.

By the time this film comes out, the Marvel Hell’s Kitchen Netflix series would presumably have already kicked off, which could plug the gaps if needed. Iron Fist also appears in the first scene which could be nice tie-in after his solo TV show has started. A quick action sequence showing how he pulled his hammy ‘fighting a bunch of ninjas’ (hence the visit to Night Nurse) could provide a funny tangent to help boost that running time, too.

Another small problem would arise if rumoured casting choice Benedict Cumberbatch did land the role of Strange. In the event of this, Marvel would probably need to redact the overt Sherlock Holmes references to avoid accidentally stumbling into parody. With his recent statement of disappointment at not nabbing a role in Star Wars, the offer of Doctor Strange may have just become more appealing to the 37 year old.

With the hint firmly dropped in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that Stephen Strange is already perceived as a threat to S.H.I.E.L.D., The Oath is definitely an option worth considering for Marvel Studios. Depending on how Kevin Feige interprets that Easter Egg, a few elements may need to be rewritten, primarily whether Strange has been practising sorcery for years or is only just starting out. All in all, these potential problems are minimal though, and there is nothing significant stopping Marvel from bringing The Oath to the screen.

Will it ever happen?

A Doctor Strange film is as close to a certainty as you can ever get when trying to second-guess the studio system, with Kevin Feige being a very vocal ambassador for the project.

‘The way that Thor, Avengers and now certainly Guardians of the Galaxy tap into that cosmic side, it will be great to go into the world of Doctor Strange and the supernatural realm,’ Feige told the New York Daily News.

He also told Moviefone that Strange’s screen introduction would have to be a standalone story, adding that ‘because he's associated with such a different side of the Marvel Universe, [we couldn’t] suddenly have our characters turn a corner and go, “Oh, hey, let's go see the Sorcerer Supreme.”’

The Marvel Studios head honcho also told IGN that ‘Doctor Strange would be [Marvel Studio’s] 13th, 14th [or] 15th movie.’ To put that in context, Captain America 3 is now confirmed to be Marvel’s 13th movie, which will be dropping on May 6th 2016, meaning that a Doctor Strange movie is likely to be the Untitled Marvel Project which will hit screens on May 5th 2017, or the next film after that.

Looking at the fact that Marvel Studios have chosen to adapt the latest iteration of Guardians of the Galaxy rather than an older incarnation, a newer version of Doctor Strange’s origins (like The Oath) is sure to be at the forefront of Marvel’s minds. Engaging with the ever-popular detective genre, telling the origin in a non-linear fashion and keeping the budget relatively low are also bound to be appealing factors.

I’m hedging my bet that the Doctor Strange movie will be the May 5th 2017 Marvel offering, and that it will at least be inspired by elements of The Oath.

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