Warning! This article consists of nothing but Doctor Strange spoilers. You can read on, but at your own risk…
Have you seen the Doctor Strange movie? Do you have questions about the arcane secrets it contains? We have a complete guide to all of the Marvel Comics references, obscure characters, and other hidden mysteries in the second most unlikely superhero movie of the year.
So here’s how this works. This is everything we caught on the first viewing, but there’s bound to be stuff that was missed. Drop anything you spotted in the comments or get at me on Twitter, and I’ll update this all weekend until we have the most complete guide to Doctor Strange easter eggs…anywhere!
Let me know what you found that we haven’t yet!
Doctor Strange Characters
Let’s start with the Sorcerer Supreme himself…
Doctor Strange first appeared in Strange Tales #110 in 1963, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (the same powerhouse creative team that introduced Spider-Man to the world). The thing is, while this movie is very much Doc’s origin story, that wasn’t his first story in the comics. Or his second. Or his third.
It took until his fourth appearance, in Strange Tales #115 before they got around to telling the world how Stephen Strange became the Sorceror Supreme. That’s the story that this movie is a really expanded version of. But back to that first issue…
Wong also first appeared in Strange Tales #110, although he isn’t named and doesn’t have much to do. It took a looooong time for Wong to be more than just a kind of manservant character for Doctor Strange, but thankfully he evolved over time. Among other things, he trained the good Doctor in the physical martial arts, for when spells just aren’t gonna get the job done.
That first Doctor Strange story also introduced us to Nightmare, who may or may not end up being the villain of Doctor Strange 2, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about Doc’s second adventure really quick…
Strange Tales #111 introduced us to Mordo, or Baron Mordo as he’s known in the comics. Mordo menaced Doc a lot in these early stories, and he’s also the villain of the third comic book adventure, and then we get his origin told with Strange’s in Strange Tales #115. Then we got a break from him for Nightmare to return, and then Mordo was the baddie again the following issue.
Anyway, he’s got a crazy history of his own, and we wrote about it in detail here.
The Ancient One
The Ancient One is first introduced in Strange Tales #110, as the guy that Doc sends his astral form to consult with before taking on a case. He was known as “The Master” in his earliest appearances, though.
The whole thing with Doctor Strange being present at the death of the Ancient One’s physical form is from Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner’s run on the title, collected as A Separate Reality (it’s some crazy, psychedelic stuff). In that story, much like in the film, the Ancient One gives Strange a kind of metaphysical pep talk before croaking. And it’s only implied in the movie, but I promise you, we haven’t seen the last of the Ancient One in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, either.
The bit about the movie version of the Ancient One drawing power from the Dark Dimension has some precedent from the comics, although it isn’t anything particularly scandalous. Long before we met Dormammu as a smoky-headed demon from another dimension in the comics, the name of Dormammu was often uttered in various spells and incantations by both Doctor Strange and The Ancient One. The Ancient One’s home of Kamar-Taj has been around from the start, but it wasn’t named until much later in the comics.
Anyway, speaking of Dormammu…
While the smoky-headed Dormammu didn’t appear until a year or so after Doctor Strange himself (in the pages of Strange Tales #126…by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko…as if you’re surprised), he was mentioned all the time early on (as I pointed out above).
In general, Dormammu is probably Strange’s most well-known foe, but I can see why they’re saving any more direct conflict with him for the sequels that you just know we’re gonna get.
You wanna know more about Dormammu? We have SO much more about Dormammu right here for you! Hey, that rhymed!
What, you’ve never heard of Kaecilius? Trust me. Nobody has. This guy’s big moment in the sun was in a really cool multi-part story that ran over a bunch of Strange Tales stories, back when serialized stuff was far from the norm in comics.
Kaecilius is one of Mordo’s disciples in this, and he basically runs around, usually while possessed/mind-controlled by Mordo. He’s such a scrub that I’m pretty sure they never actually even bother to name him in that story, he’s just “disciple” with some goofy-ass headgear.
OK, we need to talk about Night Nurse. While the character has been around since the early ’70s, her connections to Doctor Strange really begin with Doctor Strange: The Oath by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin. That is an essential and cool Doctor Strange story, by the way, and it’s a perfect entry point for the character if you’re looking for one.
Incidentally, the scene where Christine performs surgery on Stephen Strange while his astral form hangs around is loosely inspired by the first chapter of that comic. Trust me, it’s really cool.
Speaking of The Oath, that story also first introduced us to Nicodemus West, who was perhaps more competent than he was allowed to be in the movie. This is a character they could revisit in sequels, so I’m afraid to spoil it too much here, but seriously, you should read The Oath.
The guy that Strange mistakes for The Ancient One appears to be Hamir from Strange Tales #111, who was one of the Ancient Ones attendants/disciples.
The Magic Spells and Artifacts
– There are a few throwaway lines from the Ancient One that recall some of the titles bestowed on Doctor Strange in the comics. She refers to “the language of the mystic arts,” and Doc is known as the “master of the mystic arts” in the comics. There’s also at least one reference to the Sorceror Supreme, and that ends up being Strange’s title (well, other than Doctor) eventually, if it isn’t already by the end of the movie.
– Astral projection is a key component of Doctor Strange’s visual identity, so much so that he did it in his very first appearance. And if the idea of an astral plane fistfight seems a little silly to you, well, that’s right out of the comics. Strange Tales #111 featured the astral forms of Strange and Mordo duking it out, knocking each other through walls, the whole nine yards that you saw on screen, more or less.
By the way, that’s action movie badass Scott Adkins as the tough astral form there. His character is listed as Lucian in the credits, but there’s no obvious Marvel Comics parallel there.
– The Book of Cagliostro comes right out of the Steve Englehart/Frank Brunner Doctor Strange comics, which are probably the most bonkers classic run on the character this side of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko!
– The Wand of Watoomb first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, which featured the first team-up between Spidey and Doctor Strange. Having master Steve Ditko draw both of his creations in the same story was pretty cool.
– I’m not sure that Marvel Comics cosmic being The Living Tribunal has ever actually carried a staff, but it’s nice to hear his name mentioned here. Can anyone shed some light on that staff issue for me?
– The “vaulting boots of Valtorr” aren’t from the comics as far as I can tell, but Doctor Strange and friends do invoke the name of Valtorr for a number of different spells from time to time. The first mention of a spell related to Valtorr came in Strange Tales #115, the same story that told the Doctor’s origin story for the first time. It was “the vapors of Valtorr” in that one. Seriously, Valtorr comes up a LOT.
– While Doctor Strange was always caped, his original look had him in a blue cloak, which he often went without. But he was given the Cloak of Levitation by the Ancient One at the conclusion of his second battle with Dormammu (in Strange Tales #127), and that pretty much cemented his look ever since.
The first hint I can find of the Cloak of Levitation kind of having a mind of its own is a throwaway line in The Oath, but I’m not sure it’s ever mentioned elsewhere. Whatever the case, it’s not quite as sentient as what we got in the movie.
– But other than that, the most important piece of Doctor Strange magical gear is unquestionably the Eye of Agamotto. He always had a magical amulet from his first appearance onward, but he was given “a more powerful” one when he got the Cloak of Levitation. I’m pretty sure that’s the Eye. From a movie perspective, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this has turned out to be one of the Infinity Gems, specifically the Time Stone. Expect this to come into serious play in Avengers: Infinity War.
– @zeldafanatic15 kindly pointed out that it looks like the Staff of One comes into play at the end there, and there’s something to that. One of the Hong Kong Sanctum attendants is listed as “Tina Minoru.” Tina Minoru is the mother of Nico Minoru, a character who we might see come into play now that Marvel is (finally!) going to give us a Runaways TV series. Do not mess with the Staff of One, as that is one crazy powerful magic artifact.
Stan Lee Cameo
– Stan Lee is reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception…and laughing. The Doors of Perception was an essay/book about Huxley’s experimentation with mescaline. One of the key indicators of mescaline hallucinations are fractals (I’ve been told, of course), which are the visuals we see the most often in Doctor Strange.
That title was also the inspiration for the name of late-60s rockers/psychedelic drug enthusiasts The Doors. And was it me, or when Stan and that book were on screen there was a kind of harpsichord motif, which reminded me a little of a few Doors songs, notably “Love Me Two Times” from the appropriately titled Strange Days album.
And since we’re talking about psychedelics for a moment, the bit where Strange’s fingers start sprouting more hands with fingers sprouting hands and so on seems like kind of a psilocybin thing…ahem…or so I’ve heard.
– During the drive/car crash sequence, the instrumental tune you’re hearing is “Interstellar Overdrive” from the first Pink Floyd album, The Piper at The Gates of Dawn (1967). This is from the time when Floyd founder Syd Barrett, who eventually succumbed to psychedelics and mental illness, was still playing lead guitar, and it’s a crucial piece of anarchic psychedelia. Perfectly appropriate when you’re looking at old Doctor Strange comics with trippy Steve Ditko artwork.
In fact, here it is in its glorious, atonal, entirety:
Doctor Strange has made a couple of cameos in the work of Pink Floyd, too, as an almost hidden image on the cover of their second comic, and in the lyrics of “Cymbaline” on their third. I wrote in much more detail about the Pink Floyd/Doctor Strange connection right here.
In fact, speaking of trippy Steve Ditko artwork, the movie did a great job of trying to capture that feeling but for modern audiences. Stare at this and images like it while listening to “Interstellar Overdrive” and you too can become a master of the mystic arts!
– While I don’t think either of the other potential patients mentioned to Stephen Strange on that call before he crashes have any greater Marvel Universe significance, one definitely stands out: the Air Force Colonel who crushed his spine wearing experimental armor. That almost has to be a reference to James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who met a tragic fate in Captain America: Civil War.
Now, this has ramifications for the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, too. These movies tend to take place in “real time” (as in, the order they were released to theaters is usually the order that the events happened). I had just naturally assumed that the origin sequence of this movie had to take place earlier than recent Marvel movies (in part because of the Stephen Strange namedrop in Captain America: The Winter Soldier…why would SHIELD be monitoring him back then, right?). It doesn’t.
And since we can assume that Stephen Strange’s journey from neurosurgeon at the top of his field to Sorcerer Supreme had to take at least six months (and really, the timeline for this movie should really be something more like a year), maybe things will line up in real time again when Thor: Ragnarok comes out next year.
Now, few folks in the comments are making a good case that this could actually refer to injuries sustained by faulty Justin Hammer tech in Iron Man 2, and I have to say…it would make sense. BUT…Several of you have pointed out that there’s an award visible in Stephen’s apartment that clearly says 2016 on it. Not to mention the fact that you can see Avengers Tower in the NYC skyline, which places this well after the events of Iron Man 2 and right in line with “contemporary” Marvel movies. With that being the case, I have to stick with the Rhodey theory for the identity of the patient. For now. While personally I think at least the first half of this movie should take place before other recent Marvel flicks, I think the reality is, it remains in sequence/chronological with everything else. Since it covers so much time, we can probably assume that this takes us right up to next year’s Thor: Ragnarok.
Also, thanks to The Comic Noobs Show for pointing this one out to me. That young lady with the brain implant who was struck by lightning? Well, this is the most convincing argument I’ve heard. I’ll confess, it’s a little bit out there, but…could it be the second Electro, Francine Frye? Electro (not this one, but the original) received powers after a lightning strike, and Ms. Frye is said to have some mental health issues. It’s a bit of a reach, but don’t forget Doctor Strange co-creator Steve Ditko also co-created Electro and most of Spidey’s main rogues, so a Spidey/Strange connection would make sense, even if rights issues make it difficult.
Doc’s Sanctum Sanctorum at 177a Bleecker Street was also introduced in that story, although it wasn’t really named. The distinctive window with the Sanctum rune was always present, though. It took a while before we learned its actual (fictional) address, but from the very first story it was listed as being in Greenwich Village, which was considerably more bohemian and dangerous in 1963 than it is now, where you’re lucky if you can afford a slice of pizza, let alone a piece of real estate that big! You can stroll by 177 Bleecker (not 177a) which is down near NYU, and there’s lots of stuff to do, and you probably won’t get mugged in Washington Square Park these days, either.
– Also, and thanks to EricJLawrence down in the comments for pointing this out, the master of the NYC Sanctum is named as Daniel Drumm in the credits. Daniel Drumm is the brother of Jericho Drumm, Marvel’s Brother Voodoo. There were (false) rumors that Brother Voodoo would show up in this movie, but it’s good to know that he exists and could show up in a future one!
– It’s probably a coincidence, but during the battle in the Sanctum, the Cloak of Levitation prevents Stephen from grabbing an axe, which reminded me a little bit of this comic book cover:
– Do Kaecillius and his fellow scrubs/minions turn into Mindless Ones at the end there? It sure kinda looks like it:
Doctor Strange Post Credits Scenes
– It’s kind of appropriate that the first piece of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe that Doctor Strange interacts with is Thor (and by extension, Loki). His first superhero team-up was with the Fantastic Four, but obviously they aren’t available right now thanks to ongoing squabbles with 20th Century Fox. But Strange did team-up with Thor in a story involving Loki early on, although that story was more about Loki tricking Strange into thinking Thor was a bad guy.
We know that Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi directed this scene, by the way, and we can assume that this takes place during that movie. So to clear the timeline thing up, figure that Doctor Strange starts off maybe right around (give or take) Civil War (so March/April/May 2016?), and covers a total time period all the way up to November 2017 when you include that post-credits scene. It makes a little more sense now.
Also note: if Strange shows up in Thor, where we already know that Hulk and Valkyrie are appearing, that’s like 3/5ths of the original comic book Defenders lineup! (thanks, Kikaida!)
– Of course Mordo is evil. Duh. Haven’t you been reading?
I think that’s everything, as I kept looking for more clues in the background…but I’m sure more will reveal themselves on a second (and third…and fourth) viewing. So what did you spot? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, and if it checks out, I’ll update the piece and give you a shout.
Thanks for reading!