Meet Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange. From a man of medicine to a Master of the Mystical Arts. From a loner to an Avengers team player. From a somewhat obscure Marvel comic character to one starring solo in a major motion picture (played by arguably one of the finest actors of this generation, Benedict Cumberbatch). What a long strange trip it has been for this character and it all started with two men sitting in an office building in 1960s New York.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the character of Dr. Strange based on an idea that is originally Ditko’s. The good Doctor debuted in Strange Tales #110 as the second half of a split book featuring the original Human Torch. Lee had Dr. Strange create his spells with established mythological characters and flowery language. In truth, he had no idea what he was writing but wanted to make it sound mythical and mysterious, invoking the feeling of an old radio show, Chandu the Magician. Steve Ditko created the much loved surrealist mystical landscapes and ground breaking and increasingly involved visual aspects of the stories. The combination was so effective that college aged readers of the series were certain that the creators were on drugs. They, of course, weren’t but the visuals and dialogue touched a chord with this attuned to the Eastern Mysticism and psychedelia that was so popular at the time. And if the visual aspects were surreal, the journey of Doctor Stephen Strange is equally so.
Dr. Stephen Strange was a brilliant but egotistical surgeon. He was an amazing healer but cared little for his patients as people. All that concerned him was the wealth and prestige that came from being at the top of his field. This all changed one fateful night when he crashed his car shattering both his hands. Even as they healed, they shook constantly. Believing that teaching and consulting was beneath someone of his talents, Strange searched the world, consulting doctors, homeopathic healers and medicine men, all to no avail. In that search, he exhausted his fortune trying to find a cure and ending up living on the street performing “back-alley” medical procedures, just to survive.
Strange finally heard of an old hermit called the Ancient One in the Himalayas who could reputedly perform miracles. Making his way to the Ancient One’s temple, the mystic refused to aid the still arrogant Strange even though he did sense there was good in him. That goodness comes to the forefront when Strange encounters an attempt by the Ancient One’s current apprentice, Baron Mordo, to kill the mystic. Mordo puts a powerful spells on Strange which prevent him from stopping or even warning the Ancient One so he agrees to become the Ancient One’s disciple in hopes of saving him. The Ancient One reveals himself as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, removes Mordo’s spells and informs the shocked strange that he knew of the plot all along. Banishing Mordo, he begins teaching Strange the Mystical Arts. Upon completing his training, Strange returns to New York City taking up residence in a mansion he called his Sanctum Sanctorum where he lived publicly as an “Occult Expert.” As an apprentice of the Ancient One and later Sorcerer Supreme himself, Doctor Strange battles mystical menaces both terrestrial and other dimensional.
Baron Mordo, the other dimensional menace Dormammu (and his army of Mindless Ones) plus the fear entity Nightmare are but a few of the Doctor’s most recurring enemies. Strange is also one of the few human beings that has interacted with the personification of the sentience of the entire universe which calls itself Eternity. He has come to the aid of nearly every hero in the Marvel Universe and has served as unofficial leader of the “non-team” The Defenders as well as gathered teams of Secret Defenders when circumstances required. He also allowed a team of “Outlaw” Avengers team to hide in the Sanctum Sanctorum in defiance of the Superhero Registration Act (at the heart of Captain America: Civil War film). He also served as mentor to several apprentices over the years, most notably Clea, the niece of his enemy Dormammu and Doctor Voodoo, his brief successor to the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme. He has relinquished or lost the mantle a few other times in the past but always reclaimed it.
Strange’s powers and abilities are subtly as advanced as his field of influence. As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange has the Cloak of Levitation, which allows him to fly and the Eye of Agamotto which reveals the presence of dark magic. He possesses the powers of teleportation and astral projection which allows him to send his spirit anywhere. His chief weapon is the vast number of spells and incantations he knows. During some spells he invokes or asks the aid of many powerful entities like Agamotto, Cyttorak and Watoomb, to name just a few. Within the Sanctum, Doctor Strange has the most extensive mystical library on Earth including the white magic Book of the Vishanti, and the dark magic Darkhold, which contains, among other spells, The Montessi Formula which once eradicated all vampires from the planet. One of his most important possessions is the Orb of Agamotto, which is a huge scrying pool/crystal ball. He is also a skilled martial artist and swordsman.
Because his adventures exist outside the mundane world, Doctor Strange figures and statues have the opportunity to portray some truly interesting and surreal images in a three dimensional form. Here are a few of my favorites:
Dark Horse Deluxe
This Syroco-style statue shows Doctor Strange in all his Steve Ditko glory. The design is an utterly simple design but is full of complexity. The folds of the cloak billow around the figure and the sash floats around Strange’s waist as if alive. The Eye of Agamotto glows around the Doctor’s neck. Two aspects that make this character amazing are the face and the hands. The face is pure Ditko with the arcing and impossibly huge eyebrows and the long mustache and soul patch making it distinctive and unforgettable. On the hands, which are static, the artist put Kirby Krackles all over it, giving it a feeling of power and movement. For the uninitiated, Kirby Krackles are varying degrees of dots that convey action, energy, and magic.
It is impossible to not include this Funko POP! figure on a list of the best Doctor Strange figures. This figure is classic from head to toe. The collar on the Cloak of Levitation rises perfectly above his head and the larger cloak flows over his shoulder and down to the floor. The hair is amazingly streaked with grey as are the signature temples and he sports his distinctive facial hair. His hands are both in an out-stretched spell position.
XM Studios 2016
This painstakingly crafted and hand painted cold cast statue shows the mysticism and majesty of the character of Doctor Strange. Levitating above a huge version of the Eye of Agamotto, the Doctor sits with crossed legs as he looks into an orb that he holds in his outstretched hand and begins to cast a spell with the other. Each wrist is adorned with ornate golden wrist cuffs. The Cloak of Levitation billows behind him (providing the actual spine for the statue) with detailed creases and folds here make one believe it could completely envelope the good Doctor. It culminates around his neck with the true Eye centrally placed around his neck. The fabulous details don’t stop there. The omnipresent emblem on his tunic is raised and textured vibrantly. His sash flows twice around his waist and terminates at his cape. Even the detail of the pants legs bunching up slightly at the top of the boots shows that no detail was forgotten. The face here is positively amazing, the furrowed and slightly pointed eyebrows, the single strand of hair making a Superman-esque spit churl and that beautiful Fu Manchu make this statue a must have. And to make the magnificent even better, it comes with a demon hand stand that holds a magical book that waits by the side of the mage. XM Studios should be so proud of this offering.
The Bowen Designs Statue, sculpted by the Kucharek Brothers, is a comic book splash page come to life. Dressed completely in the classic look, the static statue is alive with movement. The Cloak of Levitation is flying as if caught by a massive wind to create folds that frame the entire statue from behind. In its overall design, Strange gestures toward the sky with one arm and the other waits at his side with both hands in a magical pose. The sleeves puff and fold from above the classic orange gloves and the tunic folds properly beneath the tightened, single strip sash. Featuring one of the common aspects of all Bowen Designs, Doctor Strange displays detailed and realistic musculature in the footed tights. The large stand, which makes the figure look like the best award ever given, is an image of the window to the Sanctum Sanctorum.
A Jean St. Jean Studios sculpt; this statue is particularly appealing because it is the most realistic depiction of the Sorcerer Supreme, if realistic has any meaning where comics and magic are involved. Doctor Strange is again depicted in his classic outfit with the billowing sleeves and the leggings. In this statue, the clothing looks like fabric. It hangs from the shoulders, folds slightly over the sash and hugs the legs at the bottom of the tunic. The tights even bunch slightly at the knees and the ankles, showing the real-life effects of such tight fabric. One of the most interesting aspects of this figure is the Cloak. In most representations, the Cloak of Levitation takes on a life of its own, usually shown billowing wildly behind him. In this case, Doctor Strange restrains it behind him with one hand, giving the figure a more realistic and vaguely Old West gunfighter stance. Finally, the stand brings the whole figure together. Several books, with one open, lay at the Doctor’s feet. A cauldron filled with fire rises behind him. The smoke from the fire drifts above and begins to form a menacing skull. In front of Strange, a weird demonic bird creature rises but doesn’t seem to be the focus of his spell.
Life beyond the comics? Did someone mention a film?
Doctor Strange is such an interesting character. It was inevitable that he began to pop up in many Marvel properties and he has over the years. He has made many successful animated appearances starting way back with the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends series episode “7 Little Superheroes.” He has appeared in various series starring Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Avengers, aiding each against various mystical threats and he’s made several appearances on the adorably and hilarious Super Hero Squad series. In 2007, a very faithful and well made direct to DVD Doctor Strange animated film was released that saw him battle the Dreaded Dormammu. It was broadcast on Cartoon Network on November 1st, 2008 to high ratings.
The good Doctor’s live action outings have been less than successful until recently. On September 6th, 1978, a TV movie titled “Dr. Strange” was released. In this laughably bad adaptation, Stephen Strange was a psychiatry resident and the Ancient one was eliminated in favor or a more westernized mentor. In 1992, an adaptation was planned that changed both the character’s name and origin. The undeveloped film was to be called “Dr. Mordrid.” Multiple scripts had been floating around since as early as 1986 for a new Doctor Strange movie and plans began to solidify in 2009 when Marvel hired writers to find creative ways to bring some of their “second tier” characters like Doctor Strange to film. Several re-writes occurred until Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed that Doctor Strange would be part of the “Phase Three” releases of Marvel Cinematic Universe films with principal photography beginning in May of 2015.
In the upcoming Marvel Studios Doctor Strange film, Stephen Strange is portrayed by the phenomenally talented Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is not unfamiliar with the locations that the film took him as he taught English in a Tibetan monastery in Darjeeling India or in the more spiritual aspects as he mediates often, which he finds to be a very important part of keeping himself centered. He also took great pains to get the movement and physical gestures down calling them “balletic and very dynamic.” He has stated that he worked to make sure that there was a reason for a finger to go “there” and not “there.” Not much has been released about the plot but it is believed that it will follow the basic premise of the comic series.
Some characters will be combined or changed however. Most notably and potentially controversially is the casting of actress Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. Classically a wizened Asian male, Swinton will play the character as a 500-plus year old gender androgynous character. Kevin Feige justifies that by saying the “Ancient One” is a mantle, not a name, that has been held by many people and that the gender of the character just doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the few visuals from the film, mostly via a recently released teaser trailer, show that the film will be stunning to watch.
Doctor Strange has always proven appealing because his stories were so different than the street crime of Daredevil or the super villain throw-downs in the Avengers. His battles are broad and vast. They take us to other dimensions and even outside the universe. Doctor Strange shows us that there are worlds beyond our imagination, worlds that are both exciting and terrifying. He is also one of the few characters that you have seen in comics reading books, studying and learning to increase his knowledge and abilities. While magic may not be visible to us in the real world, there was definitely magic in those pages, on our TVs and, very soon, on the giant screens of our local multiplex. And that will truly be a mystical experience.
This article “The Life of Doctor Strange: From Ditko To Benedict Cumberbatch” originally appeared on CompleteSet.com.