As I've been feeling under the weather (waaaay under) as of late, I am reminded of the apparent agelessness and eternal nature of our favorite characters.
I'm not referring to the eternal nature of how some characters survive for generations as trademarks and corporate mascots, or survive within the memories of a societies collective consciousness, but instead, the actual lifespan of a character.
Some characters, like Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Scooby Doo and the like, are designed to be in a perpetual "now", always existing in the time-frame of their current adventure. Most have an utter lack of continuity to give them the impression of growth, let alone aging.
However, for fans of comic books, we are used to the progression of time, since the tales of our comic heroes are told in a manner of continual procession - one adventure linking to the next - with an illusion of growth and some actual aging.
Spider-Man was a high-school student when he was first bitten, and had progressed to a late 20-something (early 30's? maybe) man (well, until the re-do button of the "One More Day" storyline turned the clock back, somewhat).
Still, even with all the apparent growth and decades of published comic stories, most comic companies put forth a structure that all of the tales (in "canon") took place within a limited, truncated time-frame. If they didn't, Superman and Batman, who were created in the late 1930's, and were portrayed as being in at least their 20's in those adventures, would be near 100 year old men.
Marvel Comics has long held a "10-year sliding time-frame" that states that no matter what year it is NOW, the heroes have only been active for 10 years. So, if you read old issues of the Fantastic Four in the 1960's, where the Thing got a "Beatles" wig from the Yancy Street Gang, it would now be a Justin Bieber wig instead (or whatever well-quaffed singing space-monkey is popular at the far future point this is still being read on the interweb...or Mind-Wave-Infotron-3000™ by generations to come.)
Still, beyond the limiting of the perceived lifetimes of our caped and cowled heroes, some characters don't even have to worry about their aging processes, as they are written to be ageless.
Gods, demons and apparent perpetually long-lived mutants needn't be concerned.
This is one area that readers of fantasy fiction know that the sorcerer is typically a part.
Most sorcerers are, if not near eternal, then possessed of exceptional longevity.
Be it by the concocting of potions, the obtaining of mystical talismans, or the slowing of time by some sacrificial rite, many magic-users see the passing of centuries, if not eons.
And so, we come to Doctor Strange; Marvel Comics' own Master of the Mystic Arts and (once and future) Sorcerer Supreme. Once a normal man, a physician, he would, after a car crash ruined the nerves in his hands, journey to the Himalayas, ostensibly to seek a cure, but ultimately to learn the way of the mystic arts. Tutored by an aged mentor known as "The Ancient One", Stephen Strange joined the ranks of the "Order of the Aged Ghengis".
The Ancient One was well over 500 years old by the time he passed on (not by natural causes, by the way) to become one with all there is. The Aged Ghengis is far, far older than that. It is said that he was alive at the dawn of humanity.
Doctor Strange, while born in 1930 (according to Marvel's own wiki, [although, I've long held a slightly different time-line wherein he was born in 1900, I'll post my timeline one day - for the curious]), was a mortal man for most of his life, well into his time as a mystic.
It wouldn't be until he would undergo testing by his deceased master, that he would pass the trials that would grant him a kind of immortality.
The test? Nothing too hard... just accept the inevitability of death itself as an option in all things and... to then die himself.
"I died... but, I got better."
Doctor Strange transcends death BY DYING...
Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts # 4 Englehart and Brunner
Journeying through a realm of unreality, Strange is forced to learn that death is no illusion. But it is through this acceptance that he is able to face and then transcend death.
Now, he will no longer be a mortal, in the sense that he will no longer age or feel the impairments of illness from within. He CAN still die - from forces from the outside - most likely from battle, but unless some outre effect causes a detrimental wound, Strange can expect to look and live exactly as he does now - forever.
When Strange was anywhere near a death situation, the sign of the ankh used to flare upon his brow.
Such a visual spell has long since been stopped - probably long-forgotten by all of today's creators.
Truthfully, it's probably for the best, since every time he was in a battle and was close to losing, the ankh would appear. Battles via sorcery tend to be life/death scenarios, and if you're not winning against a demon-sorcerer, there's a good chance he's going to kill you, so it became a tired trope pretty quickly.
(Over the past few years, I've employed images of the Ankh appearing on Doc's head whenever I am under the weather or in some way impaired. I've also reviewed a few issues where the ankh was brought back into usage. They can be found at this link [HERE] also accessible by clicking the word "ANKH" on my keyword list on the left sidebar - but remember that since THIS POST is ALSO in the purview of "the Ankh" it will appear first at that link. SO scroll on down to the others, lest you think you were merely brought back here.)
Over the past bunch of years, I have wondered as to whether or not writers even remembered the "immortal" aspect of Strange's nature. Especially since David Quinn's 1993-1995 era storyline (and issues 72 - 75 in particular) wherein Strange's body was severely damaged by the demon sorceress, Salome'.
During this time, Strange's body was decaying (mystically) and was being eradicated - eaten away by her destructive magicks. Due to this, he takes to wearing a protective suit of magical armor.
It isn't until after he tricks her into removing the tainted magics that he is reborn - younger and more powerful than before.
However, that rebirth was a mere rejuvenation and not an actual replacement of a new body for an old one. So, it is to be believed that the old spell granted by the Ancient One is still in effect.
One story in particular points directly to the immortal nature of a few of Marvel's heroes.
In a Fantastic Four Annual (1998) the Thing travels to an alternate Earth wherein the "10-year sliding scale" doesn't exist, and the FF began as a team in 1961. He goes to Avengers mansion to see some of that Earth's heroes and finds only a few of them exist - while most others have retired or passed away.
Doctor Strange, Thor and Wolverine are still among those active in the world "today", and they note the passing of several of their compatriots.
DOCTOR STRANGE, THOR & WOLVERINE - gossiping "old" hens.
Fantastic Four Annual - 1998
Karl Kesel (story), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Cam Smith (inks), Gloria Vasquez (colors)
But other than that "What If?" type of tale, Doctor Strange is still but one of a few actual "ageless" characters - and one of the few that they have granted a specific birth year. So, no matter the 10-year scale, Strange will always stand outside of his time. Hopefully... eternally.