Sunday, September 18, 2011

The IMMORTALITY of DOCTOR STRANGE



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.

7 comments:

frasersherman said...

When Stephen shows up in the First Wave series in the 1960s, he looks the same as he did later, so presumably his aging was slowing down even before it stopped.
In the M2 universe, he's been replaced in Spider-Girl's time by his own son, Doc Magus, but I don't recall any indication Strange was too old for the job.

David H. said...

DC found a way to deal with the aging process of it's characters that doesn't involve magic. it's called the 52 relaunch. that cover at the top of this posting is badass and i dig the whole poker scene. i hope you get better soon ~P~. in the mean time if you check out what i posted today on the ROM blog you'll see that it seems your more intuitive then most people out there.

~P~ said...

frasersherman,

Do you mean the "Lost Generation" comic series?
If I'm not mistaken "First Wave" is a DC banner.

"Lost Generation" followed the exploits of the characters that exist OUTSIDE of that 10-year sliding time line; ie; THOR, THE WATCHER, DOCTOR STRANGE etc... and a new group of heroes that fit into that time slot formerly held by traditional 1960's Marvel heroes.

So, yes. Doc looked very close to how he looks today, because it took place within the parameters of the time after he studied magic and was an active sorcerer. It wouldn't be too long after which he'd have the trial of the Ancient One.

However, you ARE correct also in that enough time would have passed that SOME aging should have taken place. I guess MAGIC is the best anti-aging solution.

Oh, and in the MC2 Universe, DOC is an OLD man.

He still has the magic chops, but the Vishanti passed him by to go to DOC MAGUS.

Of course, there, he isn't as old as he is in the (original) Guardians of the Galaxy Universe, where he is known as "The ANCIENT ONE" and looks like he's 1,000 years old (and he is, since that's the time in which those adventures took place)



David H.,
Long time, my friend.
I didn't want to crack the obvious joke as the 52 relaunch, but i was seriously thinking about it.

yup. Revamps, reboots, and redo-buttons are the ultimate way to keep characters eternally young.

And thanks for the kudos.
I saw what you were referring to (the ROM fab-lab).
Yes. I guess I AM more intuitive than most.
I'll take that compliment without an attempt at being humble.

It is one of my most prized attributes.
(Unless you're watching a mystery show with me and I tell you who dunnit and how in the first 5 minutes. My wife hates me because of that. lol)

Be well!

~P~

David H. said...

hey it hasn't been that long i paid you a visit here when you had that ROM #1 alt cover. but i hear ya on your last comment there it would have been nice to read some other opinions from other ROM fans out there. telln ya bro people who don't leave or reply to comments freakin suck!

Disciple of Strange said...

Long live Doctor Strange!
First look at his new costume: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=34457
I like the Leinil version better, but it looks pretty cool. I'd rather him go Halloweenish black and orange instead of red, but I'll take it. So much better than the street clothes!

~P~ said...

Ah, Disciple... I was working on exactly such a post whenb you posted your comment.

Now you make it seem like I was slacking, instead of just being overworked and with no time to blog.

Argh...

Still, you have to believe me, I had these images stored for the past few days and was just trying to determine what angle to take with my article.

It is up now (one day too late). Here's the linkee...

http://sanctumsanctorumcomix.blogspot.com/2011/09/strange-clothes-make-man-strange.html

Enjoy!
(And thanks for the comment. If I DIDN'T know about it, I would TRULY appreciate it for any reader's help - and I still do. Thanks again!)

frasersherman said...

Yes, Lost Generation--I was thinking of the team's name, "First Line." My error.

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