Saturday, May 5, 2012


image from Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts # 55 by Michael Golden


Superman can fly.

Peter Parker’s parents were agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Doctor Strange; the “Chosen One”, is a contemporary man, former alcoholic, and novice superhero with magic-powers.

Over the years, there have been many tacked-on “ret-cons” and/or tweaks to the histories and origins of fictional characters. Like pebbles tossed into the waters set forth rings that build on the initial creative droplet, so too can a new interpretation or add-on build onto the creative wave. However, in other instances the idea-pebble does nothing but sink like a stone, to kick up silt and detritus to muddy the waters of creativity, detract from the purity of the original idea and leave things murkier than they had been previously.

Initially, Superman could LEAP over tall buildings in a single bound. Later, they just said; “He can FLY!” Certainly, the reasoning “science” that our yellow sun empowers him and our gravity is less than his home planet of Krypton adds to his greatness and abilities –a positive addition to his canon.

Peter Parker’s parents were dead, off-panel, even before we ever met the young man. All we needed to know was that, in their stead, he was raised by his Aunt and Uncle. Then, it was revealed that the Parker’s were spies, and died on a secret mission. Thus, is removed the “everyman” aspect to Spider-Man’s earliest origins and lessens the reader’s ability to relate to him.

This brings us to Doctor Stephen Strange.
I have FIVE main gripes about the stones thrown – tacked-on memes – or outright wrong-minded beliefs – that writers and fans have tossed into the deep waters of Doctor Stephen Strange.

I will briefly list them below and follow up on them, giving each one their own dedicated post - in the days to come.


Doctor Strange has (or had) one of the greatest, purest, most apropos origins ever to grace any fictional character. It was poetic. It was karmic. It was darkly ironic. Yet, it showed how someone could truly rise above themselves and become something far greater.
However, some writers tack on the unnecessary twist that he was pre-ordained to be the Ancient One’s best disciple, and Sorcerer Supreme. This totally robs him of the redemptive aspect of his origin, making him some messiah that we can now never hope to be.

Doctor Stephen Strange was not an alcoholic. In his origin story, it was never stated that Strange was an alcoholic, either before or after the accident that caused the end of his surgical career. In fact in his earliest origin stories and retellings, NOWHERE is it said that Doc was addicted to alcohol.
Furthermore, they scarcely mention drink AT ALL.
He is just drawn looking like a derelict - unshaven and disheveled – at his lowest ebb and at the end of his rope.

It is important for writers to remember; Doctor Strange is a man out of time. As his official Marvel biography has him born in 1930, Doctor Strange (like Captain America and Namor; the Sub-Mariner before him,) is truly alone – standing outside of time – with nearly no one from his former life either active – or alive.  Yet, sadly, in the comics, there have been too many “associates”; colleagues and other people who knew / worked with Stephen Strange before his accident. This should be highly unlikely and has rarely been handled properly.

Doctor Strange is not a super-hero with traditional “powers”. As a sorcerer, he has NO powers. As such, he can not be “DE-powered” (in the traditional sense). He has only knowledge. And knowledge is something that can not be taken away. It can be lost. It can be forgotten. But (outside of a mind-wipe) what once was learned can never be un-learned.

Long has it been thought by the modern editors at Marvel that Dr. Strange was simply too powerful, or that his “powers” have no rules, and thus is hard to have readers feel he is in any real danger. These editors obviously never read any of the earliest of the post-Ditko ‘STRANGE TALES’ issues (or the much loved – by me – second volume of STRANGE TALES in the 1980’s).
These writers and editors also seem to feel that without the bulk of his mystical armory, that Dr. Strange is an ineffectual novice, prone to mistakes and small of ability.

However, each of these problems can be overcome; either creatively written out or simply ignored. Like a stone skipped across the surface of a pond, a bad idea may only skim across, but barely affect the water overmuch.

And, in some instances, some GOOD additions to the mythos have been made. For instance; his being a Neurosurgeon, as opposed to a generic surgeon, adds bitter irony to his suffering nerve damage from his car accident.

My gripe is not so much that Marvel writers don’t know how to write him anymore. There have been instances as far back as Roy Thomas’ first attempt, as he took over after Stan Lee quit penning Strange’s Tales, wherein the characterization went off the rail (although, Thomas’ later stint as writer in the 1990’s went even further the wrong way down the track) . Yet, some modern writers; Brian K. Vaughan and Jeff Parker among them, can still pen a quality Strange tale.
Neither is it the sad fact that editorial dictum has him “de-powered”. No, Marvel has depowered Dr. Strange so many times over the past 40-odd years that I know it is but a matter of time for his inevitable return to status quo. Even his recent bout of ineptitude can be easily explained away.
Nor is the perpetually repeated “meme” of Doctor Strange being an alcoholic engraved in stone. Such a thing can be written out or tempered to something more in keeping with the tenor of his tale.

Harder to erase is the revolving door of people from his past showing up in his stories. Yet, even that can simply be changed. Instead of a colleague, Strange could be meeting with their child (or grandchild) all grown up – or, as in an instance from the most excellent mini-series; ‘The Oath’, the young Doctor he knew back in his old life was today an old man, while the villain – also a contemporary of his, was a mystic, and also beyond the touch of time.

Still, these five points are the ones that writers should remember to steer clear of, to research and to address in an appropriate manner. Thus, it is these five points for which I shall post analyses and offer my insight to help rectify.

I have been meaning to get to this series of posts for well over a year now. While the urge was present, the urgency was not. But now, due to the possible advent of a DOCTOR STRANGE live-action “big-budget” film, as well as a new, “Season One” oversized, origin re-visitation hardcover written by Grek Pak and illustrated by Emma Rios on the horizon, I thought I should get this series of posts, wherein I detail these important, erroneous plot points out into the world. It is with these detailed investigative pieces that I hope to shine a light upon these errors and point to ways how they can be fixed – or at least – ignored.

This series can be seen as companion-pieces to my widely-applauded essay on “WHO IS DOCTOR STRANGE?” – seen [HERE].

These five entries will be posted through the month of May (May being the 5th month, and starting off on May 5th... I can't help but play to the numerology of it all), so please come back to read each one and feel free to add your thoughts to the comments section below.

Here are the links for the series (I'll add them as they post):



Planned from the start, but kept a secret until the end of the main series is a Special Edition
6th ENTRY!


Anonymous said...

I read the first finger above, and wholeheartedly agree. Looking forward to the rest.
One that annoyed me leafing through the Essentials collections is that in Lee/Ditko, Strange is well-known as a magician (even if most people scoff) but by the early seventies, nobody's ever heard of him. I much preferred the earlier version (I've no idea how they're treating him currently).

Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm almost a month behind in posts. Have to peruse these over the long holiday weekend and catch up. Thanks for posting!

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