Wednesday, May 9, 2012



As detailed in my last entry, the prelude to this series [HERE], I listed 5 fatal errors that modern Marvel has crossed in their portrayal (a betrayal?) of Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts.

Here I shall delve into the first of these fatal missteps:
ERROR # 1: 

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.
That is, until someone decided to screw it up (multiple times and in ever worsening ways).

In the classic STRANGE TALES # 115 Steve Ditko (plot, art) and Stan Lee (script) wove a tale of redemption, of self-discovery, and of the rising and advancing of the spirit.



Doctor Stephen Strange was a greedy, arrogant and selfish doctor – a surgeon – who was the very best in his field. The classic "God complex" writ large. His exorbitant fees made that perfectly clear. Yet, with all his skills to be able to save lives, in his eyes, if a patient could not afford him, they may as well not afford to live. It was simply not his concern.
It wasn’t until his own injury, suffered as a result of a car crash, wherein his nerve-endings in his hands were damaged, that he first seems to understand their pain.

Here is a point where later writers actually introduced a GOOD addition to the mythos. A few years into his publication history, for the first issue of his then self-titled series, Roy Thomas penned a new, more expanded and expounded-upon origin story and gave Strange a specialty; Neurosurgery. Strange’s being a Neurosurgeon, as opposed to a generic surgeon, adds bitter irony to his suffering nerve damage from his car accident. It put forth the twist that perhaps the only surgeon great enough to have helped heal his hands would have been himself.

But, I digress. The Lee/Ditko origin continues with Stephen descending into a state of denial and self-pity. He spends his fortune searching for cures and seeking out anyone who may be able to restore his hands – and himself - to their former level of greatness.
It is at this low ebb that he hears of the ‘Ancient One’; a mystic “healer” who can cure any illness or injury. With nothing more to lose, Strange sets out for the Himalayan monastery of the Ancient One to demand a cure.

After an arduous journey, Strange arrives at the Tibetan lamasery and promptly makes his demands of the aged mystic meditating within. However, the aged guru sees that Strange’s motives are selfish and is thus unworthy of a cure. But, perhaps if Stephen were to stay and study with him, Strange might find, within his own self, the cure that he did seek.
If not for a sudden blizzard, which seemed to manifest as if by magic, Strange would have left right then and there – and his journey to self-discovery and ascension to greater heights would have died stillborn.

Forced to stay within the hidden retreat, Stephen Strange slowly discovers that magic and the unseen forces are real indeed, and in the wrong hands, are an ever-present danger to the world.

The Ancient One’s disciple; Mordo, while an adept pupil, reveals himself to be a force for evil. Finding that it is the only way to prevent Mordo from harming the Ancient One – and then the world at large Strange humbles himself, requesting to study at the feet of the aged Master – in the hopes to be able to combat Mordo directly.
It is revealed that the Ancient One had long known of Mordo’s treachery, and merely kept him nearby so as to prevent his dark taint from spreading out to the world. But, this new, noble Stephen Strange is precisely what the Ancient mystic was hoping to find as his proper, suitable pupil.
With this dedication to a cause other than himself, Stephen Strange has begun the path of redemption and advancement of his spirit.

Sure, I fleshed it out a bit, but the classic origin is perfect:
 A selfish, arrogant man is brought low by his own hubris. Yet by forgoing his own pain and suffering, in order to help others, sets himself upon the path of saving the world – and himself.

So, it always comes as a tragic misstep whenever a writer tacks on the heroism-killing aspect of Strange being a “chosen one”, a mystical adept who is destined to become the pupil of the Ancient One and eventual Sorcerer Supreme.
It just destroys every aspect of redemption and the triumphant heroic arc of the character and replaces it with fate – so there’s no need for any of us to strive to emulate that selfsame advancement of our spirit because you’re either born special – or you’re not.

As I wrote in my examination of Matt Fraction’s contributions to the mythos [HERE]:

“I am talking about the “chosen one” dilemma. Not to get into the theological debate of Calvinism vs Catholicism vs Lutheranism vs Unitarianism, but If things “happen for a reason” or more to the point; if things happen to a predestined plan of some cosmic googum, then there may not exist hope that the possibility of greatness could be bestowed upon an average Joe (or Jane) of the 99% of us, but instead, the golden apple is held out of reach, except only for the select few. The 1%.

There have been a few instances of writers branding Doctor Strange as a “chosen one”, that he was predestined to become the Sorcerer that he would become and that the Ancient One even protected him as a child, to ensure his continuing along the path. This ruins the “road to redemption” aspect of Strange’s origin, that it was only through great loss, soul-searching and acceptance of a greater power than he that he was able to ascend to greater heights. Personal growth.
There have even been similar attempts to introduce the same “chosen one” status to heroes like Spider-Man – the ultimate example (aside from Batman) of an origin that any child can imagine as being possible for them.
Such secret puppetry with invisible strings connected to an all-powerful hand diminishes the specialness of the heroic ideal. Despite the tag-line, Captain Universe may NOT be the hero who could be you or me. Perhaps the uni-force doesn’t come to anyone that needs it, but only those whom the cosmic machine has pre-selected. Truly Deux ex Machina.
A hero may or may not truly have free will to act heroically, but instead is merely performing a part, prewritten for them, like a play where they are unknowing performers.”

As you can see, the “Chosen One” aspect presents problems to any character – unless a lineage is being followed, or a bestowing of powers/artifacts/knowledge is at the heart of the equation.

As alluded to in my self-quote above, there was a time, in the DOCTOR STRANGE: SORCERER SUPREME series – issue # 85, near the end of the run – where J.M. DeMatteis introduces the retcon of DOC's origin wherein he is PREDESTINED to be the successor to the ANCIENT ONE, and MORDO (himself already the pupil of the Ancient One) is greatly angered at that fact.

This teeters on the brink of religious emulation, since it mirrors, to some extent, the Catholic dogma that the pre-destined selection of Mary, as perfect vessel for God – and in turn, Jesus as the human-born Son of God – to thus be placed ABOVE the angels (who were heretofore the highest of God’s creations), and to whom even the angelic hosts would need supplicate themselves, would cause Satan/Lucifer, angered by this, to rebel against heaven and become the ultimate evil: the “devil”.

According to DeMatties’ story, it was this pre-selection of the Ancient One’s successor that drove Mordo (back) to the path of evil.

Because of this, MORDO places a spell on the then pre-teenage STEPHEN STRANGE to have nightmares and develop an alcoholic lifestyle so as to facilitate in his destruction. *
*Don’t worry, we’ll tackle the erroneous meme of Strange being an alcoholic in the next segment.

This “golden child” angle of approaching Doctor Strange’s origin is something that was first introduced, of all places, in the 1978 TV Pilot Movie (which you can view, in its entirety [HERE] and read my insanely detailed review of [HERE].
In the film, not only was it suggested that Stephen was the inheritor of a great ability to command the hidden forces of magic, but that the evil agents of the dark side had attempted to slay him before he could come of age (but only managed to kill his parents instead).

A few other - non-canon – stories, such as 2004’s “STRANGE” mini, have also tried to introduce this added wrinkle, but thankfully, none have stuck or carried over into the Marvel Universe proper.

Sadly, the same can not be said for Marvel’s “Official Handbook” (both the online and print versions). Therein, they accept and mention the “Chosen One” ret-con as being a part of Strange’s history.

While earlier writers always stayed close to the Lee/Ditko origin, most writers after DeMatteis’ story have safely ignored (t)his additional twist. It is my hope that it can be totally eradicated from canon.
The easiest way would be to show that the memory blocks that were mystically implanted by Mordo (to prevent Strange from remembering the teen-age alcoholism and demonic visitations) were, in fact memory IMPLANTS, and that none of that was real.

Life is a series of choices. And those choices help to form who and what we are. Even if our choices don’t manifest in the ways that we intend, how we then deal with the ramifications and alterations of our lives by those initial choices become new choices in and of themselves and add to our total being.

Predestination: To have those choices made for us before we ever came to be – to have someone other than ourselves determine the course (or even the reality) of our very existence – to be fated - is a fate of the worst kind.

Heroism (or villainy) is ours for the choosing –
-  if we are but given the chance to do so.


Come back NEXT installment as we examine:


Anonymous said...

Agreed. It's beautiful to think our choices can change our destinies if all goes well. Changing that for some lame Chosen one crap is not needed. Plus why retcon something that's not broken to begin with?

Mario Di Giacomo said...

J.M. DeMatteis loves his "chosen one" stories, particularly if a child is involved. I've always belived it was due to his studies under a fellow named Meher Baba

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