Thursday

OMU: Doctor Strange -- Year One

Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts and, later, Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, was created by artist Steve Ditko to run as a backup feature in Strange Tales, which, like many of Marvel’s titles, was being converted from a horror anthology into a superhero mag. Occult elements were not unusual in Ditko’s work, and fashioning a mystical superhero was a natural progression, given the trends in the industry at the time. Ditko’s genius is evident in the degree to which Doctor Strange is a departure from the previous generation of magician-heroes, a common fixture during the so-called Golden Age of the 1940s. Rather than wearing the top hat, tuxedo, and red-lined cape of the innumerable Mandrake rip-offs, Doctor Strange appeared in vaguely “Oriental” attire that made him seem all the more mysterious.

The character was developed over numerous issues by Ditko and scripter/editor Stan Lee, who came up with most of Dr. Strange’s memorable catchphrases, such as “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!” However, the driving force behind the strip, in the early days, was always Ditko, who often devised the plots with no input from Stan, which enabled Ditko to showcase his talent for dreaming up fantastic, nearly-abstract alien dimensions where the laws of physics did not apply.

Doctor Strange is also notable in that he is the only one of Marvel’s major heroes to have started his career before the Fantastic Four gained their powers. When we first meet him, in Strange Tales #110, he is already well-established, and we soon learn that he has an international reputation as an expert in the occult. His origin story, told five issues later, detailed the long and difficult road he traveled to achieve his mastery of magic. Peter Sanderson, in his retrospective series The Marvel Saga, published to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Marvel Universe, made it clear that Doctor Strange was already doing his thing in the months before the Fantastic Four’s fateful rocket flight.

Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.


We now conjure up... The True History of Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts!


1912 – Stephen Strange is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Eugene and Beverly Strange. They are a very well-to-do family.

1929 – The Strange family is fairly well insulated from the effects of the stock market crash. As the Great Depression begins, they remain wealthy and comfortable. The family members feel little sympathy for the less fortunate.

1930 – Stephen Strange graduates from high school and enters the University of Pennsylvania, intent on becoming a medical doctor.

1934 – Stephen graduates and enrolls in the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.

1938 – Stephen earns his MD and begins an internship at a major hospital in New York City. He meets another intern named Robinson, and they form a professional friendship, though Stephen remains rather self-centered. In fact, Stephen soon realizes he finds it difficult to care about his patients at all. Then, Beverly Strange dies after a long illness.

1939 – His internship completed, Stephen enters a surgery program and is trained in neurosurgery, for which he demonstrates a great talent. His mentor is Dr. Kenneth W. Ward, a top neurosurgeon, part-time explorer, and collector of occult antiquities. Recognizing each other’s talents, they become close friends. Meanwhile, World War II begins in Europe.

1941 – The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the war.

1943 – Stephen operates on a woman named Madeleine Revell, the victim of an automobile accident, and saves her life. Madeleine, a translator at the French consulate in New York, is at first intensely infatuated with the brilliant young surgeon, and they begin dating. In time, Stephen falls in love with her.

1944 – After a year-long romance, Stephen proposes marriage to Madeleine, but she declines, having realized that she does not want to spend her life with a man possessed of his greed, ambition, and cold-heartedness. Her stinging rejection causes Stephen to become even more arrogant than he was before.

1945 – World War II ends. Stephen completes his training and enters private practice. Eugene Strange dies of a heart attack, but Stephen is too busy to attend the funeral.

1946 – Stephen makes the acquaintance of another doctor, Darryl Berenson, and his beautiful blond wife, Patricia. Stephen contemplates pursuing having an affair with the woman, but never actually bothers. He also strikes up a friendship with a talented young surgeon named James Wynter, as they are both frequently invited to the same glamorous parties.

1947 – Stephen Strange has built a reputation as a top neurosurgeon, but then crashes his sports car and sustains nerve damage that ends his surgical career. An associate, Dr. Charles Benton, offers him a position as a consultant, but Stephen’s pride prevents him from working as anyone’s assistant, and so he spends much of his fortune seeking a cure for his condition.

1948 – His financial resources squandered, Stephen hits up Dr. Darryl Berenson for some money. Berenson is angered and gives his former friend the bum’s rush. Stephen lets fly with verbal abuse before he is forcibly removed from the clinic.

1949 – Stephen becomes a penniless drifter and drunken derelict. While hanging out on the waterfront, he learns of the supposedly miracle-working “Ancient One” in Tibet, and decides to find him in a last ditch effort for a cure. He sells the last of his possessions to book passage on a boat to India, from which he crosses into Tibet. Near the end of the year, the Red Chinese army invades eastern Tibet.

1950 – Stephen meets the Ancient One and his pupil, Baron Karl Mordo, in the Himalayas of northwest Tibet. Although the Ancient One claims to have no cure for Stephen’s damaged nerves, the traveler is forced to remain when a blizzard suddenly descends upon them. Left to his own devices, Stephen soon stumbles upon Mordo plotting to kill his teacher with sinister black magic. Learning first-hand that the power of such magic is very real, Stephen realizes the only way to save the old man is to learn enough spells of his own to overcome Mordo. When he entreats the Ancient One to take him on as a student, the wizened mage reveals he is aware of Mordo’s treachery already and counters the evil spells with the merest gesture, freeing Stephen from their effects. The experience leads Stephen Strange to have an epiphany, and he decides to start on a new path in life, devoting himself to the study of the mystic arts.

1951 – As Stephen begins his studies in the Ancient One’s remote retreat, the Chinese government forces Tibet to sign a treaty effectively annexing the country into the People’s Republic of China. Cut off from such affairs, Stephen soon gets to know the Ancient One’s devoted manservant, called Hamir the Hermit, who looks after both master and disciples alike. Soon, Stephen has his first encounter with the malevolent entity called Nightmare, who inhabits the Dream Dimension. It proves to be only the first of many such battles. Months later, Baron Mordo challenges the novice Stephen to a mystic duel, but is defeated. The humiliated Mordo is banished from the Ancient One’s temple, and he returns to his ancestral castle in Transylvania.

1958 – Stephen at last faces the final test of his studies: in the very heart of the Ancient One’s temple, he must cross a thin silver cable suspended over a mystic void, thus proving his mastery over both mind and body. Clearing his thoughts of all distractions, Stephen strides across the chasm and reaches the other side. Satisfied, the Ancient One says the time has come for him to return to the world. Thus, Doctor Strange journeys back to New York and establishes his Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village. Near the end of the year, Wong shows up at his door, saying he has been sent to be Stephen’s manservant, just as his father, Hamir, served the Ancient One.

1959 – Doctor Strange begins his new career as a Master of the Mystic Arts. He begins to build a reputation as an expert in the occult, occasionally helping the police with particularly mysterious cases, but more often aiding individuals who seek him out. Meanwhile, the Chinese government cracks down on a Tibetan uprising, killing nearly 90,000 Tibetans and forcing another 80,000 into exile. However, the Ancient One’s mountainous retreat remains untouched by worldly events, and Doctor Strange must accept that his powers can do little good in the arena of international politics. For the next three-and-a-half years, Doctor Strange develops his skills as a sorcerer and has adventures that remain shrouded in mystery. It is during this period that he first befriends the mystics Omar Karindu and Aleister Kane and makes an enemy of the minor sorcerer Cyrus Black.

November 1961 – Reading news reports of the super-powered team of adventurers calling themselves the “Fantastic Four,” Doctor Strange pays them a surreptitious visit in his ectoplasmic form. Determining that they are neither supernatural in origin nor a threat to the human race, he does not interfere.

December 1961 – Doctor Strange is annoyed to learn that an ingenious but criminally-insane scientist named Dr. Karel Stranczek has been dubbed “Dr. Strange” by the news media. The villain is apprehended by U.S. military paratroopers and sent to jail.

June 1962 – Doctor Strange is intrigued by the number of super-heroes who have recently come on the scene in the wake of the Fantastic Four’s debut, such as Ant-Man, Thor, Iron Man, the Avenging Angel, and Spider-Man. However, he remains chiefly concerned with more mystical matters and does not involve himself in their exploits.

July 1962 – When Karel Stranczek, the criminal mastermind popularly known as “Dr. Strange,” breaks out of prison and wreaks international havoc, Stephen Strange is irritated. He decides to allow the armored hero Iron Man to deal with the situation, but when the villain escapes capture, the sorcerer loses his patience. He casts a spell that causes the madman to lose all memory of his criminal career, as well as his scientific genius. Doctor Strange is satisfied that Stranczek will never menace the world again, nor sully his good name.

September 1962 – Doctor Strange once again challenges Nightmare at the request of a sleepless man, who turns out to be a criminal plagued by guilt. Soon after, Strange must battle Baron Mordo for the life of the Ancient One when the villain places Hamir under his hypnotic control. After a pitched battle in their astral forms, Strange tricks Mordo into returning to his physical form, thus freeing Hamir from his sinister influence.

When Doctor Strange receives a desperate call for help from an old acquaintance, Sir Clive Bentley, the sorcerer travels to London, only to fall into a trap set by Baron Mordo. Strange is able to contact Sir Clive’s daughter, Victoria Bentley, who lives nearby. After freeing Strange, Victoria reveals that her father has actually been dead for ten years, and Strange realizes how easily he was tricked by Mordo. After a fierce mystical battle, Mordo is once again driven off in defeat. Victoria asks Strange to teach her the ways of magic, but he tells her she is not yet ready. He returns to New York alone.

The New York City police call upon Doctor Strange for help with a “sleeping sickness” case that has all their scientific experts baffled, leading them to suspect foul play. Strange’s investigation leads him to confront Nightmare again, on the latter’s home turf. Strange rescues the astral forms of those afflicted and barely escapes with his life.

October 1962 – Baron Mordo traps Doctor Strange, but he escapes in time to prevent the villain from attacking the Ancient One. Mordo is again defeated, but the Ancient One observes that their enemy seems to grow stronger with each battle.

Doctor Strange travels to Bavaria to defeat extradimensional invaders who have possessed the bodies of a number of villagers as a test before mounting a full-scale invasion. Strange escapes a panicky mob and drives the aliens back from whence they came. After he returns home, two crooks steal a mystic gem from the Sanctum Sanctorum, which transports them into the Purple Dimension, which is ruled by the cruel despot Aggamon. Strange rescues the thieves, defeats Aggamon in single combat, and escapes the Purple Dimension. Later, a neighborhood cop informs Strange that the two thieves have turned themselves in and renounced crime.

On Halloween night, Doctor Strange looks on as a live television broadcast is made from a “haunted house” on the outskirts of the city. The publicity stunt goes awry when the intrepid reporter, Allan Stevens, discovers that the house is really an extradimensional entity. Realizing that true supernatural forces are at work, Strange pushes through the crowd and enters the house. Soon, Stevens emerges in a state of shock, followed by Strange. The sorcerer produces a cloud of vapors from his cloak that enshrouds the House of Shadows, banishing it from this plane of reality. To the viewing audience, it appears that the occult expert has made a “haunted house” disappear in a spectacular magic trick.

November 1962 – Doctor Strange tries to lay low in the wake of his television appearance and the brief, unwelcome celebrity that follows it. He is relieved when the public soon loses interest. Strange then battles Baron Mordo in a wax museum when Mordo steals the sorcerer’s physical body, trapping him in his ectoplasmic form. With seconds to spare, Strange overcomes Mordo and regains his physical form, but refuses to finish Mordo off, even though he has the villain at his mercy.

Over the next couple of weeks, Doctor Strange is kept unusually busy battling the supernatural forces that menace mankind and doesn’t get enough sleep.

December 1962 – Having seen Doctor Strange on the Halloween broadcast, the Human Torch enlists the sorcerer’s aid to locate the Invisible Girl, who’s been kidnapped by the Sub-Mariner. Strange does so, and uses his magic to transport the Torch and the Thing to join Mister Fantastic, who has tracked Namor using his own means. Strange monitors the battle, and casts another teleportation spell to spare the Fantastic Four from the Sub-Mariner’s rage. Soon after, Doctor Strange must confront Nightmare again when he pushes himself to the point of exhaustion and falls asleep without establishing the proper defenses. However, Strange outsmarts his ancient adversary and escapes.

Doctor Strange must fight Loki, the Asgardian trickster, when the latter tries to trick him into stealing Thor’s enchanted hammer. Strange is nearly overwhelmed by his opponent’s superior power, but is spared when Loki senses Thor’s approach and flees in a panic. Thor passes by the Sanctum Sanctorum without stopping. Days later, Strange meets a time-displaced Cleopatra, who’s been victimized by an evil sorcerer named Zota. With the Ancient One’s assistance, Strange travels back in time to Egypt and defeats Zota, stripping him of his sorcerous powers. He then returns the entranced Cleopatra to her proper time, to meet her destiny.

Doctor Strange spends several days studying the spells of Oshtur, but his reading is interrupted by three minions of Baron Mordo, who invade the Sanctum Sanctorum and are easily dispatched. Then Mordo himself appears and announces that the Ancient One is his prisoner. In their ectoplasmic forms, Strange leads Mordo on a chase around the globe until he locates the Ancient One. After a grueling magical battle, Mordo is ignominiously defeated. Doctor Strange accompanies the Ancient One back to his isolated retreat before returning to his physical body.


Notes:

1912 – It takes a long time to become a Master of the Mystic Arts, and an even longer time to become a successful neurosurgeon. Since Stephen Strange did both, he cannot be a young man when we first meet him in Strange Tales #110, as evidenced by the white streaks in his hair. This date assumes he was around 50 years old at the beginning of the Original Marvel Universe.

1938 – Doctor Strange’s associate Robinson is seen in flashback in Doctor Strange v.2 #77. Since Strange appears to be working in an emergency room and says he’s been “at this for sixteen hours straight,” I assume it must be during his internship, before he became a neurosurgeon.

1939 – Kenneth Ward was introduced in Doctor Strange #183, in which Strange muses that Ward “helped sponsor my medical education.”

1943 – Mrs. Madeleine de St. Germaine was introduced in Doctor Strange v.2 #39, and her romance with Stephen Strange was shown in a flashback in the following issue. The story notes that she worked as a translator at the United Nations, but that august body did not exist prior to the end of World War II.

1945 – It was not unusual for talented medical students to be allowed to become doctors rather than soldiers during WWII. It’s a safe bet the self-centered and egotistical Stephen Strange would not have volunteered to join up. The fate of Stephen Strange’s parents was revealed in Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #45 (Sept. 1992). Although the issue is non-canonical (set in the Second Marvel Universe, which replaced the original one), I will occasionally accept minor pieces of biographical information such as this.

1946 – Darryl and Patricia Berenson were introduced in Doctor Strange v.2 #76. Although Strange’s desire to have an affair with Patricia is not explicitly stated, I wouldn’t put it past him at this point in his life. There’s no evidence he ever followed through on it. Doctor Strange ran into a middle-aged James Wynter in Giant-Size Defenders #4.

1947 – Doctor Strange’s origin story was first told in Strange Tales #115. The same events were shown in greater detail in Doctor Strange #169. Dr. Charles Benton was identified in the later issue.

1948 – In Doctor Strange v.2 #76, Strange says Darryl Berenson is “the last person who would want to have dealings with me ever again.” I presume he’s referring to some specific incident, and an encounter such as this would fill the bill.

1951-1958 – Doctor Strange’s final test is referred to in Doctor Strange v.2 #12. His origin story is later continued in issue #56.

1959 – Cyrus Black seeks revenge on Doctor Strange in Defenders #6. Details of their first encounter are provided in Doctor Strange v.2 #34. Omar Karindu is introduced in Defenders #42. Aleister Kane appears in Marvel Fanfare #52.

November 1961 – In Fantastic Four #27, Doctor Strange says he has been observing the Fantastic Four for many months. Since super-powered beings were a rarity at this point, he would feel duty-bound to check them out as soon as their existence became widely known.

December 1961 – The career of the villainous Dr. Strange is chronicled in Tales of Suspense #41, which came out a couple months before the debut of the Master of Black Magic in Strange Tales #110. His capture by the military was shown in a flashback set six months before the main story, which places it here. The villain’s real name is never revealed, so I fashioned this one for my own convenience. I assumed his name was similar enough to “Strange” to inspire the newspaper editors to call him that, and Stranczek, a Czech name, works perfectly. Karel I derived from his daughter’s name, Carla, figuring that such a megalomaniac would surely have named his offspring after himself, regardless of the sex. It is also, incidentally, the name of the Czech writer who coined the term “robot,” Karel ńĆapek.

July 1962 – Another Untold Tale of the Original Marvel Universe. I thought there must be a reason why the villainous Dr. Strange was never heard from again, since he got away scot free, and this idea amused me. I imagine Stranczek subsequently became a bus mechanic and eventually earned his daughter’s love.

September 1962 – Here is where we pick up Doctor Strange’s published adventures, in Strange Tales #110 and following. Sir Clive Bentley died in 1952, when Strange was at the Ancient One’s retreat, which is why he was unaware of his friend’s death.

December 1962 – Doctor Strange helps out the FF in Fantastic Four #27. The fact the Torch saw Strange on television on Halloween night is not mentioned in the story, but it is the sorcerer’s most public appearance in recent months, and it’s the kind of show a teenage boy like Johnny Storm is likely to have watched. Baron Mordo’s increasing power is derived from the dread Dormammu, as is revealed in subsequent issues. This takes us up to Strange Tales #125.


OMU Note: The final canonical appearance of Doctor Strange is in Namor #24.




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