Doctor Strange: a truly unique character with mind-bending art from the start

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe expanding into the mystic realms, buzz is high for Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and heavily rumored to also star Rachel McAdam,Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Tilda Swinton. Already news from the production is that this film will be very different from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“It has a very psychedelic grounding, and it’s not your typical Marvel action movie … Most of the work within it is about other dimensions. And I described it, I think, when I was talking to Marvel as Marvel’s Fantasia, in a way, because it’s so sort of out there and different to everything else that they’ve done.” – Ben Davis, Cinematographer on Doctor Strange (release date November 4, 2016) – ScreenDaily

Doctor Strange had psychedelic grounding through the extraordinary artwork and imagination of Steve Ditko. His work on Spider-man was lauded from the start, but Doctor Strange remained an outlier. Greater appreciation has been given to his Doctor Strange work over the years.

Marvel Masterworks Doctor Strange Volume 1 (New Printing, 2015). Art by Steve Ditko.

The first edition of Doctor Strange volume 1 sold out long ago. Prices for new on Amazon are as high as $640. Used prices can go as high as $190. With the movie slated for next fall, there’s a good chance the price on these will continue to climb. Now, Marvel is offering a second edition for $40 (as of this review).

Incidentally, Strange Tales #110 is currently listed on some sites as high as $47k for a high graded copy and even low-grade copies are listed for over $1k!!

One thing to note is the image for this collection’s cover appears to be taken from the Famous Firsts Masterworks Boxed Set. My copy was a Silver-and-Black standard Masterworks with the original Ditko pin-up in the cover inset.

Collects material from Strange Tales 110-111, 114-141 & Amazing Spider-man Annual #2. Extras include original art (Ditko w/ Roussos inking) of #125, page 8 (no margin notes), the TPB version of the cover, a Steve Ditko & (Marie Severin?) composite pose of Doctor Strange (from 127 and 129) for a T-shirt ad, the covers of Strange Tales 182-188 with covers by Gil Kane, Ed Hannigan & Dan Adkins, Klaus Janson & Frank Giacoia, and Gene Colan & Tom Palmer. These later issues reprinted Doctor Strange along with Brother Voodoo, Adam Warlock and the Golem in 1973. #188 is especially riveting to me, though I’m a bit biased because I bought that back issue growing up.

Amazing Spider-man Annual 2 (1965), “The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange”. Art by Steve Ditko.

Doctor Strange shared the anthology title, Strange Tales, with the Human Torch and, in the first two, a genre story, usually sci-fi. In #110, the story was “We Search the Stars” and in #111, “Beware the Machine” by Larry Leiber and Stan Lee. At first Doctor Strange was limited to 5 page stories, but quickly grew to 8 page and then 10 page tales. In Strange Tales #135 The Human Torch bowed out and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. took his place.

This fantastic collection includes most of the 17-part Dormammu epic, truly something unique for the time and medium. (Unfortunately the last 4 chapters are in Vol 2, which is going up in price, $48 even for the trade paperback version).

The first appearance of Doctor Strange in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963) “Dr. Strange Master of Black Magic!” Art by Steve Ditko.

Dr Strange demonstrates his quality and uniqueness from the start in this collection: the blue and purple color scheme, the wide-eyed insomniac, replete with uplighting to increase the creepy tone, and rain hanging from the window like ectoplasm. Here, Ditko clearly leverages the decade of horror/mystery/sci-fi mastery that he’s showcased at Atlas/Marvel, among other publishers. Ditko pencils and inks 110-111, 115-121, and 126-141 & the Spider-man annual. George Roussos is inks 114, 122-125 (but to me, I think he also inked at least some of 121).

As always, I try to give enough information without including spoiler material:

From Strange Tales #137 (October 1965) “When Meet the Mystic Minds!” Art by Steve Ditko.

110 – Dr Strange is contacted by a man who can’t sleep because of his nightmares. First appearance of one of his nemesis, Nightmare.

111 – First appearance of the Ancient One and frequent adversary Baron Mordo.

114 – “The Return of Baron Mordo.” We’re introduced to a Elizabeth Bentley, who is purported to have talents in the mystic arts. I wonder if Steve Ditko meant to do more with this character?? Nothing more was done with the character until Roy Thomas was on the book a few years later.

115 – “The Origin of Dr Strange!” Another terrific and original origin in the early days of the Marvel Age. It’s amazing how they can take a character that starts off holding little sympathy and, by story’s end, we’re firmly rooting for them. First reference to the Vapors of Valtorr and first mention of Dormammu. First reference to the Eye of Agamotto

116 – Nightmare returns! First appearance of the Book of the Vishanti. First reference to Hoggoth.

117 – Another excellent Baron Mordo tale!

118 – Alien shape-changer but with a mystical slant

119 – “Beyond the Purple Veil.” On the surface, this one seems like another sci-fi tale, but in my opinion, this one has an even stronger mystic vibe to it. Very moody piece penciled and inked by Ditko.

120 – “House of Shadows.” This tale would’ve fit perfectly in Strange Tales a year earlier (or Amazing Fantasy, etc.) as a creepy sci-fi/horror tale in the Ditko/Lee vein.

121 – Mordo and the wax museum!

122 – Nightmare and the Gulgol.

123 – Loki and Thor guest-star! The art is pretty rough in this one and Dr Strange is clearly out of his league in this battle between Asgardians, but the story itself is enjoyable.

124 – “The Lady from Nowhere.” This is probably the only story in this volume that I didn’t like. The ending is supposed to be a surprise, but it didn’t really make sense to me.

125 – “Mordo must not catch me!” Artistically, this is probably the best Ditko/Roussos effort. I love the pace of this one. First appearance of the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak.

From Strange Tales #126 (November 1964), “The Domain of the Dread Dormammu!” Art by Steve Ditko.

126/127 – “The Domain of the Dread Dormammu”. For more than a year, we’ve heard Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo both invoke the Dread Dormammu in their spell-casting. Now, we finally get to meet him in this two-parter and it’s worth the wait. First appearance of Clea and the awesome Mindless Ones as well. This is a great story, probably the best one yet in the volume.

128 – “The Demon’s Disciple.” The Demon appears strangely human, but otherwise, this was an excellent story.

Doctor Strange from Strange Tales #128 (January 1965) “The Dilemma of The Demon’s Disciple!” Art by Steve Ditko.

129 – Tiboro, the tyrant of the sixth dimension. A TV show called the “Twelfth Hour” and a panel discussion on Black Magic debuts here. I wish they would’ve done more with this; it was an interesting contrasting concept for the psychedelic tone of the book.

130-141 – the first 13 chapters of the Baron Mordo/Dormammu Eternity epic! This has it all: beautiful art, great plot and writing, a life-or-death chance around the world, and truly unique Ditko magic. From #135 on, Ditko officially gets credited with plotting the issues.

From Strange Tales #141 (February 1966) “Let There Be Victory!” Art by Steve Ditko.

Amazing Spider-man Annual 2 has Dr Strange and Spider-man team up to take on the wizard Xandu in a twenty page tale.

This is an epic collection and has all the foundation of the character visible right from the start. The new printing has amazing production quality. Highly recommended!


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