Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Why Aliens Are Second Class Extra-Dimensional Citizens To Doctor Strange, And Other Stories ...

The second - albeit relatively self-contained - part of my discussion of the wonders of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's unwittingly proto-psychedelic Doctor Strange is now available over at Sequart Publishing. (Part 1 / Part 2) In it, I attempt to discuss matters of urgent importance to the future of our poor beleagured world such as;
  • why the rotten-to-the-core uber-capitalist swine that was Stephen Strange didn't need the slightest trace of empathy to embrace the role of Earth's sorcerer supreme,
  • what the hidden secrets of the Marvel Universe were that Strange's mystic studies revealed to him,
  • what the "sorceror's code" that Strange occasionally referred to actually involved,
  • why extra-dimensional aliens come distinctly second where Strange's ethical beliefs were concerned, and,
  • the extremes he was willing to descend to in order to protect the people of his home planet.
I hope you'll consider popping over to Sequart, and if you do, please feel free to return and let me know what utter balderdash I've been talking.


  1. Thank you for showing some of Doctor Strange's uniqueness in the Marvel universe. It is nice to know a bit more about his character as I've often just seen him as a source of exposition.

    1. Hello Timothy:- You're very welcome, although I hasten to say that I'm only giving my own take on Stephen Strange. I'm sure there's not a few folks who'd think I was way off the mark ...

      ... and why shouldn't they :)

  2. Have you ever heard of "Young Ancient One?" Originally planned as a series for Epic, it was "set in 15th century China when he was just a little 20 year old Kung Fu ass kicker." The only issue written an d drawn was shunted off into an "Epic Anthology" to die a sad, ignominious death after Marvel decided that, no, they didn't really want to publish creator owned works. It was written by Rob Worley and drawn by Andy Kuhn. Can you imagine a series that could successfully draw upon Hong Kong wuxia and horror tropes and integrate them with the epic psychedelia of Mighty Marvel Magic? I can...and I still dream that someone will resurrect the idea in the future.

    1. Hello David:- I have a very vague memory of Young Ancient One which has been dumped in the part of my memory labelled Jemas, Bill; later follies. By which I don't mean the strip itself, but the whole Epic business which helped to mark the swift decline of what had started as a VERY promising regime at Marvel.

      You're absolutely right, it sounds like a fantastic idea. I would have bought it like a shot, and I still would.

      Of course, it strikes me that the basic concept could be easily resurrected, stripped of its most obvious links to Marvel and allowed to breath in another form. After all, there's so many comics which began as responses to other properties. A quick new coat of paint, a few key changes, the presence of some smart-minded thinking, the key presence of some fine craft-folks, and, voila, the Justice League has become the Fantastic Four :)

      An extreme example, of course. But still, it's a great concept that you mention. Worth removing the barnacles from and setting out to sea again in, I suspect ....

  3. Hi Colin,

    Haven't had a chance to stop by lately, but always find your posts worthwhile. A few thoughts regarding Dr. Strange's origin story. If you notice during the rest of Ditko's run, Strange's earlier life as a surgeon is never refered to. This points to the origin being a Lee plot/idea. Ditko wrote a bit about Dr. Strange in one of his essays a few years back, I believe noting that early on Lee plotted stories (although Ditko came up with the initial idea and first story). Those early stories more than likely included an origin for Dr. Strange.

    On his own Ditko often avoided origin stories, the hero exists, fully formed. Ditko said that Lee was thinking of canceling Dr. Strange, but Ditko maintained he could make the strip work if he plotted and inked the strip. This was probably around the time of the Dormammu saga, which began an impressive "graphic novel". Dr. Strange is clearly the hero, battling unspeakable forces to protect a world who knows nothing of his existence. Living in the shadows of Greenwich Village, he lives apart from other men.

    The Ancient One serves the same role as Aunt May, an elder who provides guidence and a moral balance; someone who Strange learns from and protects. If you take away the origin tale its clear that Dr. Strange follows the path of other Ditko created heroes, very much on his own battling evil with few beside him. Making Strange an averqage human takes away from his individuality. If you read the Ditko-Lee stories sans the origin tale (as good as it was) the series would have worked just as well. Nevertheless, the world of Dr. Strange that Ditko created (aided by Stan Lee's dialouge, which wisely left the wise-cracking to other heroes and created a sombre and dramatic tone)was a compelling, altogether unique place in Marvel's early 1960s line of flamboyant, extroverted heroes.


    1. Hello Nick:- I did write a lengthy response to this, and I meant it in all good humour. But when I returned to it, I felt it seemed a touch argumentative. Since that was never my intention, I've taken it down. I was attempting to disagree with your statements about Strange representing a world which knows nothing of his existence, and about the Ancient One serving the same role as Aunt May. But, in the way that a bloke who's spent a great deal of time on a run in the recent past will, I found in my enthusiasm I was running from one point to another with perhaps too much apparent seriousness. Since I've already written about both those points in the posts which either have or will go up at Sequart, I really should leave them there. I'd hate to seem contentious when I was really just enjoying the chance to discuss the era's stories of the good Doctor.

      I certainly think you've a very good case indeed for Lee's imput into the origin. And I'm glad that he was adding his own unique spin on those stories. That's something we've discussed before, of course. As you say, working together, they created "a compelling, altogether unique place". Though I would readily accept that Ditko's is the greater contribution and genius here, I don't think I'd care half as much without Lee's work.

    2. Y'know, while certainly from the first Dormammu story on, Ditko was apparently doing all of the plotting and really did make the series work, I agree that Lee still had some strong influence, mainly in making Stephen Strange a more humane and thoughtful character than he might have otherwise been under Ditko alone. I'd guess the origin was more of a true collaboration as it seemed very much in the spirit of many of their previous signature short stories -- probably Lee gave Ditko a rough outline and Ditko fleshed out the plot. I'd also surmise that Lee really was responding to readers' requests in even remembering to give Dr. Strange an origin story.

    3. Hello Fred:- Oh, there seems to be no doubt that Doctor Strange is far more Ditko than Lee, as it were. And the more I re-read the stories, the more I'm convinced that it's Ditko's masterpiece. Hardly a radical opinion, I know, but I just become more and more impressed with his work on the series.

      Yet Lee did, as you say, create both a character for Strange and flesh out the magical world of the then-MU. Much of what he designed to be almost throw-away colour actually coalesced over time to create a fascinating picture of that corner of Marvel's "fictional reality" which nobody else ever really picked up and ran with. (Several teams of distinguished creators took aspects of the Lee/Ditko issues and did a fine job with them. But the work of those key years has never been referenced as a whole. Or so I'd argue, feeling oddly vulnerable about doing so.)

      Have you ever read Lee and Kirby's 1961 origin tale for Doctor Droom? It's a fascinating run-through of what would in many ways become Strange's origin. It has little of the charm of Strange, mind you, and if you've read it, you'll know it has a cringemaking scene in which Droom's eyes become ... but, no, I can't even type it. Crikey!

    4. Hi, Colin, I haven't read the entire Dr. Droom story itself but I have read about it and seen excerpts, including that cringe-inducing scene. A good thing that that precedent to the FF (if only by a few months) didn't become the start of the Marvel Universe! It does pose the question of how a Kirby Master of Black Magic series would have developed. All we can know for certain is that it would have been very different from Ditko's Dr. Strange, even with Lee playing the same role, as editor/scripter. Curiously, the only Silver Age series that both Kirby & Ditko prominently shaped was the Hulk -- Kirby gave ol' Jade Jaws life and form, not only in the first 5 issues of the original series but in his appearances in the FF & Avengers, but Ditko significantly adjusted him in Tales to Astonish, shaping the Hulk into the character as we would know him for most of the next 20 years. The Hulk's multi-issue conflict with the Leader echoed Dr. Strange's multi-issue conflict with Dormammu & Baron Mordo, a very different (and more interesting, IMO) approach to that in other early (pre-1966) Marvels wherein the main baddie, such as Dr. Doom, Magneto, Baron Zemo, etc., showed up every other month or so in unrelated stories.

    5. Hello Fred:- I can only agree that Dr Droom would not have been a good place to start the MU! I suspect that a Kirby Black Magic story would have been a fine thing, but as you say, it would have been a very different thing to what we were given by Ditko and Lee.

      Your point about Ditko and Kirby working to influence series is well made. I might add Iron Man to the list, in that - if memory serves - Ditko introduced the red and gold, more-streamlined armour, though even there, Ditko contributed less than he did to the Hulk in terms of pages. Or at least, he did if memory serves.

      Off the top of my head, I wonder if the fact that both the Hulk and Doc Strange shared comics with other features led to their on-going stories? It might've been inefficient for Lee and his collaborators to craft too many distinct short-length features given how precious their time was.

  4. Colin,

    I have never found you to be argumentive in the least; surely one of the most curteous folks on the web, so I doubt any disagreements would come out that way. I quite enjoy the analysis of this work, even if I don't agree with all the points. What amazes me is that so many of us can go back and revisit these stories after over four decades since their inception. I'd say that's quite an accomplishment for Lee and Ditko.

    I look forward to your upcoming posts and will commnent if I have anything worthwhile to add to the discussion.

    1. Hello Nick:- Thank you. I've looked over those comments I pulled and I fear they weren't rude so much as overly-enthusiastic :) I appreciate you saying you pop in, and I'd very much appreciate your criticisms. By the same token, I hope I'll be able to back up the points I've made with what's coming :)

      But, yes, it is remarkable how those stories can still create a sense of wonder that makes talking about them fun. Unlike so many other fictions I loved, close attention to the Ditko/Lee Strange stories makes them seem all the more inspiring. I quite literally find it impossible to exhaust their appeal.