The Fifth Color | Demystifying Doctor Strange
For those who might’ve missed this 2006-2007 miniseries, Doctor Strange: The Oath is a five-issue story written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Marcos Martin — that pedigree alone should ensure it has a place in your long box or the handy trade paperback sits on your shelf. Vaughan’s clear, lyrical writing style is in full force, and Martin’s art is as fluid and dynamic as it’s been for Mark Waid’s Daredevil. The story delves into the occult to save Wong, who’s been stricken with a fatal disease. Not only does it have magic and mysticism, it also reminds you of Strange’s classical origin as an arrogant surgeon who had to learn humility in an area both street-level and far-flung dimensions. It also brought Night Nurse in as a strong supporting character to the good Doctor’s retinue and, as the back cover tells me, firmly establishes Doctor Strange in the Marvel Universe.
A nice idea, but it really did nothing of the sort.
You see, this was written back in 2006, and for all the good it did to remind readers that Doctor Strange is an awesome character who should be an integral part of the Marvel Universe, it merely got editorial’s attention and then suddenly people were out to “fix” Doctor Strange. This important figure with little to became this problem character for the regime under Joe Quesada, There would be all this talk about how the laws of magic in the Marvel Universe needed to be established before anyone could put out a Doctor Strange ongoing or use him with less of a light-fingered approach. Former Quesada said Doctor Strange had never been successful because “we don’t have rules governing the Marvel world of magic.” It’s a weird statement considering there aren’t any rules governing mutations, and the X-Men seem to be surviving just fine … and that Quesada is also rather famous for his defense of the “One More Day” storyline, famously saying, “It’s magic … we don’t have to explain it.”
Brian Michael Bendis thought he would solve the problem of Doctor Strange by completely removing his mantle of Sorcerer Supreme and “… taking away the things from Doctor Strange that can make him the deus ex machina that everyone worries about him being.” This obviously didn’t last because, aside from a good showing by Mark Waid to use the de-powered Strange in a short miniseries, Stephen Strange, the guy who knows a few tricks or something isn’t as interesting as Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme.
Strange has fashion issues (Cape or trench coat? Does the old costume make him look too hokey?), “manservant” issues (Does having Wong around make Strange gay or racist, or both?), team-placement issues (Defenders or Illuminati or New Avengers?). But despite all of that, he remains an iconic character. He’s still brilliant and, when approached with less fear and more adventure, becomes a brilliant character in a variety of stories. I think Doctor Strange: The Oath is the best new story he’s been in, bar none. Even if you hate magic or are just turned off by any of the above issues, The Oath brings a lot of heart and soul to the Sorcerer Supreme, sans gimmicks or radical changes to the character. Waid’s Strange series is the best take on the new idea approach, staying true to the core ideas of Doctor Strange while working within the limits set for him by another writer. Doctor Strange: Season One makes a great refresher course on his basics, and Marvel’s great cinematic universe has been playing with the idea of bringing the Sorcerer Supreme to the big screen. So why is there no regular series for the good Doctor?
It’s not like readers won’t enjoy mystic adventure. It’s not that we won’t buy into a guy who is one part Sherlock Holmes, one part Merlin who can both travel through time and space to fight demon dimensions as well as walk the streets of New York City to investigate a strange tale or two. He’s got an amazing rogue’s gallery, full of players both in this world and others, and can easily get new villains to battle by simply using one’s imagination for the occult. His supporting cast can include Defenders (the team he’s honestly best suited for), women both love interests and competent competitors, other heroes from more magical backgrounds, and even the most unlikely of vigilantes (the Punisher did have that stint on the side of the angels).
Wong isn’t a problem, he’s simply the Watson to the story, Strange’s opposite and balance, someone to tell him when he’s wrong and to support him when he’s right. I think we’ve moved past that manservant moniker to something more of a bond of friendship and respect: Doctor Strange doesn’t own him; Wong wants to be there because Stephen Strange needs him. Also, it’s a pretty awesome job.
The problems editorial has had in the past with the character and his methodology are all but extinct. No one needs to “fix” Doctor Strange, because comic readers are looking for something new and different and unique on the shelves. Marvel’s indie culture would suit a look in on the Sorcerer Supreme and the wonderful worlds he can inhabit. It’s not that there aren’t artists and writers who could excel at showing us the unknown. Heck, just hire Christopher Bird; he has a whole blog tag full of interesting ideas. He doesn’t have to stand shoulder to shoulder with all the other heroes, Strange can be heads above the rest in his own little realms of magic and mystery. If anything, enjoying your own corner of the Marvel Universe can give new readers an opportunity to catch up to comics and slowly ease into our heroes and adventures. Look what expanding growth did for the Guardians of the Galaxy!