Robot 6

The Fifth Color | Demystifying Doctor Strange

teaser for Doctor Strange: the OathStocking the new inventory this week, I got my hands on a copy of Doctor Strange: The Oath again and instantly fell back in love with the Sorcerer Supreme.

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.”

strangebywaid_01Brian 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?

doctorstrangeseasononeIt’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!

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Comments

23 Comments

It occurred to me that I’d like to see a decent “Dr. Strange: The End” story. (This is not to say that I want to see Strange come to an end.) He may be Marvel’s last major character who hasn’t gotten a definitive wrap-up story yet. By my count, the Hulk, X-Men, Punisher, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, Iron Man, and Daredevil have all gotten that treatment.

It’d have to be by someone who really has a handle on the character, too. Roger Stern, maybe? Kurt Busiek?

I’d love to see some Dr Strange/ Magik interaction, Strange takes her as an apprentice and redeems her. Could be a lot of interesting moments

Stephen Conway

May 31, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Steve:

Uncanny X Men has mooted a possible meeting of Magik and Dr Strange recently. Magik’s powers started acting up and it was suggested they contact Dr Strange but before they could do anything the team got yanked into Limbo by Dormammu. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some interaction in the upcoming months between them.

I too believe that Doctor Strange and Illyana meeting up and sharing stories together would be great. I would also like to know what her new limits are outside of Limbo (her magic used to be really crap when on earth, not any more)

About Wong, I believe that their master-servant relationship is something that should be preserved, I don’t see why Wong would give up all his values, to Wong Doc Strange represents a holy man of their mutual order. They may (and should be) good friends but they are still master and servant.

We talk about three stories, cite both autors (writer and and artist of the Oath) and completely forget about the artist of the other two titles and the writer of the third even in the tags?

Chris Claremont actually started developing a sub-plot years ago where Magik would train under Dr. Strange, but it never got followed up on. I vaguely recall her doing something with Shaman from Alpha Flight though…

About Wong, I believe that their master-servant relationship is something that should be preserved, I don’t see why Wong would give up all his values,

Um that thing about “values” is part of the problematic part. I think it works better that he chooses to play the servant’s “role”…perhaps as a private joke on his part.

As far as the Doctor himself is concerned….maybe that Sherlock approach might actually work…magic is such a mystery anyway to most people that if its a mystery to him, too, would work.

Of course there are rules governing mutation. The rule is: You get your mutation sometime around puberty and that’s it for life, your one or two-ish powers.

The Oath was a great book, but the best part of it was how it re-emphasized the fact that Stephen Strange is, in fact, an actual human being, not some kind of Earthbound mystical deity. Too often in the past he’s been written with dialogue that made him sound like the magical version of the Silver Surfer. The best part of the Oath for me was how it really keyed on Stephen Strange the man.

I remember the fun Keith Giffen and JM Dematris had with him in their “Defenders” series, sending up how melodramatic and full of himself Strange can be and mocking him on the use of a manservant. Pretty fun, still a strong Strange but points out how he really hasn’t lost the arrogance he had as a surgeon that got him in trouble in the first place.

Completely agree with:

“No one needs to “fix” Doctor Strange, because comic readers are looking for something new and different and unique on the shelves.”

May that happen a lot sooner than when the proposed Strange film is greenlit.

@Kalorama, that’s EXACTLY how I feel Strange should be written.

George St. Louis

June 2, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Any character can be great with great writing-nothing more evident than with this mini-series.
But Peter B. Gillis did a great job with Dr. Strange in the 80’s too. When Dr. Strange threw down with Shuma-Gorath that was the bomb. And Ellis did a good job with his living Sanctum Sanctorum-and new costume.

I loved the Oath. It’s the best Dr. Strange I’ve read since Triumph and Torment (really a Doom story, but anyway…) and the Roger Stern run in the 80’s. It is amusing that some at Marvel feel that Strange has “never” been a success. It seems Marvel forgets that he had a series in the 60’s and a second that ran all through the 70’s up to the mid 80’s. The same happens with the Silver Surfer’s late 80’s and 90’s series which lasted 150 some odd issues. It’s like those never happened.

The Stern and Rogers run – way too brief – got me to buy up any and all back issues of Dr. Strange I could, and to follow him for quite some time. Just get Roger Stern back to writing Dr. Strange, by the all seeing eye of Agamotto!

Dr. Strange is long over due for some much needed attention. I mean they have Morbius a comic…. O_O Morbius…….

How could everyone, author included, forget Spider-Man – Fever?!

Rob Mansperger

June 3, 2013 at 8:23 am

Marvel has never had a great grasp on Doctor Strange based on the vision of Steve Ditko. Everyone wants to throw him into a superheroic stance and on a team. The beauty of the character is the mysticism, weirdness and wonder that Ditcko interjected into the Marvel Universe.

The Oath is indeed the best modern Doctor Strange story to have been told hands down. There is NOTHING that needs to be ‘fixed’ with the character, more its the writers and editors needing to understand the character better — go back and read the Ditko era of Doctor Strange and really absorb it. THEN they may be able to do something wonderful with the character as opposed to the drastic revamps/re-imaginings we’ve seen all these years: focus on the man first, the magical world he inhabits and stop forcing him to be a superhero.

I love the Doctor and am happy that he’s seeing some panel time in Hickman’s New Avengers. I do understand editorial concerns about standardizing magic because Marvel is very much pushing for a more interconnected universe than ever. That said, I believe Marvel earnestly wants a Strange standalone title and they want magic to be streamlined into the primary Marvel-U, but accomplishing the latter is very tricky. You have many different schools of magic and many different magic users in the Marvel-U and the extent of magic is never clear. From a generic standpoint this is a problem because readers will always be left pondering things such as: if magic could do A then why can’t it do B? Case in point: post House of M Spider-Man pleads to Strange to remove his memories of House of M but Strange says that he cannot, that magic does not work like that. This of course makes no sense or warrants deeper explanation than what is provided.

The Oath worked in that it focused on Strange the character — and succeeded beautifully — but strayed from putting magical conventions to stress. In fact, it established certain conventions that were flat-out contradicted by history (e.g. magic can’t recreate what science has). So in regard to wanting magic to be more integral to the greater Marvel-U, it needs to have established rules so that we won’t get another “One More Day” debacle.

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl mini is also a terrific ‘new’ Doctor Strange tale.

Captain Haddock

June 4, 2013 at 9:47 am

I loved how he was still arrogant and somewhat merciless in the Oath, that made him such an intriguing villain for me.
Season One is also worth picking up, Greg Pak wrote a rip-roaring story, and I absolutely adore anything Emma Rios draws. Not as good as the Oath, but sitll good.
Weirdly, for me, my favorite Dr. Strange story from recent memory was Defenders no. 4 by Fraction and Lark. It was a one-off character piece on a complex, arrogant, yet very good man who seems driven to help others in spite of, or perhaps to spite, his own self-issues. I thought that would have been a great platform for a series, if Lark was drawing it, consider me sold.
Anyway, at least he doesn’t have the continuity issues of Dr. Fate, who just…I tried, I really did.

Isaac Snowden

June 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm

A lot has been lost or just mishandled on Dr strang, take Wong. He’s more of a caretaker of the sorcerer supreme. That the legacy,duty of his family. they insure that the sorcere supreme perform their duties. Where as Strange deals with the mystical Wong deals wi5h the physical and a reference point for consultation. Possessing a knowledge passed down from generation to generation adding insight to the delving of cases Dr strange deals with. Also with family enemies. That would be a start.

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