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Saturday, 16 April 2016

Comics Explained: Doctor Strange
Earlier this week the trailer for Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch was released. Dr Strange is a prominent but not well known member of the Marvel universe. Since his debut in 1963 he has battled the forces of evil either by himself or, with other heroes, such as the Avengers. Today we'll look more closely at the Sorcerer Supreme.

Dr Strange would make his debut in Strange Tales #110 but it would take until issue 115 for his origin to be revealed. Stephen Strange was a very successful but arrogant surgeon. That is until he was in a serious car accident. He managed to survive but the nerves in his hands were badly damaged which meant that he could not continue as a surgeon or, even as a consultant or an assistant. Strange would travel all over following rumors about cures which left him destitute. He started depending on alcoholism and, to pay off his bar tabs and quests for cures he began performing back alley surgeries which would later come back to haunt him. Eventually he heard about someone called the Ancient One living in the Tibetan mountains who could potentially fix his hands. Using what remained of his money he traveled to the Ancient One's temple. The Ancient One, however, refused to fix Strange's hands; instead he offered Strange the opportunity to learn magic and become his apprentice. Strange initially refused as he did not believe in magic. However, before he left he saw the Ancient One's apprentice, Baron Mordo, secretly summon skeletons to attack the Ancient One. Mordo then cast a spell on Strange which prevented him from telling the Ancient One about what he saw as well as stopping him from physically harming Mordo. He realized the only way to stop Mordo was to train under the Ancient One and eventually become his successor. The Ancient One started training Strange and removed the restraints on him (he knew that Mordo was treacherous but kept him around to control/reform him). Over several years Strange learnt the ways of magic and learnt how to use the power of powerful magical beings, such as Dormammu and the Vishanti, who he would later battle against. When Strange passed his final test he was given an ageless life (which allowed the Ancient One to live for over 600 years) and became the new Sorcerer Supreme. After travelling the world meeting other mystics he created a home called the Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village, New York.

Strange v Dormammu:
Alongside his servant and friend Wong Dr Strange would fight users of dark magic in order to save the world. Quite often this would lead him to mystical, surreal dimensions (his creator Steve Ditko would be inspired by a mixture of Salvador Dali, pulp-magazines of his childhood and the contemporary Beat culture). In 1968 he would so popular as a character, perhaps due to the surrealist images being popular with the counterculture of the 1960s, that Strange Tales would be renamed Doctor Strange just for him. Dr Strange would remain aloof from heroes such as the Fantastic Four choosing instead to battle figures like Baron Mordo alone. That is until he was tricked by Loki into attacking Thor. Strange soon learnt of the trickery and aided Thor in defeating Loki. From then on he would ally himself with more heroes. For example, when Baron Mordo trapped several people in a mystical realm he teamed up with a young Spider-Man to help save them. This eventually led them to become close friends. In Marvel Feature #1, released 1971, faced with an invasion by the Undying Ones (a Lovecraftian like race of demons who once ruled Earth) he formed the Defenders with the king of Atlantis Namor and the Hulk. The group continued with Silver Surfer quickly joining the roster and over the years the group would go through many members including Hellcat, Luke Cage and Valkyrie. However, in 1964 he would face for the first time one of his most persistent enemies and one of Marvel's greatest villains: Dormammu.

Dormammu first appeared in Strange Tales #126 in 1964. Dormammu ruled over the Dark Dimension and wished to conquer the realm that Earth inhabited but had been thwarted by the Ancient One. It was on Dormammu's orders that Baron Mordo had plotted to overthrow the Ancient One. While Dr Strange was acting as Sorcerer Supreme Dormammu detected that the Ancient One's health was failing. Seeing this as his chance to invade he invited Strange to the Dark Dimension for a magical duel. If Strange fell and with the Ancient One growing ill no one would be able to oppose him. However, a mystic named Clea, (who was his sister's daughter), wanted to prevent the duel as she knew that if Dormammu won Earth would be destroyed but, if Dormammu lost his fall would weaken the dimensional boundaries which would allow the Dark Dimension to be ravaged by the Mindless Ones, (unstoppable magical killing machines). The duel happened regardless and Strange was defeated (but not killed). However, Dormammu's victory had depleted his energy which allowed the Mindless Ones to break into the Dark Dimension. Wanting to save the inhabitants of the Dark Dimension Dr Strange gave Dormammu some of his power in return for sparing Earth's realm and Clea. Reluctantly Dormammu accepted but vowed vengeance on Strange.

Clea would enhance her powers under the tutelage of Strange. Eventually she would become a mystic as powerful as he was. Simultaneously Clea and Strange fell in love. Together they would fight evil as part of the Defenders becoming integral members of the team. Eventually though they fell apart and Clea returned to the Dark Dimension to oust her mother who had taken the throne following the disappearance of Dormammu. She managed to rekindle her relationship with Strange when she became the queen of the Dark Dimension where they even married. However, Dormammu and her mother eventually returned forcing Clea to become the leader of a resistance. Since then she has balanced her time leading the resistance against Dormammu and aiding the Defenders.

During the Kree-Skrull War Dr Strange alongside Iron Man, Professor X, Mr Fantastic, Namor and, Black Bolt formed the Illuminati to share information in order to safeguard the planet. This ended up resulting in the exile of the Hulk to the planet Sakaar (and the Hulk's furious retaliation during the World War Hulk storyline) as well as a covert Skrull invasion of Earth. The Illuminati had visited the Skrull homeworld to warn them against invading Earth but this led to their brief capture. During that time the Skrulls took DNA from them which was later used for them to accurately blend in with humans. During the Civil War storyline he opposed the Superhero Registration Act in an Illuminati meeting but went into exile in the Arctic as if he had taken sides it would have influenced the evolution of superhumans in society which went against his role as Sorcerer Supreme. Following the end of the Civil War he was given immunity but he chose to harbor heroes who refused to register. When the Skrulls finally invaded the Sanctum Sanctorum was invaded by a servant of Dormammu called the Hood and the battle against the Hood (and the Hood's lackeys) caused Strange to use dark magic to repel them. This caused him to reject the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme and search for a new Sorcerer Supreme to replace him. Brother Voodoo was chosen by a mystical item called the Eye of Agamotto and the spirit of the Ancient One. When Brother Voodoo (who had changed his name to Doctor Voodoo) sacrificed himself to destroy Agamotto Strange was given back his role as Sorcerer Supreme. Since then Dr Strange has been the Sorcerer Supreme. 

Thanks for reading and please leave any suggestions for a future Comics Explained. 

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