Dr. Strange is a part of the Marvel Universe, but he has always inhabited his own universe as well. "The Sorcerer Supreme of the Earth," a master of white magic, has experienced many memorable adventures in eerie dimensions that other heroes can only imagine. Yet if Dr. Strange has always been a bit aloof, his journeys into the unknown has served to expand the scope of the comic book landscape for every character who followed in his wake.
Introduced in 1963 by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, Dr. Strange was very much a product of his time. The lure of mysticism was strong in the 1960s as a rebellious younger generation forged a counterculture that spurned materialism in favor of more spiritual values. Strange's affinity with bohemian attitudes was evident even in his address: he lived on Bleecker Street in New York's Greenwich Village. Originally a self-centered surgeon, Dr. Strange lost his delicate touch after an automobile accident, and became a wandering derelict. In the Himalayas he sought out a fabled healer called the Ancient One, who ended up repairing Strange's soul instead of his hands. Redeemed from worldliness, the reborn hero also tacitly acknowledged the value of a race and culture other than his own, studying with the old master until he was ready to become a guardian protecting humanity from the intrusion of evil. He encountered wicked wizards, and also abstract entities like Nightmare and Eternity; in each battle his weapon was knowledge rather than force.
Despite its influence, Dr. Strange's initial solo series did not outlast the 1960s. Yet he hung on in sporadic appearances for almost two decades until he was given his own comic book again in 1988. This full-fledged revival may have been tied in to the popularity of New Age occultism, or perhaps to a reaction against a decade devoted to acquisitiveness; in any case, spiritual longings are perennial. Even for those who sometimes find institutionalized religion repressive, a fascination with the supernatural remains.
Dr. Strange's, an unusual hero who soon developed an enthusiastic cult following, achieved prominence by creeping up on it. Initially conceived as a one-shot in the back of Strange Tales #110 (July 1963), Dr. Strange's subsequently appeared and disappeared from the pages of the comic book that had given him his name. This seemed only proper since, after all, he was a magician. By 1964 his adventures had begun to show up on a regular basis, sharing the pages of Strange Tales with the Human Torch.
Inspired by the Mutual Network radio show 'Chandu the Magician', which Stan Lee had enjoyed during his childhood, Dr. Strange's was in fact a more impressive character that Chandu. Not content with simply casting spells or causing transformations, Dr. Strange's was ever journeying into weird worlds and uncanny dimensions; his environment was perhaps the most unusual in comic books. Steve Ditko's offbeat style was perfectly suited to the delineation of these nightmarish realms, and Dr. Strange's, the oddball magician, became the first Marvel hero other than Spider-man that Ditko handled on a regular basis.
"When you're looking at artwork that you think is magnificent, it's a privilege to put the words in," said Stan Lee about Ditko's drawing.
Ditko was never profilic, in part because he inked his own work instead of having it inkted by other artists as Jack Kirby did, yet his style had a dark power that made Dr. Strange's unique. Lee rose to the occasion with some of his most colorful dialogue, especially incantations like: "In the name of the dread Dormammu! By the hoary host of Hoggoth! I call upon the mystic realm!" Some gullible fans convinced themselves that Lee was a genuine student of arcane lore, but in fact he was making up nonsense syllables.
Les Daniels is the author of Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, which The New York Times called "scholarly and highly entertaining," and Living in Fear: A History of Horror in the Mass Media. His fiction, twice nominated for a World Fantasy Award, includes The Black Castle, The Silver Skull, Citizen Vampire, Yellow Fog and No Blood Spilled. He reviews films for The Boston Phoenix and lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
Steve Ditko studied at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City under Jerry Robinson and began professionally illustrating comic books in 1953. Much of his early work, beginning in the early 1950s, was for Charlton Comics (for whom he continued to work intermittently until the company's demise in 1986), producing science fiction, horror and mystery stories, as well as the first Captain Atom stories in 1960-61. Later in the decade, he would also begin drawing for Atlas Comics, the 1950s precursor of Marvel Comics.