Dr. Strange: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love this Character

I am a huge Dr. Strange fan. Considering that he’s been around the Marvel Universe since the early 1960s, that he’s been published on a semi-regular basis since then, and that he’s been a member of both the Defenders and Avengers, one might think that many people agree with me. However, it’s the “semi-regular” publishing schedule above that seems to be the problem. Dr. Strange has had numerous series, but seems unable to sustain one that lasts much past 100 issues. When one looks at the talent that have worked on these series, including such respected writers as Roy Thomas, Roger Stern, J.M. DeMatteis and Warren Ellis, as well as such popular artists as Butch Guice, Paul Smith and Mark Buckingham, it causes one to stop and think. Why doesn’t he enjoy enough popularity to at least keep a series going? And how can one reposition him to be a character that can keep a series going?

Part of the problem with Dr. Strange, I believe, is that he is a sorcerer. I’m not sure if I can explain why this is, but it seems that most magical characters have trouble maintaining a popular following. I would say this is true for any magic-based character in any superhero universe. Strange’s counterpart at DC, Dr. Fate, has the same sporadic publishing schedule as Strange. No other magic-based hero in either universe seems to have made even that much of a splash. Marvel includes such characters as Talisman, Shaman, Dr. Druid and even, to an extent, the Scarlet Witch, and none of these characters has ever been able to carry a series. In many ways, one might think that DC would have better luck with such characters. DC has the Vertigo imprint, which has often focused on magical worlds and characters, but even their premiere magical hero, Tim Hunter, has never been able to sustain a series. In their mainstream universe, Shadowpact, a series with many magical characters, also failed to survive. What is it about magical characters that seems to turn off readers? Or are these results typical of many comics published in the major superhero universes, and they have nothing to do with the magical nature of their stars? After all, a lot of comics characters have had problems maintaining an ongoing series. Still, when you compare Strange to his other contemporaries of that time in Marvel, and look at the track record of his original creators (Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the co-creators of Spider-Man), it certainly doesn’t look like you want to be a magic-based hero in the Marvel Universe.

I’ve read and loved Dr. Strange stories from the sixties through the current decade, and some of the runs on the character have been brilliant. I have to mention (as I seem to mention him in every thread) that Roger Stern did one of the best runs on Dr. Strange in his publishing history, particularly the storyline where Dr. Strange goes up against Dracula and attempts to destroy all the vampires in the world. Truly remarkable storytelling. There have also been times in Strange’s publishing history when even I was ready to drop the book; Geof Isherwood, you were a great penciler, but I’m not sure you were ready to write the series. But again, can’t this be said of any character that’s existed for as long as Strange has? What is it about the successful times that works for Strange?

One of the things that I feel every successful comic series truly needs is a supporting cast. Many times, Dr. Strange doesn’t really have one. We always have Wong, his faithful manservant….and that’s often it. Roy Thomas gave Strange perhaps the largest supporting cast, with an apprentice, Wong’s fiancee, an undead brother, two female friends, a business manager, and Strange’s girlfriend Clea. I think that’s one of the reasons that Thomas’ run on Strange (which Thomas wrote with his wife) is so successful; there’s a community within the book, and lots of characters to interact. One of the other things the Thomases did was to bring Strange down to the level of mere mortals. I think part of the reason that Strange can be difficult for some people to like is that he isn’t really very….normal. I know, I know, who is normal in a superhero universe, but if we pick someone like Peter Parker (the typical example) he’s someone that the reader can relate to. He has the same problems, fears and speech patterns that we do. No one thinks or talks or acts like Stephen Strange. He’s truly in his own little world. Now, for some readers, that’s probably a plus, as it makes him more interesting, but I imagine for every person that prefers Strange be offputting and odd, another three find him cold and unrelatable.

I think another part of the problem is that Strange is a more cerebral hero. While cerebral heroes can be popular (both Mr. Fantastic and Professor X have been around for some time), they don’t tend to headline their own titles. Most characters that do headline their own titles are action oriented. They have a problem, so they hit it. Or stab it. Or web it. Whatever they do, they take decisive action to neutralize it. While Strange can certainly hold his own in a fight, that’s not really what he’s about. He’s much more likely to find out about a problem which he can deal with, study it, research it, and then come up with a solution. That doesn’t always make for scintillating comics.

So, I’ve identified some of the problems with Strange and why it’s difficult to write him in a successful series. How about other ideas as to why his series don’t end well? Ideas on how to fix these problems?

Ah, good. This one is a bit more difficult to hammer out. I’ve also been a fan of Dr. Strange for a long time. I have a near-complete run of the original Strange Tales, a HUGE Defenders collection and mixed issues from pretty much every incarnation of Strange’s eponymous titles. That said, I can’t really put my finger on why I like the character. The sad thing is that it’s probably the costume that first drew me in. And the Steve Ditko style with the crazy hand gestures and psychedelic backgrounds.

If you look at the root of the character, he’s pretty much a jackass. Don’t know if you caught the direct-to-DVD cartoon that Marvel released last year, but it was pretty faithful to Strange’s origin…he’s a stuck-up surgeon who pities himself when he gets in a car accident that ruins his career. He goes on one of those “meaning of life” searches and climbs the proverbial (and literal) mountain to find the wise man. He’s selfish. He’s accustomed to a certain way of life. And he’s oh so lonely.

Obviously you’ve nailed one of the big problems with the character: his lack of a supporting cast. There have been times in his existence when he was surrounded by some interesting people…Wong is always good (check out Brian K. Vaughan’s The Oathminiseries with art by the Ditko-like Marcos Martin), he plays nice with the Night Nurse, and he and Spider-Man make a good Butch and Sundance team. I’ve never really cared for his pseudo-wife Clea or any of the assorted apprentices he took on. The challenge is that, by definition, the Sorcerer Supreme is fairly independent and doesn’t keep a big social calendar. There are about a billion artificial ways to surround him with “friends,” but none of them stays true to the basis of the character. Personally, I don’t like him as part of the Avengers for this very reason. There doesn’t seem to be any purpose to him being a part of the team (other than the fact that Bendis likes to write him). So that’s step one: how do we get him involved with others?

The other problem you mentioned goes to the core of his history. Magic doesn’t sell books. Even the folks at Marvel know this. Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada tackled this issue a couple years back in a Newsarama interview where he stated that “There are no rules to his universe and from a storytelling perspective that’s problematic.” Sorcery has no boundaries. Every conflict is solved just by the writer making something up out of the blue. Until we can attach some limits to what he can and cannot do (and, consequently, what his fellow magic-based allies and enemies can and cannot do), this problem will never go away. Because of this, Strange is often relegated to the corners of the Marvel Universe. He’s either dealing with the things that no one else is aware of or can’t deal with themselves. Or, he’s forced into an advisory role like his business card should say “Magical Consultant” or something.

Those are two big problems to work around and/or eliminate. Now, what are the strengths of Doctor Strange? What are the things that make him unique and interesting…besides his costume? I’ll start the discussion by offering these insights: 1. He has a unique perspective of the Marvel Universe, having teamed up with many different characters and visited locations and dimensions that others never even knew existed. 2. Vice-versa, his experiences have put him on a higher plane than many of the folks he engages with on a day-to-day basis (perhaps he feels more comfortable around individuals like Silver Surfer and Thor as opposed to everyday folks like Captain America and the tech-based Iron Man). 3. His background provides creators a lot of leeway when it comes to creative foes and abilities.

And, as a beginning storyline, I think there’s something to the idea of finding the source of magic power in the Marvel Universe and organically placing rules and limitations on how it is used. Thoughts?

You’re quite correct when you say that Strange has teamed up with a large proportion of the Marvel Universe. When anything magical effects someone’s life in their title, it’s almost a guarantee that Strange will be present. He’s the go-to magic guy and it’s given him exposure to a great number of heroes. That being said, does that work as a hook for his own book? (And I’m not saying that I thought you were suggesting it, as I don’t think you were….I’m just working through some of the points you mentioned.) Of course, it really doesn’t work that way. Marvel tried that basic idea with their Secret Defenders series in the ’90s, when Strange gathered a group of heroes to him in every issue to go fight something that Strange had detected, but didn’t want to deal with on his own. Unfortunately, not only is that not much of a Dr. Strange book, it’s not much of a book at all, with no strong storyline running more than a few issues. Marvel also seemed to try to make Strange’s book a team-up book itself during the Thomas’ run, when they had a guest star every issue (which was made even worse by crossing over constantly with ever single Infinity Whatever miniseries that was currently being released). Basically, those issues turned Strange into a guest star in his own book, and that didn’t work either.

I certainly think that he relates better to fellow mystics and to more powerful beings than he does your run of the mill superhero (and I agree that he does not fit into the Avengers at all. His inclusion on the team is made even more non-sensical because he refused to get involved in the Civil War, but is now suddenly fine with taking a side and fighting this fight. Great timing Strange, but you’re a little late as the war is over. Perhaps, had you gotten involved sooner, you could have helped to give the war a different ending…). I’d also venture to suggest that your typical superhero isn’t too comfortable around him. Yes, he’s at all of the big crossovers, and he’s often a relatively important figure in them, but he’s also aloof from most of the heroes he encounters. But how can we make this work in a series?

Perhaps a team-up series is what is needed, but not one in the traditional sense. Perhaps a new apprentice is needed, but someone both expected and unexpected. What if we started a series with Dr. Strange training his new apprentice, the Scarlet Witch? In current Marvel continuity, Wanda has been depowered and is living a peaceful life. However, it’s a sure bet that her enemies will find her, and they won’t be too pleased with her. Since she doesn’t have her hex powers, she’ll need to find a way to defend herself. She’s shown an aptitude for magic before, so what if she were to decide that magic is a path she should pursue, to defend herself from those who would do her harm. She and Strange have always been shown to be somewhat close and I think Strange relates to her better than he does to most heroes. Would he train her? I think he would, if she asked, especially when you consider that Wanda has proven herself mentally unstable, so the discipline that magic demands of one would be the perfect way to help Wanda gain control over her mental difficulties (plus, if she did start to slip again, you’d have Strange right there to contain the situation).

This gives us someone who is not a novice in magic, but also someone who has never really delved deep into its secrets, staying with Strange. Wanda could serve, to an extent, as the eyes of the audience, learning things as we do. Although only one other person in the cast (which would include Strange and Wong), she should provide enough of a contrasting personality to make for some interesting interactions around the Sanctum Sanctorum. Plus, Wanda also has ties to the superhero community, which could force Strange to sometimes deal with other heroes, which would be a great way to express how removed he is from the typical do-gooder. If Hawkeye or Wonder Man swing by the Sanctum to chat with Wanda, how do Strange and Wong deal with them? Is there anyway these people can relate to each other?

That’s just one idea. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on other Strange pitches, or on this one.

The Scarlet Witch is a great way to organically include some of the superhero community in a Dr. Strange title. And she seems like a good fit, especially playing off her mental instability. I think it would be a great set-up to have Strange take her in and then she makes up an entire relationship (far beyond what really exists) in her head…almost like Fatal Attraction…which would be made even more tense once we introduce Night Nurse as Strange’s love interest. We could turn the book into not just a magic-based title, but also a sort of romance book (which I think works lovely considering the almost Gothic background of Strange’s powers).

There’s a fine line you’d have to toe with this kind of title. Strange almost needs to stand alone in the Marvel Universe. He needs to explore bizarre dimensions and encounter offbeat characters. At the same time, you need to infuse his book with some regular superhero guest stars in order to tie everything into regular continuity. And there’s the rub (and most likely the reason why his title always falls to the wayside): too many superheroes spoil the book. Magic and other powers don’t work well together…the dynamics clash, the realities contradict each other. Too many guest stars and the book loses its focus. Too few guest stars and the book loses its broader interest.

A few of the plot ideas I worked up for our Defenders post would play here just as well. Dr. Strange has toyed with Black Magic in the past. It would be intriguing to have him come face-to-face with his “dark doppelganger”…the yin to his Sorcerer Supreme yang. I could also see a lot of the magic/superhero characters appearing in this book, folks like Brother Voodoo, Morbius, Werewolf By Night (and the other fringe characters from the Night Shift), Gargoyle, Hellstorm and Terror Inc.

I’d love to see some camaraderie among this group of heroes. Maybe they get together regularly and play poker or paintball or something. Maybe they trade war stories over some drinks at a dive bar somewhere. Strange always comes off as kind of pompous around the hoi polloi of the Marvel world, but maybe among his peers he has a different personality. Maybe they even pick on him or make fun of him. And perhaps they pull magic-based practical jokes on each other! It reminds me of some of my favorite Avengers moments when you see the heroes out of costume just interacting with each other as people.

Personally, I think Strange needs a tangible rogues gallery too. He’s battled against Mephisto, Nightmare and Dormammu so many times that it’s become routine. Let’s create some real human-based threats, some really creepy folks with the worst intentions in mind. Darker villains mixed with more light-hearted characterizations could be a nice dichotomy.

So give me a fully-formed pitch using some of these elements. I forgot to do that with my Namor tweaks (and should probably go back to it). Let’s put our heads together and come up with something we’d all like to read…

Hokey smokes! Could I agree more with your thoughts on Strange’s villains? No, I don’t think I could. I am not a fan, in any title, of using the abstract cosmic entities as regular villains. All of them should pop up from time to time when you’re writing a character at Strange’s power levels, but they should not be the core of the character’s rogues gallery, and they’re pretty much all Strange has. Sure, some people would say that Baron Mordo is a member of Strange’s rogues gallery, but unfortunately, he’s really been beaten down so many times, and we’ve been told so many times that he is weaker than Strange, that he’s lost any amount of threat he once possessed. Also, he’s dead, or at least he was the last time I checked.

Mordo is, however, the direction I would recommend for villains, in that he is human. I know that conventional wisdom dictates that the hero’s adversaries be stronger than the hero himself so that they can be considered a threat to the hero. Unfortunately, with Strange it’s difficult to make his foes more powerful than him, and not have them be cosmic menaces. I think, though, that power is not everything. Luthor and the Joker have been tormenting their respective heroes for over half a century and they’re both physically weaker than their counterpart. A true villain doesn’t just need power to be a threat, and I think your idea of making the villains more in tune with a darker, Gothic style would really work well for this character.

I also like the idea of a love triangle. For decades, Marvel thrived on the love triangle; Stan Lee seemed to want one in every single early Marvel title. You don’t see it as often in current Marvel titles, but it is a good choice for drama and intrigue. It works even better with a character like Wanda involved, since she may not be tied to reality very closely. If Strange is supposed to be helping her retain her sanity, and yet his relationship with Night Nurse is threatening that sanity, what would Strange’s reaction be? Where does his responsibility as Wanda’s friend, physician and teacher end and begin?

I think a pitch is beginning to come together. We want a darker tone; not grim and gritty “Let Me Pull Your Head Off” dark, but something more Gothic and tilting toward horror. We want Wanda in the Sanctum, but she is going to be just part of the story and we don’t want her to overwhelm. I think guest stars can be done organically, and I really like the idea of Strange being different around them. If nothing else, there must be some magical lingo that these guys and gals would throw around when they’re together that most of us wouldn’t know. Surely there’s a sense of camaraderie that exists between them. I mean, the magical world is one that is so different from what the rest of the world sees as reality, that being able to walk in that world must be somewhat like joining an exclusive club. Strange would almost have to be a somewhat different person around these people.

I sincerely hope that I have not just reiterated what you already said in your post. I think we’re getting close here, but I simply can’t seem to write this without being interrupted; I’ve been writing this for an hour, and I’ve been interrupted at least seven times, so I’m going to sign off now, and let you put this all together in a pitch. Hey, you’re great at that stuff!

Aw jeez, you had to throw it back in my lap, huh? This one is a lot harder to wrap my head around. We have a lot of beats so far, but no real plotline to weave it all together. I think we have to establish a few unique villains. We need to set up a new apprentice, a love interest and a deeper supporting cast. We need to delve into the origins and limits of magic in the Marvel Universe. And we need to give Strange more of a personality and more of a sense of community (at least among his peers). I don’t have a complete answer for any of these problems, but I’ve got some notes that I’ll share with you. We should be able to hammer something out together.

Taking my points in order, let’s first look at potential villains. As I’ve said, my initial thought for an archenemy (a la Luthor or Joker) is to establish someone as Strange’s polar opposite whose ultimate goal is to see Dr. Strange fail. The easiest thought here is to bring back someone who crossed paths with Strange long ago…someone like Cyrus Black. Or to bring in someone who has a past with supernatural characters and demons, such as Dr. Glitternight. Either one would come as a surprise to Strange and could be slowly revealed over the course of the story. As far as new and different characters go, there are a lot of themes we could follow. The first that comes to mind for me is something classically Gothic or Victorian-inspired. This could take the form of a character based on someone such as Edgar Allan Poe or Lizzie Borden. We could bring back a character like The Hangman, but make him much more sinister…surrounded by the ghosts of crows, like shadows (interestingly enough, a group of crows is called a “murder” and “A Murder of Crows” would be a great title for a story arc). Perhaps a character called the Undertaker that has more of a gritty Western or even a straight-off-the-Mayflower feel and he could have a host of minions, like Children of the Corn, setting him up as their Fagin. That’s pretty creepy. Maybe some villain that has something to do with the ancestors of our forefathers and their Freemasonry ties…connected somehow to the secrets of America. Pirates are always a good foil…historic and knee-deep in murder and lost souls. Maybe there’s some value in pursuing the spectral manifestation of his deceased sister as a villain? And last but not least, perhaps Strange should face someone who represents the next generation. What if we gave him a younger foe who employs all the trappings of the Steampunk genre? I could see a bad guy who looks a lot like the Jack Knight Starman, with his goggles and pulp serial-influenced staff. Maybe he has a bunch of magically-imbued gadgets and whiz-bang inventions. I like that a lot, a bit of the old and the new.

We’ve already selected Scarlet Witch as his new apprentice, and I think that’s a perfect fit and makes a great amount of sense. Inject Night Nurse as the love interest and, like we discussed, you can build a lot of friction and potential (the story arc title of “Bizarre Love Triangle” just screams out to me). But these two, along with Wong, don’t make a very full supporting cast. Personally, I’d love to see more of Brother Voodoo and Michael Morbius hanging around and offering advice and assistance. Beyond that, there must be people that Strange interacts with on a professional, if not personal, level. How about giving him a historian/librarian figure for research purposes (ala Buffy and her Watcher)? A professor of the occult would make sense, as would a psychologist or social anthropologist…or even an FBI profiler if we get involved in weird serial killers or crime patterns. It would also make sense, given his collection of magical items, that he would be acquainted with a monster hunter (or relic hunter) such as Elsa Bloodstone. Finally, in a storyline concept I haven’t mentioned before, let’s give Strange a career. What if he wrote a book about his life? Would he have an agent? Perhaps some “magic groupies?” For a little humor, what if he goes on a book tour and has a stand-up comedian as his opening act? It may seem a little out of place, but it could also offer an outsider perspective to Strange’s daily life.

The next point may be the hardest to crack: the origins and limitations of magic in the Marvel Universe. I’m just going to throw these things out there and see if anything sticks. Most of the magic found in literature and legend seems to stem from religion, specifically lesser religions like Wicca or Voodoo and native groups like Druids, Shamans, Witch Doctors and the Aborigines. This would imply that magic has a natural base attuned to the Earth itself. Now, what if magic is powered by the Gods, who are actually the true denizens of Earth, and each pantheon has its own followers. The Gods with the most followers have the most power, but their magic has less effect due to being โ€œwatered down.โ€ The most potent magic comes from those who havenโ€™t lost their relation to the planet. But the source of the magic isn’t the Gods themselves. What if the source was something called The Belief and it was held inside something intangible called The Tapestry (stick with me, I’m going into Grant Morrison mode). Now, The Tapestry is made up of threads called “reality rifts” that allow the magic users to peer into the truth of the planet (kind of like The Matrix). And what if there was a limited amount of magic because there are only allowed to be a set number of magic users…each one acting as an anchor or “hem point” for a particular rift? There is a true balance needed in order to keep The Tapestry whole and to keep The Belief contained. Perhaps there are too many magic users and it gets to the point where magic is being rationed…when someone is using it, someone else cannot. This could lead to natural limitations on magic in order to keep it flush with power. Let’s say that magic can no longer be used to harm, only to dissuade or distract. it must be defensive or protection-based. Even dark magic can no longer damage an opponent, instead it causes fear or confusion. This could easily be mandated across all of Marvel’s magic-based characters.

Springing from that comes the idea for another group of characters who could be allies or villains: the insane. Perhaps they’ve caught a glimpse of The Belief and cannot fathom its truth. We could bring back characters like Mad Jim Jaspers, Tatterdemalion or even Jamie Braddock and his crazy quantum strings. They could act as prophets or guides for Strange. They could be protectors of The Tapestry. Or hell, they could just be there to fight.

The last point should occur organically after all of these other things come into place. By putting Strange around more people, his personality will develop. We can create a magic lingo similar to the style in the Ocean’s 11 movies…where the characters discuss grifting schemes and famous ploys, but this lingo is based in terms of Vaudeville acts, early stage magicians, various turn-of-the-century inventors (Tesla, Edison) and a number of religious references like saints and relics…the Double Houdini, the St. Crispin’s Folly, the 23 Skiddoo. etc. Could be a lot of fun actually.

Couple all of these ideas with a general theme headed more into the macabre and horror side of magic, that focuses more on the “what could happen if…” side of things, and I think you’ve got a winning formula that would touch on the dark, the different, and the uncomfortably humorous all at once. Strange needs to be less about the 1960s cosmic vibe with its weird dimensions and backgrounds and more about the counterculture of today with its effects on the planet and its resources. Think less hippie and more Emo or Goth, right? It may even be worthwhile, if we pursue the young Steampunk angle, to make Strange the proverbial fish out of water who doesn’t understand this cultural shift and can’t quite come to terms with it.

Wow…that’s a lot to think about. I’ll give you the weekend to mull it over…

I’ve had to read this a few times, but my final feeling is….wow. There’s a real story here. I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure that magic needs to be strictly defined and structured; to me that somewhat defeats the purpose of magic. Yes, I know in the hands of a lazy writer magic can become its own deus ex machina and every story can be finished by the magician literally pulling a rabbit out of their hat. That being said, I think you can have a strong story without those clear definitions. However, I also think your ideas on how to define magic are very strong and could make for some interesting stories, so I’d certainly support that direction.

It sounds to me like we’ve got some arcs ready to go. The first story arc, I think, should be where Strange actually takes Wanda in as his apprentice. By giving Strange an apprentice, we have the opportunity to delineate the rules of magic you’ve created, since Strange would be explaining things to Wanda. We wouldn’t want to dump lots of information on the reader at once, but you could spread the exposition out over the course of many issues, parsing the information out to the reader in ways that would make them want to know more. I see Wanda, Wong and Night Nurse as our regular supporting characters; those characters who we see in every story arc, and really, in every issue. Wanda and Wong live with him, and Night Nurse must visit quite a bit (kind of like Morgana Blessing in the older issues, but not as annoying). The other types of characters you mention are a great idea, but I think they need to be introduced slowly, over multiple arcs. Strange’s world is so different from the world of other hero’s that I think we want to allow the readers to grow into it organically, rather than shoving many characters at them in the first arc.

I think the villain in the first story arc should be someone more “classically” magical, so to speak. Reinventing an older supernatural villain would be a fine choice. Your description of the new Hangman is a little too much like the Scarecrow (Marvel, not DC) for me and Dr. Glitternight sounds a little too silly for me to take him seriously. I like the name Cyrus Black, and if you don’t mind Harry Potter fans confusing him with Sirius Black, I think he might be the way to go. I still don’t think that Black can be as strong, magically, as Strange is (the job title of Sorcerer Supreme kind of precludes others from having the same magical powers as Strange), but I think he’s a planner, perhaps one with access to some powerful artifacts or monstrous servants (enter Elsa Bloodstone). I also love the idea of Strange having a Watcher-type of contact, who helps with research, and could help him figure out what some of the magical items of power Black is using might be.

I think the second story arc might best focus on a more gritty, grim villain, someone based on Poe or Borden as you suggested. They know some magic, but where they really become a threat is in their ruthlessness and, perhaps, insanity. Their magic is more cult based and much of it comes through ritual. I think that Strange may be somewhat surprised and taken aback by the sorts of crimes this villain would commit, and the lengths this villain would go to in order to achieve his goals. This would be a good time for Strange to seek out and become acquainted with a new ally; the FBI profiler type that you mention. Strange and his allies are somewhat out of their element with the crimes this villain is performing. Strange has seen some crazy stuff, but there’s always been an element of civility behind it. Mordo may have been a gruesome creep, but he didn’t do a heck of a lot in the way of human sacrifice. This guy does, and it throws Strange for something of a loop. This also might be a good time for him to seek aid from Brother Voodoo, since voodoo (in my admittedly limited knowledge) also tends to be more ritual based.

I’d save the Steampunk baddie for another story arc, although he’s my favorite, I have to admit. I love the idea of someone mixing science and magic (it’s an area of Doom’s character that I never felt was addressed enough); there’s so much that can be done with it. Again, it also gives the villain an edge over Strange without making him more magically powerful than Strange. And again, it’s also an area where Strange is somewhat at a loss; sure, he can counter this guy’s magical abilities, but how much does Strange know about technology? Can he even program a VCR? It also gives Strange a need for another ally; enter Dr. Michael Morbius, who knows all about technology as a scientist.

In amongst these plots, we have the slow simmering love triangle between Wanda, Strange and Night Nurse, which can explode into it’s own plot at some point. Plus, we throw in some scenes which shows what Strange does when he’s not being the Sorcerer Supreme, as he hangs out with the other magical members of the Marvel Universe that we’ve mentioned. The only point I’m stuck on is his job. I somewhat see where you’re going; after all, where does Strange get his money? He hasn’t held a job since he became Sorcerer Supreme and he spent all of his fortune before that day. To an extent, writing a book would work for him; he could set his own hours and he certainly has a lot of experiences from which to draw. What sort of book would he write? You suggest an autobiography. I’m not sure if that would work for two reasons. First of all, Morgana Blessing wrote his biography when she thought he was dead in the early 90s (he even went on a talk show to discuss it). Second, I see Strange as not really wanting his life to be open to the public; I don’t think he’d want people to panic when they realized what he’s been through. Perhaps you were suggesting that he write a book about his life before he became the Sorcerer Supreme, which could be interesting, but it doesn’t have much of an ending if he wants to keep his life secret. “I had a horrible accident, became a drunk, but everything got better and now I….don’t do much.”

At the same time, there’s potential there. Perhaps Strange would spin his non-magical story into a self-help type of book? Perhaps he’d write about the non-mystic teachings of the Ancient One, exhorting people to throw off the shroud of commercialism and live a life of peace and tranquility. It’s a little cheesy, but it also seems like the sort of thing Strange might write. I almost suggested he write fiction (maybe fantasy or science fiction, based on his adventures, but which he markets as fiction), but I’m not sure I see him doing so, as it seems to trivialize what he does. I’d love to do something like market him as a romance novelist, but that seems way too far out there for him. Besides, if we want him doing a book tour, we need the sort of book that lends itself to those tours, and people love them some self-help books. And who wouldn’t want to write the scene where Strange guests on Oprah?

That seems pretty pitchy to me. Thoughts?

I think it’s great how you’ve managed to work an additional supporting character into each story arc and you’ve pinpointed which one would work for each aspect of the story. I’m still a little unsure of how we work the villains into the action. Obviously, if we use Cyrus Black, there will be scenes showing him plotting a comeback (without revealing his face). He has a beef with Strange that was never fully explored. That one makes sense. And the opening arc with Wanda and Night Nurse is easy enough to establish. But beyond that, how do we approach making the bad guys a threat to Strange. I mean, the guy never seems to leave his house. I can’t imagine that his potential foes would just walk up and knock on his front door. Perhaps we need to give him a job to get him out in the public and have some interaction. You can only get away with so much coincidence and mistaken identity ploys before it gets ridiculous. I also wouldn’t want to rely on his allies coming to him for assistance as a way to launch every plot.

So the big stumbling block is still his career. How does he put food on the table? Stephen Strange has a smarmy personality. I could see him hamming it up on those celeb-journalism shows. I don’t know how much the public knows about him in general. Does anyone remember him as a surgeon? Does anyone know he is a magician? He could potentially write a New age sort of book…a spiritual health book written by a real medical doctor would create good buzz. Maybe he’s bored of being trapped in his secret home all the time and decides to get a little public face time by becoming a stage magician (a la Zatanna). He could write a book on the history of magic, but put a realist spin on it (coming from the medical field) to mask his true background. Or perhaps there’s some sort of political turmoil in the Ancient One’s homeland of Kamar-Taj (or Tibet) and Strange comes out as a pseudo-celebrity to defend the country. Any of these could be pre-established in our first story arc and then fleshed out as the base for the whole Wanda situation.

I totally agree that any new villains should be a different type of problem for Strange. The cosmic situations and the continuous magic-versus-magic fights get old quick. The steampunk angle enables us to show Strange getting frustrated. Any historically-based opponent allows us to add an element of research to the confrontation. And then the horror cult thing is just weird and disturbing (I still like “A Murder of Crows” as a title).

Ooh…I know a way to start this whole thing. What if there’s a truly bizarre serial killer haunting the Marvel Universe? Maybe using a team of possessed children to commit the murders (eww…twisted)? Dr. Strange has just finished a book about psychic investigators and mystical ways to solve crimes, using his medical background as a sort of anti-authority. During an appearance on his book tour, he’s approached by the FBI profiler we’ve discussed and he gets brought in to the search for the killer. Along the course of the investigation, he ends up revealing his true position to the profiler…this brings trust and adds the profiler to Strange’s inner circle. The plot also puts Strange out in the public eye, which could be a launching pad for others to seek his help or want to stop his interference.

Damn, now I’m thinking it might be smart to have him write a book “debunking” hauntings from the studious medical point of view and have his book tour take place in supposedly haunted locations. Is that too much of a cop out? Meh.

Either way, the book tour thing really helps progress the arcs we’ve proposed. New locations offer more chances for conflicts, experiences and information. It would add an additional element to have his supporting cast spread out across the country (or even the world, depending on his tour stops). People coming in and going out of the storylines organically, as you’ve mentioned, makes it seem more natural than the whole “Scooby Gang” vibe of something like Buffy.

Hmph. Seems to me that we’ve come up with about two years worth of material, depending on how it all pans out, and the potential to keep the series going in a great direction for a long time to come. I really need to work my contacts to get in touch with some Marvel editors. I wonder how they’d feel about our little blog?

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12 Responses to Dr. Strange: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love this Character

  1. Scott Iskow says:

    I think Doctor Strange would be great if writers took more of a Vertigo approach to him. Make it as much about the people who cross his path as about him fighting those mystical battles. When you’re as powerful as Stephen Strange, you must have all sorts of unseen influence.

  2. John says:

    That’s an interesting idea, and I would agree that Strange could be successful in a more Vertigo inspired title. That being said, I think any character is going to be more interesting if the stories aren’t so much about the battles, but about the characters. It sounds like you’re suggesting that Strange may do a good amount of manipulating in this sort of story, which is an intriguing idea. The more powerful you are, the less you should have to use that power directly, and to play Strange as more of a behind-the-scenes guy has a lot of potential. I imagine the reader not always knowing what Strange is up to, and then it all comes together at the end of the arc. Nice idea.

  3. Scott Iskow says:

    I love the idea of adding an element of mystery to Strange’s world. Even someone as powerful as Strange needs to gather clues occasionally. It’s not enough to know that magic was involved–he has to figure out the spell, the gestures, the talismans, etc.

    To understand magic at the level that Strange does is to understand the nature of power and the importance of patience and wisdom. Anyone else seeking such power would almost certainly be tempted to take shortcuts… with disastrous results, no doubt. If there is one rule of magic that has been fairly consistent, it’s that you can’t just meddle with it without risking terrible consequences should things go wrong.

    I also wonder if there’s not some sort of connection between mysticism and mythology. When you tap into magic, you’re tapping into something older, darker, and godlike. Magic and religion have always been related somehow, both being matters of a spiritual nature.

  4. Bill Burns says:

    You know who else thought “A Murder of Crows” was a good title? Check out the fourth volume of the collected Alan Moore Swamp Thing.

  5. Jason says:

    Hmph. Great minds think alike, huh?

  6. Sean says:

    There are so man examples of good writing for him and limiting when the story requires. I find the notion that “rules” are required to be simply bizarre. If the character is that hard to write for then leave him out of it until someone comes along with a good story to tell.

    I prefer the character to be written when someone has a good story to tell and do the odd miniseries. Rewriting the character to fit into a continuing series seems wrong — who is that supposed to appeal to? Unless Marvel can bring in new readers, you’ll have alienated a lot of people who are longtime fans of the character which seems self-defeating.

  7. John says:

    I don’t think either of us would disagree with the statement that there have been some very strong creative periods on Dr. Strange. By the same token, as someone who’s read every Strange series since the 1980s, I can also say that there have been some extremely fallow creative periods on the title as well.

    I’ll admit, however, to being extremely puzzled by your second paragraph. I’m not sure anyone would disagree with the statement that we want someone writing Strange who has a good story to tell (and I think we have many good story ideas here). Why would this alienate long term fans? Marvel has limited Strenge in the past, and it’s never really stuck, usually because they still limited him in an obscure and nebulous way. I think it’s imperative to have some ground rules for a character, because otherwise the character spirals out of control. Witness DC’s attempt to rein in Superman after “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, because he had no limits and was becoming impossible to write.

    The goal with Strange was to make writing good stories about him easier for writers, not harder. I think that he’d be positioned stronger after these stories. Would some long term fans be alienated? Perhaps, as that’s always a risk when doing something new with a character. Would more fans be drawnt o the book under the new rules? I think so, yes.

  8. Arachne Solara says:

    A very interesting post. The only thing I personally find objectionable is the whole Scarlet Witch angle. Other than the fact that they both use magic, I don’t see a lot to bring the characters together. It would seem a bit contrived. Ditto the Night Nurse. I can see Strange dating her for awhile, but not having anything serious or long-term with her. Other than a shared medical background and possible sexual compatibility, it would be difficult to see Strange sharing his life with someone he couldn’t share the biggest part of his life with. Of course, you could always argue that her attraction for him may very well be the fact that she has no magical aptitude whatsoever. I’m also not a huge Clea (“Yes, Master!”) fan, so I guess that means creating a new character(s) as possible love interest(s). I like the idea of incorporating more romance into possible future Strange storylines–Strange has always struck me as a very romantic type of character, and he seems to have a rich emotional life. He’s also mysterious and Gothic, as mentioned, and his loneliness and isolation has a lot of appeal. He’s also, IMHO, smokin’ hot, at least the way some artists have drawn him. As a woman fan I’m in favor of more romance in the Doc’s life, but I’m sure it wouldn’t turn off too many guys, either, especially if the women involved were truly hot themselves. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Didn’t the Doc make a huge amount of money at some point in the comics? I mean, to the point where money shouldn’t ever be an issue for him? If not, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the Sorcerer Supreme to skate enough energy off each parallel reality in the Nexus to build up his bank account. To get him out of the house, maybe the motivations shouldn’t be as much earning a living as making his task as gatekeeper a more roving one–perhaps he has to ensure the safety of gates to other dimensions all over the planet and even beyond instead of just having to guard the Nexus connected to his sanctum, necessitating trips out of town where he could interact with people and encounter new challenges and/or villains. Or perhaps as a service he really does act as a preternatural consultant on matters supernatural to law enforcement and other superheroes around the globe. You could bring in the mystery element and have him solving crimes, but with a lot of action as well. Make the world as realized as, say, the one created by Laurell K. Hamilton in her (early!) Anita Blake books, and you’d have an audience. And not just a female audience, either.

    In the direct-to-DVD origin story, I very much liked the way they portrayed the mages. It implied that there was some kind of Order, or group of them, working together in a unified way. Maybe that could be elaborated, so that the Doc is not only Sorcerer Supreme, but head of a super-secret magical order. There could Archivists who fulfill the role of outside researcher/Watcher/sage, and other mages to interact with, some friendly, some not. The Order could be run by a Conclave of hooded leaders, and the Doc could have run-ins with them, politically or magically. There could be formal dueling and the like.

    As to the limits on magic…I don’t think there’s any need to set up a bunch of arbitrary rules. Everyone knows that if you set up rules like that, some writer will figure out a way to break them, kind of the way every time in a Star Trek episode you heard a character bring up the Primary Directive, you knew the Captain would be breaking it sometime in the next hour.

    I kind of like the system set up in White Wolf’s RPG Mage: The Ascension. A mage can manipulate reality all he/she wants, but if they go too far, they pay the price. The mechanic was called paradox, and represented the force of consensus reality backlashing on a mage who violated things too much. The mage in question could be plagued by paradox spirits, suffer symptoms that were appropriate to the violation, or even go into a prolonged inward state called the Quiet where they’d have to go on an inner-plane hero’s journey to resolve the problem. In a fantasy book I once read, mages had to deal with an effect called spifflication, where the mage might go insane if he pushed the boundaries too much.

    I think that there are a lot of things that can be done to make this character sustain his own title, as long as the quality remained consistent by writers and artists who genuinely love the character and aren’t lazy. I think you could remain true to the roots of the character while still taking him into new directions that will appeal to a new generation of audiences. After all, fantasy is huge, as is Harry Potter. If you can do magic well, I think the comic will do well. It just takes the proper application of will, because the current fans are there, and future fans as well.

    However, I don’t see Marvel doing anything really cool with anyone or anything until Quesada leaves or gets sacked. I hope this opinion doesn’t cause a s—storm flame war, but it’s my opinion that he really doesn’t know what he’s doing. The last several years have kind of sucked at Marvel, with a few notable exceptions.

    All IMHO and FWIW. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. John says:

    Wow. Some people leave comments. Apparently Arachne Solara writes entire blog posts in the comments section. ๐Ÿ™‚ Nice thoughts though, and some very good points.

    Did Dr. Strange make money at one time in the comics? I don’t remember that, but it could have happened. He simply never seemed to worry about money. I have no idea where he gets his funds, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him concerned about it. When he “died” back in the 1990s, he apparently had enough money to establish the Stephen Strange Metaphysical Institute, or whatever it was called, so yeah, I don’t think he’s hurting for dough.

    As for the Joe Quesada comment, a moment to editorialize on Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief. I would be the first to agree that Quesada has made some very poor decisions during his tenure as we discussed in our very first post on the “One More Day” story in the Spider-Books. That being said, Quesada, to be fair, has done some very good things for the Marvel line of books, and even when I don’t agree with everything (“Civil War” was a brilliant idea that could have used any writer except Mark Millar on it, since Millar doesn’t understand subtlety and restraint; Bendis may be a good writer, but he does certain books extremely well, and other books very poorly, so why is he writing 80% of their title, including their huge crossover, which he’s already proven he does poorly with “House of M”; if the Ultimate universe was supposed to be a continuity free zone, why allow more and more layers of confusing backstory to spring up all over the line?) I believe that Marvel’s current output is still much more readable than what DC is publishing now. Civil War disappointed me in many places, but overall, it was readable, unlike DC’s current Crisis crossovers.

    So, Quesada: yes, I believe it may be time for him to move on, but I do give him credit for much of the good he’s done for Marvel.

  10. Arachne Solara says:

    Sorry about the length of my first post–I probably would have cut it down if I’d been able to preview before posting. ๐Ÿ™‚

    As to Quesada, I probably gave him too short a shrift–you’re right. He was responsible for bringing Marvel back from the brink of bankruptcy during the late 90s; I’m just not sure he needs to be resting on those laurels for such a very long time. Of course, that begs the question of who would be a good replacement. Whoever comes after him could very well be worse. Maybe.

    Take BRAND NEW DAY–I don’t care if they want to off Mary Jane, but why not use Occam’s Razor? Have her die, or divorce, or become evil. Don’t have that whole Mephisto travesty. Just my 2 cents, but Quesada should work out his midlife crisis/Oedipal issues elsewhere, IMHO.

    I actually liked Civil War, btw. But then, I probably don’t know any better. I also loved FLIGHT OF BONES, but long-time Doc Strange fans didn’t. I’m sure I don’t know enough to be a good critic at all. ;-P

  11. John says:

    Oh, don’t apologize for the length; I just found it amusing as I continued to read it and it kept going! But hey, your thoughts are always welcome here, at whatever length you care to share them.

    I liken Quesada to Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Disney. Both of them came into a company that really needed them, and both of them strengthened their company with some strong business moves. In both cases, the company in question became a creative juggernaut again, and really took the lead in a particular field where they had previously been the driving force. However, in both cases, I believe that their early successes convinced them that they could do no wrong, and that they overstayed their welcome. Eisner eventually resigned, amid strong pressure. I hope it doesn’t go that far with Quesada, but I think he needs to recognize that his time at Marvel is done and step aside. Don’t these people believe in going out on top?

    Never apologize for what you like, even if people tell you that you’re not supposed to like it. We all like certain things that the more cultured critics would say is beneath our notice, but that’s nonsense. I can go on at length about why I thought Civil War is disappointing, and probably will in a post someday (but I can boil it down to the same problems with all Mark Millar comics; he has great ideas, but doesn’t understand that you can’t write with a sledgehammer; learn some restraint dude!), but that doesn’t mean that other people are wrong who liked it. Heck, I liked Secret Wars, and that’s total popcorn movie superhero comics, so what do I know?

  12. Arachne Solara says:

    I meant ONE MORE DAY, not BRAND NEW DAY. Who can keep all these days straight? Heehee…

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