Get to Know a Hero: Stephen Strange

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c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics

Are you excited about Doctor Strange? I’m excited about Doctor Strange. I’m pretty sure all of my friends, even the ones who are excited about Doctor Strange are really, really tired of hearing how excited I am about Doctor Strange.


In anticipation of the film’s forthcoming release (Nine. Days), I thought I would introduce those of you who would like to some background to Doctor Stephen Strange.

Caveat #1: Any eventual spoilers are entirely coincidental. I haven’t seen the film yet so I have no clue which parts of the mythos are included.

Caveat #2: Yes, I do as a human person, as much as I love Tilda Swinton and the gender flip, have an massive issue with a Caucasian actor being cast as a character who has always been Asian in the comics. There is a certain amount of feeling torn. I am still seeing the movie.

c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics

Name: Stephen Vincent Strange

Alias: Doctor Strange

Affiliations: Black Priests, Illuminati, Avengers of the Supernatural, Defenders, New Avengers, Midnight Sons, The Order, Secret Defenders, The Mighty, The Ancient One, Namor, Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider, Professor Xavier, Black Bolt, Fantastic Four

Bases of Operation: 177A Bleecker Street, NY; Kamar Taj

Born: 1930, Philadelphia, PA. Raised on his family’s farm in Nebraska.

Creators: Steve Ditko and Stan Lee

First AppearanceStrange Tales #110 (1963)

Abilities: Intangibility, mystic bolts, banishment (of others), transmutation, telepathy, telekinesis, flight, teleportation, time manipulation, dimensional travel, conjuring of objects, elemental manipulation, astral projection, protective shields, hypnotism, illusions, universal awareness, infinite longevity, fearlessness, energy blasts, pyrokinesis, organic disintegration, cryokinesis, paralysis, and “various other spells.” Former surgeon. Expert occultist. Expert strategist. Skilled martial artist. Black Magic: can take the power of another entity, use necromantic energy, and catastrophe magic.

Weaknesses: Cannot use magic to replicate anything discovered by science, dependency on incantation and gesture, “human factor,” astro-limits (can only astral-project for 24 hours before body dies), magic induced physical changes

c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics


(ed. note: I’ll streamline this as much as I can, but I can’t promise it’s actually going to make sense. Comic logic is a thing)

Stephen Strange was born in 1930 while his parents were on vacation in Philadelphia. He was raised on his family’s farm in Nebraska, along with his two siblings. When he was 8-ish years old, Yao, also known as The Ancient One, determined Stephen was meant to be his successor, information he shared with his disciple Baron Karl Mordo, who was understandably displeased by the turn of events. Mordo sought to rid himself of his rival by attacking Stephen with demons via nightmares. The precocious Stephen developed had developed an interest in magic by the time he was 9 but his father, an epic douche canoe concerned only with material gain, quickly obliterated Stephen’s childhood wonderment and instilled in his son the idea that anything other than the acquisition of wealth was a waste of time.

Deciding early that he would pursue a career in medicine, Strange left home for New York and medical school; while there he began drinking heavily. On a visit home, he witnessed his sister’s tragic drowning and though the incident spurned him to graduate medical school at the top of his class, it also induced him to avoid grief by focusing on money rather than family.

Strange became a well known surgeon, and a well paid one, though he was still haunted by demons, both literal and figurative, and was plagued by his addiction to alcohol. Stephen’s brother Victor was hit by a car after a fight with Stephen and guilt drove anything altruistic from the good doctor’s psyche.  Strange turned his focus entirely to his practice and his bank accounts.

In 1963, Strange was in a car accident (different causes have been cited in different continuities, from attempted suicide to driving under the influence to poor road conditions) that nearly took his life and damaged his hands to the extent he was unable to continue as a surgeon. Unwilling to shift his role to consultant, Strange spent most of his time and money searching for cures, many of which were illegal and others of which were extremely dangerous. One night, in a bar by the docks, Strange heard tell of a Tibetan Healer the dock workers referred to as “The Ancient One” and used the last of his money to find said man.

Yao refused to heal Strange, offering instead to instruct him in magic and mysticism. Strange refused at first but after seeing Mordo attack Yao with magic and Yao defend himself, Strange changed his mind, hoping that in learning from the Ancient One, he would be able to defeat Mordo. Pleased that Strange had made the choice for unselfish reasons, Yao began his instruction.

c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics

After many years in Tibet, Strange returned to New York, taking up residence in the original haunted mansion, 177A Bleecker Street in the Village. After banishing the demons from his new abode, Strange set up shop assisted by Wong, the son of the Ancient One’s servant, now charged to erm… “assist” the Sorcerer Supreme (ugh, yes, it’s racist as hell and very much a product of its time. The modern incarnations in the comics are on a more equal footing. Let’s hope the movie continues to update the relationship exponentially). Strange witnessed the defeat of the Skrull’s with Uatu the Watcher (yes, the one with the terrifyingly giant head), who told Strange he would have a part to play in the new age of heroes.

Stephen spent the first part of his heroic career assisting individuals who were under attack from dark and/or demonic forces remaining mostly isolated from the wider superhero community. Mordo, still jealous, tried all manner of tricks to kill both the Ancient One and Strange, falling before Strange’s superior powers each time. Loki didn’t like Stephen much either, especially after Strange thwarted two of the Trickster’s plots to take out Thor. Not to be outdone, Mordo forged an alliance with Dormammu, ruler of the Dark Dimension but also Keeper Awayer of Stuff Even Worse Than Him in hopes of defeating Strange (you’d think he’d have learned by then, but no). Dormammu and Strange battled, but in the process, the worse stuff is released; the demon and the sorcerer forged an alliance to beat them back and, in exchange for Strange’s help, Dormammu promised never to invade Earth’s dimension. In a shocking (not shocking at all) turn of events, Dormammu found a loop hole and used Mordo as his attack dog proxy to do it instead. Also, shockingly? Another failure for Mordo. This back and forth has been going on ever since; Mordo has, in fact, been featured in the last two issues of the current Doctor Strange run, in New York once more at the behest of Dormammu (who was dead but isn’t anymore), hoping to take out Stephen once and for all now that Empirikul has nearly obliterated magic in that part of the Marvel Universe.

It was after his “defeat” of Dormammu, Strange began to work with other heroes, including the X-Men, Avengers, and the Fantastic Four.

c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics

Lest you become bored by Strange’s apparently perfect record, during his next adventure, he cut some hair off a bad guy and, in so doing, released the latent mystic potential in evil people all over the world, resulting in the proposed destruction of Earth in hopes of containing the threat. The bad guys decided to pool their newfound powers and release Mordo (they probably should have taken the time to do a little research considering that dude’s track record, but whatevs). Needing Mordo’s assistance to eliminate the threat, Stephen hands over the evil powers to his old nemesis who promptly stabs him in the back. Stephen does ultimately manage to save the day and then he gets to go play in another dimension.

Some other stuff/things/people with whom Strange has done battle over the course of his long and storied career:

  • a satanic cult
  • Asmodeus
  • evil Asgardians
  • Ymir
  • Surtur
  • Nightmare
  • Galctus (who killed him but that got fixed relatively quickly)
  • The Undying Ones
  • The Nameless One
  • several different beings wanting to take his place as Sorcerer Supreme
  • Yandroth the Technomage (no, I didn’t make that up either)

After his battle with the Undying and Nameless Ones, Strange returned briefly to medicine only to be attacked once more by…



Yep. Mordo.

Upon his return, Strange formed a loose affiliation with Hulk, Silver Surfer, and Namor, who worked together when the Earth was threatened and calling themselves “The Defenders.” After the Kree-Skrull War, Strange also joined the Illuminati, along with: Professor Xavier, Black Bolt, Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, and Namor. The Illuminati attacked the Skrull homeworld, thinking to intimidate the Skrulls into staying away from Earth but the unwanted company actually gave the Skrulls enough contact with human DNA to launch a covert invasion. Nice work, guys.

After that, Strange did some other stuff, including getting stripped of his powers, getting them back, and fighting Dracula.

Yes, you read that right. Dracula.

As all good heroes must, Strange went dark side out of what he believed to be necessity, died, and then clawed his way back light side. All part of the hero’s journey, kids.

c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics

Eventually, Marie LeVeau raised Victor, Stephen’s long dead brother, as a vampire. Which is silly, really, because the historical Marie LeVeau would have raised him as a zombie, but whatever (The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum; go there). Following the undead brother incident, Strange and just about every other hero in the history of Marvel faced Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet (ding ding ding).

When Scarlet Witch suffered a “catastrophic mental breakdown,” Strange was able to stop her by showing her a memory so terrible it literally dropped her. Even with the assistance of Xavier, Strange was unable to help Wanda enough to prevent her from changing reality (House of M arc) though he and several others were later able to convince Wanda to put the world back the way it had been with the exception of her depowering 90% of Earth’s mutant population.

Strange sided with Cap during the first Civil War, though he spent the majority of the period in the Arctic, the role of Sorcerer Supreme meaning he was unable to actively take sides; he later regretted not being more actively involved in preventing the implementation of the Superhero Registration Act. He did harbor the renegade Avengers in the house on Bleecker Street following the upheaval and Strange himself was granted immunity to registration.

During the Secret Wars arc, Strange acted as Doom’s right hand and sheriff on Battleworld. When Doom tried to eliminate alternate Reed Richards and company without a fair trial, Strange intervened. Doom, as you may imagine, executed him post haste.

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c. Marvel Comicsor

Stephen Strange’s most recent completed arc, Last Days of Magic, came to a conclusion a couple of months ago. It was a most excellent arc and I thoroughly enjoyed the reading of it. The team ups with Marvel’s magic users were darkly hilarious and reader were treated to the best side of Stephen Strange: the one he shows when he has something worth fighting for.

He is currently struggling to rebuild magic in the wake of Empirikul’s assault and we’ve discovered some not so savory things which were hiding in Strange’s basement and some equally unsavory things Wong was doing to protect Strange without the Doctor’s knowledge. Both of which make the story all the more interesting in my humble opinion. I definitely look forward to Doctor Strange week each month.

There was a hilariously terrible Doctor Strange TV movie a couple of decades back. The big screen vision being released on November 4th would have to try really, really, really hard to be half as bad but I’m rather hoping for something amazing that pays homage to the character’s psychedelic beginnings while giving us a solid update on one of Marvel’s more idiosyncratic, changeable, creative characters. I’d cross my fingers, but this seems more appropriate:

c. Marvel Entertainment
c. Marvel Entertainment



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