The time is almost here for us to experience the true power of the multiverse. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be released in cinemas on 6th May, and we will hopefully get to see the power – and the consequences – of playing with the multiverse. But before that happens, let’s take a moment to get to know our very own Doctor Stephen Strange, and some of the major players in his comics.
Doctor Strange Knows All
We first saw Doctor Stephen Strange in Strange Tales issues #110-#111 (July-August, 1963). They were split issues shared with The Human Torch, and they introduced us to a mysterious cast of characters with incredible abilities. While they are a great first look at Doctor Strange, The Ancient One, and Baron Mordo, there’s a lot of standing around, astral projections, and talk of the mystic arts. We get a hint of what the sorcerers are capable of, and a promise of more action in the future.
Issue #114 of Strange Tales (October 1963) continues the story of Strange and Mordo, and their battle to become the greatest sorcerer. Then in issue #115, we are finally given the iconic background to Doctor Stephen Strange, his accident, and his changes thanks to the Ancient One.
The story of Doctor Strange then continued through issues #147-#168, split with a Nick Fury arc. Both characters were then given their own runs, and Stephen Strange’s story continued in an offshoot of Strange Tales, which changed its name to Doctor Strange for this concurrent run.
After this, we saw Doctor Strange appear in a few different collections and anthologies, including in Marvel Premiere issues #3-#14 (1972-1973). Not only did this run introduce one of Strange’s recurring villains, Shuma-Gorath, but it also included the story of Stephen Strange having to shut down the Ancient One’s mind. This ultimately led to the death of the Ancient One, and Stephen Strange took on the title of Sorcerer Supreme.
The popularity of the sorcerer supreme only grew from there, and his Marvel Premiere storyline moved to his second ongoing series, Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts. This second series ran for 81 issues from 1974 to 1987 and saw the Sorcerer Supreme go on many adventures. Time travel, vampires, and evil serpent gods are just some of the challenges he faces, but he also makes some friends along the way. In issue #75 (1986), he befriends Topaz, and then we’re introduced to the fantastic Rintrah in issue #80 (1986).
Stranger in a Strange Land
After his ongoing series was discontinued in 1986, the story of Doctor Strange was moved to a split book in Strange Tales vol. 2, issues #1-#19 (1987-1988). In this story, he is trying to collect all of his missing artefacts and regain his powers, while also trying to resurrect ‘The Defenders’.
Since then, Stephen Strange has appeared in many ongoing series, limited series, one-shots and events. He has lost and regained his title of Sorcerer Supreme. And, in true Marvel fashion, he has also died and come back on more than one occasion.
In addition to all of this, he has also been a part of many groups within the Marvel universe. Originally, he was the leader of The Defenders, a group of outsiders who come together to battle mystic threats. He then went on to be part of the Midnight Sons, Avengers, and the Illuminati, amongst others.
His mastery of the mystic arts, the magical artefacts that he possesses, as well as many of his other skills, make him a great addition to any team, as well as a powerful character in his own right. He serves not only as the Sorcerer Supreme to earth (sometimes) but also as a guide in all matters mystical to those who may not understand it.
Master of the Mystic Arts
So what can Doctor Strange do? What makes him as powerful as he is? Originally an egotistical surgeon who was sent on a new path after an accident ruins his career, he learns the ways of the mystic arts.
Once described as the mightiest magician in the cosmos, Doctor Strange gets his powers from The Vishanti. These powers give him the abilities of astral projection, energy blasts, telekinesis, and conjuring, among other things.
He is also an expert martial artist and strategist and has expert knowledge of the occult. While he does seem to have some weakness against science-based objects and opponents, as well as a few other factors, he does appear to be one of the stronger humans on earth.
In addition to his powers and abilities, Stephen Strange has quite a collection of relics and artefacts that he can use to help him. The Eye of Agamotto, which is kept inside the Amulet of Agamotto, is used to amplify his powers, as well allowing him to see through deception, lift immensely heavy objects, and much more. He also uses the cloak of levitation, which responds to his thoughts and can act of its own accord. It is also nearly indestructible and is fiercely loyal to Doctor Strange.
In addition to many other magical items, he is also in possession of The Book of the Vishanti. This contains the most powerful white magic (order magic) spells that can be used as counterspells to dark magic (chaos magic). The book is to be used only for defence. The dark counterpart of the book, The Darkhold, contains all of the dark spells, and the two books balance each other. If the pages of the Book of Vishanti are destroyed, so are the pages from the Darkhold. The Vishanti are the only beings who can break the spell that is bound to the book.
While Stephen Strange is (sometimes) the Sorcerer Supreme, and although he is one of the mightiest mystic beings on the planet, he is not alone in his quest. From friends and allies to long time enemies, there are a lot of names that follow Doctor Strange throughout his comics.
These are three, extra-dimensional beings who act as patrons to the Sorcerer Supreme of the earth realm. They are caring and compassionate god-like entities who created the Book of the Vishanti to bring a balance to magic. The Vishanti are Oshtur, Hoggoth, and Agamotto.
Originally the sidekick and valet to Doctor Strange, Wong has served both the Ancient One and Doctor Strange. He is an expert in the martial arts and is also incredibly knowledgeable in the dark arts. Although he originally had no magical powers of his own in the comics, he is a master of the mystic arts in the films.
A powerful sorceress from the Dark Dimension, Clea is the daughter of Umar and niece of Dormammu. Impressed by Doctor Strange when he first confronted Dormammu, she eventually finds her way to earth. She fell in love with Stephen Strange, and eventually, the two married. Although she lost her memories, she regained them during The Death of Doctor Strange, and she is currently the Sorcerer Supreme of both the dark dimension and Earth.
The Ancient One
A once immortal being who was born in Kamar-Taj. After an altercation with his friend, he was stripped of his immortality, and he aged at a slower rate. The Ancient One takes on Stephen Strange as an apprentice when he reveals a plot against him, and trains him to take his place as the Sorcerer Supreme.
Another student of the Ancient One who was in Kamar-Taj when Stephen Strange arrived. He was in league with Dormammu to try and kill the Ancient One, but their plan was foiled by Stephen Strange. He has been a powerful foe to Doctor Strange since the beginning and often appears to challenge him.
An ancient being that is described as being worse than a demon. He lives in a realm that is separate from the rest of the Marvel universe and defies all laws of physics present on earth. He travelled to the Dark Dimension with his sister Umar, he is completely inhuman and evil. He is one of the most powerful beings in the known universe and is the archenemy of Doctor Strange. As he is made entirely of mystical energy, he can achieve almost any effect he desires.
Stranger Than Fiction
Doctor Stephen Strange has a long and sometimes complicated history. There are many stories to choose from, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some suggestions to get to know the Sorcerer Supreme a little better, and also get prepared for the multiverse madness that we’ll soon be seeing.
Strange Tales #110-#111, #114-#115, 1963 (Stan Lee, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko): The first appearance of Doctor Stephen Strange. Although it isn’t the best story, it’s always good to see where things started. It’s worth keeping in mind that sometimes the story and art can be a little… questionable, but it’s a fascinating introduction to the character.
Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, 1988 (Peter Gillis, Roy Thomas, Jackson Guice: An essential read for anyone wanting to get to know more about Doctor Strange. This collection continues the story of the sorcerer supreme, introduces many new characters, and also includes several important objects such as the Darkhold and the Book of the Vishanti. A great read to get your Stephen Strange kicks.
Doctor Strange Into the Dark Dimension, 1974 ( Roger Stern, Paul Smith, Brett Blevins and Terry Austin): What originally started as individual stories slowly comes together over time. The first half is a lot of fun, while the second half really gets down to the details of a rebellion in the Dark Dimension. We get a lot of Clea action in this book, so it’s great to see a little more about these characters.
The Way of the Weird/ The Last Days of Magic, 2015 (Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo and Kevin Nolan): An interesting event that not only had a major impact on Doctor Strange but on the Marvel Universe itself, after it rewrote the rules of Marvel magic. As magic is dying, it’s up to Doctor Strange to explore his pursuit of the mystic arts, what it means, and his arrogance.
The Rise of the Darkhold, 1970s-1980s, multiple contributors. This collection brings together many stories that tell us the history of the most gruesome grimoire, The Darkhold. We already know that this book holds great importance for current events in the MCU, so it’s definitely worth checking out. While it isn’t specifically Doctor Strange, he makes many appearances given his close connection to the book. Plus, we get to see the Scarlet Witch, which is always a delight.
House of M, 2005 (Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel): Again, not strictly Doctor Strange, but this will tie in nicely with Multiverse of Madness, and might also answer some questions you have from WandaVision. Focusing mostly on the threat the Scarlet Witch poses to the world, the Avengers and the X-Men must come together in this event which changed a lot of the Marvel universe.
The Death of Doctor Strange, 2022 (Jed Mackay, Lee Garbett and Antonio Fabela): Stephen Strange is dead. This 5-part miniseries is a good read for anyone who wants to know what is happening with Stephen Strange at the moment. This also leads nicely to the current ongoing series Strange, which sees his wife, Clea, take on the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme of Earth.
While there is a lot to take in in the vast history of Doctor Stephen Strange, he is a fascinating and powerful character who will always have some kind of impact on the Marvel universe. We may not be entirely sure of what his role is fully in the MCU at this time, but whatever that may be, we can be certain it will be something incredible and… strange!
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be released in cinemas on 6th May.