Sometimes heroes can lurk behind the most unlikely of facades. Take Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange for instance, who was originally a medical doctor, and an extremely selfish and arrogant one at that. When a car crash damaged his hands and robbed him of his career as a surgeon Stephen Strange took his first steps down the path to heroism by seeking out a legendary mystical healer known as the Ancient One.
As readers know, Strange found the Ancient One and went on to become the wizened sorcerer’s most adept pupil in the mystic arts and even earned the distinguished title of Sorcerer Supreme, Earth’s chief magical guardian against supernatural evil. It took years to attain this title, and Strange’s inner heroism would develop over that time.
The man who first sought mystical instruction was a very different Doctor Strange than the present day version, and in September writer Greg Pak and artist Emma Rios will explore those early days and reexamine the good Doctor’s origins in the original graphic novel, “Doctor Strange: Season One.” CBR News spoke with Pak about the book.
CBR News: So Greg, how does it feel to be given the chance to retell and update Doctor Strange’s origin and early years for 2012? What elements of the character and his origin story do you feel were timeless, and which needed a little polishing up or retouching for the modern day?
Greg Pak: Strange’s origin is pretty darn timeless. As human beings, we’re always going to respond to stories of arrogant people getting their comeuppance — and then gradually learning what it is to be a hero. That kind of earned redemption is enormously entertaining — and ultimately inspiring.
So I didn’t mess with that central notion. I did modernize the language a bit and give the Ancient One, Strange’s teacher and mentor, a touch of modern self-awareness. He remains powerful and mystically and morally centered, but he’s got a bit of a twinkle in his eye. I’m not so into inscrutable; I made him a little more scrutable, if that makes sense.
[Laughs]. It totally does. What period of Strange’s career does “Doctor Strange Season One” cover? Is this essentially the car crash, his struggle to find the Ancient One, and his convincing the Ancient One to teach him? Or does this take place after those events? What kind of person is Stephen Strange when we first meet him in this story?
Our story fits into that sweet spot right after Strange becomes the Ancient One’s student but before Strange becomes a true Master of Mystic Arts. It’s an incredibly fun place to play with Strange, because he’s still essentially the selfish, arrogant surgeon he’s always been. He has a long way to go on his hero’s journey, which means every interaction he has is filled with conflict and drama and danger — and some pretty nice opportunities for humor as well.
Doctor Strange is a character who can use magic to travel all over time and space. With that in mind, where does the bulk of the action in “Season One” take place? What made this an interesting setting for your story?
At this point in his career, Strange is a novice. He has to work incredibly hard to generate any magic at all. So effortlessly tripping through time and space isn’t an option. This is a globe-spanning story, though, in a crazy, Indiana Jones kind of way, and I’m realizing there’s a pretty fun variety of vehicles our heroes use to get to the key locations in the story — which include Tibet, Cairo, Salem, and London — all pretty awesome loci of mystic energies of one kind or another.
What will Doc be doing when he arrives at those destinations? In terms of plot and themes what is Doctor Strange: Season One” about? Does he have an overriding goal in this graphic novel?
Stephen Strange is a brilliant, arrogant, and selfish surgeon who only operates when he’s handsomely paid. But he gets his comeuppance when his hands are crushed in an accident and he can no longer operate. He ends up seeking help from the Ancient One, a fabled healer. And this is where our story picks up.
Strange is still that selfish surgeon — he wants to heal his hands so he can return to his formerly fabulous life. And when a great mystic power threatens our world, Strange joins the effort to stop it — but also realizes he might be able to satisfy his purely personal goals along the way as well.
Who are some of the supporting players in this graphic novel? Will we see the introduction of Strange’s servant Wong? If so, how would you describe the initial dynamic between these two characters?
Wong plays a huge role in the story. At this stage in the game, Strange and Wong are fellow students of the Ancient One’s — and they hate each other’s guts. Wong is wild and passionate and self-righteous and kick-ass (and he has great hair, by the way). Strange is more calculating and cynical — and they drive each other nuts, which of course is a perfect way to launch what may ultimately become a life-long friendship.
Who is the antagonist(s) in “Doctor Strange: Season One?” Are you using this story to give readers an early battle between Doc and one of his classic rogues? Or are you looking to add to his Rogues Gallery by introducing a new villain? What made this villain right for this story?
Since we’re setting this story firmly in existing continuity, it made perfect sense for us to focus on the wicked sorcerer Mordo, Strange’s first deadly rival. But we’re also introducing some surprising new antagonists who have never been seen before. Can’t wait for you to meet them!
Will you be introducing any other new supporting characters into the Doctor Strange mythos?
Sofia di Cosimo is an Italian cryptomythologist who I introduced during the “Spy Who Smashed Me” storyline during my “Incredible Hulks” run. We’re meeting her here at an earlier stage in her life, so she’s now become a fun, new part of Strange’s backstory.
We’re also meeting Wong at a much earlier stage in his life — during his reckless, passionate youth. So here’s some fun new backstory for a classic Marvel character.
In terms of tone, what kind of story is “Doctor Strange: Season One?” How would you describe the overall feel of the book?
Supernatural adventure! Indiana Jones is not a bad reference point. We’ve got adventure, romance, humor, and mind-blowing, soul-testing mystic action. You’re gonna love it. Seriously, pre-order it now.
We’ve talked story and characters, let’s start to wrap things up by chatting about the work of your artist, Emma Rios, who has worked on the character of Doctor Strange before. Which of Emma’s strengths did you really want to play to in this story? Which aspects of her work do you find most enjoyable as a writer?
Emma’s got boundless imagination and enormous heart, which are the essential ingredients for making a Strange story sing. We love Strange stories because they shock us with images and ideas we’ve never seen before — and because they make us care about the flawed, entirely relatable human heroes at the center of all of this. Emma totally goes nuts with the magic — but always beautifully brings out the emotional core of those characters. And let’s tip our hats to colorist Jordie Bellaire as well, who’s done a phenomenal job bringing every moment to life.
Finally, you’re chronicling the early days of Stephen Strange’s career in sorcery for “Doctor Strange: Season One.” If this project resonates with readers would you like to come back and tell some more untold tales from his past? Any ideas on where you might take a potential “Doctor Strange: Season Two?”
Oh, man, I’d love to keep going with these characters and this crew. I’ve definitely been thinking about other stories, but the first step is to prove there’s an audience by getting this book out into the world as much as possible. So pre-order today, True Believers! And may the Vishanti bless your journeys!
“Doctor Strange: Season One” by Greg Pak, Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire with a cover by Julian Totino Tedesco goes on sale in September.