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Strange History: The Long, Strange Journey of Doctor Strange

by  in Lists, Comic News Comment
Strange History: The Long, Strange Journey of Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange has always occupied an odd place in the Marvel Universe. In a world primarily built around science fiction concepts, Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange has represented the mystical world that lies beyond the realm of quantifiable science. But in the same way that magic has played an inconsistent role within the Marvel Universe, Doctor Strange has never quite found a stable long-term home among the company’s titles, sometimes even reduced to a supporting player best described as the ‘weird magic guy.’

RELATED: Stranger Things: The 10 Trippiest Doctor Strange Stories

While iconic characters like Iron Man or Captain America have always been fairly easy to keep track of, Doctor Strange has floated around from title to title and team to team over the years. Now, CBR takes a look back at the many comic book titles and eras of Doctor Strange, counting them down in chronological order.

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains moderate spoilers for every era of Doctor Strange. Read on at your own risk.

15. Strange Tales

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In 1963, Doctor Strange made his first appearance as the back-up feature in “Strange Tales” #110. Although both Stan Lee and Steve Ditko are credited as co-creators, Lee admitted that the idea mostly came from Ditko. These earliest issues established Strange’s transformation from arrogant surgeon to master sorcerer,as well as introduced his sidekick Wong, his enemy Baron Mordo, and his teacher The Ancient One. Over the next three years, this “Master of the Black Arts” was refined into the more familiar “Master of the Mystic Arts,” a contemplative older hero who fought extra-dimensional threats like Dormammu of the Dark Dimension and met Clea, Dormammu’s niece who would become Strange’s primary romantic interest.

Ditko’s work on “Strange Tales” was a prescient masterpiece, filled with psychedelic anxiety that spoke to the era’s growing counterculture. Ditko synthesized ideas from surrealism and cubism, which gave his delicate linework on Doctor Strange an otherworldly quality. Lee and Ditko’s “Strange Tales” run culminated in one of Marvel’s first multi-issue storylines, “The Search for Eternity,” which saw Strange meet Eternity, the living embodiment of the Marvel Universe. Despite the character’s early success, Doctor Strange would not be featured alone on the cover of the series until “Strange Tales” #146, Ditko’s final issue.

14. The Master of the Mystic Arts

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After Steve Ditko left “Strange Tales,” Doctor Strange continued to appear in the title with work from creators like Bill Everett, Denny O’Neil, and Dan Adkins. After the title’s other feature, “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D,” was spun-off into its own book, “Strange Tales” shifted its focus to Doctor Strange. The series was retitled but kept its original numbering, so “Strange Tales” #168 was followed by “Doctor Strange” #169. In the new self-titled series, writer Roy Thomas and artist Gene Colan delivered a brief, but memorable run on the character.

In just over a year, Thomas and Colan took Strange into a darker direction with more dynamic action and inventive page design. Since Ditko’s work couldn’t really be imitated, the new creative team emphasized the horror aspects of the character, pitting him against a cult and replacing Ditko’s surreal dimensions with horror-tinged psychedelia. This era also introduced Doctor Strange’s fully masked costume, which has occasionally reappeared over the years, and Stephen Saunders, Strange’s short-lived secret identity. After the series was cancelled in 1969, Thomas continued some of his “Doctor Strange” plots in “Incredible Hulk” and “Sub-Mariner” into 1970.

13. The Defenders

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In 1971, Roy Thomas and Ross Andru created the Defenders, a team that reunited Doctor Strange, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk in the anthology title “Marvel Feature.” This group of strong personalities formed a dysfunctional “non-team” that quickly proved popular enough to warrant their own title. In 1972, “The Defenders” launched, written by Steve Englehart with pencils by Sal Buscema. The three founders were quickly joined by Silver Surfer and the Asgardian Valkyrie, who would form the core members of the quirky team of outsiders.

Shortly after their formation, the Defenders came into conflict with the Avengers in the aptly-titled “Avengers/Defenders War.” While the team’s membership and the title’s creative teams changed throughout the 1970s, “The Defenders” became one of the defining Marvel books of the era, most notably under writer Steve Gerber. The offbeat title continued to explore some of the odder corners of the Marvel Universe, which often set them against supernatural threats. Doctor Strange remained a semi-regular member of the team until it officially disbanded in 1983.

12. The Steve Englehart Era

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In 1972, Doctor Strange became the star of the anthology series “Marvel Premiere.” Steve Englehart returned to the Defender with a renewed interest in the mystical and metaphysical aspects of the character. Englehart and Frank Brunner started their run by introducing Shuma-Gorath, a universe-ruling Lovecraftian chaos monster from prehistory, originally created in a passing mention by “Conan the Barbarian” creator Robert E. Howard. After learning that The Ancient One was going to be used as the vessel for the monster’s return, Doctor Strange killed The Ancient One at his master’s request and became the new Sorcerer Supreme, the primary mystical protector of the Marvel Universe. After that, this trippy era saw Doctor Strange witness the complete annihilation and recreation of the Marvel Universe by another cosmic entity in a controversial story.

In 1974, Doctor Strange moved to his own title in “Doctor Strange” #1. Although Englehart stayed until 1976, Gene Colan replaced Brunner after a few issues, bringing his dynamic work back to “Doctor Strange.” Once again, Doctor Strange bore witness to the complete annihilation and recreation of the universe, immediately before having a memorable encounter with Dracula. After Englehart left, the series was drawn and written by a number of the era’s notable creators, occasionally including Colan.

11. The Roger Stern Era

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On September 6, 1978, CBS aired “Dr. Strange,” a two-hour movie of the week that was meant to serve as a pilot for a Doctor Strange series. Unfortunately, the pilot aired opposite of the landmark miniseries “Roots,” so nothing ever came of it. It starred Peter Hooten as Doctor Strange and “Arrested Development’s” Jessica Walters as Morgan Le Fey. The film was a loose adaption of the comics, with a novice Doctor Strange taking up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme to defeat Morgan Le Fay, a sorceress from the Fourth Dimension.

By 1981, writer Roger Stern had already worked on several issues of “Doctor Strange” and had been announced as the writer behind a new direction for the title that was to be penciled by Frank Miller. That collaboration fell through, but Stern still started a memorable four-year run on the series that focused more on character-based action. Over the course of that lengthy run, Stern worked with artists like Marshall Rogers, Paul Smith, and a young Mike Mignola. One of the era’s high points was the “The Montesi Formula,” a 1983 story that saw Doctor Strange and a group of vampire hunters including Blade, kill Marvel’s Dracula.

10. Stranger Tales

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After Roger Stern left “Doctor Strange,” Peter Gillis wrote the last six issues of that series, which saw Doctor Strange drastically weakened by the destruction of the Sanctum Sanctorum, his home, and the loss of many of his power-giving mystical artifacts. In 1987, Doctor Strange once again became the second feature in a new volume of “Strange Tales.” Working with a series of artists including Richard Case and Larry Shoemaker, Gillis followed Doctor Strange as he reacquired his mystical artifacts and resorted to darker, forbidden methods to continue doing good.

As “Strange Tales” ventured more into the territory of dark fantasy, Doctor Strange revived the dead members of a later incarnation of the Defenders, temporarily lost an eye, and allied himself with Kaluu, one of The Ancient One’s oldest foes. After Strange’s climactic battle with Shuma-Gorath in the beast’s home dimension, the cosmic entity Agamotto, the source of much of Strange’s power, returned Strange’s missing artifacts and set the character back to his traditional status quo.

9. Triumph and Torment

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In 1988, Doctor Strange returned to his own title, “Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme,” which would become his longest-running series. After an introductory story by Peter Gillis, Roy Thomas would return to write most of the next 50 issues of the series. This era of the title focused on the more mystical side of the Marvel Universe. Amid some real-world controversy with the singer Amy Grant, old enemies like Dormammu returned and Strange’s dead brother became the new incarnation of the vampire villain Baron Blood. In 1991, Doctor Strange also played a sizeable role in the “Infinity Gauntlet” story, which is set to be the basis for “Avengers: Infinity War.”

This era’s most notable Doctor Strange tale came outside of his regular series. In the 1989 graphic novel, “Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment,” in what some claim is the definitive Doctor Doom story and one of Marvel’s best stories ever published. After retaining the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme in combat, Doctor Strange was honor-bound to accept the request of the contest’s runner-up, Doctor Doom. The resulting journey was an operatic odyssey that added a tragic element to the already complex Doctor Doom and became a career highlight for all of the book’s creators.

8. Secret Defenders

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In 1993, Doctor Strange was put at the center of one of the odder titles in Marvel’s history. In “Secret Defenders,” Strange assembled different teams of heroes where each member would be the most suited to deal with a specific aspect of the mission at hand. While the series starred familiar heroes like Wolverine and Spider-Man, it was also a convenient way to spotlight new characters like Darkhawk, Nomad and Thunderstrike. Initially written by the ongoing “Doctor Strange” writer, Roy Thomas, with art by Andre Coates, it was eventually taken over by Ron Marz and Tom Grindberg and focused on a group of villains gathered by Thanos for one of its arcs.

After events in his own titled took precedence, Doctor Strange left the team and was replaced by the minor mystical hero Doctor Druid. Although later issues of the series teamed-up Luke Cage and Deadpool, who would become the breakout Marvel characters of 2016, minor characters like Shadowoman and Cadaver took more of a focus and guided the book towards its close in 1995.

7. Midnight Sons

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In the wake of the wildly successful early 1990s “Ghost Rider” title, Marvel formed the Midnight Sons publishing line to showcase its more supernatural characters. Although “Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme” was not a charter title of the imprint, Strange joined the group during 1993’s “Siege of Darkness” crossover. In this era, Doctor Strange was temporarily trapped in another dimension and “projected” two versions of himself into the Marvel Universe. In a story similar to DC Comics’ “Reign of the Supermen,” Doctor Strange was temporarily replaced by Strange, a masked mystical hero, and Vincent Stevens, a vain psychiatric consultant.

After the Midnight Sons imprint drew to a close in 1994, Doctor Strange flailed between multiple reinventions for a few years. First, he returned in a rejuvenated, younger form. Then, he was aged up as his title joined Marvel Edge, a short-lived imprint that focused on loner characters like Daredevil and the Hulk. Despite a brief run by a young Warren Ellis in 1995, “Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme” outlived the Marvel Edge imprint before being cancelled in 1996. This would leave Doctor Strange without his own ongoing title for almost 20 years.

6. Marvel Knights

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As the 1990s drew to a close, Doctor Strange became a perennial guest star across Marvel titles. Doctor Strange starred in the 1997 graphic novel “Doctor Strange: What Is It That Disturbs You Stephen?,” artist P. Craig Russell’s expanded reworking of an old “Doctor Strange” annual. Strange’s one-time foe Shuma-Gorath gained notoriety after being inexplicably included in several Capcom-produced Marvel fighting video games.

In 1999, a Doctor Strange mini-series was included in the second wave of the highly influential Marvel Knights relaunch. In “Doctor Strange: Flight of Bones,” Dan Jolley, Tony Harris, and Paul Chadwick cast Doctor Strange as more of a supernatural detective. In Doctor Strange’s only other Marvel Knights title, J. Michael Straczynski, Samm Barnes, and Brandon Peterson offered an expanded re-imagining of Doctor Strange’s origin in 2004’s “Strange.” Another retelling of Doctor Strange’s origin came in 2007’s “Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme,” a 2007 direct-to-DVD animated feature that introduced Doctor Strange and his most iconic allies and enemies.

5. The Defenders Revival

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While Doctor Strange’s fortunes as a solo character faded, he maintained a presence on several teams throughout the Marvel Universe. In 2001, he appeared in Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen’s brief revival of “The Defenders,” where Strange, Namor, Silver Surfer and the Hulk were forced to work together. As this book morphed into “The Order,” Busiek was joined by Mary Jo Duffy and several artists for the title which saw other Marvel heroes try to free the Defenders from mind-control.

In 2005, the Defenders reappeared in a mini-series retroactively titled “Defenders: Indefensible.” This series reunited the “Justice League International” creative team of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire for a warmly-remembered book that focused on the humor of the team’s dysfunction. Around this same time, Doctor Strange was revealed as a member of Marvel’s Illuminati in “New Avengers.” It was revealed that this group of ultra-smart heroes had been secretly steering the events of the Marvel Universe for years, a revelation that would shape the next decade of Marvel stories.

4. Doctor Strange: The Oath

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Just as Doctor Strange was about to take his place at the center of the Marvel Universe with the Illuminati, he received his definitive modern interpretation in the 2006 mini-series, “Doctor Strange: The Oath.” Modern comic masters Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin delivered a tale that examined the dueling roles Doctor Strange faced as the Master of the Mystic Arts and a practicing medical doctor. The series synthesized the previous takes on Doctor Strange into a brilliantly-illustrated, approachable story. The series also introduced the modern incarnation of Night Nurse, who acted as the superhero community’s physician. Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple would eventually bring that character to life in all but name across Marvel’s Netflix shows like “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage.”

Although Doctor Strange largely sat out 2006’s mega-event “Civil War,” he allowed Captain America’s anti-registration forces to use his Sanctum Sanctorum as a base. In 2007’s “World War Hulk,” which saw the Hulk return to Earth after the Illuminati banished him off-world, Doctor Strange merged with a powerful evil entity in a futile attempt to battle his old teammate. After being corrupted by this action, Doctor Strange renounced his title as Sorcerer Supreme, which passed to the obscure Marvel hero Brother Voodoo.

3. The Doctor Is Out

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After renouncing his mantle, Doctor Strange appeared in the short 2010 mini-series, “Strange” by Mark Waid and Emma Rios. The series was a lighter take on Doctor Strange that saw the character adjust to his weaker status and take on a new apprentice as he dealt with threats at a baseball game and a children’s beauty pageant. In 2012, Rios joined writer Greg Pak for “Doctor Strange: Season One,” a graphic novel that once again recounted Doctor Strange’s earliest days.

During this time, Doctor Strange became a regular member of the New Avengers, regularly appearing in the team’s second self-titled series that began in 2010. Doctor Strange appeared in and led another revival of “The Defenders” in 2012. After serving with the Avengers in that same year’s “Avengers vs X-Men,” Doctor Strange defeated the ghost of Daniel Drumm, the brother of the now-deceased Brother Voodoo. That volume of “New Avengers” ended with spirit of The Ancient One reappearing and once again bestowing the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme on his former student in recognition of his continued good deeds.

2. The Fall of the Illuminati

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Doctor Strange was a main character 2013’s “New Avengers,” which focused on the Illuminati. This was the key book in the Jonathan Hickman-penned multi-year lead-up to “Secret Wars.” With several artists including Steve Epting and Mike Dedato, Hickman pushed that group of heroes to cross every moral line imaginable as they tried to save the main Marvel Universe from the collapse of the multiverse. This era’s Doctor Strange showed the character at his most ethically compromised as he traveled through mind-bending stories, especially in Frank Barbiere and Marco Rudy’s Strange-focused “New Avengers Annual” #1.

As the conclusion of this series saw Doctor Strange standing on the edge of a dying universe once again, he joined Doctor Doom’s effort to save an ersatz combination of parallel realities in 2015’s “Secret Wars.” After serving as Doom’s chief general for a time in this new reality, Strange was eventually reborn with the rest of Marvel’s multiverse.

1. The Doctor Is In

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After being reborn in a slightly younger body, Doctor Strange received his first ongoing solo title in two decades with 2015’s “Doctor Strange.” This continuing incarnation of the series has been a highlight of Marvel’s recent output. Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo have turned Doctor Strange into a more personable character at the center of Marvel’s mystical world. With a renewed vigor, Strange has fought for the very existence of the mystical side of Marvel and is poised to face some of his most fearsome foes as they return in the series’ ongoing story.

While Aaron’s scripts feature a nice mix of mystery, adventure, and humor, Bachalo’s inventive layouts continue to be perfect modern compliment to Strange’s history of psychedelic artwork. To coincide with the release of the “Doctor Strange” movie, Marvel has also just released “Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme,” which sees Doctor Strange join together with several past and future holders of that mantle. With Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on the character just days away from opening in theaters as of this writing, Doctor Strange seems poised to become a multi-media mega-star and the center of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it moves into its second decade.

Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest Doctor Strange news. “Doctor Strange” opens in  North American theaters on November 4. In the meantime, be sure to let us know what else you feel is an important part of the Doctor Strange’s history in the comments!

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