Doctor Stephen Strange is the Marvel Universe‘s current Sorcerer Supreme, the latest in a long line of magic users tasked with defending their home dimension against all manner of mystical threats. The singular nature of the title means that a Sorcerer Supreme lives a life of great danger and unparalleled sacrifice, because when an unspeakable evil arises, they are the last line of defense. There’s no reinforcements to call in. At least that’s what we thought…
That all changes this October when writer Robbie Thompson and artist Javier Rodriguez kick off “Doctor Strange & the Sorcerers Supreme,” a new series which finds the titular character banding together with his time tossed predecessors and successors. CBR News spoke with Thompson about the line up and dynamic of his cast of characters, the force that brings them together, the evils they’ll be tasked with combating, and the appeal of exploring character relationships against the backdrop of the eldritch and arcane corners of the Marvel Universe.
CBR News: The teaser for “Doctor Strange & the Sorcerers Supreme” has some pretty interesting text to it. The first of course is the fact that the title of the book is “Sorcerers Supreme,” plural. The other is the caption, “Ripped from their time to save ours.” What can you tell us about that and the setup of the book? Is Stephen Strange taking a page out of Hank McCoy’s playbook and reaching back in time for his predecessors?
Robbie Thompson: Someone is definitely pulling a Hank McCoy, but it’s not Doctor Strange — it’s Merlin. What you’ll discover in the first issue is that something big and nasty was unleashed by the events that we’ve seen unfold in Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s “Doctor Strange.” That entity falls on Merlin’s radar, and once he sees how devastating it can be, he assembles the team.
Who are the sorcerers that are coming to the present in your book?And what’s it like playing Doctor Strange off the other cast members?
The Ancient One was the first name on the list. He’s a must have, because he has so much history with Doctor Strange. But this is not a version of the Ancient One you’ve seen before. We pulled in Sir Isaac Newton next — he’s powerful, but has many secrets, one of which is his guardian, a slightly evolved Mindless One called The Mindful One. Newton is a total wild card, he’s definitely our Telly Savalas. Then there’s Kushala, an Apache Sorcerer Supreme who is haunted by the things she’s done as a Supreme, and wants a shot at redemption. We’ve also got Wiccan from the future, who is a shock for Strange to see — if Billy’s the Sorcerer Supreme in the future, what the hell happened to Doctor Stephen Strange? And then we have Nina, a Brazilian sorcerer from the ’50s, who’s the total badass of the group and wants little to nothing to do with anyone. She and Merlin have tangled in the past, though, and their backstory will be revealed as the book goes on.
At the head of the group, we have Strange and Merlin. Merlin is pretty disappointed in Strange’s current magical situation — Strange is still reeling from “The Last Days of Magic,” and isn’t at operating at full strength. So Merlin is super bummed he didn’t get Strange from, like, five years ago! He thought he’d found a ringer, but he’s got a guy on the D.L. For Strange, he’s got a lot to prove post-“Last Days of Magic,” and he’s going to have to get back to form quickly if he’s going to make it out of this in one piece.
These are all people who do not and will not play well together. Some of them have personal history with others, some are total strangers. Some are looking for revenge, others for redemption. Ultimately, it’s going to fall on Strange’s shoulders to get them on the same page so they can overcome their adversary and get back to their time.
Despite their differences and internal conflict, though, they all have one thing in common: they’re all Sorcerers Supreme. Which is a crazy, terrifying, “you’re gonna die, probably in a horrible way” job. So, while they may not always see things the same way, they are the only people in history who understand the unique responsibilities and burdens of this unusual and deadly vocation. If they can avoid getting killed or killing each other, they might find out they have quite a bit in common on an emotional level.
Will this series have a sort of over-arching villain?
The big bad in the first arc is the entity The Forgotten, who is extremely powerful and very deadly. He was unleashed by the actions of the Empirikul. The Forgotten is so big and so bad that Merlin was forced out of his comfort zone and has to use magic he can’t quite control in order to travel through time and assemble this group of misfits. We’ll reveal over the course of the first arc that The Forgotten has a personal vendetta against one of the members of the team — which will put all their lives in danger.
One of the things that came out of our first talk about the book was a desire to have a formidable foe for our team, a foe big enough that time travel would be the only option in defeating it. On top of that, we really wanted to create a story that would allow us to drill down on the characters, and one aspect of that is that some of the biggest antagonists the team would have–would be each other. This is a group that wasn’t carefully selected and vetted. It was “catch as catch can” as Merlin moved through time to build this team on the fly, and he’s ended up with a team that in no way shape or form sees eye to eye. It’s led to a lot of early conflict as the group is forced from the jump to get along or be annihilated. That makes the book incredibly fun to write, though, and it constantly keeps the stakes shifting and alive in every scene.
In science fiction stories about time travel, the repercussions are often a big part of the tale, but what about supernatural ones like the one you’re telling here?
The time fallout will definitely be on their minds throughout the first arc, but their biggest concern will be surviving. I don’t want to give too much away, but we really drop them into a precarious situation from the get go, and it’s “cast spells first, figure out consequences later.” Also, this is magical time travel, so we’re going to be following in Jason and Chris’s footsteps on that — magic always comes at a price, and they will definitely be running up quite a debt that will have to be paid, one way or another.
Marvel readers probably know you best as the writer of books like “Silk” and “Venom: Space Knight,” but fans of your TV work know this is something right in your wheelhouse, having spent several seasons as a writer and producer on the CW’s “Supernatural.” So how does it feel to be given a chance to explore the mystical apects of the Marvel Universe?
Getting to work in the magical corner of the Marvel Universe was one of the biggest appeals of working on this book — that, and getting a chance to work with Javier Rodriguez. It’s definitely my wheelhouse after working on “Supernatural” for so long — but one of the things I always loved about writing for that show was: yes it was scary, yes there were monsters, but above all, it was about family, about relationships. And we’re going to be playing in that sandbox as well in this book. And that’s something you see in the “Doctor Strange” book in every issue. I really love what Jason and Chris have done in their book. That series is so fantastic, the stakes couldn’t be higher, and the world building is outstanding. But above all, they’ve really shone a bright light on Strange’s character, and the people in his life. It’s fantastic character work.
Rodriguez’s is coming off a run on “Spider-Woman,” a book where he did fantastic things with page layouts and invested the stories and characters with so much humor and humanity.
I love everything about Javier’s style. And you hit the nail on the head — so much humor, so much humanity, and so much style! He’s an absolute genius. The book that he and Dennis Hopeless and the rest of the “Spider-Woman” team put together over the last year or so has been one of my favorites on the stands. It’s personal, but also a big ol’ adventure with fantastic characters brought to life with unbelievably brilliant sequential art. The work he’s done on “Supremes” has exceeded my expectations, and my expectations were already through the roof. The second I saw his character designs, I knew this was going to be a terrific amount of fun to work on. And then I saw his layouts and was completely blown away.
Javier’s working with the brilliant Alvaro Lopez, an amazing inker he’s worked with before, and they have such amazing chemistry. It’s like watching two musicians in a recording studio putting a song together. And on top of that, international hero Jordie Bellaire is doing colors on the book and she’s an absolute rock star, as well. So far Nick and Darren have assembled the absolute perfect team for this book. I’m like Goose to their Mavericks in the volleyball scene from “Top Gun,” y’know? It’s my job to set them up and then get the hell out of their way. They’re all such fantastic storytellers and artists and it’s a real privilege to get to work with them.
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