INTERVIEW: Aaron Casts Magic with "Doctor Strange" Ongoing Series

The Marvel Universe is home to many heroes, but only is one tasked with defending it from all manner of magical and supernatural threats. Doctor Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, has stood on guard against paranormal threats since his introduction in Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's "Strange Tales" #110 in 1963. Since then, Strange has been both a star of several series, and a major player in team books like "Avengers," "Defenders" and "New Avengers." Most recently, the character has been a lynchpin player in event stories like "Original Sin" and the current "Secret Wars."

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This October, Strange steps back into the solo spotlight when writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo kick off the all-new "Doctor Strange" ongoing. CBR News spoke with Aaron about the eldritch terrors the series will present Marvel's mystic hero, and the tools Strange will occasionally employ to fight them. We also touch upon which allies he'll be able to call on, and the delight Strange takes in being one of the Marvel U's weirdest defenders.

CBR News: It was clear you had a lot of fun writing Doctor Strange in "Original Sin," so I'm not surprised that you're writing a new ongoing series with the character. What do you enjoy most about writing Doctor Strange? What made spending an extended amount of time with the Sorcerer Supreme an appealing assignment?

Jason Aaron: This is actually a job I campaigned for a long time ago. This has been in the works for quite awhile, well before "Original Sin."

I don't exactly remember what initially sparked my interest in the character. I think I had just been reading a lot of Marvel books from the 1970s; the Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber stuff. I love that period, and the creators from it. I thought that I'd like to do "Doctor Strange," and I believe around that time Kevin Feige mentioned Strange in an interview. I figured, "Well if there's a movie coming up, we're going to be doing a Doctor Strange book before too much longer." I figured I should call Axel [Alonso]. So I did, and we've been waiting to do a new "Doctor Strange" for a while.

We've been waiting for the right time to do it, and the right person to do it with. Chris Bachalo was really the only artist that I, and really everybody, mentioned in conjunction with this. He was always the guy we wanted. I'm super thrilled that it's finally happening.

One of the more interesting facets about your take on Doctor Strange is, you really want to explore one of the defining rules of magic in the Marvel Universe, the fact that everything has a cost.

At the Marvel retreats we have a couple times a year, a lot of times we'd talk about magic. How do we deal with magic? How do we portray magic? What are the rules of magic? Those were kind of long conversations where we didn't really settle on defining magic -- and I don't think we need to. I don't think we need a huge set of rules for magic. For me, there's just one rule that's very important, and that's that everything that Strange does has to have a cost. There has to be repercussions when you gamble with these kinds of forces.

So when Doctor Strange shows up and uses his powers, it's not as simple as when Captain America throws his shield, or Spider-Man shoots his webs. There are huge repercussions. When Strange shows up and saves the day and kind of tampers with these primal mystical forces, there's a price to be paid for that.
There's a counter effect. Whether it's somewhere else in the world that pays that effect, some other dimension, or Strange pays it personally, it's still got to get paid. That's kind of the only rule. It hurts to be Doctor Strange. It hurts to be the Sorcerer Supreme. There's a physical, mental and spiritual price to be paid for walking that path and doing that job.

So that price doesn't just comes when he calls on mystical entities like the Vishanti, but when he does simple things as well like fires a mystical energy blast or throws up a shield?

Exactly. I don't want a Doctor Strange who is a deus ex machina. I don't want him to show up, wave his fingers around, say some weird words to save the day, and suddenly everything is fine. I want a Strange that really has to fight and suffer for everything he does.

It's interesting to put a guy like Strange, who was a doctor, in that type of situation because of the Hippocratic Oath. Do you think think Strange's philosophy and training as medical doctor still colors the situations he encounters as Sorcerer Supreme?

Yeah. I think, again, he's a guy who's willing to pay that price himself for the betterment of others. I think he's like a doctor who looks at a patient and says, "I would gladly take that disease away from you if I could, and suffer with it myself." That's the kind of guy Strange is.

But I also like the idea that he's a guy who had what he thought he wanted. He was this successful surgeon, was really arrogant about it, and then his world kind of got torn upside down. That was taken away from him, and in trying to find a cure, he discovered this whole other world he knew nothing about.

He's not a tortured guy, though it does hurt to be him. He is paying a toll for doing what he does, but he's not a guy who goes around dreary and grim all the time. He enjoys being the weirdest guy in the Marvel Universe. Like Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in the first "Iron Man" movie, he's a guy who's dying, but is having fun along the way. That's kind of how I look at Strange. I want this to be a fun book, but it's a book that has very real costs, and he has to deal with very serious repercussions for his actions.

Ultimately, he's a hero, but a tragic one.

Sure. Certainly, I want a heroic Doctor Strange. I want a Doctor Strange that you enjoy hanging out with. He's a weird guy and quirky guy. He's a guy that some of the other heroes in the Marvel Universe still don't quite know what to make of. He's not the same arrogant surgeon he was before his accident, though. He's not a creepy womanizer. He's the Sorcerer Supreme, so he's the point man for an entire dimension's defense against all sorts of mystical and magical threats. Without him walking point, we'd all be kneeling at the feet of Dormammu, or roasting in the belly of some type of Cthulhu monster. He holds a pretty important job in the Marvel Universe.

I certainly want this to be a book that delights in the weirdness of Strange. He walks a beat that no other hero walks, so I want it to be weird, fun and quirky. He's a weird, fun and quirky guy.
We see a lot of that especially in issue #2, which is kind of our first, big look at the Sanctum Sanctorum; his house, which is the last truly weird place left in the Marvel Universe. So we'll definitely be delighting in the quirkiness of a guy like Stephen Strange.

It also looks like you want Strange to be a man of action, because the preview art I've seen has him wielding not just an axe, but a bow and arrow as well.

Chris and I both wanted him to be a more physical hero, not just a guy who shows up, strikes a pose and shoots energy blasts. We wanted to see him get his hands dirty and maybe mix it up a little bit. While we're not turning him into a guy who lugs around a suitcase full of magical weapons, he's still the Sorcerer Supreme. He's got the same powers and abilities he's always had, but he can use them in different ways. Some of those ways allow him to be more like a super hero, to mix it up. When we reveal the threat he's going to be facing, he's especially going to have to have to change his game and step up in a huge way.

Strange does have a history of being a pretty capable hand-to-hand combatant thanks to his relationship with Wong.

Right. This is not something that comes completely out of the blue, and it allows Chris to draw him as more of an action hero instead of a creepy guy standing in the shadows making hand gestures. That's not to say though that we wont see him sometimes as a creepy guy standing in the shadows making hand gestures, but we also want to see him being able to pull an axe or sword out of his bag of tricks whenever he needs to use it and mix it up

Speaking of Wong, how big a role will he play in this series? What's your sense of the relationship between him and Strange?

Wong doesn't pop up right away in issue #1, but he does appear in issue #2. He'll certainly play a big part in things going forward. We're not completely reinventing Strange's supporting cast, but we are expanding it a little bit.

I like the relationship between Strange and Wong, but we'll also be bringing in some new characters and some of the other noteworthy magic users from around the Marvel Universe. I like the idea that Strange has a pretty limited peer group. There's a limited number of folks he can really talk shop with. We want to start putting them together and build this kind of Algonquin Round Table of magic users.

Are you mainly interested in pitting Doctor Strange against supernatural entities, or do you want to add some human foes to his rogues gallery as well?

Right away, we're bringing in a big, new villain. I don't want to say much about who or what they are, or where they come from -- that will be revealed as we go along. But one thing that I like about Strange, and something that we try to set up in the very first issue, is that he walks through a lot of different worlds. To me, his rogues gallery should consist of not just otherworldly spirits, but human foes as well.

In that first issue, we see him fighting battles on very different sorts of planes. I like seeing him walk through otherworldly landscapes and then walking down a crowded street in the midst of Manhattan, so we'll see both of those.

It sounds like this title will allow you to tell more quirky and eclectic stories like we've seen in books like "Weirdworld," "Ghost Rider" and "Wolverine & the X-Men."

Absolutely. The tone of it is not exactly like "Weirdworld," "Ghost Rider" or "Wolverine & the X-Men," which I previously did with Chris. I think there's elements from all of those kind of mixed into it, but this is something very unique. I like the idea that this is a book that can kind of go to any place that it needs to go to. That means any place in the Marvel Universe and tone wise. So we can really mix it up.
At times it will be a fun maybe more light hearted action romp, and at other times it will be a pretty dark, scary, and gnarly book with very real emotional weight to it. So I think the sky is kind of the limit in terms of where we can go and what we can do with this.

When I think of Chris Bachalo, I think of an artist who is especially great at bizarre and strange stories. He really does seem perfect for what you want this book to be.

The truth of the matter is, Chris is probably perfect for anything. He can draw anything. We've never really seen him draw Strange much before, so I'm excited about that. He's a guy I worked with before, so we know how to work together. I write in a very different way for him. It's more kind of Marvel style. I leave a lot up to him in terms of how to break down to the action.

I get back these amazing pages that I never could have written. Whether it's a page with 25 panels on it, or outrageous, mind-bending layouts, Chris is a master at page design. And he's a guy who brings a lot of thought and passion to what he does. He's been really excited about this, which makes me even more excited and anxious to give him as much crazy stuff to draw as I possibly can. I think we get quite a bit in this first issue.

How will Strange become involved in the stories you and Chris are telling? Will he make himself available to people who seek him out for help, or will he be actively pursuing and hunting down known supernatural threats?

You'll see all of that. We'll see him making house calls, and we see trouble showing up on his door step. He's the kind of guy where if you have a very specific, weird problem, you're going to need to find Doctor Strange. He's also a guy, though, who is walking a beat and on the look out for those kinds of problems. Tt times he'll find stuff, and other times, stuff finds him.

I like that he still sees himself as "Doctor" Strange and feels the need to go out and help people who find themselves in these very bizarre circumstances where nobody but him can help them. I like that aspect, and like I said, I like him being the point man for our defense against the mystical world. With any sort of threat that emerges from that, he needs to be the guy to be the first one to spot it and figure out what to do about it.

I assume we'll see him interact with other Marvel heroes from time to time, as well. You seemed to love teaming him with other heroes in "Original Sin," especially the Punisher.

I would love to do another Doctor Strange/Punisher story at some point. I have no plans for that right away, because we've got a big story to tell coming right out of the gate, but I would absolutely love to write those two guys together again. That was probably one of my favorite things about doing "Original Sin," those two guys as a team.
Yeah, we'll certainly see other Marvel characters popping up. Like I said, we're kind of establishing this group of Doctor Strange's peers. They're the greatest magic users from throughout the Marvel Universe. We'll be building that group, and it will feature a lot of characters that we know, and some will be brand new.

What starts in "Doctor Strange" #1 is really the beginning of a giant story. It's a story that will have huge repercussions not just for Strange and the small group of sorcerers within his circle of influence, but really, for the entire Marvel Universe.

It sounds like this will be another book like "Thor" and "Wolverine," where you have a long, fruitful run.

I always start out with that idea, and that's certainly the plan here. I look at this as, hopefully, a lynchpin book for a new corner of the Marvel Universe; sort of like how "Guardians of the Galaxy" has become for the cosmic part of the Marvel U. Hopefully "Doctor Strange" can become that for the magical and mystical part of the Marvel Universe.

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