Welcome to the second instalment of Origins and Firsts, in which I go back and read the first appearances and origin stories of comic book characters with whom I am unfamiliar. As I said in my last article, I am not widely-versed in comics, but used to do a lot of fan art. Thus, I was often asked to draw characters that I did not know much about. My research into their look and history led me to challenge myself to track down the origins of these characters, in an effort to educate myself and up my comics knowledge a few notches. Today, I visit Dr. Strange.
In light of the recent movie, and my absolute lack of any knowledge regarding Dr. Strange, I acquired a very worn, but acceptable copy of Strange Tales #115, in which the origin story of Dr. Strange (after three comic book appearances of the character in Strange Tales #110, #111 and #114) is finally explained. It is written by Stan Lee, with art by Steve Ditko and lettered by S. Rosen.
The Dr. Strange origin story is tucked in the back of a Spider-Man tale, featuring the Human Torch and the Sandman. First, I smiled at the note from the editors. Then I read the rest. I’m not quite sure how to explain my thoughts on it, as I am a relatively new fan of comics. Things have changed since 1963, from the number of panels per page, to the paper, the art, and some really hokey dialogue. Of course, modern comics have plenty of less-than-literary scripts, but the Dr. Strange origin story is eight pages of pretty much straight exposition, with a plethora of trite exclamations such as, “I must be the the best… the greatest!!! Or else NOTHING!” (Dr. Strange) and “I’ve got to warn the Ancient One… got to save him… but HOW?” (Dr. Strange).
Just in case: FIFTY-YEAR-OLD SPOILERS ahead!
This shouldn’t detract from enjoying the story, however. In fact, the overly dramatic declarations are endearing and nostalgic. Let’s face it, no one watches Star Wars for the superior acting and writing. There is comfort in the familiar simplicity. Strange Tales #115 does what it set out to do, which is explain the origin of Dr. Strange. Despite the lack of much depth, Dr. Strange’s initial arrogance and lack of compassion for others is established, as is his tragic loss of the ability to be a surgeon. His eventual belief in mysticism and the powers of “The Ancient One” are played out through a conflict with the malevolent Mordo, from which ultimately stems his initiation into the world of magic. Also of note is that Dormammu is introduced indirectly, as a dark force out to destroy the Ancient One, and presumably, his successors. The first real appearance of the character is later, however, in Strange Tales #126. The story ends with the Doctor learning the mystic arts – for days, weeks, months, years!!! – and I am anxious to read more about how the character uses these powers, which is not addressed.
Despite the short and rather rushed story, I loved having an excuse to buy a classic comic, and feel inspired to read more about the illustrious Doctor. Like my last examination of the origins of Cloak and Dagger, Dr. Strange also has a very heavy emphasis on magic and mystical happenings, which I tend to gravitate towards, as I am a fan of horror and fantasy more than I am of the typical superhero genre. I’m not sure Strange Tales #115 will help me much going into the movie, but at least I’m not completely clueless, and I’m excited to finally see it.
Next up in Origins and Firsts is the first appearance of Harley Quinn. Stay tuned!