With “Dr. Strange” premiering Nov. 4 — and already getting great reviews — we all need a refresher on Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts. Here are 20 fun facts to know and tell about Dr. Strange:
1. Dr. Strange debuted full-blown in 1963 at Marvel Comics, the brainchild of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (but mostly Ditko). Initially he looked Asian, but progressively became more Caucasian. He looked to be 30-something, but he doesn’t age. According to the Marvel Wiki, he was born in 1930 …
2. … in Philadelphia. Though his family is actually from Nebraska. (The Stranges were on vacation in the City of Brotherly Love.) Dr. Strange may be the only superhero in the history of comics to be a Cornhusker.
3. Strange’s family consisted of a sister, a brother and both parents, all of whom died before he was 30. This was revealed in flashback in the 1980s. It was further revealed that Strange had frozen his brother Vincent, who had died after being hit by a car. It was further revealed that Strange, while still a neophyte magician, tried to revive his brother by using a tome of white magic called The Book of the Vishanti, but bungled it. Vincent revived all right, but as a vampire. Whoops.
4. They don’t mention ol’ Vincent much anymore. But Strange did have a knock-down, drag-out with Dracula once. It ended in a draw (since both were starring in their own books).
5. The Book of Vishanti has an opposite number, a book of evil magic called The Darkhold. It is currently playing an important role in “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC.
5. Ghost Rider is also an important part of this season’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Coincidentally, G.R. was part of a loosely affiliated team of mystical characters in the ’90s called the Midnight Sons, a team that included Dr. Strange. At Marvel Comics, it’s all six degrees of separation, all the time.
6. The Vishanti are three extra-dimensional mystical entities made up by Stan Lee that Strange calls upon to give him power in combat, consisting of Agamotto, Oshtur and Hoggoth. Agamotto has also contributed an amulet Strange wears — the Eye of Agamotto, which can do just about anything the plot requires, but mainly its light shows only the truth. Strange also uses the Orb of Agamotto, essentially a crystal ball (but it’s really cool-looking).
7. Strange also wears the Cloak of Levitation, which not only allows him to fly, but is also semi-sentient and can fight for him independently if need be. (Although not terribly effectively. It is, after all, a cloak.)
8. Strange calls upon lots of other mystical critters that Lee made up, including the demons of Denak, the winds of Watoomb, the illusions of Ikonn, the ruby rings of Raggadorr and so forth. In his early days he called upon the dreaded Dormammu, who turned out to be a really bad dude from the “Dark Dimension,” and eventually Strange’s arch-foe. Strange doesn’t call on Dormammu any more (but he shows up anyway).
9. Other major baddies in Strange’s rogue’s gallery include Nightmare and Baron Mordo. Nightmare is from the Dream Dimension, and is the embodiment of nightmares who draws energy from, yes, nightmares. (He rides a horse, which he calls his … oh, you guessed.) Mordo was a fellow student with Strange under the tutelage of the Ancient One, a disciple who went rogue. He’s a good guy in the movie (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), but we’ll see how long that lasts.
10. In the comics, the Ancient One was an incredibly old Asian guy, but in the movies will be an androgynous sort played by Caucasian Tilda Swinton. Some fans wax wroth over this, especially those who feel that Asian characters should be played by Asian actors. I’m sympathetic, but at the same time, Strange’s origin — white man goes to another place, becomes the best at what the locals do — is one huge mass of cultural appropriation. Varying a bit from the cliche of the white guy learning hidden knowledge from a mystical Himalayan city — a cliche that has played out in the origins of The Shadow, Iron Fist, Green Lama, Chandu the Magician and countless others — is to my mind a welcome relief.
11. The Ancient One was the Sorcerer Supreme of our dimension, charged with protecting it from all the extra-dimensional baddies that would like to enslave humanity (or just snack on us). When he died in the 1970s, Strange became the Sorcerer Supreme. Before that, Strange was billed as the “Master of Black Magic” or “Master of the Mystic Arts.”
12. One of the mystical entities Strange calls upon is Cyttorak. It turns out that Cyttorak is the power behind X-Men foe The Juggernaut. Like I said, six degrees of separation.
13. Strange calls his house in Greenwich Village, New York, his “Sanctum Sanctorum.” That’s lifted from Judaism, a Latin phrase essentially meaning “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred place in a temple. The address is 177A Bleecker St., where two of Strange’s writers were once roommates. From the outside, the Sanctum is a three-story brownstone, but the inside is much larger (and much stranger).
14. In the latest “Dr. Strange” series, Strange explains his groovy pad to a visiting librarian: “The Sanctum Santorum is the greatest concentration of occult esoterica and mystical phenomena in existence. It should go without saying, but do not touch anything you see, except the floor. And be careful where you step. In this house, simply opening the wrong door could literally unleash hell on Earth. And that’s just the refrigerator. … Basically, do not look at anything for long unless you want your eyeballs to melt out of your skull.”
15. The place is run by Wong, son of Hamir, the latter being the Ancient One’s manservant. Now Wong is Strange’s manservant. Or at least he was, until someone finally realized how dreadful that term was. Now Wong is referred to as Strange’s friend and ally. (One who does the cooking and cleaning.) Here an Asian is played by Asian in the movie, an actor coincidentally named Benedict Wong.
16. At one time, Strange’s girlfriend was Clea, the niece of the dread Dormammu. It didn’t work out.
17. At another time, Strange had a disciple named Rintrah. I don’t recall where he was from, but he was a minotaur. That didn’t work out, either.
18. It has been retroactively revealed that Strange has long been a member of a hidden group called The Illuminati, along with Black Panther (representing Wakanda), Reed Richards (the Fantastic Four), Tony Stark (Avengers), Sub-Mariner (Atlantis) and Charles Xavier (X-Men). They had banded together to nudge humanity in the right direction to avoid major catastrophes and crises. That didn’t work out very well, either. (I sense a pattern.)
19. The first team Strange joined (that we know about) was a group called The Defenders. In 1971 he summoned the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner, with whom he had shared previous adventures, to fight a sudden menace. Originally The Defenders was called a “non-team,” in that it only came together in an ad hoc fashion. Later it began to resemble a more traditional team, but the “membership” fluctuated wildly, eventually including dozens of Marvel characters. Three of those characters were Luke Cage, Daredevil and Iron Fist, who will be three-fourths of “Marvel’s Defenders,” coming to Netflix in 2017.
20. There has already been a “Dr. Strange” movie, a made-for-TV affair that aired in 1978. It starred Peter Hooten, who played a psychiatrist who had a way with the ladies, no doubt due to his curly hair, porn-star mustache, turtleneck shirts, bell-bottom pants and a penchant for pendants.
Was it awful? Oh, yes.
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©2016 Andrew A. Smith
Visit his website at comicsroundtable.com.)
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