The 8 Most Influential Doctor Strange Stories
Celebrate today's 'Doctor Strange' #400 with a look at the Sorcerer Supreme's finest issues!
Today, Doctor Strange makes Marvel history.
Everyone’s favorite Master of the Mystic Arts is celebrating his 400th issue! The super-sized creative team of writer Mark Waid and artists Jesus Saiz, Chris Bachalo, and Kevin Nowlan have crafted a landmark chapter for DOCTOR STRANGE, and it is available at your local comic shop right now.
Even in the ancient and eldritch world of magic, this milestone is nothing to simply shake a stick at! So we decided to ring in the doctor’s big issue in style by revisiting some of his most memorable stories—the ones you must read in order to get the whole mystic picture.
The following is a deep dive into the supernatural rabbit hole in which Stephen Strange, PhD has lived his life for the past 56 years. Let's begin with...
1. The Issue that Started It All
One cannot understand a hero without going back to their source. For Stephen Strange, that source is STRANGE TALES #110, which hit shelves in the summer of 1963. Interestingly, the character was first introduced as “Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic”; his “Master of the Mystic Arts” and “Sorcerer Supreme” monikers would come later. That being said, the word “mystic” is mentioned only once.
Written by Stan Lee, illustrated by Steve Ditko, and lettered by Terry Szenics, Strange’s first comic book story was not an origin tale. Instead, it was more of Sherlock-style mystery in which Strange acted as consulting occult detective of sorts. He was hired by a man who kept having the same disturbing dream over and over again, night-after-night.
Also introduced in STRANGE TALES #110: Stephen’s Greenwich Village HQ, his astral projection ability, his all-seeing third eye, as well as Wong and the Ancient One, though neither are explicitly named.
2. A Legendary Rivalry is Born
One issue after Doctor Strange was introduced to the world, True Believers got to meet his arch-nemesis, Baron Mordo!
In STRANGE TALES #111, Mordo hatched a plan to become the most powerful wizard in the world by defeating his “Master,” the Ancient One (again, not named just yet) and extracting all of his secrets on black magic.
He ended up fighting Strange in an astral projection battle, but—thanks to his arrogance and cowardice—he was bested by the Doctor. On the final page, readers finally saw the first mention of the phrase “Mystic Arts.”
3. The Origin Story
After five issues, readers finally learned how Strange had come to acquire his mystical powers.
STRANGE TALES #115 chronicled the story most of us now know; how a talented and somewhat pig-headed surgeon lost the use of his nimble hands, only to find solace and redemption in the snowy Himalayan Mountains. Wanting to return to his old life as an all-star medical practitioner, Stephen discovered something much, much more under the tutelage of the Ancient One.
It's in this issue where Strange met Mordo for the first time. Even back then, he knew that the man was no good, having found Mordo praying to Dormmamu (more on him later). The shocking twist is that the Ancient One was aware of Mordo’s defection to the side of black magic, but kept him around so that he could control him.
Strange’s origin was later revisited with a bit more detail in 1968’s DOCTOR STRANGE #169 from writer Roy Thomas and artist Dan Adkins.
4. Hello, Dormmamu
No story on the history of Doctor Strange would be complete without a mention of Dormmamu. While Baron Mordo is Strange’s greatest mortal, humanoid adversary, Dormmamu is the hero’s greatest non-human one.
First introduced in STRANGE TALES #126, the Ancient One described the now-iconic antagonist as the “most powerful of the dwellers in the realm of darkness,” who wanted to take over the world of man. Strange was all gung-ho about tackling Dormmamu, but even the Ancient One (who battled him many eons ago) was wary, aware of the villain’s alien ways and abilities that defied Earthly description.
Facing a number of challenges in Dormmamu’s trippy dimension, Strange finally got a face-to-face meeting with the leader of the realm of darkness and challenged him to a fight.
5. Hello, Mike Mignola
Remember that time Doctor Strange teamed up with Doctor Doom in the summer of ’89? Beyond that, remember the ish was illustrated by legendary artist Mike Mignola?! Accompanying the illustrations for DOCTOR STRANGE & DOCTOR DOOM: TRIUMPH AND TORMENT was the wondrous writing of Roger Stern.
After he won the title of Sorcerer Supreme, Strange had to fulfill a debt to Doom. All Victor asked was that his mother’s soul be freed from the clutches of Mephisto (with whom she struck a dark deal many years before). Before they ventured into that dimension, however, Strange, a guest of Latveria, became a mystic teacher for Doom, preparing him for the dangers ahead.
While in Mephisto’s demon-filled domain, Strange was forced to relive his former arrogance and the accident that changed his life forever. Even after overcoming the painful memories, he was seemingly betrayed by Doom, who hatched a plan so crazy that Strange realized that the dictator was not as evil as he appears.
6. Cosmic Horror
Shuma-Gorath’s Marvel Universe debut in MARVEL PREMIERE #5 in 1972 drove home the point that Doctor Strange wasn’t like the Avengers or any other Earthly hero. The arrival of a nearly omnipotent cosmic deity from another dimension proved that Strange protected the planet from things humanity couldn't even begin to imagine.
As one of the “Old Ones,” Shuma-Gorath ruled over mankind’s predecessors as a god, often using them as food. The Lovecraftian being was eventually banished to another dimension, but tried to return, eons later, through the mind of the Ancient One. Unable to defeat the demon in combat, he was forced to kill his own master the Ancient One to ensure that the Earth continued to spin.
7. An Iconic Artifact
Doctor Strange is always associated with one very particular magical object: his red and yellow Cloak of Levitation. For the first appearance of this artifact, readers must return to STRANGE TALES #127 in December of ’63; STRANGE TALES was instrumental in setting up a lot of the Doctor Strange canon that would later be explored in his own solo runs.
Stephen received the cloak as a reward from the Ancient One after he defeated Dormmamu for the first time ever. Sure, he could levitate before this issue, but the cloak he got in issue #127 was the iconic red and yellow one we now associate with the hero in the comics. And hey, he also got a snazzy new magical amulet in the book.
8. The Spawn of Strange
Did you know that Doctor Strange had a child with the sorceress called Clea? Neither did we until ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP #12 in 2002 from Brian Michael Bendis and Ted McKeever.
Shortly after Clea announced that she was pregnant with his child, Stephen mysteriously disappeared for two decades—not even his astral form was found. His absence destroyed Clea, who searched in vain for the father of their child. After Clea gave up her search, she raised the boy, also named Stephen, in suburbia, never letting him know about the mystical world of magic. She insisted that his dad died in a car accident.
When the boy was all grown up, Wong showed up on his doorstep to enlighten him of his past and offered him a chance to follow in his father’s footsteps. The kid took him up on the offer and became the guardian of mystical objects like the Wand of Watoomb.
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