The Mystical History of Doctor Strange
Birth Name: Stephen Vincent Strange
Height 6' 2"
Lives in: Sanctum Sanctorum Greenwich, New York USA
Given Names: Dr Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, Master of Mystic Arts, Master of Black Magic
During my formative years, like many troubled teens steeped in comic book lore, science fiction and fantasy, I too longed for an alternate reality. When I first came across the mystical adventures of Doctor Strange I was bewitched by the multiple possibilities of alternate worlds. Here was magic but rooted in our modern world. There were amulets and incantations, oddities and otherworldly beings all crossing over into our reality. I was hooked.
With its trippy visuals and mystical adventures, Strange held a sustained hold on my fascination. He was the only wizard among the bulked up superheroes. He used his brain more than his brawn ( although he is an expert in martial arts) and he could conjure up forces with a flick of a hand that others can only dream of.
With his imminent arrival on the silver screen, starring British Actor Benedict Cumberbatch ( Sherlock, The Imitation Game, Star Trek: Into Darkness) it is time we revisited his life history and familiarise with the world he inhabits. Or should I say worlds.
A classic 1931 radio episode of Chandu the Magician
The Origin of Dr Strange
The Mystical Doctor was born from the imagination of one Mr Steve Ditko. Though Ditko was primarily the artist, he did write stories too. He wrote a five page summary of the character and his world and took it to his partner in crime writer/editor Mr Stan Lee. Anyone who has the slightest interest in comics or superheroes will know that Ditko and Lee are the Grand Masters of their craft. Together they made Marvel comics a force to be reckoned with.
Lee and Ditko were fresh from the creation of the teen super hero 'The Amazing Spiderman'. The character was highly popular when he appeared in an issue of Amazing Fantasies (#15) in August 1962. Spiderman received his own series in March 1963 and the comic was a runaway success from its launch.
Looking for a palate cleanser, Ditko felt the need to create a new kind of super hero for the swinging sixties. He had been inspired by a long running radio serial he had grown up listening to called 'Chandu the Magician'.
Full of magic and mystery, Chandu the Magician was a rip roaring adventure serial broadcast originally by KHJ California in the thirties and was sponsored by White King Soap. ( Factoid alert: The term Soap opera comes from the fact many of the original radio and TV serials were sponsored by soap manufacturers). The series ran for over three decades and even spawned a couple of feature films starring Boris Karloff.
Though it was meant for children, one suspects the success was due to many adults tuning in too. The lead character was Frank Chandler, a man who had travelled to the mystical locales of the East and learnt many occult secrets from 'wise men from the east'. He lived in California with his sister and he used his skills such as hypnosis, astral projection and telekinesis to fight nefarious villains and deadly sorcerers. He had grand adventures in far flung exotic locales.
One can begin to see the similarities in Ditko's new character.
Stan Lee was taken by Ditko's pitch and named the character Doctor Strange as his first appearance was in Strange Tales #110. He gave Ditko the writing and penicilling responsibilities on the first story. Steve Ditko was in his element, creating a psychedelic and exotic experience in his three colour artwork, and a new hero was born for the comic world to enjoy.
A Brief Biography of Doctor Strange
Stephen Vincent Strange was born in 1930 to Eugene and Beverley Strange in Philadelphia. He was the eldest of three children. An early formative experience when his sister Donna was injured made him determined to study medicine. When he is on leave from college, at the age of nineteen, he fails to save Donna from drowning. This makes him question the meaning of life and something dies inside him.
Intelligent and determined, he completes his degree at an early age and becomes a successful neurosurgeon, skilled with his hands in the delicate art of brain surgery. His fame grows and his arrogance with it. Perhaps torn from the loss of his dear sister, he fails to engage well with his parents and his younger brother Victor. His arrogance and egotism alienate many who begrudgingly admitted and appreciated his extraordinary surgical skills. In many ways one could say he was a highly skilled surgeon who has lost of humanity and compassion like many who are on the top of their game.
When Strange refuses to visit his father in his deathbed an angry Victor confronts him. After an altercation Victor storms off into oncoming traffic and is killed. A despondent Strange places his brother in cryogenic storage. In a later story he tries to revive his brother to dire consequences.
More arrogant and disillusioned, Strange becomes an even more obnoxious egotist. All is changed when he takes his sports car for a drive one rainy night.
Trip to East
Stephen Strange wakes up in the hospital and learns that he has lost the use of his hands - the very tools of his trade. Losing his sense of identity and purpose, shorn of his pride, he goes on a search for a cure to restore the nerves of his hand. He spends his entire fortune looking for a way to regain his skills and what he believes his identity. When traditional western medicine fails to help him, he travels far looking for alternate remedies. His search ultimately takes him east to the Himalayas, to a fabled city known as Kamar-Taj, where rumour of the healing power of an ancient mystic draws him to seek the place.
Here he meets the mystic known only as the Ancient one, who offers to help him. The old man refuses to heal his hands but offers to open his eyes to new skills. Initially enraged and upset, Strange eventually accepts the offer and learns of magic and mysticism that he never knew existed in our world. Secretly he still hopes that this will be a means to an end and that he will be able to restore power to his hands if he goes along with the old man's ways. He never really wholeheartedly believes in what he is witnessing but is gradually drawn into the multiple universes and the magic that exist within.
The Ancient One takes a shine on Strange, seeing in him an immense potential to become a great sorcerer and 'Master of the Mystic Arts'. Strange trains with determination and shows growing prowess in teleportation, spells and incantations but still is the egotist and self centred. The chief disciple of the ancient one is Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo, who originally supports Strange and befriends him.
An attack on the Ancient One wakes up Stephen to his own powers and his goodness. He finally learns the truth about identities we forge and what we think makes us who we are. He sees glimpses of his own forgotten humanity, realigns his priorities and vows to forego the quest to heal his hands in order to protect the ancient one. He also learns that the Ancient One is wise to it all and has foreseen this would happen. He also learns that it was the chief disciple Baron Mordo himself who had orchestrated the attack on the ancient one. Strange fights to protect the safety of his old Master and of Kamar-Taj and is bestowed the mantle of 'Sorcerer Supreme'.
The Sanctum Sanctorum is a three-story townhouse located at 177A Bleecker Street, in the heart of New York City's Greenwich Village". It first appeared in Strange Tales #110 with the debut of Dr Strange. Filled with magical artifacts and mystical portals, the building was said to have been built upon the site of pagan sacrifices, and before that Native American rituals, and is a focal point for supernatural energies ideal for the sorcerer supreme, Doctor Strange.
After he foils the plot against the ancient one and is crowned the Sorcerer Supreme, Strange leaves Kamar-Taj and returns to New York. He sets himself up as a mystic consultant. He moves into his residence,the Sanctum Sanctorum, in the heart of Greenwich village in New York.
Many of his acquaintances view him as a charlatan. However, his interaction with the superhero community gains him a new role in the pantheon of superheroes. Befriended by Spiderman, then teaming up with Thor, Strange soon battles otherworldly forces beyond the remit of the traditional superheroes. He is the only one able to view the multiverse and its various threads using astral projection. Such power also opens doors for new enemies.
One such enemy was the powerful demigod, the Dormammu. Dr Strange faces Dormammu's wrath when the latter sets about to invade our realm as he senses the weakening of the Ancient One. Vastly outranked, Dr Strange still battles the mighty being in the dark dimension.
Strange is ably accompanied in his adventures by his faithful valet Wong who is not afraid to exercise his own considerable martial arts skills in aiding his 'master'. As it was very much a sixties cliche to have a white superhero aided by a Chinese valet, the filmmakers have rebirthed Wong as the keeper of Kamr-Taj library and as Strange's other mentor.
There are many such battles with this recurring foe. Strange also meets his love Clea, who is the demigod's niece and daughter to Dormammu's sister, Umar.
The trio of mystical beings living in extra dimensions and grant powers to sorcerers such as Strange himself are called the Mystical Vishanti. They are interdimensional beings capable of great sorcery and immense power.
They are, the Agamotto the all seeing, the Omnipotent Ostur and the Hoary Hoggoth. They have endeavoured to protect the Earth's dimension for millenia and grant powers to the benevolent sorcerers who seek to protect the Earth.
Silver haired Clea first appeared in Strange Tales #126 ( November 1964) as an as yet unnamed character. She was eventually revealed as Dormammu's niece and daughter to the latter's sister Umar. Her father was Orini, a disciple of Dormammu and also a ruler of the dark Dimensions.
When she was held captive by her Uncle Dormammu, she is freed by Dr Strange, with the assistance of the ancient one, and is taken to Earth and resides with Stephen Strange. Descended from the faltine race of beings, Clea has her own mystical source of energy and innumerable powers. She aids Dr Strange in his battles to defeat the dreaded Dormammu and eventually leads a rebellion and goes on to rule the dark dimension.
Strange and Clea are lovers and become 'one' after exchanging vows in the Dark Dimension.
The Cloak of Levitation
In his mystical quest, Dr Strange is helped by the many magical artifacts that he keeps in his sanctum sanctorum. The chief among them is the Cloak of Levitation.
This full length red cloak with a raised collar has magical abilities and can change shape and shade in line with the wearer's will.
In the early stories the cloak was a blue one, considered to be a minor variant of the cloak of levitation worn by Dr Strange initially with relatively less powers than the ultimate red cloak of levitation.
The Cloak of Levitation first appeared in Strange Tales #127 after Dr Strange's victory over the dreaded Dormammu. It is presented to him by the Ancient One who is pleased with Strange's prowess in the mystical arts.
In the comics, it has been depicted by different artists with slight variations, sometimes with a gold border, sometimes a high pointy collar and other modifications.
The Spells of Dr Strange
Name of the Spell
Bolts of Bedevilment
An offensive weapon
Chains of Krakkan
A binding spell
Transports enemy far away
Crimson Bands of Cittorak
Binds the enemy
Crystals of Cyndriar
A blast of yellow mystic crystals can cause harm
Demons of Deniak
summons claws that can rip apart
Flames of Faltine
A blast of deadly fire
Images of Ikon
produces duplicate images of Strange to confuse the enemy
Icy Tendrils of Ikthalon
Icy entrapment of the enemy
Light of the All seeing eye of Agamotto
to reveal truth, to dispel harmful spells
Mists of Morpheus
To subdue enemy
Mists of Munnopor
Summons misty blue smoke to put enemy in a stupor
Sapphire bands of Storaan
To bind an enemy
Seven Rings of Ruggador
Summons seven energy rings to deflect spells
Seven Suns of Cinnibus
A hot energy blast
Shackles of Sheol
Magenta bands to trap and transport enemy
Shield of Seraphim
A protective black bubble
Vapors of Valtorr
Winds of Watoomb
Protective blast and also to blow away enemy
The Eye of Agamotto
Dr Strange wears the mystical amulet the eye of Agamotto, 'one of the most powerful mystical conduits in our world'. It is said to originate from Agamotto, one of the Vishanti who had used its powers to protect Earth.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko based the design of the amulet on the All seeing Eye of Buddha, a Buddhist religious symbol from Nepal. It has tremendous powers to unravel truth, obliterate enemy spells, too see through all illusions and disguises, to levitate and many more powers.
It can send beings into suspended animation and can see through time and space. Strange uses it as an amulet or sometimes as a clasp for his cloak of Levitation.
The Book Of Vishanti
Written in Babylon several millenia ago, the Book of Vishanti is known to contain the most powerful magical spells known. The priests of the ancient sumarian God Marduk kept the book under the protection of a griffin.
The Ancient One defeated and beast and took control of the book for the power of good. It eventually is bequeathed to Dr Strange who keeps it in his Sanctum Sanctorum as a reference guide to daily spells and incantations.
Il Libro di Cagliostoro
The Book of Cagliostoro contains powerful spells and incantations and the life of Count Cagliostoro from the 18th century. The followers of the Count were guardian of the tome. After many travels the book finds it way eventually to Karl Mordo's father, Nikolai Mordo.
Karl uses its powers to plot against the Ancient One and is defeated in his endeavours by Dr Strange.
Strange then transports the book back to his sanctum sanctorum and it is stored amongst his many magical artifacts.
Dr Strange Film PostersClick thumbnail to view full-size
Since the stunning success of Iron Man, many of the Marvel heroes have risen and gone from strength to strength grossing billions at the box office. Thought popular with students in the sixties, Strange remained in the sidelines until few years ago when Marvel decided to make a film with the British Actor Benedict Cumberbatch ( Sherlock, The Imitation Game, Star Trek into darkness) playing Dr Stephen Strange.
With an impressive cast including Tilda Swinton ( Chronicles of Narnia, Michael Clayton) as the androgynous Ancient One, Chiwetel Ejiofor ( 12 years a Slave, Serenity, The Martian) as Karl Mordo, Rachel McAdams ( Mean Girls, The Notebook) as fellow surgeon Christine Palmer, Benedict Wong ( TV's Marco Polo) as Wong and Mads Mikkelsen ( Casino Royale, TV's Hannibal) as Kaecilius, a new protagonist.
Little did Steve Ditko know that his psychedelic creation from 1963 would enjoy a resurgence in 2016 on the silver screen. Expectations are high and the early teasers and trailers look a promising blend of humour adventure and impressive visuals.
Dr Strange will soon take his place in the pantheon of Marvel Heroes. It is planned that along with Ant Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, the forthcoming Marvel Spiderman, Stephen Strange will also join the existing ensemble of Avengers in 'Infinity War' - the next big Avengers adventure..
Doctor Strange Trailer
Doctorr Strange comic coversClick thumbnail to view full-size
Steve Ditko with his comic panel 'selfie'
A genius in his field, Steve Ditko was instrumental in bringing many of the Marvel superheroes to life. His collaboration with Stan Lee is legendary. But unlike Mr Stan Lee who is very much in the limelight (including recurring cameos in all marvel films) Steve Ditko refused to appear in the public eye since the sixties and gives no interviews. Reclusive Ditko is now 88, still lives in Manhattan, and is considered as a JD Salinger of the comic book world.
The Golden Age
The swinging sixties were ripe years for a new age superhero. People were open to philosophy and mysticism from the east. Perhaps tapping into this era of freedom ( and perhaps to some extent peoples hallucinogenic experiments) Steve Ditko created a perfect counter culture icon. His artwork and many of his solely plotted storylines were dizzying in their ambition and mind bending in their execution.
The Special effects artists working for the 2016 films say that they were often stunned at Ditko's vision and artistic rendition of the multiverse and it took all the technical wizardry of the 21st century to make his visual panels translate to screen. While Ditko's three colour panels and India ink drawings may be low-fi, his artistic wizardry remains unparalleled in how he interprets his ideas into visual depictions. It goes to show how you can have all the technology and tools at hand, but the mind is the ultimate creative tool that makes an enduring end product.
The world is ready to consider the multiverse. And with it, we need a superhero who can protect our realm and conjure up enough spells that look cool.
Arise, Doctor Strange. We have been expecting you.
Talking of menaces from other realms and the dark dimension, do you have a spell to bind and transport a certain Presidential contender?
© 2016 Mohan Kumar
More by this Author
In this episode of the curious origins of nursery rhymes we tackle the loveable but doomed egg that is Humpty Dumpty. Just what does it really mean?
Jack and Jill is an evergreen delight for children. The rhyme dates back many centuries. There is so much speculation on it's origins and history. These range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
J Scott Campbell is a superstar American comic book artist. His highly stylised and sensual drawings have garnered a huge fan following among the comic book community. He created Danger Girl.