Stranger Things1 of 12This week, Doctor Strange will finally see wide theatrical release, and the many moviegoers enchanted by Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts will undoubtedly be looking to prolong the magic with some must-read tales of the Sorcerer Supreme.
And though the film is an origin story, you may be wondering where all the trippy visuals, alternate realities, and magic mysteries have their comic book roots. Doctor Strange doesn't have the easiest back catalog to dig into, but if you know what you're looking for, there are some true gems that carve out a unique niche in the Marvel Universe.
Being the expert scholars that we are, Newsarama has put together a list of ten must-read Doctor Strange stories to prepare not just for his movie, but for his undoubtedly increased presence in Marvel Comics.
Season One2 of 12Of all the early major Marvel superheroes, Doctor Strange has probably had his origin retold in print the least, leaving plenty of room for a modern version of the story on shelves. Doctor Strange: Season One - arguably the best of Marvel’s short-lived “Season One” introductory OGN’s – is just such a retelling. Written by Greg Pak with art by Emma Rios, Doctor Strange: Season One sets up Strange’s backstory and relationships in a way that has undoubtedly influenced (or at the least echoed) the film version of the story, which hits theaters this November.
Doctor Strange: Season One recounts Strange’s life as a gifted surgeon whose hands are mangled in an accident. Unable to continue his work, he seeks out a cure, instead finding a new path as a master Sorcerer. The story introduces the core cast of Baron Mordo, Wong, the Ancient One, and Dormammu, connecting them all to a core narrative and setting up a strong basis for Strange’s subsequent adventures.
Plus, you get to look at 136 pages of Emma Rios’s artwork.
Sorcerer Supreme Once More3 of 12It’s hard to find modern stories that really capture something unique about Doctor Strange; for most of the last decade, he’s primarily been a supporting character for the Marvel Universe. Still, in the latter half of Brian Bendis’s long Avengers run, Strange became a key player in New Avengers.
In the early issues of New Avengers Vol. 2, which followed the end of “Dark Reign,” Strange finds himself part of an unlikely Avengers team closer in make-up to the Defenders, and stripped of his title as Sorcerer Supreme. With his classic role given over to Doctor Voodoo, Strange must find a new path in the Marvel Universe.
Bendis’s story explored the themes of Strange’s arrogance and humility, and his willingness to sacrifice for his power. It also established new connections between Iron Fist’s power, K’un Lun, and the Ancient One.
Of course, it all wrapped up with Strange regaining his mantle as Sorcerer Supreme, leaving him arguably stronger than ever before thrusting him into some really deep cosmic weirdness as part of Marvel’s Illuminati.
Defenders: Indefensible4 of 12Though modern audiences likely associate Doctor Strange with the Avengers – a pairing that will likely carry over to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Strange’s first team was the Defenders. Founded alongside Namor, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer, the famous “non-team” dealt with mystic threats and took a decidedly stranger tone than Marvel’s other team books.
Though we could likely build a list of the best Defenders stories all on its own, we’re including Defenders: Indefensible, the mini-series that reunited the original four Defenders with writer J.M. DeMatteis, who in turn reunited with his fellow Justice League International co-creators Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire.
Indefensible brought the trio’s slick, irreverent sensibilities to the Defenders, injecting their trademark humor into a story that pitted the foursome against classic Strange foes such as Dormammu and Nightmare.
To Steal the Sorceror's Soul5 of 12Can a story not even a full issue in length be considered among the greats? If it’s good enough, why not?
1982's Marvel Fanfare #5 has a succinct 17-page tale by the novel team of Chris Claremont, Marshall Rogers, and P. Craig Russell. Strange’s romance with the otherworldly Clea is in full bloom here, with Claremont channeling his iconic X-Men soap operatics with great effect. That pairing underscores the action of the story, as Dormammu and Strange battle once again.
Although short in length, page-for-page this is one of Doctor Strange's most potent tales and definitely worth tracking down for students of Doctor Strange fandom as well as would-be masters.
Dr. Strange vs. Dracula: The Montesi Formula6 of 12Doctor Strange flitters between genres and groupings in the Marvel Comics universe, often serving as an odd but welcome face in the Avengers mythos as well as Marvel's horror line. The best example of that is the Sorcerer Supreme's tussles with the publisher's rendition of Dracula and his fellow vampires.
Dr. Strange Vs. Dracula: The Montesi Formula collects both a crossover between Doctor Strange and Tomb of Dracula, as well as five-issue arc of Strange's solo title that ended in the death (albeit temporarily) of vampires in the Marvel Universe a la "No More Mutants."
Among the creators involved, Roger Stern and Gene Colan are at their best here, and the final story drawn by a then-up-and-coming Steve Leialoha caps it off expertly.
The Way of the Weird7 of 12The supernatural side is sometimes a hard fit inside the superheroic confines of the Marvel Universe - especially in today's landscape - but Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo have navigated those straits while keeping true to the Sorcerer Supreme in their run so far on the new Doctor Strange title.
The first arc, "Way of the Weird," sets the stage with an outside force looking to eliminate the 'abomination of magic' universe by universe, slowly winding its way towards the core Marvel U. Aaron and Bachalo hit on big ideas such as the state of magic in Marvel and the diverse array of magic-users that can now be found, while still reinforcing that personal charm of Stephen Strange and the unique elements that make him the Sorcerer Supreme.
Aaron's late-in-the-game addition that magic usage harms Strange physically adds to the tension of the series -- and the character itself -- giving some parameters and consequences for what is, for some magic-based stories, an endless stream of deus ex machina climaxes and stories without true stakes.
Sure, seeing Dr. Strange wielding an axe could be off-putting - but if the magic-powered broach didn’t scare you off to begin with, the axe can win you over once you read Aaron's reasoning.
A Separate Reality8 of 12Writer Steve Englehart was already familiar with Doctor Strange from his work on Defenders, but when he took over Strange’s solo adventures in, he moved away from the superheroic style he wrote on the team book, delving deep into myth and magic.
Marvel Premiere #4-14, collected alongside Englehart’s Doctor Strange #1-5 as “A Separate Reality,” follow Strange and his supporting cast as they become trapped in Strange’s Eye of Agamotto, battle Lovecraftian horrors such as the cosmic monster Shuma Gorath, and foiling a time travel plot by Baron Mordo.
”A Separate Reality” collects Englehart’s entire run, alongside artist Frank Brunner, and marks the moment when Doctor Strange moved from mystical superheroics to outright fantasy, and even horror.
Triumph & Torment9 of 12Some of Doctor Strange’s best stories are the ones that pair him with unlikely allies, and no story is more emblematic of that than Triumph & Torment, a Marvel Graphic Novel from Roger Stern and Mike Mignola.
In the story, Doctor Doom makes a deal with Doctor Strange to venture into hell and retrieve the soul of Doom’s mother from the demonic Mephisto. Of course Doom, being the ruthless, power hungry master of science and magic that he is, seems to double cross Strange. But the story’s twist ending shows that the difference between heroes and villains is often as simple as execution – especially when dealing with magic.
In addition to featuring some of Stern’s best work on Strange and classic artwork by the legendary Mike Mignola, Triumph & Torment laid the groundwork for the unlikely and tenuous friendship between Doom and Strange, which was a critical part of the recent Secret Wars.
Strange Tales10 of 12Stan Lee and Steve Ditko didn’t just create Doctor Strange, they defined the elements that still make up the core of his mythology, from his origins, to his powers, to his allies and enemies.
Lee and Ditko’s run on Strange Tales took Marvel Comics to trippy new heights, combining Lee’s flair for dramatic dialogue with Ditko’s inventive and mystical environments.
Strange Tales #110-141 contains numerous gems, from the introduction of Strange’s greatest foe in “The Domain of the Dread Dormammu,” to the first telling of his origin as a brilliant but arrogant surgeon, and culminating in “The Eternity Saga,” the story that introduced Ditko’s personification of reality, the titular Eternity.
The duo’s entire run was collected in Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange Vol. 1.
The Oath11 of 12If there is one story that truly defines Doctor Strange not just as a character, but as a hero, it’s Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s Doctor Strange: The Oath, a tale about friendship, heroism, and the greater good.
The Oath tells the story of Doctor Strange suffering from a gunshot wound, trying to track down the person who shot him while also seeking a cure for his companion Wong’s terminal cancer. In the course of discovering his assailant, Strange finds more than he bargained for, and winds up being forced to choose curing Wong and saving the entire world.
Vaughan’s modern take on Doctor Strange, coupled with Martin’s contemporary yet iconic artwork, codified Strange for the current Marvel Universe in a way that no title since has yet to live up to.
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