Doctor Stephen Strange has been to every corner of the Marvel Universe, into different dimensions, across time and space - and now he's going back to his roots as a physician in writer Mark Waid and artist Kev Walker's Doctor Strange: Surgeon Supreme.
Credited together as "Storytellers", Waid and Walker will plumb both the depths of medical miracles and supernatural body-horror as Strange takes up residence at McCarthy Medical - home of fellow Marvel Comics physician Jane Foster/Valkyrie. And along the way, he'll encounter demons masquerading as diseases, alchemical ailments, real-world examples of cutting edge surgery, and even some familiar faces from the past.
Newsaram spoke to Waid ahead of Dr. Strange: Surgeon Supreme #1's December 25 release to diagnose this new volume of Strange's story, and unpack exactly how much work it takes to understand the intersection of medicine and magic like a supernatural surgeon.
Newsarama: Mark, you’ve been writing Doctor Strange for some time now, but this new volume is different – Strange is now the Surgeon Supreme. What does that mean?
Mark Waid: It’s a 100% different take from what we’ve been doing. The first run was more about cosmic menaces. Taking a cue from the way from my Daredevil revival and Al Ewing’s most excellent Immortal Hulk launch, Surgeon Supreme concentrates on more human, more street-level stories that casual readers can connect with emotionally. Plus, it layers a new ongoing drama onto Stephen Strange’s life.
Nrama: For those coming into this new volume fresh, what’s Strange’s status quo at this point?
Waid: As most people know, Stephen was once a brilliant neurosurgeon who suffered an accident that created such nerve damage in his hands that he could never operate again. Now, through a deal with a demon that, you know, couldn’t possibly someday blow up in Stephen’s face, no, sir, he’s regained the full use of his hands.
But it’s as much a curse as a blessing; now, every single day, he has to choose between his obligations as a surgeon and as the Earth’s supreme magic defender. Every single day, whenever he’s operating, he’s well-aware that at that very moment, something could be happening across the world that only he can combat - and vice versa.
Nrama: The solicitation for Dr. Strange #1 says you’ll be delving into some horror-fueled adventures. What’s the key to mastering that kind of tone in a superhero book? How do you push those boundaries with a character who has fought everything up to the devil himself?
Waid: It gets back to the weird, gothic, creepy tone of the earliest Steve Ditko Strange stories. Plus, what better setting for a book about the occasional body horror than a hospital?
Nrama: Speaking of which, what threats will Strange be up against here?
Waid: Right from issue one, there are several threats throwing themselves at him all at once. First, someone somewhere is trafficking in magic weapons and starts their upgrade program with the Wrecker, who now has a pry bar that can wreck reality itself.
Simultaneously and (seemingly) unconnected, Strange begins receiving weird, ominous and cryptic messages from elsewhere that are building to something.
And on top of that, the head of the hospital where Strange works is - to his stunned surprise - Dr. Anthony Ludgate, a.k.a. Dr. Druid - and wasn’t Druid an insane bad guy last time we saw him? What’s up with that?
Nrama: You’ve got Kev Walker on art. He’s no stranger to Marvel Comics work or to depicting wizardly wonder in his Magic: The Gathering art. What makes him the perfect collaborator for a series like this?
Waid: Oh, man. Not only can he tell a story, not only is his work brilliantly expressive, but he thinks about every page, really thinks. He’s full of ideas, suggestions, and questions and is acting like a full collaborator, not just a short-order cook taking my directions. At my request, we’re credited jointly as “storytellers,” because we’re bouncing ideas back and forth and he’s really, really clever.
Waid: What’s your favorite thing he’s drawn so far?
Waid: Strange being Strange, he can “see” what’s wrong with a patient - literally see it, sometimes manifested in some grotesque way. To his eyes, the sick have the tentacles of sinister creatures wrapped around them, and the hospital is crawling with all sorts of nasties looking for victims to assail. Kev hits that idea out of the park on page one.
Nrama: You’ve taken Stephen Strange to space and now you’re taking him into the operating room – new frontiers for a guy who’s been all through the multiverse. What key aspects of Doctor Strange do you keep in mind whether he’s a surgeon, a sorcerer, or something else?
Waid: That above all, he’s a doctor and he approaches every aspect of his life from that perspective. Even when he’s fighting evil, he’s thinking surgically, not like most punch-first heroes.
Nrama: At the same time this series is launching, Strange is teaming up with Jane Foster and other heroes with medical backgrounds. That’s something of an odd niche – how does a super-surgeon fit into the Marvel Universe at this point?
Waid: He’s definitely a go-to doctor for Marvel heroes, moreso than ever - but his appointment book is pretty full, so Thor and She-Hulk should bear that in mind. And Jason Aaron and Al Ewing have been great about letting Strange take up residency at McCarthy Medical, where Jane Foster works. By design, we’re doing something unique in that we’re actively sharing supporting cast members!
Nrama: On that note, how much work has it been getting into the medical knowledge for writing a Surgeon Supreme?
Waid: It’s a ton of work, but it’s absolutely worth it. I can spend hours down the internet rabbit hole researching various procedures and techniques, but the verisimilitude is important to me. Stephen’s procedures need to be grounded in modern medical technology. And if you don’t think Googling “Most Difficult Neurosurgical Procedures” isn’t a story gold-mine....
Nrama: Bottom line, what can you tell fans about Strange’s new/old job, and what’s coming up as he moves into this uncharted territory?
Waid: Long-term mysteries, short-term menaces unlike he’s ever faced, and something he’s not had in a long while - a supporting cast that’s a deep bench of ordinary people. I’m having a blast writing this.