Greg Pak's Season One DOCTOR STRANGE is a 'Selfish Jerk'

So, you're a reader, and you're curious about Doctor Strange. What are his powers? Is he a real doctor, or a poseur like Doctor Doom? And how do the hoary hosts of Hoggoth fit into the whole thing?

Marvel is looking to make it easy on you with Doctor Strange: Season One, out in September from the team of Greg Pak (whose X-Treme X-Men debuts later this month) and artist Emma Rios (who's launching a new creator-owned series, Pretty Deadly, with Osborn collaborator Kelly Sue DeConnick at Image). Like the Season One books before it, it's a hardcover original graphic novel set in the early days of a well-known Marvel character — in this instance, when Doctor Strange was still, as Pak puts it, a "selfish jerk" (but the fun kind of selfish jerk, the writer assures).

Newsarama talked with Pak about Doctor Strange: Season One, the artistic strengths of Emma Rios, favorite past Strange stories, and the glorious head of hair the traditionally bald Wong sports throughout the book. Courtesy of Marvel, we're also debuting exclusive interior pages by Rios from the book, presented throughout the Q&A.


Newsarama: Greg, it's a broad question, but as a professed fan of Doctor Strange who's now gotten to write him in his own graphic novel, what are the qualities you like the most about the character, and the ones that you've looked to explored in the book? (Assuming that they're one and the same, which may be completely off-base.)

Greg Pak: I love that at the beginning of his origin story way back in Strange Tales #115, he's a complete jerk. He's a brilliant but arrogant surgeon who's also totally selfish — refusing to talk to prospective patients until they've paid up. That's a phenomenal set up for a comeuppance and a hero's journey. And that's what we're doing here in Doctor Strange: Season One. But what makes it fun is that our story is set early enough on that journey that Strange is still essentially that selfish jerk, which means he's funny and he misbehaves and he's a blast to write and read about.

Nrama: So it sounds like a very different Doctor Strange than fans are used to currently seeing in Defenders or New Avengers. His personality, as noted, but he's also simply early in his adventuring career, given the Season One format.

Pak: It's worth noting that the Strange in our story has not yet become a Master of Mystic Arts. He's a novice and has to struggle like crazy for every bit of magic power he demonstrates — which means he may be sorely tempted if any shortcuts make their appearance...


Nrama: What are some of the past Doctor Strange stories that have helped to shape your love of the character? Have any informed what you're doing in Season One at all?

Pak: I love his origin story. I read and re-read it a bajillion times in that Origins of Marvel Comic trade when I was a kid.

I love his appearances in Hulk comics over the years. I spent a ton of time writing the Hulk and was always intrigued, entertained, and moved when Strange made his appearances. Strange has frequently been the Marvel hero with the closest ties to the Hulk — he's tried to help him and he's also tried to stop him several times, and there's always great drama in the genuine friendship he shares with Banner and the moral strain of making choices to protect others from the Hulk.

I love that amazing [Roger] Stern/[Mike] Mignola graphic novel "Triumph and Torment," which is essential reading for both Strange and Doctor Doom fans.

And I loved the way [Alex] Maleev drew Strange for [Brian Michael] Bendis back when the Illuminati were first making their appearance. That's the good-hearted Strange, the good man who knows what it is to be a bad man, the good man who's struggling every day to keep his heart in the right place and do the right thing.

Nrama: On the subject of past stories — when I talked to Fred Van Lente (someone I believe you're acquainted with) about Hulk: Season One, he mentioned that he deviated a good amount from certain elements of the original Hulk origin stories. What have you changed or modernized about early Doctor Strange?

Pak: That Van Lente kid, always talking crazy! [Laughs.]

In the Strange book, we're not doing anything that explicitly conflicts with existing continuity. But we're definitely fleshing things out. This story features the first meeting between Wong and Strange, for example, and it's a very different dynamic than the one that arises in later stories. Wong has been tremendously fun to write in this book — we're meeting him when he's young and fiery and wild and when he has awesome hair. He and Strange immediately hate each other's guts, but then have to work together, which is always a blast to write.


Nrama: Obviously anyone who's seen Emma Rios' art can recognize her talent, but in working with her on a project of length, what have you been the most impressed with from what she's brought to the story?

Pak: Umm... everything! Seriously, Emma's been great, from her obvious love of the characters and sensitivity in evoking all the emotional nuances of the story to her insane imagination and ability to deliver a thousand percent with the mighty Marvel magic of it all to her total commitment to great storytelling. She came up with several great suggestions for visual bits later in the book that beautifully pay off things we set up earlier. Just an amazing collaborator.

Nrama: In constructing a graphic novel like this, is the work process much different for you than just writing, say, a five-issue miniseries? Is it somewhat more involved due to the format and since the pacing is presumably different, or is it pretty much the same?

Pak: It's actually pretty much the same as writing a regular five issue miniseries, with the one benefit of not having to recap so much at the beginning of each new issue or chapter. And there's something nice about finishing the entire book and being able to look back over everything before releasing it to the world — you can massage dialogue in the first chapter to better set up things that happen in the last, for example.

Nrama: Doctor Strange has been around a lot as a supporting character in recent years (including comics you've written), but not in his own book for any extended period of time. How have you liked writing him as a lead character? What can you say about the character in a solo role that you can't say when he's part of a team?

Pak: Well, in the case of this book, we can delve deep and find out who he really is and how he became the hero he is today. And I think there are tons of other great stories to be told with Strange as the lead — all y'all who agree, please pre-order this book today with your local retailer!

Nrama: So what can you say about the story? It's been established that it focuses on Strange and Wong as a duo, but who's the antagonist?


Pak: Strange and Wong work each others' last nerves quite a bit in the book, but the true antagonist is, of course, Strange's first nemesis: the sorceror Mordo. We're also introducing a few more antagonists along the way whom I just love — can't wait for you to meet 'em!

Nrama: And as someone who is clearly passionate about the portrayal of Asians in pop culture, how have you taken to writing Wong? He's one of the few prominent Asian characters in the Marvel Universe, but is essentially an adjunct of another — and, despite his strengths, is ultimately best known as a "manservant."

Pak: Having a chance to run wild with Wong was one of the big attractions of the project to me. In Doctor Strange: Season One, Wong is a fellow student of the Ancient One and every bit Strange's equal — and rival. I've had a tremendous amount of fun writing Wong. He's a character who's been ripe for an expanded backstory and, like Strange, really blossoms when you look at him in his younger, rougher, wilder days — particularly because his particular strengths and vices conflict with and complement Strange's in very fun ways. Also, great hair. I mentioned that, didn't I?

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