10 Weird Facts About Marvel’s Doctor Strange
The Marvel Universe has taken Hollywood by storm. For years now avid fans have looked forward to each new release, hoping for the return of their favorite heroes and praying for the introduction of really meaty and interesting new characters.
We have grown used to the diet of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America together with their supporting Avengers many of whom such as the Black Widow, Vision and Scarlet Witch deserve more attention than they get. In recent years Marvel took the stakes ever higher with the introduction of more interesting characters. The Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man films, with their rather more irreverent take on the Marvel Universe and, in the case of Guardians, their 80s throwback themes appealing to Marvel’s core audience of 30 and 40 somethings, were much more successful than anyone anticipated.
This year Marvel is mixing it up once again with another new and different character, Doctor Strange. While, like Ant Man and Guardians, he is something fresh to the film fans, he is an altogether very different direction for Marvel, his time in Tibet having more in common with the recent Bat Man films than Iron Man or Captain America. Doctor Strange certainly has more of the mystic than the action hero about him. With that in mind, here are the top 10 weird facts you should know about this newest and most shadowy of Marvel heroes.
10Doctor Strange Has Been A Key Marvel Character Since 1963
While he was not, until now, well known in the cinematic Marvel Universe he has been a key character in the Marvel comics since his first appearance in Strange Tales #110 in 1963. In that episode Stephen (Doctor Strange) who lives in New York, is approached to help a man who has terrible nightmares. In order to do so he sends his spirit to speak to his Master in Asia who advises him to use his magic amulet. He then returns to his home and uses his powers to enter the dreams of his client, once there he meets some strange and shadowy creatures including a chained individual known as Mr. Crang. It is only a few episodes later, Strange Tales #115, that we actually learn about the origin story of Doctor Strange.
Since that first appearance Doctor Strange has featured in a number of story arcs including battles with the demon Dormammu, Dracula and involvement with the Avengers and the Illuminati including the battle between the Avengers and X Men.
These many and varied story arcs resulted in Doctor Strange becoming one of the more popular Marvel comic book characters being voted the 83rd most popular comic book character of all time and the 33rd of the Top 50 Avengers.
9Doctor Strange is a Surgeon Who Loses His Hands
Doctor Strange’s origin, as told in Strange Tales #115 is fascinating. His title is more than honorary, he is a gifted and famous surgeon. Unfortunately he is aloof and unpleasant, caring little for his patients and not bothering with medical research. As with all hero origin stories, however, his new nature is forged in a crucible, in his case a car accident that leaves his hands so badly damaged that he can no longer perform his work; all his talent is lost overnight and he loses his living.
Hearing about a stranger known as ‘The Ancient One’ who has mythical healing powers, he travels to India to ask for his assistance in repairing his hands. Doctor Strange’s intrinsically selfish nature repels the Ancient One who refuses to help him. When, however, bad weather traps him in the Ancient One’s home, Doctor Strange sees his pupil, Baron Mordo, attack the Ancient One. Vowing to help the Ancient One defeat Mordo he is accepted as a pupil. During this time Doctor Strange learns to become a Master of the Mystic Arts. Once he has mastered these he returns to New York where he becomes a consultant in mythology. He also gets to know a number of Super Heroes and becomes a particular friend of Spider Man and Thor.
8Benedict Cumberbatch Is Not The First To Play Doctor Strange On Film
Legions of dedicated fans, encouraged by the sumptuous teaser trailers released by Marvel over the months leading up to the film premier, have been waiting to see one of their favorite characters take to the big screen. With his chiseled jaw and long, lean figure Benedict Cumberbatch would seem to be the definitive Doctor Strange. He is not, however, the first man to take on the mantle of portraying this complex and very different Marvel character.
In 1978 Marvel, cooperating with CBS and buoyed by the success of The Incredible Hulk and the Amazing Spider Man, tried to launch Doctor Strange as a TV series. The feature length trailer was aired in September of that year. Featuring cutting edge special effects and a modern score and Peter Hooten in the lead role and John Mills as his mentor it was meant to herald the start of a new type of series. Sadly the audience did not appreciate the film (which looks horrendous by today’s standards) and nothing more came of it. In 2007 a further attempt was made to take Doctor Strange beyond the comic book when he appeared in his very own Marvel Animated Film Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme. Sticking more closely to the original plot, this film enjoyed more success than the earlier offering even winning a nomination for that year’s Annie Awards.
7Doctor Strange’s Power Waxes and Wanes
When Doctor Strange initially grew into his powers he had great strength and was, for a time one of the most powerful Marvel characters ever created. At one time he engaged in single combat with the demigod Dormammu from the Dark Dimension. Although Dormammu was more powerful, Strange was able to weaken him so much that his realm was at risk of being destroyed by other evil entities knowns as the Mindless Ones. Strange then worked with Dormammu to prevent that.
When his mentor, The Ancient One, ascended to a higher plane, Doctor Strange became the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. He also has control of a number of powerful mystical objects which help him. The two main ones, which he incorporates into his costume, are the Cloak of Levitation, which allows him to fly and the Eye of Agamotto which provides him with wisdom, the ability to see the past, to track people and beings, create portals and various other useful bits and pieces. During this time he is known as both the ‘mightiest magician in the cosmos’ and ‘more powerful by far than your fellow humanoids’. Great powers indeed!
Unfortunately for Doctor Strange he had to surrender his mantle as Sorcerer Supreme to Brother Voodoo when he refused to fight for the magical Vishantis, he also stopped wearing the cloak and the eye leading to a great diminution of his powers. He works closely with Brother Voodoo, however, helping to train him in the use of his new powers. After Brother Voodoo dies in a battle with Agamoto his own brother Daniel Drumm seeks revenge on Doctor Strange, trying to get to him by possessing various Avengers. Doctor Strange defeats him and is restored to his title and powers as Sorcerer Supreme. Several years later Doctor Strange loses the title once again; he voluntarily relinquishes it when he realizes that he has become too reliant on the use of Dark Magic. He becomes Sorcerer Supreme, and has his artefacts returned, for the third time when he proves that he is willing to protect his friends even without his mightiest powers.
6He Is In Love With A Demon
Some super heroes are in love with their secretaries (Iron Man), some love other heroes (Daredevil), many love ordinary human women but that would be just too easy for Doctor Strange. He has to do something so different and over the top because he is Doctor Strange.
One of the Doctor’s earliest nemesis’s was the demon Dormammu, ruler of the Dark Dimension. Doctor Strange fell in love with Dormammu’s niece Clea who aided him in his battles against her uncle. Clea lived with Doctor Strange in his New York home, the Sanctum Sanctorum where she trained as his pupil and helped him in his many adventures. When Dormammu was thought to have been killed she returned to the Dark Dimension and battled her Mother to become its ruler, the two lovers were married in that Dimension. It was not to last, however, Dormammu was not dead and returned to overthrow his upstart niece. She returned to Earth but became increasingly disenchanted with her life with her husband, rejecting him in his role as her mentor. Unable to live together she returned to lead the resistance in the Dark Dimension. She retains an affection for her husband, however and occasionally returns to Earth to help him out.
Clea is, for the moment, destined to remain a comic book character only as, much to the disappointment of fans, she did not survive the move to the big screen.
5Doctor Strange is a Defender Not An Original Avenger
Given the fact that Doctor Strange has been honored above many other popular Marvel characters by being given his very own film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe it may come as some surprise for many people to hear that Doctor Strange is not, in fact, an original Avenger.
As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange relied on a number of allies, including the Hulk, to help him defeat various villains and threats. These heroes came together in a sort of ad hoc ‘non team’ known as the Defenders. The group of individuals which includes Clea, the Silver Surfer, Valkyrie and Night Hawk are not a cohesive team and often have quite serious differences of opinion which can escalate into all out fights. As many of the members became too old for active duty they were replaced by the ‘New Defenders’. In contrast to this rather disorganized gathering of fractious individuals, the Avengers are a cohesive team. The two groups have been known to work together from time to time.
Doctor Strange did join the New Avengers for a while and even housed them in his New York Home, the Sanctum Sanctorum but decided to leave when he realized he had been using too much dark magic.
Moving away from the comics and into the Cinematic Universe, The Defenders are slated to have their very own Netflix series at some point in the future. We will not, however, see the Hulk and Silver Surfer as part of the team which is said to be likely to feature Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage. Whether or not Doctor Strange will join them has not yet been confirmed but rumors say that he will make an appearance in the new Netflix Iron Fist series.
4In Addition To Founding The Defenders and Helping the Avengers Doctor Strange Is A Member Of The Illuminati
Doctor Strange made up for not being a fully-fledged member of the Avengers by working with a group of superheroes that called themselves the Illuminati. The original members that worked alongside Doctor Strange included Mr Fantastic, Professor X, Black Panther, Namor and Iron Man. Formed as a think tank to represent the different types of superhero operating on Earth (Mutants, Mystics, Scientists, Superhumans, Avengers, Establishment Heroes etc) the members of this secret sect were also know to get their hands dirty in practical operations.
Iron Man had initially proposed that the group act as a sort of Earth-wide law enforcement agency, representing Earth in galactic issues. Very few of the other superheroes, Doctor Strange (whose own group, the Defenders operated on an ad-hoc basis (see above)) thought that this would work, believing their differences were too great to allow the members to cooperate long term. The Illuminati decided that they were better placed to operate as an intelligence sharing initiative and agreed to meet on a regular basis to discuss any issues that threatened the Earth. The group was controlled by Professor Xavier who used his mind to ensure that nobody in the group could betray any confidences shared. Together they engaged in a number of important adventures including a hunt for the Infinity Gems and many attempts to defeat the Skrulls.
3Doctor Strange Turned His Brother Into A Vampire
Doctor Strange was not an only child but his family dynamic was anything but normal. He had a brother named Victor and a sister, Donna who died in a swimming accident for which Doctor Strange blamed himself. Their mother, Beverley, died in the 1950s and their father, Eugene a few years later. Numbed by grief following years of tragedy piled upon tragedy, Doctor Strange did not visit his father’s deathbed. Furious with his brother Victor went to Doctor Strange’s apartment where the two had a terrible fight. Victor fled the confrontation straight into the path of a car and died. Doctor Strange was devastated by the accident and feeling responsible for the death of both his siblings vowed to do everything he could to put things right.
Unlike normal people who would have paid for a decent funeral and tried to turn their life around, Doctor Strange put his brother’s body into cold storage in the hope that future medical advances would allow him to bring his brother back to life. Superhero or not this type of meddling against the laws of nature almost always goes awry. He attempted to restore his brother’s life using the powerful Book of the Vishanti but instead of bringing him back to life he gave him the potential to become a vampire all the while making it look as though the spell had failed. Somewhat later Doctor Strange was engaged in a battle with Dracula and cast a powerful spell designed to eliminate all of those foul beings from the earth. Because his brother’s body was protected by the Book of Vishanti he survived. Turning into Baron Blood Victor Strange undertook to feed only on the blood of criminals, in the end, realizing that those he killed became vampires in turn and that he was finding it ever more difficult to control his cravings, Baron Blood used a stake to take his own life.
2Doctor Strange Is Beloved Of Drug Users And Has Been A Huge Influence On Music
Take a look at the artwork in the early Doctor Strange books and you will understand why he is every druggies favorite Marvel character. Steve Ditko, the initial artist said that he designed the artwork this way on purpose while Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story claims that the Doctor Strange artists of years past used LSD for inspiration for the comic book story lines and were often high when they did their work. The character’s popularity amongst druggies was even referenced in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool Acid Test with the famous quote
‘I make out a schoolbus…glowing orange, green, magenta, lavender, chlorine blue, every fluorescent pastel imaginable in thousands of designs, both large and small, like a cross between Fernand Liger and Dr. Strange, roaring together and vibrating…’
Powerful stuff indeed!
In addition to these ‘alternative culture’ credentials Doctor Strange has been the inspiration for some musical hits. T. Rex’s Mambo Sun features the lyrics ‘on a mountain range, I’m Dr. Strange for you’ while a quick look at the cover of ‘A Saucer Full Of Secrets’ by Pink Floyd will show that it was almost certainly inspired by the artwork in the Doctor Strange stories.
1Benedict Cumberbatch Was Not The First, Second Or Even Third Choice To Portray The Character
In addition to the earlier films already mentioned (see above) there have been many serious attempts to bring Doctor Strange to the silver screen since the mid 80s. Most projects failed because the special effects available at the time were not up to the task and because the script proved fiendishly difficult to pin down. Had any of these projects come to fruition Benedict Cumberbatch, too young and unknown at the time, would not have played the part.
Even when the 2016 film started development Benedict Cumberbatch was way down the list of potential actors, too short, too unknown and too British! Joaquin Phoenix was the initial favorite for the part and he almost signed, the three months’ worth of negotiations breaking down at the last moment. Other actors considered for the role included Tom Hardy and Ethan Hawke. It was only after they were ruled out that Benedict Cumberbatch was finally approached to play the role. Looking back it is hard to think of any other actor playing the part as successfully as Benedict Cumberbatch, if nothing else because Joaquin Phoenix is too old to portray the ever youthful Doctor Strange with any sense of conviction. Of course these days Marvel are keen to say that Benedict Cumberbatch was always their first choice for the role.
With his very own movie, launched in 2016, Doctor Strange has firmly made the leap into the big leagues. With his brooding nature and use of mystical powers he is something of a departure from the break out Marvel stars of recent years (Guardians, Ant Man). Nevertheless his difference seems to work for Marvel. Utilizing their massive budget to buy a stellar cast and some truly spectacular special effects appears to have paid off and Doctor Strange is enjoying fabulous box office receipts and great reviews. It seems like Marvel will enjoy getting their money’s worth from the character who is rumored to be slated to appear in the Defenders mini series (see above) and in Avengers: Infinity War.
It could have gone very wrong, the Marvel Comics create an interweaving web of complex backstories for all the characters and none of these is more complex and difficult for a non or sometime fan to understand than the story of Doctor Strange. What Marvel has managed to do very successfully, through the MCU, is to cut through the complexity of their characters’ background stories while bringing their core essence to the new medium. They appear to have managed this every bit as well with Doctor Strange as they did with the other characters, even if there were a few casualties along the way (Clea does not appear in the movie and the Ancient One, an Asian Monk, is portrayed by a British Woman).
Cover photo credit: Marvel.