Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Strange Tales #115:
"The Origin of Dr. Strange"

Though he'd just been in a few appearances in Strange Tales Marvel realized in the winter of 1963 that they had an up & coming star on their hands. And thus it was time to get around to telling the story that Strange Tales #115 - "in answer to an avalanche of requests," says the head of the story. Doc's page count per issue increased as well, going from the five-page stories of his first four appearances to an eight-page format in Strange Tales.

Doc's origin story added some much needed background and depth to his character. And for the first time readers got to see a desperate man so unlike the master mystic they'd come to enjoy.

The story opens with Strange finding the Ancient One's castle and demanding that the elderly mage cure his injuries with his healing powers. The Ancient One then uses his powers to discover what events lead Stephen Strange to his castle. He sees Doctor Stephen Strange as he was in the recent past: a haughty, aloof, self-centered surgeon who put money above the good he could do for his fellow man. All of that was changed after a car accident left him with injured hands - hands that would never again be allowed to wield a surgeon's scalpel. Strange sinks down into the dregs of depression, even to the point of swearing he would never work for anyone other than himself, before finally seeking the Ancient One out in desperation to heal his injuries.

The Ancient One offers instead to let Strange become his pupil and to perhaps discover the answers to his problems within himself. At first Strange refuses, but then later he finds the Ancient One's student - Mordo - preparing to attack the Ancient One in a treacherous power grab while calling upon Dormammu for aid. Here was have what is, historically, the first confrontation between Strange and Mordo. Predictably it comes down pretty hard in Mordo's favor; he uses his magic to create invisible restraints upon Strange that forbid him from telling the Ancient One what he knows about Mordo's plot.

The really interesting thing about Mordo's spell is that it doesn't actually stop Strange from speaking or communicating. All it does is prevent him from revealing Mordo's plan, specifically. Yet magically it actually appears like an iron clamp around Doc's mouth that is visible only to himself and to Mordo (the caster) and no one else. This particular spell was even used recently in an issue of The Might Avengers, where the new female Loki (disguised as the Scarlet Witch) used it on Stature to stop her from telling the team that Wanda (who was really Loki) was up to no good.

But Strange uses his intellect to defeat Mordo's spell in a roundabout way. Wanting to protect the Ancient One from Mordo, and wanting the power to beat Mordo magically, Strange agrees to be the Ancient One's student. As he does, the Ancient One releases him from Mordo's mystical restraints, which he was aware of all along.

Overall this is quite an effective origin story from Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, setting the foundation for the relationship between Strange and the Ancient one and revealing his deadly rivalry with Mordo as well. The irony is thick - a once proud surgeon who swears to never again work for anyone must agree to become a student all over again, in a different field and with a new mentor, in order to find a place in life again. Very cool stuff! Ditko's art transforms Doc here as well and we finally see the start of the 'classic' Strange look, going from his Asian-like appearance in previous tales to looking something more like actors Errol Flynn or Ronald Coleman.

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