The Anti-Marvel Hero: Inside Dr. Strange’s Silver Age Spiritual Debut

By: Julian Munds

The Battle on the Extra-plain.

The Battle on the Extra-plain.

If you follow these articles on the regular, you may have noticed an absence of Dr. Strange. There is a very good reason for this, as in 1963, Dr. Strange was still not fully considered part of Earth-616 continuity.

I’ve only written one article to date about him. By November 1963 there had been about four full stories published featuring the Doctor. Only two of which Marvel considers proper continuity. The others were retconned.

Dr. Strange was considered experimental in his earlier publications which made his stories rather short and frankly… a tad weird.

In November, Dr. Strange was officially brought on as a Strange Tales companion publication to the solo adventures of Johnny Storm because of enormous positive fan feedback. This story was his first official and non-oneoff exhibition tale.

Dr. Strange is extraordinarily different then the other lead characters presented in the Silver Age.

He is not a public figure. He prefers to operate in the dark underbelly of the supernatural world. For example Strange’s first panel was set in a dark, dingy, occult store off a dank alley in New York’s Greenwich village.

Every other character has some public persona, whether it is literal fame; like the Fantastic Four, or notorious fame like Spider-Man or Hulk.

No one seems to know that Dr. Strange exists until he appears.

All of the other characters of Marvel, thus far, are either scientists themselves or the results of science. The Fantastic Four, especially Mr. Fantastic, utilizes his scientific ingenuity to cross obstacles. Banner/Hulk is both a scientist and a scientific accident. Spider-Man, too, is a science experiment gone awry. Hank Pym and Iron Man are examples of scientific ingenuity at its best. Even Thor, who does rely on his supernatural strength, is both a medical doctor and a scientist when he is Don Blake.

Strange, however, is entirely supernatural. He exists by a mythos that relies on a ‘spiritual understanding,’ meaning that his mythos is built on faith. I know I am nitpicking here, as I am dealing with fiction: Strange’s fiction is more absurd.

The tangibility of the mythos caused some clarity issues in the first two debuts. A lot of the action in those earlier issues were dependent on a kind of “because I said so” explanation.

In this issue, however, we get an explanation of the extra dimension and how Strange manipulates magic. I.E. The paneling that explains how a white candle can be used as a trap.

Even the idea of astral projection, which is a major mechanism of the plot, is explained by an advanced “pseudo-manipulate” technique of the mind that somehow Strange has learned. Through the X-Men, we are already familiar with the difference between learned talents and inherent talents, particularly because of Professor X.

The supernatural seems less absurd. This is because Stan Lee and Steve Ditko clearly want to create a character that has a future. Absurdity is great for a one off, but not a stream of events.

The realm of the supernatural has never been a place for the heroes of Marvel.

So far, the only characters that have been associated with magic are Loki and Dr. Doom. Loki strives to dominate all things magical. He does this by manipulating other people by using the laws of magic to make characters act against themselves. Dr. Doom, who is far less powerful then the Asgardian, seeks to attain this power.

Strange, on paper, makes far more sense as a supervillain. For example, in this issue when Baron Mordo traps Strange, with a white candle, the Doctor mentally manipulates a young girl to come to his rescue. He telepathically takes away her will.

Is this really the act of a hero?

Strange, much like Doom, seeks to be the master of his craft. Baron Mordo stands in his way.

I wrote a lengthy article that talked about selfishness being the true trait of a villain and Strange/Mordo both share this trait. Both seem to be acting in their self interests. There is no greater calling to protect Earth or even another character.

Strange exists on the fringes of the established world (Earth 616) and thereby bends traditional Marvel tropes. These two (Mordo and Strange) exist beyond good and evil; making Strange into a kind of anti-hero.

The evil of the story is represented by Baron Mordo who returns to act as yang to Strange’s yin.

The master plan of Mordo.

The master plan of Mordo.

Mordo pretends to be an old friend of Strange and this coaxes him into a trap.

Mordo and Strange fight on the extra-plain for dominance and use a plethora of different spells against each other. Strange uses the power of non-magicals to save himself and this is Mordo’s weakness. Mordo doesn’t see the worth of normal humans.

A very …. almost ‘X-Men like’ theme.

Steve Ditko and Stan Lee have made the mythos far simpler to understand. As a result, this story doesn’t feel as whacked out psychedelically as the others. Whereas I left the prior stories confused, this one I left excited for what’s to come.

Strange’s stories feel episodic as if they are stepping stones in a larger arc. Most of the other hero’s issues are self contained tale. This endless arc makes Strange’s issues fantastically titilating.

I don’t much mind the lack of clarity as to how they work into the larger Marvel world. I trust that this will be explained further down the road. This is only Dr. Strange’s third feature, so I am excited to see how he evolves from here.

Journey Into Marvel

Story I Read:Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo” (Strange Tales #114 Nov. 1963)

Rating: 3 out of 5

Pros: Clarity in plot. Basic character development for Strange. Moral ambiguity.

Cons: There is still a lot of the narrative that relies of Faith. ‘Oh I am trapped by this candle because Mordo says so.” Their is still no discussion of why this is and what is the nature of the extra-plain.

Previous Review:The Human Torch… Meets Captain America” (Strange Tales #114 Nov. 1963)

Upcoming Review:Challenged by the Human Cobra!” (Journey Into Mystery #98 Nov. 1963)

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About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on December 25, 2013, in Dr. Strange, Marvel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. this story and considered the chronology of the character?

  2. hey, dr strange acting for its own sake? he and the Sorcerer Supreme, which is in charge of saving the land of magic attacks, the strange tales 116 it saves a nightmare group of civilians in the first edition of it he alquem help with nightmare problems in strange tales 111 he saves his master, and even save the earth, this is wrong man, in the first edition of it and a magic consultant who helps people, you erally read the stories of him? he speaks in the edition I do not refuse a cry for help

  3. anything, you seem to understand anti hero and superhero, then the night would not be a antiheroi because he and ugly? as they say many definitions?

  4. but to end the discussion , would not better the term imperfect hero , a kind of superhero , because he does a lot but good than harm

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