STRANGE TALES #115: Where No Comic Has Gone Before

Published: January, 1964

Published: December, 1963

“The Origin of Dr. Strange”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Sam Rosen

I love a good origin story, don’t you? Origin stories are the solid foundation upon which the rest is built. This is where we meet the principle players, and become acquainted with the most rudimentary elements of the new mythos. Sometimes origin stories are so popular, we keep hearing them over and over. Only rarely does that annoy me (I’m looking at you, 2013 Spider-Man reboot…). Most of the time, I love to hear those good old stories, no matter how often they’re repeated.

In the back of Strange Tales #115, we at last have an origin story for Dr. Strange, after we’ve already seen him in three adventures. On the splash, Stan acknowledges the oversight, adding, “Never let it be said that we don’t try to correct our nutty mistakes!” I wonder…was this truly a mistake, or were the decision-makers in the Marvel bullpen simply taking time to gauge how popular this new character might become?

Marvel Comics began as stories for little boys. By this time, however, the audience is maturing, though not through the passage of time–after all, it’s only been two years since the Fantastic Four ushered in Marvel’s Silver Age. Instead, older readers are attracted to Marvel because the characters and stories appeal to a more mature audience. With the advent of Dr. Strange, we have a completely new type of “superhero,” unlike any we’ve seen before—one that would prove immensely popular with college kids.

What? College kids reading comics? Surely, you jest! No, not at all.

It’s this quality that has caused Marvel Comics to endure to this day, spawning a multi-media entertainment empire worth billions of dollars. But remember, it all started with some simple stories and pictures, on newsprint, selling for twelve cents a copy.

Dr. Strange was given a TV treatment in the 1970’s, but so far, no one has tackled him on the big screen. I hope that won’t be an oversight for long. I hope someone in charge will eventually get it into their heads to correct this nutty mistake! And when they do, I hope we are treated to this mythic, poetic, almost surreal gem of an origin story:

ORIGINS
st115vainDr. Stephen Strange is a famous surgeon with no real concern for his patients. He is “proud, haughty,” consumed by his own success, and only cares about money.

One fateful day, the nerves in his hands are severely damaged in an auto accident, and he receives the devastating news that he will never again be able to operate.

Despondent, he drops out of society, insisting, “I must be the best…the greatest!!!! Or else…nothing!”

Depressed and drifting, Strange hears some sailors talking about the Ancient One, who possesses miraculous healing powers. Now at last, with a glimmer of hope, Strange makes the long journey to India.

The Ancient One refuses to cure Strange instantly, because his motives are selfish. Instead, he offers to tutor the despondent doctor in the mystic arts. Strange says, “Thanks but no st115ancientthanks.” The Ancient One doesn’t give up that easily. He conjures a blizzard which forces Strange to remain with him, and with his other pupil, the creepy Mordo.

One day Strange sees the evil vapors of Valtorr attacking the Ancient One, and discovers that Mordo is summoning the evil powers of Dormammu, in an attempt to usurp the Ancient One and secure absolute power for himself.

st115mordoWhen Strange threatens to reveal this treachery to the Ancient One, Mordo makes several magical attempts to stop him, but the unintended result of Mordo’s spells is that Strange finally becomes a believer in Magic! Now having a clear sense of the bigger picture, Strange decides to stay and be taught by the Ancient One, so that someday he may be able to beat Mordo at his own game.

Immediately upon releasing Strange from Mordo’s spells, the Master admits that he has known all along that Mordo is trying to defeat him. Wise beyond his years, the Ancient One reveals his strategy concerning Mordo: “Although he is evil, I prefer to keep Mordo HERE where I can control him.” As the saying goes: Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.

Dr. Strange remains with the Ancient One, and with Mordo, perfecting his skills in the long-dead mystic arts. Soon, he will be ready for further adventures with Marvelous Magic!

IMPRESSIONS
I only know a little Marvel history, but this much has made an impression on me: Dr. Strange is like no other Marvel character we’ve met so far. He’s much more mature and cerebral than even Tony Stark. He’s not a god, like Thor, and unlike Hulk, Ant-Man and the Fantastic Four, his powers don’t spring from science. Spider-Man and the X-Men get their powers from genetics and nature, but Dr. Strange is the st115shroudfirst of our superheroes to dip into the well of the SUPERnatural.

The dark air of the classic battle of Good vs. Evil hangs about him like a shroud. Bank robbers and thugs will not be the concern of Dr. Strange. For one such as he, even beings from other galaxies are too mundane! Dr. Strange will fight evil at its core, in the dark and mystical world of the paranormal.

Hold on to your hats! This title is about to go where no other Marvel comic has gone before!

tos48avatarThis time, we documented some strange changes in Strange Tales. Next, we’ll check in with a hero who undertakes modifications that will have his enemies seeing red! Who is it? If you can’t stand the Suspense, come along with me next time I travel through the Marvelous Zone!

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Want to own the Doctor Strange story? Buy the Masterworks!
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One Response to STRANGE TALES #115: Where No Comic Has Gone Before

  1. nick caputo says:

    Chrissy,

    Dr. Strange is one of the most unusual and mature heroes at Marvel, and one of my favorite characters, especially under Lee and Ditko. Your question about why Doc didn’t start out with an origin has a simple answer. Steve Ditko stated that Doc came about when Stan requested he come up with a back-up for Strange Tales. Since the comic was called STRANGE Tales, he devised a supernatural character and called him Mr. Strange. Stan liked it but, since there was a MR. Fantastic, he changed it to Dr. Ditko brought the fully plotted five page story in to Stan (Ditko used to write out a panel by panel rough breakdown on separate paper) and Stan wrote the dialogue (Stan stated in an early fanzine that Dr. Strange was Ditko’s idea). This is probably how the first two stories were produced.

    Stan likely came in to plot the origin story, with input from Ditko, of course (Ditko, on his own, would often skip origin stories). This story, BTW, is pretty much the same plot as the earlier short-lived Dr. Droom, so its possible Ditko (who inked the story) noticed that weaker effort and decided he could do a better job with a mystical hero – and he – and Stan – succeeded. There is other interesting background info, but I’ll pass that on when you get to the appropriate time period.

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