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Who Is Doctor Strange? The Quirky History Of Marvel's Next Movie Star

24 August 2015, 11:30 am EDT By Ben McCool Tech Times
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Riding the NYC subway a month or so back, I heard a young guy exclaim to his friend, "Ant-Man? Seriously? That sounds like some crazy shit. Why are there so many of these comic book movies anyway?"

Intrigue/nosiness suitably perked, I tuned in to their conversation. "Well," his pal said, "They are pretty cool. That Guardians of the Galaxy thing last year? That was awesome. I didn't know it was based on a comic book...I'd never even heard of it."

This, ladies and gentleman, is yet another example of Disney striking gold by acquiring Marvel. The comic book universe boasts a veritable Golconda of dormant superheroes and stories suitable for TV and movie adaptation -- properties that are the direct result of creators brimming with enthused imagination. Writers and artists bearing a genuine passion for concocting worlds and characters. Yay inspired storytellers! 

The comic book industry continues to thrive as a breeding ground for top-notch creative talent, and it's fair to say the medium is in the midst of a golden age -- an astounding number of cool, fresh and innovative books enjoy current publication.

Comic book movies aside, mainstream Hollywood has been stuck in something of a rut. Regurgitating old ideas and "rebooting" existing material no longer satisfies cinemagoers; instead, it highlights a lack of inspiration and an apparent fear of taking creative risks.

Disney, its war chest packed with Marvel's beefy backlog of characters and stories, has made for a welcome antidote. And they're not done yet! 2016 sees yet more of its characters making big screen debuts. Not least...

Doctor Strange.

Better yet, he's played by Sherlock Holmes! No, not that one. The posh guy. English. Yeah, him.

Strange Origins

Created by artist Steve Ditko, Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange, the all-powerful sorcerer and Earth's protector from mystical menace, first graced newsstands in July 1963, appearing inside Strange Tales #110 (The Human Torch managed to sneak his way in, too). But Doc wasn't always so thoughtful when it came to utilizing his skill set...oh no.

Stephen Strange was once a brilliant neurosurgeon. Alas, a rather arrogant one. Ahead of his planet-saving escapades, Strange was interested only in bolstering his bank balance. But a car crash soon changed that. Unable to utilize his hands after the accident (they come in handy when slicing people during surgery), the doc searched far and wide for a way to restore his physical capabilities...alas, the hunt was fruitless. The wealth-lavished Doctor Strange found himself flat broke and living on the streets.

Enter Earth's Sorcerer Supreme.

After proving his worth to the Ancient One (and banishing his selfish ways of old) Stephen Strange was introduced to the mystic arts...he took to them rather well. After rigorous training, his new purpose in life was revealed: Defending the world against evil!

With its surreal visuals and increasingly peculiar storylines, Doctor Strange soon became a cult hero among college students. Roy Thomas, former Doctor Strange writer, once said, "People who read Doctor Strange thought people at Marvel must be heads (drug users, I assume) because they had had similar experiences high on mushrooms. But I don't use hallucinogens, nor do I think any artists do."

Oh, Roy. You have much to learn.

Cult status among practitioners of mind expansion aside, Doctor Strange also became a significant character among Marvel's more straightedge readers. One of the most powerful sorcerers in existence, his feats of heroism were unleashed in various ways, including (but not restricted to): The invocation of mystic entities or objects; the manipulation of the universe's ambient magical energy (I'm starting to see why stoners took such a liking to this guy); plus highly developed psychic abilities. Strange could also project bolts of energy, teleport, travel through time, maneuver between dimensions... The list goes on.

Also? He could kick ass. Serious ass. A skilled athlete and martial artist, Doctor Strange was no slouch when it came to a scuffle.

The Ditko Magic

As the 1960s progressed, Strange's adventures became more and more...well, strange. Ditko plunged the sorcerer into his own 17-issue story arc (!), filling the pages of Strange Tales #130-146.

The wacky worlds and maniacal dimensions featured within came to resemble the abstract paintings of artists like Salvador Dali, but as the '60s closed out the appeal of this new age outlandishness soon dwindled.

He appeared less frequently throughout the 1970s, and even managed to land himself (or rather, Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner, his creators at the time) in hot water. A journey back through time ended (began?) with the creation of the universe-and the enigmatic suggestion of a meeting with God.

Offending religious readers: Not recommended.

After seeing the problematic issue in print, Stan Lee ordered Englehart and Brunner to print a retraction saying it wasn't God who appeared in their story; rather, it was a god. The writer and artist-unimpressed by this-crafted a letter purportedly written by a minister in Texas. Suffice to say, the fictional cleric simply loved the story and wasn't in the slightest bit offended!

What followed wasn't exactly Marvel's proudest moment. After receiving this glowing letter of praise, Marvel elected to print Englehart and Brunner's spurious piece of "fan" mail, blowing the whole debacle wide open. The retraction? Yeah. It was dropped.

Ups And Downs

The 1980s didn't treat Strange too well, either. Some of his spells-including those designed to protect humanity from vampires and an evil serpent god-expired.

The sorcerer spent most of the next two decades as a supporting character, popping up sporadically to help superheroes in need of-or requiring protection from-magic and mysticism. Strange even went on to side with Doctor Doom, shocking several heroes with his newfound dedication to all things evil.

New Beginnings

However, the future looks bright for Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange. Along with 2016's release of the Marvel Studios-produced, Benedict Cumberbatch-starring movie, Entertainment Weekly broke news that Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo are the ultra-talented masterminds behind his new ongoing monthly book.

So which characters are set to enjoy the Marvel Studios treatment next? There's no shortage of contenders. But if it was up to me...?

Hellcow. 

A vampire cow whose real name is Bessie...? C'mon. The movie practically writes itself!

I'd also be pretty darn excited to see Asbestos Lady make her big screen bow...

But let's face it: She ain't no Hellcow.

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