By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth! So you just saw Doctor Strange and loved it. Maybe it was your first real exposure to Marvel’s Sorceror Supreme and now you’re eager for more. To that end we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best Doctor Strange comics (actually, one of them’s an animated film, not a comic) to check out after you’ve seen the movie.
Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1 (1960s / collection, 2015)
The original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run of Strange Tales, where Doctor Strange first appeared, is as good a place to start as any. Granted, new readers who haven’t read a lot of Silver or Golden Age comics may have some trouble at first getting used to the simpler style of plotting and characterization (by today’s standards). Comics at that time were, after all, written primarily for a juvenile audience. But if you can appreciate the Silver Age aesthetic on its own terms, this is a tremendous collection of undeniably classic stories that’s worth at least a look. It’s worth it alone to comb through these pages and see how Steve Ditko laid down the visual groundwork for what would become an iconic symbol of the counterculture/hippie era.
Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme (2007)
For my money, this animated film is the definitive telling of Doctor Strange’s origin. Whereas the 2016 live action film takes his initial arrogance and coldness for granted, here we see why Stephen became that way and, more importantly, that he was not always that way. Aside from the character’s basic biographical facts, which remain the same, this movie tells quite a different story than the one told in the MCU film. In my opinion, it is actually a better story (not that I disliked the movie or anything). Voice talents include Bryce Johnson, Michael Yama, Paul Nakauchi and Tara Strong. If you were bothered by what you felt to be whitewashing of the cast in the MCU film, then make a point of supporting this animated version. It’s got two Asian Americans playing major roles.
Along with the animated movie discussed above, this is my other favorite rendition of the Strange origin. Writers J. Michael Straczynski and Samm Barnes take some liberties with the Lee/Ditko origin but the essence of the character, which is what really matters, shines through. And speaking of shine, Brandon Peterson’s art does just that. In this book we see Strange change from a young, idealistic medical student into a jaded, greedy surgeon, and then finally being transformed once again into a compassionate wielder of the mystic arts. But whereas I found Strange’s transformation in the film a bit unconvincing, here it is completely believable. There’s also a big reveal late in the story that makes you want to go back to look for the clues that were already given.
Doctor Strange: Season One (2012)
While this book also contains bits and pieces of Strange’s origin, it is not really an origin story per se. Rather, it follows Strange and his servant-to-be Wong on their first big adventure together. Writer Greg Pak lays on the banter on a bit thick at times, almost too thick for my tastes, and the book kind of gets off to a slow start, but once it hits its stride it is excellent. Emma Rios’ art here is great in the dialogue scenes and close ups, in which subtle emotional nuances are revealed in her lines. Her work in this book is less effective in the action scenes, though, which tend to be visually chaotic and confusing. Still, all in all, this is a solid book to read if you’ve seen the movie and want more of Strange.
Doctor Strange: The Oath (2007)
Never have Doctor Strange and his servant Wong’s devotion to each other been more apparent than in this book in which Strange stops at nothing to find a cure for a grave illness that threatens Wong’s life. Part mystery, part conspiracy thriller, and part bromance, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s The Oath shows the Master of the Mystic Arts at his most confident, determined best. In particular, if you love to hate Big Pharma like I do, you’ll get some nice vicarious satisfaction. This is also one of the most straightforward and least psychedelically weird stories on this list. But it is almost universally acclaimed as being one of the absolute best Doctor Strange comics. I fully agree.
Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment (1989)
Along with Magneto, Doctor Doom is one of the most complex and compelling supervillains in the Marvel universe. Triumph & Torment shows him at his most complex and compelling. When Doom asks Strange to help him free his mother’s soul from Hades where it is being held captive by Mephisto, Strange is moved by Doom’s show of humanity despite being well aware of what the Latverian dictator is capable of. The two then share an uneasy, fragile alliance that is never less than believable due to Roger Stern’s splendid writing. And the machinations the unlikely duo employ in their nearly impossible mission will have you chuckling with delight. If you’re a fan of Hellboy, here’s where you can see some of Mike Mignola’s best work before he went on to create the character he’s now famous for. This is a marvelous book.
Defenders: Indefensible (2005)
One of the interesting—and for some readers, frustrating—qualities about comics is that the tone within the same comic universe can vary drastically depending on the writer, the title, and even the particular story arc. This is, in my opinion, mostly a good thing as readers get to see different sides to characters’ personalities that they otherwise might not be able to if the tone had to remain consistent. One delightful case in point, The Defenders: Indefensible by writers Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis and artist Kevin Maguire. While Marvel has become known for injecting a fair degree of humor in its books, especially nowadays, Indefensible dances the line between humor and all out farce. The characters and their quirks—Strange’s penchant for melodrama, Namor’s abrasiveness, the Silver Surfer’s brooding, and the Hulk’s…well, Hulkness—are almost presented in caricature. The Surfer, in particular, is a riot. Nowhere else will you see this powerful character so utterly and hilariously useless, even when his friends are in mortal danger.
Doctor Strange: A Separate Reality (1974)
Doctor Strange has always has been one of the weirdest characters in the Marvel universe (not because he himself is weird but the world he inhabits certainly is). But the movie, understandably aiming for mainstream success, doesn’t exploit this capacity for weirdness as much as it could. Well, if you ever want to see just how weird Doctor Strange can get, this is the book. It reads like an acid trip gone feverishly bad (I would not recommend reading it while high unless you’re looking for a good freakout session), and the influence of the 60-70’s drug culture is readily apparent. “You don’t have to take drugs to write fantasy,” writer Steve Englehart was once quoted as saying, but I can’t help but wonder if he took just a wee bit while penning this one. Another thing that makes this book a must is the gorgeous art by one of the best artists to work on a Doctor Strange comic, Frank Brunner.
Doctor Strange: Way of the Weird (2016)
The good doctor has certainly found himself in many a dire situation during his career, but the threat he faces here is particularly insidious because it seeks to eradicate not just him but all of magic itself throughout all of the dimensions. Way of the Weird has Strange teaming up with other powerful magic users of the Marvel universe like Scarlet Witch and Magik of the X-Men, and yet even their combined talents seem to be no match here for the adversary who seeks to destroy them. Writer Jason Aaron makes the situation feel genuinely grim and you’ll wonder how Strange will be able to get himself and his friends out of this one. Chris Bachalo’s art can be a bit cartoony, at times, for my tastes but I quite liked it here. After you’ve read this volume do continue and read the one that follows, The Last Days of Magic, ’cause that’s when it really gets crazy.
New Avengers: Illuminati (2008)
This last book is kind of an off-the-wall choice for this list because Doctor Strange’s role isn’t all that prominent in it. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see him as part of this most unconventional of superhero teams, the Illuminati. “Illuminati” is maybe the most overused word in conspiracy theory lore, but this is like the opposite of a covert society pulling strings to oppress humanity. The Illuminati here—comprised of Reed Richards, Iron Man, Professor X, Namor, Black Bolt and Doctor Strange—meet in secret, just like their conspiracy theory counterparts, but their motives are to protect, not oppress. This miniseries was more of a series of one shots than a single story arc, and for this reason the quality’s a bit inconsistent. But it’s still a cool idea mostly executed well. Brian Michael Bendis’ dialogue, which in some books can take on an annoyingly David Mamet-esque quality at times, is done well here and the art by Jim Cheung is spectacular. If you like this book, also check out the prelude comic which shows how this team got together as well as Jonathan Hickman’s run on New Avengers (2014) which features the Illuminati in a story that is arguably more compelling but also, unfortunately, more confusing.
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