Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange volume 1
Writer: Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Art: Steve Ditko
FC, 270 pgs
$80.00 CAN / $49.99 US
Jack Kirby and Stan Lee are notorious for creating the Marvel Universe, controversy aside. Together, this writer and artist team brought Earth’s Mightiest Heroes under one umbrella. They reinvented Thunder Gods, envisioned science adventurers, and put some of the weirdest and most recognizable superheroes (and villains!) on newsprint paper. Though each comic was a triumph, and every story they told a lasting memory, there was a third mind that solidified Marvel’s dominance over the superhero genre. His name was Steve Ditko. Best known for illustrating and co-creating Spider-Man, the most dynamic and greatest good guy to spawn from the Silver Age of comic books, Ditko also created the eminent Doctor Strange.
This shiny Marvel Masterworks hardcover collects partial issues of Strange Tales #110, 111, 114-141, covering the humble beginnings, overall conception, and complete development of Marvel’s in-house sorcerer, Dr. Strange.
Before Stephen Strange suffered neurological damage from a car accident, he was an egotistical surgeon at the top of his career. Having lost his ability to perform the technical procedures that gave his life meaning, he sought out a man called The Ancient One in hopes that this wizard could heal his medical ailment. Instead of finding the cure, his search led him to greater opportunities. Stephen Strange became an apprentice to the great magician, who taught him the almost forgotten secrets that make sorcery possible. Dr. Strange pledged he would help any person in need with his newly acquired black magic powers, and in a short time, ascended to Sorcerer Supreme.
Steve Ditko has always been an artist’s artist, but with Doctor Strange, Ditko tapped into a psychedelic subconscious unseen in comic books. His imagination knew no bounds with this title, as Strange’s adventures crossed into surreal dimensions, essentially escaping the trappings of the basic hero/villain confrontation. This hardcover reprints the fibrous work that launched Dr. Strange to the pop-culture forefront. Due to the era in which Dr. Strange was conceived, Ditko’s drawings quickly became deep-rooted in hippie culture. Some critics believed Dr. Strange meeting super-powered denizens from dimensions could only occur thanks to experimentation with sensory altering drugs. With Ditko, this wasn’t the case. The worlds came from Ditko’s own mind. His perceptions of the universe came to him without the needed help of hallucinatory crutches. The weird and oddball dimensions showcased the truly bizarre draftsmanship of Steve Ditko, which hypnotized readers. Ditko’s eerie settings and the masterful depictions of wizards flinging spells at one another opened up new movements of superhero innovation.
Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange volume one covers the Sorcerer Supreme’s origins, but also introduces many main players in Marvel’s magical kingdom. The epic battle between Dr. Strange and the dreaded Dormammu (with his human puppet, Baron Mordo, the Ancient One’s former pupil) takes place within these pages. Dormammu’s life quest to squash Dr. Strange (the only human who stands in this evil dictator’s way of becoming the overlord of all dimensions) borders genius. Eternity also makes its first appearance in this volume, a concept that breathes life into ideas almost too big for comic books.
I’m drawn to the stories of yesterday as more and more modern comics disappoint me. A few glances at Steve Ditko’s art should get any comics connoisseur’s blood going. But it’s more than the style, design, and artistry of Ditko that makes this handsome hardcover a must read for comic fans, it’s how he runs with the concepts and paces out one of Marvel’s greatest adventures. While Stan Lee is credited for writing this series of strips, it’s Ditko who deserves all the credit. Without Ditko, there is no Dr. Strange. (Dana Tillusz)