It would appear that the money-printing machine we call Marvel Studios is finally locking down details for a movie about Doctor Strange. In doing so, it’s making its first flick built around the solo adventures of a C-list character. Which is a wonderful thing! As any Marvel Zombie can tell you, the Marvel universe would be exceedingly dull if we just focused on top-tier dudes like Captain America and Iron Man — and Strange is anything but dull.
Here are five basics about Doctor Stephen Strange that are likely to inform his big-screen debut.
1. He’s more shaman than superhero.
Since his 1963 debut in Strange Tales No. 110, Strange has always been Marvel’s go-to character for tales involving magic. In a way, he’s a throwback to the pre-Superman proto-superheroes of 1930s pulp strips (the most famous of which was Mandrake the Magician). He has virtually nothing in common with, say, the Hulk, or even Thor. He’s this realm’s “Sorcerer Supreme,” and therefore responsible for defending us against all threats from mystical hell dimensions. He’s constantly uttering spells, reading forbidden manuscripts, and levitating while surrounded by candles. His main weapon is a magic pendant called the Eye of Agamotto. His battle cries tend to be things like “By the darksome void where chaos reigned — by the myriad Moons of Munnopor!” (Oh, and here’s a fun fact that, for legal reasons, certainly won’t show up in the movie: When Strange was selected as the Sorcerer Supreme, the runner-up was … Doctor Doom! Always full of surprises, that Doom.)
2. His origin story is about human frailty and the blurred lines between science and magic.
The details change (this being comics and all), but the main outline has always been as follows: Strange really was a literal doctor, with a medical degree and everything, and was quite arrogant about how great a surgeon he was. But after a car accident, he lost the dexterity of his hands. Conventional medicine couldn’t heal him, so he eventually sought answers in the Far East (a little metatextually racist, but whaddaya gonna do), studied under an august master called the Ancient One, and learned to accept that he’d been too proud and mean in the past. He gained control of the dark arts, but always believes magic is just another form of science.
3. He has two core supporting characters.
There’s Clea, his lover and fellow mystic; and there’s Wong, his East Asian manservant/sidekick. Clea looks human but is, in fact, a child of the “Dark Dimension,” which is basically what it sounds like. She was originally sent by evil forces to help destroy Strange, but fell in love with him and subsequently fights at his side while also boinking him on the side. Wong comes from a long line of Chinese monks and was sent by the Ancient One to serve Strange. It’s a really racist origin story, though modern writers have found ways to make him interesting. Hopefully the movie will figure out a way to make him less offensive (if they include him at all).
4. He has two core enemies.
First and foremost, you have the delightfully named Dormammu. He’s a blustering tyrant from the aforementioned Dark Dimension. He does the stuff you’d expect such a character to do: trying to take over our dimension while yelling things like “‘Tis I who now stand ready to snuff out the brief candle of your worthless life … I, Dormammu!” His head is constantly on fire. Then there’s Baron Mordo, an egomaniacal human who also studied under the Ancient One and forever resents Strange for being more successful than him. Y’know, typical jealous-rival stuff.
5. He usually works alone, with two big exceptions.
Periodically, Strange leads a superteam called the Defenders, first introduced in 1971. Marvel originally came up with the team as a way to use a bunch of existing low-tier characters in one place: folks you’ve never heard of, such as Nighthawk, Hellcat, Gargoyle, and so on. Hulk has often been a member, as has Luke Cage (who is getting his own Marvel Studios series on Netflix). Their adventures are fun, but there’s no thrilling core idea behind the team. Then, more recently, we’ve seen Strange as part of a quasi-team called the Illuminati: a top-secret collection of the Marvel universe’s greatest minds (others include Professor Xavier, Iron Man, and Mister Fantastic) who work behind the scenes to protect humanity, often through morally questionable means. Given the copyright headache inherent in a movie depiction of these characters, don’t hold out hope for a cinematic Illuminati anytime soon.
A couple more fun facts about Doctor Strange that are probably completely irrelevant to the eventual movie:
- Back in the ‘60s, the character became a hit among stoners! In Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Ken Kesey famously talked about how much he and his cohort loved reading Strange’s exploits.
- The guys working on the Doctor Strange series in the ‘70s were constantly dropping acid! Read this amazing excerpt from Sean Howe’s indispensable Marvel Comics: The Untold Story for some truly bizarre tales about LSD’s effect on the comic.
- He was the inspiration for Dr. Orpheus, who is one of the best characters on The Venture Bros.
- He’s the only Marvel hero to make it into an iconic glam-rock song! “Mambo Sun,” the opening track on T. Rex’s legendary 1971 album Electric Warrior, features the lyric “On a mountain range/I’m Doctor Strange for you.” How romantic.