With a casting announcement imminent (and Joaquin Phoenix reportedly the front-runner for the lead) for Marvel's Phase Three Doctor Strange film, let's take a stroll through the "Socerer Supreme's" history in comic books and spotlight some stories that could work as a cinematic introduction for the character.
First introduced by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in Strange Tales #110 in 1963, Doctor Strange has sporadically appeared in his own solo series over the past 50 years while also enjoying some success as part of the Defenders and Avengers superteams. In addition to Lee and Ditko, a number of legendary creators have worked on Strange stories since his debut, including Roger Stern, Steve Englehart, Brian K. Vaughan, Mark Waid, J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen and Gene Colan.
Strange’s mystical/magical powerset makes the character quite unique within the Marvel Universe, and it will be intriguing to see how his abilities are depicted cinematically. Until we do, here are five Doctor Strange stories that would be great (and legally feasible) to see on the big screen.
5. Origin Story (Strange Tales #115)
Yes, yes, Marvel reportedly isn't going to do origin stories anymore, and most moviegoers are sick and tired of exposition-heavy films, but please keep in mind that A) they’re a necessary evil as the vast majority of people who are seeing a Doctor Strange movie likely never read a comic he’s been in and B) of all of Marvel’s iconic Silver Age introductions, Strange has one of the more compelling origin stories.
Beyond that, while moviegoers have been introduced to heroes who acquired powers via radiation, technology and super serums, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a magic-free zone, so Strange's powerset does require some explanation. Fortunately, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko wrote a story in Strange Tales #115 that could easily be adapted panel for panel. The comic tells the story of Stephen Strange, an arrogant, but extraordinarily talented surgeon, whose career is seemingly destroyed after a car accident shatters the bones in his hands. Strange set outs to find a cure for his condition to no avail, and is too proud to take a simple teaching job. His journey takes him to the Himalayans when he meets the mystical Ancient One. The old man initially refuses to help Strange, but reconsiders when Stephen discovers the Ancient One’s apprentice, Baron Mordo, is plotting to kill his teacher. Once Strange demonstrates he is capable of acting altruistically, his education as the Sorcerer Supreme begins.
While Mordo isn’t necessarily Strange’s mightiest foe, he is his most persistent one, so one would think he’s going to figure into the first movie in some fashion.
4. “End Times” (New Avengers vol. 2 #31-34)
With Marvel Studios president Kevin Seige recently saying that he believes Doctor Strange will probably be interacting with the Avengers in addition to his own solo cinematic feature, that leads to some to speculate about whether or not a Strange-centric Avengers comic book arc could translate to the big screen. That could also lead to a film adaptation involving the other superteam Strange belonged to, the Defenders. But potential legal issues concerning Marvel’s ownership of Defender's teammates Namor and Silver Surfer will likely make that project more complicated than it needs to be.
So back to Strange and the Avengers. One direction Marvel can go is an adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis’s final arc on New Avengers. "End Times" showcases Strange, who at that point is now longer the Sorcerer Supreme. Still, he is staked with saving his teammates from Brother Voodoo, Daniel Drumm (twin brother of the original Voodoo, Jericho Drumm, who sacrificed himself in an earlier New Avengers storyline).
“End Times” might not be deep enough for an entire two-plus hour movie to be centered around it, but elements of it could certainly be mined for a lengthy sequence in a future Avengers movie, as moviegoers would get to see Strange working his magic and saving “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” in the process.
3. “The Montesi Formula” (Doctor Strange #60-62)
The hiring of horror-flick veteran Scott Derrickson as the director for Doctor Strange raises the specter that the film may focus more on the macabre than previous Marvel Studios offerings. If that’s the case, then perhaps Marvel will really throw everyone for loop and give us a movie where Doctor Strange battles Dracula (as depicted in this three part arc by Roger Stern and Dan Green).
Not only would a “Montesi Formula” adaptation weave Dracula into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it would also reintroduce people to vampire hunter Blade (who last appeared in film-form in 2004’s Blade Trinity).
Seeing this story as part of the MCU is probably a long shot, as it’s a bit been there/done that for Marvel in terms of Dracula and Blade. But from a comic book perspective, “The Montesi Formula” is an excellent read that would tonally be up Derrickson’s ally, while also giving moviegoers a sense of the real dark side of the mystical arts.
2. The Oath
This 2006-07 miniseries by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin (with inks by Alvaro Lopez) ultimately functioned as a way to get Strange on the New Avengers. But on its own, it is one of the most compelling Strange stories to be published over the past 10 years and should be strongly considered as a source of inspiration for a Doctor Strange film.
In true Vaughan fashion, The Oath is just filled with wonderful character moments involving Strange and his long-time assistant Wong, who is dying from cancer. It also offers a fun spin on the Night Nurse character, who is depicted as being an underground source of health care for Marvel’s superhero population. The story kicks off with Strange bring targeted by an unknown assassin after he stumbles upon a magical panacea that will cure everyone of everything.
As for The Oath’s larger themes, the miniseries proves to be relevant in how it examines how the medical profession has been seemingly compromised by the pharmaceutical industry. Maybe it's a tad too political for Marvel Studios, but undoubtedly one of the best Strange storylines out there.
1. “The Eternal Saga” (Strange Tales #130-146)
In truth (or in this case “Eternity”) suggesting these four other stories as potential cinematic adaptations is a futile effort, since it’s probably a very safe bet that when it comes to a Doctor Strange movie, the buck stops with “The Eternal Saga.”0comments
This 17-part storyline (keep in mind, that in the early 60s, Doctor Strange stories were about 11 pages in length since he was sharing Strange Tales space with the Human Torch and later Nick Fury), is undoubtedly Steve Ditko’s magnum opus of weird. In this storyline, Strange must do battle with Baron Mordo and his teacher (and Strange’s greatest villain), the flame-headed Dormammu. Over the course of this epic, Ditko introduces the comic book world to Eternity, a sentient being that personified the universe whose silhouette is filled with a visualization of the cosmos, and Strange’s long-time assistant Clea.
But for cinematic purposes, “The Eternity Saga” is all about the striking battle sequences between Strange and Dormammu over in the villain’s realm, the Dark Dimension. A flame-headed dark magician that personifies evil should be a very easy concept for director Scott Derrickson to latch onto, plus it would seem like an absolutely wasted opportunity to bring Doctor Strange to the big screen and not pit him against his arch-nemesis.