"In my younger and more vulnerable years," when I was actively seeking to build my comic book collection (as opposed to merely maintain it), I used to say that I collected in two directions at once. By that I meant that I not only collected from the present forward, but from the present back. By the time I got to college, I built my collection in three directions, including from the beginning forward. (NOTE: I included Marvel Tales and Marvel's Greatest Comics as collecting "from the beginning.") My "Doctor Strange" collection was all over the place due to multiple stops and starts.
After sharing Strange Tales, first with the Human Torch, then Nick Fury, Doctor Strange spun off into his own solo title. When that was cancelled, he returned, after a period of three years, to his own ongoing solo feature in Marvel Premiere, which eventually spun off into a second eponymous solo series. My collection at the time comprised various issues of all these series and, by the time I left college, I was just beginning to focus on his first solo series starting with issue #169. That issue is a good jumping on point, expanding as it does, on his origin story from Strange Tales #115. That's where I'm going to begin this discussion, but first I'd like to take a look at the issues I'll be skipping over.
For one thing, I'll be skipping the entire Lee/Ditko run. Blasphemy, I know, but I have a couple of reasons for doing so. First, I've already read and discussed it so many times I'm eager to get on to something else. the second reason will become obvious as I go along. But there's good news! the entire Lee/Ditko run is now available in a single MONSTER-SIZE volume. There has never been a better format in which to appreciate this classic run, not even Marvel Masterworks. Speaking of which, volume two comprises the last six Ditko issues, followed by runs by Bill Everett, Marie Severin and Dan Adkins. Stan Lee left with Strange Tales #157, and by Doctor Strange #169, Roy Thomas had joined Dan Adkins.
And that brings us up to Marvel Masterworks Doctor Strange Vol. 3
I'm confused (but I'm easily confused).
Are you starting your discussion with the first post-Lee/Ditko issue (ST 143), or the first post-Ditko issue (ST 147), or Dr. Strange 169?
I have the first 3 Masterworks, so I can join in wherever you start.
My plan is to start with Doctor Strange #169 (MMW Vol. 3) and move forward one volume at a time through (at this point) volume nine. Sorry if that wasn't clear. Recent events have put me a couple of days behind, but I plan to be ready to post about #169-179 (plus Avengers #61) any day now.
Ok thanks Jeff.
MMW DR. STRANGE Vol. 3 - #169-179 + Avengers #61:
As I mentioned above, #169 is a somewhat decompressed retelling of his origin. #170, the first all-new story since splitting into a solo title, fittingly features Nightmare, who was Dr. Strange's foe in his first appearance in Strange Tales #110. Brief digression here: I don't know if it's still true, but I know that Neil Gaiman used to be asked by fans at cons whether or not he had any interest in writing Marvel's Nightmare, so similar is that character to Gaiman's own Sandman/Dream. I don't know about the rest of you, but it's perfectly clear to me that Dream is Neil Gaiman's version of Marvel's Nightmare.
The series' penciller at this point (following Steve Ditko, Bill Everett and Marie Severin in the previous volume) is Dan Adkins, once an assistant to Wally Wood. I had a slight sense of deja vu while reading this volume, due largely to having read volume two early last year. "Common knowledge" has it that "no one can draw other-dimensional vistas like Steve Ditko." Actually, that's wrong on two counts. First of all, certain artists are adept at mimicking Ditko's magical landscapes; second, other artists, while not drawing "like" Ditko, drawn such vistas just as well but in their own styles. I said that when I read volume two and I'm still saying it now. In that respect, the saying "no one can draw other-dimensional vistas like Steve Ditko" is true; that doesn't mean they can't draw them as well.
By issue #171, Adkins decided he'd rather ink than pencil, so he recommended his protege, a newcomer named Tom Palmer, to pencil. Palmer did a serviceable if journeyman job his first time out, but by #172 Stan Lee assigned Gene Colan as the regular artist, the third artist in three issues. Colan had already done stints on Sub-Mariner and Iron Man. His style has often been described as "painting with a pencil" and is often considered difficult to embellish. Adkins was unavailable to ink, but again suggested Palmer. Although Palmer had never inked before, for some reason Stan Lee agreed.
The Colan/Palmer team went on for years, and Palmer is, IMHO, Colan's best inker. I hadn't realized that he was already inking Colan by his second job. (He would soon be coloring the feature, too.) Colan is also well-known for his photographically realistic renderings, and his locations and women immediately gave the book a distinctive look. Clea, Victoria Bentley and even Umar never looked more sultry.
The Dread Dormammu showed up on the last panel of #173 and continued on to #174, in which Dr. strange also fought Nekron. It was writer Roy Thomas who established the address of Doc's "sanctum sanctorum" as 177A Bleecker St. (between MacDougal and Sullivan), the same street address as the apartment he once shared with Bill Everett and Gary Friedrich. NOTE: the address itself is not mentioned in this issue, but the two or three pages Doc and Clea spend walking Greenwich Village depicts the neighborhood.
Colan's layouts were becoming increasingly experimental during this period. Stan encouraged his artists to emulate Jim Steranko and, with #175, that influence (as well as Will Eisner and film noir) is evident. Perhaps such experimental layouts were confusing to young readers, which Marvel still relied on to survive. In any case, Doctor Stange was falling in circulation, and we'll see some course corrections in the issues just ahead. #175 also introduced the threat of the Sons of Satannish, as well as a former colleague of Dr. Strange when he was a surgeon, Dr. Benton. Over the course of the next few issues, Dr. Benton is insistent that Strange join his practice as a consultant.
#176 sees the title change from "Doctor" to "Dr." and the logo itself become "spookier" looking. (This is the first of the changes I mentioned meant to boost circulation.) the conflict against the Sons of Satannish continues, and #177 sees the debut of Srtange's new "super-hero" look (the second of the changes). I never liked this look (see above), nor have I ever heard of anyone who preferred it, so if you did, please chime in. I've read these stories before, but I had completely forgotten that the leader of the cult is revealed as none other than [SPOILER] Dr. Benton! [END SPOILER] He dies of a heart attack in this story, but not before completing the spell of "Fire & Ice" which summons, from Norse mythology, the demons Ymir and Surtur.
In #178, Strange seeks the help of Victoria Bentley and ends up allied with the Black Knight as well. (In a nice little bit of continuity, the two saw each other at the wedding of Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne but were not formally introduced.) They also must put down Tiboro before dealing with the real threat of the Ice and Fire Giants. In the third attempt to boost circulation, the story crosses over into the better-selling Avengers #61, where the threat is put down. (Oddly, Thor was not on hand, nor was there a footnote explaining his whereabouts.)
That's a good point to end the volume. #179 was a reprint of Spider-Man Annual #2 (because, apparantly, "genial Gene Colan got the flu bug"), but only the cover (by Barry "Not-Yet-Windsor Smith) was reprinted in MMW v3. (You'll have to consult MMW Spidey v3 or the Ditko Spider-Man omnibus for that one.)
In 1969 Dr. Strange was, along with Silver Surfer, the epitome of Marvel cosmic psychedelia, and issue #180, featuring Nightmare and Eternity, is a prime example. Gene Colan's original cover was lost in the mail, but the published one (of a Colan Doc, a Ditko Eternity and an aerial photo of NYC), cobbled together at the last minute by Marvel's production man Sol Brodsky, was almost as good. (The Masterworks edition presents both versions for comparison.) After an initial skirmish against Nightmare in a dream, the action shifts to Doc and Clea on a date in Times Square on New Year's Eve when a giant pterosaur crashes into the Allied chemical Building.
Clea this issue is modeled after singer Nancy Sinatra, BTW. [ASIDE: How does one pronounce her name, anyway? when I was very young, I used to say CLEE; when I was slightly older, I changed to CLEE-a; now it stikes me that it might be CLAY-a.] While walking Times Square, Doc interracts with the writer Tom Wolfe (a favorite of Roy Thomas). I should have mentioned last time that, inspired by Colan's realistic pencils, Thomas began scripting Wong in a much more realistic fashion; he continues to do so in this volume. Colan also has begun using a multitude of full-page panels in these issues.
The conflict spills over into #181, and in #182 the Juggernaut is thrown into the mix. One of my earliest comics was Hulk #172 featuring Juggy. Flshbacks in that issue referred to Dr. Strange #182, and I was happy to read that story at last when I acquired it as a backissue in college. In this issue, Dr. Strange is granted the "secret identity" of "Stephen Sanders" by Eternity. It is also this issue which establishes the address of Doc's sanctum sancorum as 177A Bleecker Street.
In #183, Thomas launches a storyline based on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness" (with a bit of "The Call of Cthulhu" thrown in for good measure), elements of which were also incorporated into All-Star Comics #55. (Remember that when i get to Marvel Premiere #5-8 in this discussion.) Unfortunately, Dr. Strange was cancelled during the production of this issue, and the story of "The Undying Ones" was continued in other titles (Sub-Mariner #22 and Hulk #126), a common practice in those days.
That's only the first half of MMW v4, but it's a natural break point.
Marvel Feature #1; Marvel Premiere #3-8:
20 months after Hulk #26, Dr. Strange next appears in Marvel Feature #1, the first appearance of the Defenders. the Defenders appeared in #1-3, but the first issue also had a short story, "The Return" by Roy Thomas and Don Heck, in which Stephen "Sanders" returns to his Sanctum Sanctorum on Bleecker St. only to find it occupied by Wong and, apparently, himself in his "super-hero" togs. the real Dr. Strange is out of practice but calls on the Ancient One to defeat the impostor, his old foe Baron Mordo.
Another seven months pass and, two and a half years since the last issue of his previous solo series, he is again awarded an ongoing feature in Marvel Premiere #3. The first time I read this story it was one of those Fireside Press trade paperbacks, Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts, published in 1979. I would have been 15 years old. It includes eight stories from Strange Tales, Spider-Man Annual #2 and Marvel Premiere #3. It cost $3.95. Ah, those were the days!
The plot and art of "While the World Spins Mad!" is by Barry "Not-Yet-Windsor" Smith, script by Stan Lee. It featured Nightmare and had a nice little twist ending. I have read Stan Lee's assessment of the story and Roy Thomas's, but I have heard Barry Smith was disappointed that Lee didn't follow the plot his pencils told. I'm not certain where I read that (Back Issue magazine, maybe?), but I remember looking at the art after reading his comments and seeing where he was coming from. Scripting against the artist's intent was not an unusual thing for Stan Lee to have done. Sometimes (as in the origin story of the Red Skull from Tales of Suspense) it enhances the story; other times (as in the mid '70s Silver Surfer graphic novel by Lee & Kirby) it does not. In any case, it was Stan Lee's last Dr. Strange story.
Things were changing behind-the-scenes at Marvel. Stan had been promoted to president and publisher, and Roy to editor-in-chief. Thomas was to have taken over the feature with #4, but his new duties kept from doing more than the plot, and he gave it to Archie Goodwin to script. Barry Smith again did the layouts, finished by Frank Brunner. Harking back to his earlier tale of the Undying Ones, Thomas crafted crafted another Lovcraftian tale for #4 (but one using characters licensed from the Robert E. Howard estate). The results weren't very much like HPL or REH, and it ran through #10.
Gardner Fox took over as writer for the next four issues but, according to Thomas, "his style of writing, honed in a different age and place, wasn't quite right for Marvel. He was aware if it, and would depart Marvel (and mostly comics) very shortly." The art in those issues was by: #5 - Sam Kweskin (as Irv Wesley) and don Perlin; #6 - Frank Brunner and Sal Buscema; #7 - P. Craig Russell; #8 - Jim Starlin. That's an intriguing line-up, but I was accumulating these stories as backissues when I was in college and I was bored to tears. I was bored to tears reading them again earlier today. the volume ends with Doc stranded on a dead planet in another dimension.
I spoke of a series of "gaps" in my overall "Dr. Strange" collection, and Marvel Premiere #9-14 is one of them. I did know then (as I know know) that Englehart and Brunner start their classic run in the very next issue, but I didn't care. Besides, I already knew how this story ends.
The first comic I ever purchased featuring Dr. Strange as a solo star was Marvel Premiere #10, and while I missed the next several issues, I loved it for both Englehart's writing and Brunner's stunning artwork.
The central twist of "While the World Spins Mad!" was reused from "The World Beyond" in Strange Tales #122. I don't mean this as a slam: I find such things interesting.
I just re-read Strange Tales #122 and, yes, there are some similarities. In the ST story, Doc simply falls asleep, then hypnotizes Nightmare into restoring his power by supposedly summoning the "Gulgol"; in the MP story, Doc narrowly avoids getting hit by an oncoming vehicle, then discovers later he was actually and is trapped in Nightmare's realm. He then calls on the Ancient One for assistance. The art suggests more detail. I wish I could remember where I read BWS's complaint. If it was Back Issue magazine, those aren't easy for me to get to, plus I'm not even certain that's where I read it.
And Fred, Marvel Premiere #10 was a seminal story for me, too. I should get to it in my next post, but I haven't yet decided whether to move on to another volume of MMW Doctor Strange right away or to read something else first.