"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
#19: After Englehart's abrupt departure, Dr. Strange immediately reverts to bi-monthly status. Marv Wolfman became the new writer (and Alfredo Alcala the guest artist), perhaps because of the recent Dr. Strange/ Dracula crossover. It was not uncommon in those days for a title to be reassigned to a writer who had no idea the direction the previous writer had planned to resolve the conflict,. Wolfman did an admirable job tying up Englehart's storyline, but obviously not in the way Englehart would have done it. Englehart was working on something which would tie to the American Bi-Centennial, but Wolfman chose a different path. As it stands, I deem Jack Kirby's "Mad Bomb" storyline to be Marvel's definitive Bi-Centennial epic.
Wolfman's story focused more on Clea's infatuation with Ben Franklin. Also, he reintroduced the now-one-with-the-universe Ancient One. Obviously, I was mistaken in my impression that once he was dead he was gone for good. It's something like when Obi Kenobi was killed in Star Wars, yet still made cameo appearances in the next two films. In this case, the ancient One demotes Dr. strange from "Sorceror Supreme" to "Master of the Mystic Arts" because reasons. Is this also when Doc lost his immortality? Perhaps. (It's kind of a Mopee.) Ahead...
#20 - Marv Wolfman / Rudy Nebres
Annual #1 - P. Craig Russell
#21 - (reprint)
#22 - Marv Wolfman / Rudy Nebres
#20: This is really the "first" Wolfman issue as #19 was spent tying up Englehart's plot threads. Wolfman continues the threat of Xander, actually introduced in #19. An amnesiac Clea runs afoul of the law. the story continues in the first annual.
ANNUAL #1: Marv Wolfman is credited with co-plot and script despite this obviously being a P. Craig Russell story. A few pages at the beginning which serve as a bridge from #20 obviously account for the "co-plot" credit. Art-wise, it is the most distinctive since Barry Smith... perhaps since Ditko himself. the story takes place on "Phasewolrd" and involves the sisters Lectra and Phaydra. If "no one can draw other dimensions like Ditko," no one can draw them like P. Craig Russell, either.
#21-22: The cover of #22 illustrates what will be the contents of #23 but is, as I mentioned above, a reprint. #23 reunites Doc with Clea and resolves that sub-plot, plus foreshadows Apalla, Queen of the Sun. Thus, although Marv Wolfman will write one additional issue, the brief, transitional run of Wolfman and Nebres, as well as MMW v6, comes to an end.
MMW v7 (#23-37): As I indicated in the initial post to this thread, when I abandoned actively collecting/accumulating backissues, I was left with several holes in my Doctor Strange collection. Consequently, I am reading many of the issues in this volume for the first time, but I am discovering that many of the issues in this collection I wouldn't have cared for all that much had I acquired them years ago. I have concluded that I have an innate sense of what I will like.
this volume is largely (but by no means entirely) representative of the work of writer Roger Stern and artist Tom Sutton, but it also includes the work of a half-dozen editors, five writers and over a dozen (!) artists. for example, Jim Starlin illustrated one (written by Marv Wolfman), wrote two (illustrated by Al Milgrom) and wrote and illustrated another. I'm a big Starlin fan but I've never read these before, nor do I feel I've missed out on anything. I'm going to have to give up my phrase "Only the Ancient One dies forever!" (a replacement for "Only Bucky dies forever!") because he "returns" here for a three-issue run.
The most "Marvel Universe" issue in this collection (one of the few I did buy decades ago) is #29, which features Doc's fellow Defender Nighthawk. This particular issue touches on Avengers, Defenders and Daredevil continuity (including the Black Knight and Thanos). Stern's script calls for the Beast to appear in three panels, but Sutton drew the pre-Amazing Adventures (i.e., non-furry) version. This is odd because Tom Sutton himself drew the story in which Hank McCoy transformed. According to Stern's introduction, George Perez happened to be in the Marvel bullpen when the penciled pages arrived, and he simply erased Sutton's figures and redrew them. (You could probably win a few bar bets with this information concerning the first Stern/Perez collaboration the next time you're at ComiCon.)
Three other issues I bought in the "long, long ago" are #35-37, all written by Roger Stern, #35 drawn by Tom Sutton, #36-37 by Gene Colan. I originally bought these to follow the story of the Black Knight, but not much happens apart from the possession of his shattered stone remains are passed from the Avengers back to Dr. Strange.* Interestingly, Roger Stern incorporated two Gardner Fox characters (from Chamber of Chills #3-4) into this three-part story. Fortunately, MMW editor Cory Sedlmeier saw fit to include these stories in the volume or I never would have been able to read them.
*Honestly, I never really thought much of of these three stories, but now I know that Stern not only advanced the story of the Black Knight, but also tied up a long-running plot-thread form Dr. Strange and incorporated plot elements from two Gardner Fox short stories. Plus it's on glossy paper stock!
Re. "The Girl Who Cast No Shadow", Fox had used the missing shadow element previously in Showcase #61, featuring the Spectre.
The statue of the demon was perhaps inspired by the statue of Pazuzu from The Exorcist. But it would have to be the book rather than the film, as Chamber of Chills #3 predated the latter by a year.
Famous stories involving missing shadows include the 1814 novella Peter Schlemihl and the opera Die Frau ohne Schatten.
OLD BUSINESS: Marvel Premiere #3:
"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?)"
Comic Book Artist, actually (issue #2 to be precise). In response to the question "Did you collaborate with Stan for [Marvel Premiere #3] or did he dialogue your story after you completed the pencils"? Barry Windsor-Smith replied, "No, 'collaborate' isn't the word. No only did Stan dialogue the story after I had created it but, mervel of marvels, he ignored my plot and wrote another story entirely over my staging. Remarkable feat, actually. It wasn't until many years later that I realized that Stan's grafted-on title 'As the World Spins Madly' was a spin (as it were) on the tile of a daytime soap opera. I've always hated that sort of thing, y'know, where some ass-wipe comics writer lifts the title of a film or a famous novel thinking he's being cool or allusory to some other art form, y'know. That sort of stuff is so immature and, wouldn't cha know it? Stan pulled it on me and I didn't even know it at the time."
I remembered that as being more explicit, but there ya have it.
MMW v8 (#38-46 + Man-Thing #4, What If? #18 & stories from Defenders #53 and Marvel Fanfare #5):
Seven of the eight Doctor Strange comics in this volume were by Chris Claremont and Gene Colan. Honestly, I found the volumes seven and eight to be something of a slog. Oftentimes I will find a POV character and, in this case, Doc's personal assistant. Sara Wolfe, is introduced in #38. Trivia: Wong is revealed to be the son of Hamir the Hermit. (I don't think that's been established before.) Michael Golden provides a couple of nice covers and one interior story. The five-page back-up from Defenders #53 introduces Nicodemus, and the story from Marvel Fanfare #5 is its sequel. The Fanfare story is presented here out of publication order, but I approve of its placement. It was originally intended for an issue of Dr. Strange but, by the time of its publication, it was no longer in continuity.
I said the last two volumes were "a slog." The highlight of v8 was the five-page back-up story (by Roger Sterna and Michael Golden) from #46, and first two pages of Marvel Fanfare #5. For this entire series, Doctor Strange has treated Clea like $#!t. For this entire series, Doc has treated Clea as a sex object. Period. That's okay, as long as both partners are on the same page. ("I used her, she used me, neither one cared; we were gettin' our share.") But Doc's treatment of Clea over the course of this entire series is as if the writers planned it that way. But speaking as someone who has been on both sides of the equation, such relationships never work out in the long run.
The most overtly sexual scenes were from #1, the back-up from #46 and those two pages I mentioned from Marvel Fanfare #5. The sexual subtext of #46 is obvious: Clea is horny and Stephen is not. In Fanfare #5 she is even hornier, but manages to get him in the mood. I did not pick up on this subtext when I read #1 for the first time (reprinted in the "Special Edition" in 1983), nor did I even as recently as my Marvel Fanfare discussion in November 2019. But in the context of the entire series, it is obvious, if albeit largely unintentional. (Note: I don't think it was unintentional on Roger Stern's part, as I will discuss further when I deal with v9.)
I'm going to take a little break here to cleanse my mental palette. I don't think seven pages is enough to recommend an entire volume, but v9 is worth waiting for, trust me. Before I get to that, though...
NEXT: A different perspective.
My favorite backissue guide is Fantaco's Chronicles Series Annual #1, published in 1983. To this day it remains my go-to source for researching backissue content. (There haven't been any good comics published since 1983, have there?) Here's what it has to say about the Doctor Strange series currently under discussion.
"Ever since 1973, the character of Doctor Strange has been virtually unrecognizable from that of the man portrayed in the early '60s Strange Tales stories. Whereas he was really nothing more than a super-hero functioning in magical dimensions then, he has graduated since to become the truly eldritch and universal occultist he is now. This has allowed for some monumental concepts and extremely abstract ideas to be embraced within the plots. Although it requires the reader to utilize much thought in order to fully grasp all therein, the series is by no means to everybody's liking; the writer has so few limitations on what he can do that the reader has little chance for speculating or feeling any tension as literally anything could happen in the next few pages or issues. I can virtually guarantee that, if you like this stuff, you'll like at least 80% of the series and, if not, you'll dislike nearly all of it."
I agree with that assessment as, so far, I have been ambivalent toward nearly 100% of it.
MMW v9 (#47-57 + Marvel Fanfare #6):
This volume is written almost entirely by Roger Stern (except for one 17-page inventory story) and drawn largely by Marshall Rogers (six of twelve issues). I kind of "lucked on" to becoming a Roger Stern fan because he just happened to write all three of the titles I had collected for three years via subscription (Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Avengers; soon to add Amazing Spider-Man).
For three years I collected three titles via subscription. When those subscriptions ran out, I ventured into a comis book shop for the first time. The way I remember it, I bought one issue of everything (i.e., all Marvels and some DCs). The "first" issue of Doctor Strange I bought was #57, but I soon acquired backissues as far back as #48, "Beginning a New Era of Greatness!"
Remember that Marvel house ad from February 1981 proclaiming the new Doctor Strange creative team of Roger Stern and Frank Miller? It never happened. It was supposed to have started in #46, but Frank Miller, who had already been drawing Daredevil, started writing with #168, so a fill-in was slotted in for that issue.
Stern likes to write to his artist's strengths, and #47 was written with Frank Miller in mind. Then Daredevil went monthly, and #47 was reassigned to Gene Colan. #48 was written with Gene Colan in mind, but when he got busy with Avengers, Doctor Strange was assigned to Marshall Rogers, an artist who could give Steve ditko a run for his money as far as extradimensional realms are concerned. This volume comprises the best of this series 81-issue run. That is not opinion, that is fact.*
*(Okay, it's opinion, but I happen to consider it an informed one.)
#47: MMW v9 begins with the first issue of Roger Stern's run as writer. As I mentioned above, it was plotted with Frank Miller in mind as artist, but he and Gene Colan do have complementary styles (or that that just because they are both associated with Daredevil?). If they ever make a Dr. Strange movie they should cast Sara Tomko (Resident Alien's Asta Twelvetrees) as Sara Wolfe. EDIT: I just remembered they did make a Dr. Strange movie, but Sara Wolfe wasn't in it.
#48: Roger Stern wrote Brother Voodoo into the plot for Gene Colan (who had penciled his series in Strange Tales) to draw, but Marshall Rogers signed on for six issues at this point. [For those of you who might want to see those Colan issues of Strange Tales featuring Brother Voodoo, a Marvel Masterworks edition has been solicited for May release.] Luckily, Rogers could draw anything from the Howling Commandoes to the Fantastic Four, as wee shall see.
Marshall Rogers loved using color holds. In his introduction to this volume, Roger Stern explains the technique: "Nowadays, with computer separation, it's a much simpler matter to convert black line-work to color only--to quite literally, hold the art in one or more colors. But when we were working on Dr. Strange, the only was to hold that art solely in color was to pencil and ink those images on a separate page... and hope that the separators and printers got everything lined up properly.
"Sometimes, things weren't lined up, or a color hold would go missing. and since Marshall was using color holds to depict dimensional portals--and, occasionally, astral forms--a missing color hold would also be a missing plot point." Also, the printing quality of the day was generally pretty muddy because of the paper stock. This Masterworks edition is you first chance to see Rogers' artwork as it was intended to look.
This issue also introduces a new love interest for Doc, Morgana Blessing. (More on her later.)
#49: Last issue Doc met Morgana (briefly) during a bank robbery, but this issue introduces her properly. for whatever reason, she was able to see him in his astral form, and that's a mystery he intends to solve. This issue also features Doc and Clea at their sexiest since the Englehart/Brunner era (issue #1, I believe it was). That's soon to change, though. A delegation from Clea's home dimension arrives to tell clea that Dormammu has disappeared and they would like Clea to lead the rebellion against his sister, Umar, but she refuses.
Rogers really cuts loose with those color holds in his depiction of alien vistas in this issue. I am probably more impressed with his technique now than I was when I first saw them, partially because of the paper stock, but mainly (I think) because, at the time these first came out, I knew Dr. Strange primarily from the Ditko stories. Today, after recently having read volumes of artists who didn't even bother to try depicting Ditko-esque alien dimensions, Rogers' are more mind-blowing than ever!
Also, with this issue, the "spots" return to Doc's gloves. That's a litle thing, but details like that matter. It was also right around this time that the webs returned to Spider-Man's armpits (also a Stern book), but I digress. Baron Mordo returns in this issue as well.
#50: This issue begins with Doc battling Nightmare in one of those mind-blowing landscapes, but the rest of this issue (and the next) is a flashback to how the story got up to that point. Clea and Morgana meet for the first time and literally (because rogers draws them) "look daggers" at each other. Mordo attacks but escapes into the past. they pursue him to war torn 1943 London, where they meet Nick Fury and his Howling Commandoes. Nick's girlfriend, Pamela Hawley, seems to have some sort of "psychic link" with Morgana Blessing. Doc speculates they may be "astral twins," but we find out later that Morgana is a reincarnation of Pamela. The issue's cliffhanger reveals that Dormammu is in the past!
#51: An English nobleman and German viscount have joined forces to summon Dormammu. The German is Mordo's grandfather. Hitler is personally involved, too. It's a disservice to the plot to describe it in such a simplistic way, but I'm going to do it anyway. Clea uses a spell to channel Nick and Pam's love for each other and her own love for Doc through Morgana (who is possessed by the power of hate) and "love conquers all." Unfortunately, while they were all linked, Clea discovers that Morgana loves doc more... much more... than she herself does.
#52: Here's where Nightmare comes in. Back in the present, while Morgana is recovering from the ordeal, Nightmare appears and explains that she was subjected to "countless mystical forces" while they were in the past. "By chance, those forvces have caused a shard of her soul to be reflected back through time, along the karmic line of her past lives! If the soul-shard is not stopped before it reaches the time of the birth of man, humanity's collective unconsciousness will be irreparably altered. Mankind will stop dreaming... and I will crease to be!"
In this issue, Doc pusues the soul shard first to the time of the Spanish Inquisition (he didn't expect that!), then to the time of the Mayan Empire.
#53: He finally catches up to it in ancient Egypt, coincidentally at the same time the Fantastic Four tussled with Rama Tut in issue #19 of their own mag. "Later" (relatively speaking), the West Coast Avengers appear as well, but that's another story for another time. It is this meeting between Doc and one of Morgana's earlier incarnation, which bind their souls together.
Back in the present, Clea gives up in the face of this overwhelming love and returns to her home dimension to lead the rebellion against Umar. This development didn't mean too much to me at the time I first read it. I had already read of Reed and Sue Richards' brief separation, and cynically decided this was just a temporary bit of melodrama to gin up interest. But have having recently read all of the volumes leading up to it...? she should have dumped him a l-o-n-g time ago. Stern gave other reasons for their break-up (Morgana's love, Clea's rebellion), but the truth is, Doc has always treated Clea like $#!t. I know it wasn't intended, but the subtext all along has been that he has been using her as a sex object. He wasn't all that interested in training her as a disciple, and I don't think he really cared for her all that much, either. Their entire relationship, every single scene, was based on his needs.
I cheered when she left him and he collapsed in a heap.