I'll be reading through the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Dr. Strange stories as originally published in Strange Tales #110-146. So, let's begin:

Strange Tales #110 - "Dr. Strange Master of Black Magic!"
Cover Date: July 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

We are introduced to a "new" type of superhero, Dr. Strange, Master of  Black Magic. His look is similar to what many of us expect with a  handful of differences--for instance, he's wearing gauntlets of some  sort, and there's no Cloak of Levitation.

Our story opens with a man who cannot sleep as nightmares overtake him  every time he tries. He's heard of Dr. Strange through whispers and  rumors, and plans to see him. There's some really nice utilizaion of  shading along with a limited color palette that sets the mood of the  story nicely.

The next day, the man visits a place in Greenwich village. The door is  answered by what appears to be a bald Asian gentleman, but no name is  given. The man tells him he's there to see Dr. Strange despite the fact  that the Dr. doesn't know him, but the Asian man says that Dr. Strange  knows all. He bids the man to enter.

The man meets with Dr. Strange. He tells Strange that he has the same  dream over and over again every night, and it's driving him crazy. Dr.  Strange askss him to tell him more, and the man describes the dream: a  figure bound in chains stares at him. Dr. Strange says that tonight he  will come visit and find out what's happening. The man asks him how,  and strange responds that he will do so by entering his dream.

Later that day, Strange says it's time for him to visit the Master. To  do so, he sends forth his astral form, and we watch it travel across  the world. Eventually, it reaches a cave somewhere in Asia where  Strange visits his master, an aged man. He tells Strange that he senses  danger and he must be cautious, as his days are numbered and one day  Strange will take his place in the battle against the forces of evil.  Strange tells him that he will be careful, and the master tells him to  go as he's tired, but to rely upon his amulet if danger should  threaten.

That evening, Strange goes to visit the man. He tells the man to sleep,  and the man does so. Once he does, Strange projects his astral form  into the man's dream. Inside the dream, he finds the figure bound in  chains. As the figure torments the man, Strange asks it why. The figure  replies that the man knows why. The figure explains that he is the  symbol of every evil he has done, and that is why he is in chains. He  tells Strange to ask a man who he refers to as Mr. Crang if he doesn't  believe him.

At this point, a dark figure riding a horse shows up. He seems to know  Dr. Strange, and he tells him that he has entered the dimension of  dreams for the last time. Strange identifies the figure as Nightmare,  his ancient foe. Nightmare tells him that he knows the rules of  sorcery--anyone entering a hostile dimension must be ready to pay for  it with his life.

Back on Earth, the sleeping man awakes. He understands now that the  root of his problem is Mr. Crang, and that Dr. Strange has heard  everything. He gets a gun from his dresser and approaches Strange's  body, planning on killing him.

Nightmare gloats as he and Strange watch this scene play out. Strange  beseeches his master for help. The master hears his pleas and  concentrates. Back in the man's apartment, Dr. Strange's amulet glows  until it opens up into an eye, which shoots out a ray that hypnotizes  the man. In the confusion, Strange escapes from Nightmare and manages  to return to his body. Nightmare tells him that he'll get him next  time.

Back in the man's apartment, Strange takes the man's gun and commands  him to speak the truth. The man reveals that his dreams were caused by  the many men he'd ruined in business. Apparently, Crang was the last  one that he'd robbed, leaving no evidence for Crang to prosecute him.  He says he'll confess now.

My rating: 7/10

It's obvious here that there are a lot of details that Lee and Ditko  were working through for this character, and there's a lot we'll see  over this reading project. This particular story reads very much like a  Golden Age backup comic--I found it amusing that they chose to name one  of the antagonist's victim but not the antagonist himself--so the drama  isn't exactly at a fever pitch.

That being said, the star of this comic--and the others in this  project--is clearly Steve Ditko. His creativity shows through here,  especially with his depictions of the dream world. At the same time,  you can also feel that there's much more on the horizon.

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The Marvel/DC crossover that led to the Amalgam Universe was supposed to have a few panels of Darkseid and Thanos fighting. Possibly they were left out because they would have just been a staring contest, ending with Thanos falling over.

They're still avoiding Strange doing much more than relying on that amulet. It's becoming a crutch for the character.

Strange Tales #118 - "The Possessed!"

This story feels like a step backward into the monster stories that were replaced by the Dr. Strange feature.

We'll see another soon with the "house."

Seems they managed to fit quite a bit of story into eight pages, but not anything we'd care to remember.

I know the consensus is that Mordo was overused early on, but he really was the only proper enemy for Dr Strange - Nightmare always needed some convoluted plot devise to get Strange into the nightmare realm and so into conflict.

I was reading these stories in black and white Marvel anthology reprints in England in the mid-to-late-Sixties, and don't think I even took notice of the Dr Strange strip until the Mordo/Dormammu, chase-around-the-world, storyline.

To my mind, that was when Ditko and Lee actually treated this as  the potential lead story in "Strange Tales", rather than a perpetual, eight-ish-page back-up.

m

While he does end up getting the title (although not for long) he only gets the lead in #164, #166, and #168. Were they alternating strips at the end because they weren't sure who was getting the book? Seems once they knew they would have moved Strange to the lead for the last couple of issues.

In the anthology titles Marvel started reversing the lead feature and the cover feature (to match) in alternating months. It wasn't just in Strange Tales. I never heard the reason for this. Maybe they were anticipating their change of distributor and being able to give everybody their own titles.

Ron M. said:

While he does end up getting the title (although not for long) he only gets the lead in #164, #166, and #168. Were they alternating strips at the end because they weren't sure who was getting the book? Seems once they knew they would have moved Strange to the lead for the last couple of issues.

In the period just before the split-books ended the features were the same length, 11 pages. Before that the books were split 12/10 for a while.

Captain America only gets the lead spot in Tales of Suspense#98.

Hulk got Tales to Astonish in #99 and #101.

So they all started that at different times.


Strange Tales #119 - "Doctor Strange Dares To Go Beyond the Purple Veil!"
Cover Date: April 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Dr. Strange is exhausted, but won't sleep until he figures out the secret of the sinister gem in his possession. Meanwhile, a couple of burglars have snuck into his house looking for SWAG. However, Strange catches them and easily removes them from his home. However, he fails to call the police, and the burglars rationalize that he's a criminal just like them, and plan to try again.

The next evening, Dr. Strange dismisses his servant Wong for the evening. He then goes to his study to meditate. However, the burglars are back, and realizing they can ransack the place at their leisure while Strange is meditating.

The burglars spot the gem Strange was examining. Despite feeling premonitions of evil, they take the gem. In his study, Strange realizes that something is wrong and sends his astral form to investigate. He realizes the gem has been stolen. He uses his amulet to track it down. He locates the two thieves with the stolen gem.

After returning to his physical form, he swoops in to apprehend the no-goodniks, he finds them gone, with only a purple mist coming from the gem. Strange monologues that the gem was actually a device to bridge dimensions, in particular the dread purple dimension. He has to follow them, calling on the power of Mormammu again for help.

Strange arrives in the purple dimension to find a couple of large aliens marching a number of captive slaves along, including our two hapless burglars. They spot Strange and attempt to capture him as well, but this time aided by Dormammu, he easily overcomes his attackers.

The aliens lead Dr. Strange to their overlord. He introduces himself as Aggamon, the all-powerful. He senses what Strange wants, but refuses to release the humans as none may ever return from his world. Strange is defiant, and Aggamon demonstrates his power by showing a mental vision of his slaves working for him mining gems. He then turns to Strange, sensing his power and makes him an offer: take their place, and they will be allowed to return. Strange accepts. Amazingly enough, Aggamon is true to his word, and the burglars are returned to Earth.

Aggamon shackles Strange, announcing that he will be his captive forever. Strange says he won't, as he didn't promise to remain Aggamon's captive. Using his amulet, Strange melts the chains between the shackles. He then uses a spell to dispell Aggamon's guards so they can battle mano y mano. Aggamon whips out his jeweled demolisher beam, and it's on as Strange uses his amulet as his weapon of choice. Over several hours, they fight to a standstill. Fearing death, Aggamon surrenders. Strange uses his advantage to weaken Aggamon so he can no longer take prisoners. Strange ruminates that Aggamon was actually stronger than him, but his strength of character won out.

Back on Earth, a police officer approaches Strange and tells him that two burglars turned themselves in, saying Strange had saved them. Strange tells the officer to pay no attention to the ramblings of the criminal mind. The officer agrees, but tells Strange the criminals still want to serve their time then go straight. Strange appreciates the gesture, and decides to keep the gem just in case he ever needs to go back.

My rating: 7/10

This is a bit of an improvement over the last issue's story. True, it's another issue with another dimension, and Aggamon is a pretty one-dimensional foe, but at least he's a reasonably strong foe, plus Ditko has figured out a way to make these invisible battles much more interesting.

BTW, I'm having difficulty posting right now as I'm having to use a proxy to access the site. For some reason my ISP has this site blocked currently.

Interesting how they both almost pass out in the battle. We don't normally see a fight go that far.  After he surrenders Doc admits the villain would have won if he'd just held out a little longer.

The bad guy's name, Aggamon, is very close to Agamotto. I'd guess the name (or at least part of it) stuck in Stan's head without him remembering where he'd seen it before. Neither Aggamon nor the guys in the last issue must have been popular, since we don't see them again.


Strange Tales #120 - "The House Of Shadows!"
Cover Date: May 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Dr. Strange is actually walking the streets of New York. Someone is so impressed that he wants to tell his wife about it when he gets home.

He arrives at an old house in the outskirts of the city, where a reporter is planning on spending the evening because the house is allegedly haunted. This is all being done for the sake of television, as reporter Allan Stevens is the lucky guy who gets to spend the night in this old house. Strange is there to watch.

As Stevens enters the house, Strange sends out his astral form to follow. However, some force is keeping his astral form from entering the house. Fearing that supernatural forces are at work, he uses his amulet as a method of seeing what's going on inside the house.

Inside the house, Stevens reports that nothing supernatural is happening, despite seeing a lamp floating in the air. He marks that down to poor lighting and his own imagination. However, he then sees something that causes him to recoil in fear. Strange thinks that his greatest fears have come to pass. Stevens' mic goes dead. However, most people watching at the house and on television think it's all a hoax to improve ratings.

Strange tries to enter the house but is blocked by the gathered crowd. He casts a spell that pushes them to the side so he can enter. He enters and sees the same things the reporter saw, but then he calls to someone hiding in the shadows, saying that he knows his secret. A mist forms around him, creating a cage, but he's able to dispel it with the help of Dormammu and the Vishanti. Strange demands the release of Stevens.

Outside, the door to the house opens and Stevens stumbles out. They ask him what happened, but he tells them he can't remember anything that happened in the house other than that he never wants to go back inside.

Inside the house, Strange talks with the house, and we find out that house is alive, coming from another dimension to observe humans. Strange then banishes the house from this dimension. The people outside think it's all a trick as the house disappears, but are quick to make way for Dr. Strange as he leaves.

My rating: 3/10

This should likely have been a 2 page story as opposed to 9. It seems the vast majority of the story is needless exposition. The threat du jour isn't much of one. There's little drama or tension. I'd call this story boring if I'm being charitable.

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