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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We'll never know, but I wonder if the 10-page stories with virtually no cover presence hurt the series. If Ditko was working with an entire book and drawing spectacular covers (like many of his splash pages) Doc probably would have had a lot more fans.

I think a character like Dr. Strange requires writers/artists with great imagination and flair, but even with that is unlikely to ever be massively popular, at least not to the level of Spider-Man, who has endured many mediocre runs, or even Iron Man whose first series teetered on the verge of cancellation for years before he reached a greater level of popularity.  Still, Dr. Strange had a very good to excellent run in the '70s.

There have definitely been some quality runs of Dr. Strange stories over the years (I recall enjoying Gardner Fox's Marvel Premier run, but not so much the Englehart/Colan stories).  However, he's still a character that's never been able to sell enough comics on a monthly basis to maintain his own book.

If you'll pardon a quibble, Doctor Strange (1974-86) was a continuation of his 12 issue Marvel Premiere run (1972-73) and lasted 81 issues, and Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme (1988-1996) lasted 90. They're not bad runs. But I should note Marvel Premiere was bimonthly and Doctor Strange mostly bimonthly. Between his eponymous titles his series appeared as a co-feature in the revived Strange Tales, so his feature appeared pretty continuously from 1972-96.

In the 70s Strange was a hero who had reached the peak of his field and lacked neuroses. So I guess he didn't have any goals to strive for or personal demons to struggle against, and hence no compelling ongoing story. He's a character who doesn't have much to do with the normal world and normal people, as he spends his time interacting with an alternative world of sorcerers and other universes. So he may be a character many readers don't feel a personal connection to. His appearances as a member of a super-team in Defenders may have helped readers relate to him.

In the Defenders, Dr. Strange stood out as the calm, father figure type to his mostly hotheaded, somewhat immature teammates.  While I liked Englehart's run, Gerber's run on the series was one of the highlights of the Bronze Age for me.

I consider Defenders to be another animal entirely, as there he was part of a team--or non-team, as the conceit goes.  The other members made a supporting cast unnecessary, or at least less necessary than his solo outings.

And yes, Gerber's run on Defenders was quite good.

Fred W. Hill said:

In the Defenders, Dr. Strange stood out as the calm, father figure type to his mostly hotheaded, somewhat immature teammates.  While I liked Englehart's run, Gerber's run on the series was one of the highlights of the Bronze Age for me.

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