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 House of Shadows actually returned in ROM #5 in 1980.

I believe these three are all fantasy stories from 1960-61 with a superhero tossed in. The idea the house itself was alive was an interesting change of pace at the time. Michael Moorcock used the idea in an Elric story. About the same time as this story, the Outer Limits made an episode with a similar idea, "The Guests." Not much of a fight here. Ditko hasn't yet started giving us weird, crazy dimensions for the doctor to walk or float through.  

Stan is still coming up with names for the beings Dr. Strange calls upon (perhaps to keep this series separate from Thor, he avoids calling any of them gods) and has him ask Dormammu for help. He'll stop doing that soon.

Randy Jackson said:

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.

It's interesting how his house varies from invisible, to visible, to protected by magic spells. Here, two days in a row, two regular burglars just waltz in. Why wouldn't he at least take precautions the second night?

They had Strange getting help from Mormammu and then it changes to Dormammu. Was this the actual lettering?

If the Avengers had gotten in half as easily as those two burglars did, the Avengers/Defenders Clash wouldn't have happened.

Don't have the originals, but the Dr. Strange paperback collection from the 70s has him say The "Mighty" Mormammu in The Possessed and The "Dread" Dormammu in The House of Shadows. Might be different beings, but it's likely the name was changed because Mormammu was a bit too close to Mordo, Strange's archenemy, and the change from "Mighty" to "Dread" might have happened because Thor was being called "The Mighty."  
 
Richard Willis said:

They had Strange getting help from Mormammu and then it changes to Dormammu. Was this the actual lettering?

Interestingly, when Roy Thomas returned to Dr. Strange in 1989, there was a story where Doc calls on Dormammu for help, thinking that if Dormammu is behind his current troubles, the spell won't work and he'll be dead. (It turned out to be Mephisto and Satannish. Still surprising Dormammu would actually have given Strange his power after all the bad history between them.)


Strange Tales #121 - "Witchcraft in the Wax Museum!"
Cover Date: June 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Guess who's back, back again...

Dr. Strange is scanning the Earth for supernatural threats. He finds none, but has a premonition that something might happen. He receives a phone call requesting his aid as the person's life is in danger, and sends his astral form to the address given. He finds the place empty, and the phone attached to a recording device.

Realizing he's just been the victim of a classic misdirection scheme, his astral form returns to his home. However, he finds that his physical body is no longer there.

At this point, our baddie announces his presence mystically, and tells Strange that he can't do anything to him unless he also assumes his astral form. Strange tells Mordo that he's protected by the power of the Vishanti and that Mordo can't harm his body. Mordo agrees, but reminds Strange that he can prevent him from returning to his body, and that if he doesn't do so within 24 hours, his body is doomed. DOOMED! Boy, Strange is sure in a bit of a sticky wicket, eh?

Strange tells Mordo that he'll be able to make it back into his body in time, but Mordo--that dastardly fiend--has hidden his body carefully and put a spell on it that will keep Strange from regaining it. Then he goes and clubs some baby seals-- er, scratch that. But I'm sure he's thinking about it, that nogoodnik.

Mordo cuts off communication, and Strange begins searching for his body. He uses the power of his--say it with me, everybody--amulet in an attempt to track it down. However, before he can get too far, he's presented with three astral monsters. However, the amulet saves the day again, and the hunt begins anew. Strange battles his way through several of Mordo's traps, each one costing him precious time.

Finally, he locates his body, but he only has one hour left. Even worse, there's no body or Mordo awaiting him. However, the amulet is able to recreate past images, and Strange uses it to figure out where Mordo has taken his body--a wax museum.

Strange locates his body, but discovers that just like Mordo said, he's placed a pretty heavy duty spell to keep Strange from re-entering. Even worse, Strange only has 10 minutes left. Mordo is there, gloating that there's no way Strange can hurt him unless he himself uses his astral form.

Strange appears to run away as Mordo continues gloating. However, behind him one of the wax figures seems to come to life, attacking him. The figure also gags him so that he can't cast any spells. Mordo, thinking Strange is long gone, casts his astral form from his body.

Of course, Strange was hiding in the wax figure, and now that he's tricked Mordo into using his astral form they can battle. Mordo's still talking trash, and uses his entire magic arsenal on Strange, seemingly defeating him. However, when he attempts to re-enter his own body, he finds he cannot. He finds that he actually fought an image of Strange and not the magician himself, who now captures his astral form inside a cage of mystic energy. Strange is able to return to his own body now as the spell preventing such action was canceled when Mordo was captured.

Strange won't kill Mordo because, you know, the no killing thing for superheroes, plus he's strange's only villain other than Nightmare at this point. He does keep Mordo from re-entering his body for 23 hours, however, which gives Mordo quite the slow burn. He's all "why I oughtta..." while Strange heads back home.

My rating: 7/10

This is pretty pedestrian, but it moves at a nice pace. Mordo comes up with a good plan, and it takes Dr. Strange's wits to win the day.

That being said, Mordo is becoming fairly tiresome as a villain, not to mention ineffective. As I recall the second time I read through these stories, Mordo seemed pretty much like a D-lister by this point, more like an ant tugging on Superman's cape than a serious threat.

Easily the best story since the origin.  Mordo has a pretty smart plan here, unlike last time when Doc escaped fairly easily from his "inescapable" trap.  I'm always a fan of the hero using his brain, as Strange did here, to get the win.

I agree though that it's enough already with Mordo.  We've seen plenty of him since the series began, and the ending here shows he's more annoyance than adversary, in my opinion.  They may have been equals when Strange began studying with the Ancient One, but Doc has been studying and learning non-stop since then.  Mordo, left to his own devices, likely did not progress much.

I have to agree. I know Mordo will get better, but right now he's kind of on the same level as the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

They've made Strange too powerful. Mordo has to constantly come up with schemes to trap him because otherwise the story would be over on page two. It's getting annoying the way every time Strange has a problem, he just turns on that amulet and wins. The amulet he gets later is supposed to be even more powerful, exactly what he doesn't need. And he never relied on the new one the way he constantly does on this one. Nice artwork of the wax museum, although it kind of disappointed me when the statue turned out to just be a statue Strange was controlling. For a minute it looked like we had a new, more interesting looking villain than Mordo turning up in the series.

For a magic series, this is pretty mundane. Nothing supernatural in this world besides Strange, Mordo, and the Ancient One, a few supernatural beings in other dimensions that can only very rarely pass over and affect us, and Strange is beating all of them in eight or nine pages.

Dr. Strange briefly moves out of his own world to show he exists in the growing Marvel Universe by turning up in Fantastic Four#27 this month.

Strange Tales #122 - "The World Beyond!"
Cover Date: July 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Yup, that's right. Nightmare again. And people thought Loki appeared too much.

Dr. Strange returns home. He tells us that he's not slept for several days, and that he needs rest. However, when he awakens, he finds a shrouded figure before him--a figure cloaked in EVIL! Strange tries to cast a spell that will put the figure under his control, but that doesn't work. Then he tries to use his amulet and uh oh, now it's hit the fan as the amulet isn't working either. He then attempts to release his astral form, but is prevented from doing so. As a last gasp, he attacks the figure physically but is unable to do it any harm as it's unsolid.

Suddenly Strange proves to us why he's the hero: using his brain, he realizes he's still asleep and stuck in the Nightmare realm. As quickly as he realizes this, however, he's trapped inside a sphere of energy. A cloaked figure taunts him in his helplessness. The figure twirls Strange's sphere around like a lariat until releasing him on a one way journey to his DOOM!

As Strange travels through the nightmare realm, he ruminates that he forgot to use the protective chant that protects him from just such things before falling asleep, and Nightmare caught him with his pants down.

Strange is deposited in Nightmare's presence.Nightmare gloats over him, releasing him from his sphere as Strange has no power here. Strange says that he'll still defeat Nightmare as he is the Master of Mystic Arts. Nightmare tells him that as long as he's asleep, he cannot escape, and that he shall never awaken.

Nightmare toys with Strange like a cat with a mouse--turning him small, turning him into stone, selling him a subscription to Grit...basically just doing what he likes because he can.

Finally Strange says, "That's alls I can take! I can'ts take no more!" or somesuch like that. He tells Nightmare to look behind him, and when Nightmare does, he sees his dread enemy, the monster Gulgol. The Gulgol is to be feared because he never sleeps. Nightmare asks Strange how he managed to get The Gulgol there, but Strange just shrugs his shoulders and lets Nightmare deal with his own problems. True to everything that's been said, there's nothing Nightmare can do to stop The Gulgol, who keeps advancing.

Nightmare tells Strange that he's a fool, as the Gulgol will finish him as well. Strange tells him that there is a way to stop the Gulgol, but it's a way only known to him. He says that he summoned the Gulgol, and that he can send him back to the pit from whence he came, if Nightmare restores his powers. Nightmare does so, and the Gulgol is easily banished.

Nightmare doesn't understand how Strange did it, as he uttered no incantations or cast any spells. Strange explains how he tricked Nightmare by hypnotizing him into believing the Gulgol was there. Nightmare tries to attack again, but with his powers restored, it's a pretty one-sided fight. Nightmare says the usual curses and threatens to get him if it takes all eternity, but Strange just kind of laughs it off.

My rating: 7/10

Much like the previous story featuring Baron Mordo, Strange is once again put in a situation where he can't use his magic to solve his problems, so he has to use his brain instead. This is cool, and it's nice to see Ditko get to go crazy with the visuals. The pacing is good as well, although perhaps the scene where Nightmare is torturing Dr. Strange could have lasted a couple of panels fewer.

At the same time, for the second issue in a row, one of Strange's primary adversaries is reduced to the role of nuisance. Nightmare comes off as being quite ineffectual in this story and by story's end it's obvious he poses no real threat to Dr. Strange.

One more thing that's clearly obvious: Strange needs someone to talk with. He sounds just a little odd talking to himself most of the time.

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