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 white haired girl was going to kill herself and everybody she knew to help a guy she met once? Never did get the explanation for why the sun would "kill" ghosts. Would they even feel heat? I remember Dormammu told Mordo he'd been bluffed into giving up, there was no such spell for flying into the sun.

Ditko did a few stories about Charlton psychic investigator Dr. Graves. While Graves stated in pre-Ditko issues that he had no mystic powers, Ditko turned him into a Dr. Strange clone, coming up with a bizarre story where his astral self dies when his physical body is killed by an invading alien. The alien attempted to attack his astral form but discovered it had no weaknesses, it could only be harmed by killing his body. Fading away, the astral form goes back to before the alien showed up and warns Graves as it fades away. He tries to figure out a way to give his astral form a weakness but finds no spell will harm it. At the end he wonders who gave him the mystic message to prepare for the alien, and a caption states he'll never know he warned himself. Very bizarre idea that killing somebody's body would kill their ghost.

I think the white-haired girl was exceptionally confident that Dormammu could handle the Mindless Ones easily, so I'm sure she didn't feel there was much danger.

As the comic explained it, the atomic energy in the sun could cause a chemical reaction in the astral forms. Dubious science, but that was the explanation. They also explained that the heat was meaningless.

Ron M. said:

The white haired girl was going to kill herself and everybody she knew to help a guy she met once? Never did get the explanation for why the sun would "kill" ghosts. Would they even feel heat? I remember Dormammu told Mordo he'd been bluffed into giving up, there was no such spell for flying into the sun.

Strange is taking the battle to the surface so he can move around more easily (they are essentially ghosts who can pass through matter, correct? Why would the space make a difference?).

Maybe the astral forms can pass through objects but can't see through objects. His human brain probably found it easier to maneuver when he could see where he was going.

It may look really weird and confusing going through solid objects, like trying to walk around while wearing one of those 3D game helmets.

Coming to this discussion late, but there were some weird twists in the Marvel's split books.  Johnny Storm got the first spin off series at Marvel and many of Marvel's classic B or C grade villains were introduced there but it was the one series that seemed very much written down for a young readership than any of Marvel's other superhero/adventure strips and especially when the Dr. Strange strip was expanded and the stories got much better it was a weird paring as I find it hard to imagine many fans of the Human Torch stories enjoyed the Dr. Strange stories or vice versa.  The pairing of the two Avengers, Iron Man & Cap, and of the two bare-chested future Defenders, Hulk & Namor, seemed much more compatible.  And, Cap, Namor and the original Human Torch had been the Big Three of the Timely years, but only Cap has had lasting success in a solo series from the Silver Age to the present, while Johnny didn't quite last 3 years as a solo star and Namor got cut down early in the Bronze Age, although with a respectable run of about 9 years, combining his appearances in TOA and his own title.
 
Ron M. said:

He doesn't get a cover until Ditko's last issue. No doubt we missed out on some great weird Ditko covers because of that.

Interesting that all three of the split books were taken over by the backup features.

IMO, the series improved tremendously by ditching the done-in-ones for longer stories.  IMO, most of the early, '61 - '64, Marvels were pretty bad, but allowing for expanded stories of 2, 3 or more issues allowed for greater variety and more drama than was typical in the usual 22 pages of a single issue, never mind the 5 to 10 pages of most early Dr. Strange tales.  Occasionally Stan & the gang could come with really good done-in-ones, but month after month of them made for some monotonous reading, at least when reading them in one sitting long after they were first published.  Might not have seemed so bad when you had to wait at least 30 days for the next installment.
 
Luke Blanchard said:

With this instalment the series shifts from one-part stories (with one two-parter) to the never-ending-adventure format.

Spider-Man and Fantastic Four worked fine with done in ones. Shows they were the series Stan (and Jack and Steve) were putting the most care into. On the other hand multipart stories might have helped Giant-Man and the Human Torch's solo series. But those two never get into epics, which might be why they didn't last.

I've only read a few solo Torch stories, but I don't think they ever even did a two-part story in that series.  Giant-Man at least got one two-part story that I'm aware of.  Most of the Ditko done-in-ones in Spidey were good or sometimes even great, and so were a few of the early FF's, but even there the Dr. Doom stories were getting tedious -- he was getting defeated and coming back from apparent death so often he seemed more of a joke than a genuine threat.  Only with the Battle of the Baxter Building two-parter in 39-40 and then the Cosmic Dr. Doom 4-parter did Doom once again seem a serious menace to the FF.

Fred W. Hill said:

Coming to this discussion late, but there were some weird twists in the Marvel's split books. Johnny Storm got the first spin off series at Marvel and many of Marvel's classic B or C grade villains were introduced there but it was the one series that seemed very much written down for a young readership than any of Marvel's other superhero/adventure strips....

I loved Plantman, Paste Pot Pete, The Painter, The Eel and The Terrible Trio. I agree that the stories seemed to be written to appeal to younger readers. The influence of Jerry Siegel (writing as Joe Carter) had something to do with this. I talked about this on The Captain Re-Reads 'Avengers' thread (page 42), as follows:

"Stan may have been credited with the dialogue and Jack the art but from what I've been reading Jerry Siegel (as Joe Carter) was probably co-plotting and co-scripting the Torch series.* Johnny's fictional hometown of Glenville, New York, was apparently named after Jerry's hometown of Glenville, Ohio.

* He's only credited under his pseudonym in Strange Tales #112 and #113, but this may be because he was moonlighting from DC at the time and was very concerned Weisinger would fire him."

Very sad that the guy who helped kickstart the whole superhero comics genre got such shabby treatment, but that was more the rule than the exception for the first 40 years of comics history.

I waited years for somebody to find Pandora's box again after the Torch got rid of it. Thought that was his best solo story. Great wacky little monsters. They used to sell finger puppets something like a few of them.

Giant-Man got two or three two parters. As I remember both (all three?) featured the Human Top as the villain.

Regarding epic storylines, lasting 3 or more issues, to the best of my knowledge, C.C. Beck & Otto Binder crafted the first such in comics in Captain Marvel in the early 1940s, in a storyline that lasted over 2 years.  I'm not aware of any other comics writers attempting any such thing again until Lee & Ditko started an epic story in Tales to Astonish when the Hulk got his own series again starting with a mysterious enemy eventually revealed to be another gamma-radiated mutant, the Leader.  It made sense to tell one multi-issue story featuring a key villain and his stooges rather than a series of one issue stories featuring that same villain, or even a variety of other villains but always with the same result: hero beats villain by end of issue, does the same thing next issue and again in the next and on and on, until the series is cancelled.  No wonder the vast majority of comics fans moved on after three years at most and that the writers usually repeated the same plots, with only a few changes in details, every few years.   Ditko then took the same idea to Dr. Strange, which significantly improved the series.  And within the same period  in 1965 Kirby started doing epic stories in Thor and the FF, and in short order all the half-size series that Lee scripted took on more epic stories, leaving only the Human Torch and Giant-Man & the Wasp sticking predominantly with done-in-ones prior to their cancellations that same year and replacement by SHIELD & Sub-Mariner which each began with epic storylines.  I describe that first SHIELD story as a beginning of a longer story rather than a done-in-one as while it didn't end on a genuine cliffhanger, it was the start of Nick's first campaign against a particular branch of Hydra that would come to a definite conclusion several issues later.

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