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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I liked it a lot more than you did, although I would have liked to have known more about these guys enslaved by Dormammu. When he fought Strange earlier, someone asked him what if Strange was more powerful than he thought, and Dormammu banished him and the guys with him to a nameless place. I'd guess that was them, but we're not told anything about them, and they don't appear in any later stories.

"This is it--! The final cataclysmic clash". This is what makes me wonder if Ditko had a "final cataclysmic clash" in mind for Spider-Man.

I really think Dormammu should have stayed "no more." Except for the Avengers/Defenders Clash, I can't think of any really important storyline with him in it, and that could have been Satannish teaming up with Loki.

Since the end of the Dormammu epic, Doc has been struggling a lot more, and here he's caught up in something he can't affect or even fully understand. I think Ditko realized he'd become too powerful and was trying to make this more an occult/action series. With him gone it only takes Doc a couple of issues to power up again.

Ditko deserves his reputation as one of the top artists of the mid-era of the Silver Age, if that is sliced in thirds from roughly 1957 to 1962, '63 - '66 and '67-70, and taken in its entirety, this Dormammu epic was entertaining enough and innovative for its time, even if this conclusion very much felt rushed.  I'm also left wondering how modern masters of more recent vintage might have handled this.  Heck, for that matter how about Bronze Age top talents like Englehart & Brunner or Starlin   After this, epic storylines would become ever more common, and eventually far better plotted and concluded.  Kirby would get far more kudos for the more concise Galactus trilogy, but I think clearly Ditko & Kirby were influencing one another in how they began to tell the stories they wanted to tell, and as editor and scripter, Lee was letting them run loose a bit, allowing for more extravagant, longer stories rather than trying to keep everything straightjacketed into a set formula.  Even if all the pieces aren't quite as well-executed as we might like, I still find it fun to peruse these stories to see how Marvel Comics evolved during the decade prior to my becoming a regular collector. 

I'm wondering if he had planned another epic with Dormammu as the villain, but when he decided he was leaving he just drew the final chapter.

Artists today would probably have this the end of a two to three year saga.

I liked how we're told flat out Dormammu is dead, but not what happened to Eternity, and Strange's first enemy, Mordo, is brought back. It's like he's saying, "You can have Mordo, you can have the girl with white hair, but Dormammu's mine, and I don't want you using him after I'm gone."

It's good to have resolution, but there's almost too much going on.  I felt like Doc after he was rescued by the Ancient One, a little overwhelmed by it all.  But kudos to Steve Ditko for managing to put everything and the kitchen sink into his finale on the series.  At least visually, this has been one of Marvel's most memorable Silver Age series.

It's so memorable visually, it makes you wonder what he might have come up with if he'd stayed.

Dealing with cosmic forces like Eternity should be overwhelming for us mere mortals. We don't fully get what's going on because Doc (the world's greatest wizard) doesn't fully get what's going on.

During the remainder of Dr. Strange's run in Strange Tales, IMO none of the stories or art quite lived up to Ditko at his best, and the first few post-Ditko stories were pretty dismal, with neither Lee nor Bill Everett seeming to have a good grasp on the character.  At least they did get better, and I did like the art of Marie Severin and Dan Atkins in later issues, although it wasn't until Gene Colan came aboard in Doc's first solo series that the series had a unique visual flair again.  Quite different from Ditko's, of course.  My favorite later runs, though, were Englehart & Brunner's and Stern & Marshall's.  Upon reading Thomas' run, I wasn't really all that impressed with the writing.  Often great visuals, but his characterization of the Master of the Mystic Arts seemed off to me, the worst being when he seemingly nonchanlantly gave up being a sorcerer while leaving a woman who had just helped him, Barbara Norris, trapped in another dimension. It also seemed very odd to me that after Clea arrived on Earth, seemingly to stay for good, rather than offering her room and board in his mansion, Strange had her go off to live on her own, as if she had just arrived in NYC from Boston rather than from an entirely different dimension.  I don't think that can really be put down to just writing to the mores of the time, 1968, as I just don't see that it would have been considered shocking for Dr. Strange to have this new tenant in his very roomy mansion in Greenwich Village; seems more a matter of Roy not thinking too clearly on the matter.  At least that's my perception.

Randy, thank you for starting this thread and sharing your thoughts on the Lee/Ditko era.  Very entertaining and enjoyable!

My favorite later run was the Shuma-Gorath story, although it kind of got lost at the end with all the changes in writers and artists.

Is this the end of the thread?

I only read the very last issue of that storyline, from Marvel Premiere #10 if I recall correctly, in which Dr. Strange is forced to kill the Ancient One, who then comes back as essentially "one with everything"  I vaguely recall having read earlier Dr. Strange stories, which if so were among the comics my dad threw out in 1971 or so, but that became the oldest comic starring Dr. Strange that I had purchased when it was brand new on the spinner racks for the cover price.  It wasn't until about two decades later that I got the full story, and I thought most of the earlier parts were a mess story-wise, although there was some great art, particularly from Brunner on the final issues, but some good work on one issue by Starlin as well. Brunner & Colan have very different styles, but I loved their artwork on both Dr. Strange and Howard the Duck.

So, this reading project is completed. A few thoughts about the series as a whole:

* One of the things I think has always hurt Dr. Strange as a feature is his lack of supporting cast. Here, he's got the Ancient One and...well, there you go.

* The series also suffered from a lack of competent villains. From the initial overexposure of Nightmare and Mordo to the lackluster other-dimensional foes faced by Dr. Strange, there was rarely any question as to whether Strange would win. The lack of tension really hurt the series IMO, at least until Dormammu. However, after Dormammu, pretty much anything else the good Doctor ran into just seemed absurd. For instance, I was just thinking that the story where Strange is captured by the disciples of Mordo and Dormammu would have been a nice star turn for Wong or Clea if they'd had to deal with them instead.

* This was not an easy series to draw. So many of the conflicts Strange fought were non-physical in nature, and that can't be easy to draw. After some initial missteps, Ditko really got it down (it did help that Strange got into more physical altercations as the series moved forward).

* Because of the difficulties and drawbacks outlined above, the stories ranged from not terribly good to better than average, but IMO never reaching truly outstanding.  This is another reason why I think Strange has never been able to hold down a solo series..

Had this not been done so well as it was, I would have given this story a much lower rating. I do think that for what it was, it was handled well--that still doesn't mean I thought it was a good story.

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

It's good to have resolution, but there's almost too much going on.  I felt like Doc after he was rescued by the Ancient One, a little overwhelmed by it all.  But kudos to Steve Ditko for managing to put everything and the kitchen sink into his finale on the series.  At least visually, this has been one of Marvel's most memorable Silver Age series.

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