FINALLY, I SAW IT—Dr. Strange, the movie. I say “finally” as I am one of the dying breed of guys who bought and collected Marvel comic books in the ’60s as the magic was happening. (And by the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, face facts: it was almost exclusively guys who read superhero comics at the time.) And Dr. Strange was always one of my faveravest titles!
As I am not a movie reviewer, I didn’t sit through a “special screening.” We bought our overpriced tickets for a Friday matinée ($9 each, and that’s with a senior discount!) and bought our own popcorn. We sat in the last row in one of the damn modern cineplex theaters where almost all the seats are too close to the screen.
I waited through all the pre-movie crap with anticipation: I had been a BIG Dr. Strange fan fifty years ago, and the response to this movie from others in my age group had been overwhelmingly positive.
The Ancient One and Dr Strange from the classic Steve Ditko period of the mid 1960s—before Steverino flew the coop in 1966.
I was assured by my peers that I was about to enjoy myself. So I assumed that I was not going to be sitting through yet another Disney/Marvel movie short on plot, narrative, and character development but chock full of (non-believable) slam-bang fights and (over-the-top) mind-bending special effects.
Shortly after the movie began, I was impelled to jot a few notes down. Here are the notes that I wrote in a pad, on my knee, in the dark.
“Cumberbatch a perfect Strange! I’m excited.”
“Scriptwriter and director seem obsessed with physical prowess instead of intellectual prowess.”
“Dr Strange is funny?!!?”
“Trumped-up martial arts movie. Should be Dr Strange, Master of the Martial Arts and Occasional Dabbler in Magic.”
“A few touches of Ditko when we see other realms.”
“So many stupid fight scenes! Where’s a good car chase or an old-fashioned fuck scene?”
“Losing interest midway through.”
“Now his cape is funny?!!?”
“I read Dr. Strange for six years and don’t remember a knock-down, I-know-karate-better-than-you brawl with anyone!”
“Maybe Strange is now the Master of Mystic Super Powers.”
“Dormammu’s acolytes wanting oneness with their master reminds me of Wally Wood’s Cosmic All.” 1
“When are the Transformers gonna show?”
So, basically, I sat through yet another Disney/Marvel movie short on plot and narrative but chock full of slam-bang fights and overwhelming effects. There was some character development, especially on the good doctor. How much of it was in the script and how much was Benedict Cumberbatch is probably irrelevant: movies are a team effort.
Under Ditko and Lee, Strange’s cape was primarily for elevation and flight, but his amulet was much more versatile: here it enlarges into a gateway between worlds.
By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth
I started reading Dr. Strange and the Marvel comic books in 1964 at the age of 13 years. Marvel in the early ’60s was essentially Jack Kirby art with Stan Lee scripts. While the Fantastic Four, Thor, and Captain America were Kirby’s main features, he seems to have designed and launched almost every other Marvel character!
Kirby had a hand in designing and often drawing the first issues of comics by Spider-Man, the Hulk, Ant Man/Giant Man and the Wasp, Iron Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, Sgt. Fury and his howling commandos, the Silver Surfer, and more! And all their villains. 2
Steve Ditko did Dr. Strange and Spider-Man (always one-word ‘Spiderman’ to me) and, for a while, the Hulk—all with Lee scripts. 3
For the second Spider-Man Annual in 1965, Ditko and Lee gave us “The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange,” where Spidey finds himself on the strangest turf of his career. We got the teensy-weensiest taste of Ditko in the movie in a few of the backgrounds of the other realms.
Of course, what we fans didn’t know at the time was that Kirby and Ditko were plotting and often writing their own stories; Lee polished them up and wrote the snappy, idiosyncratic, often hilarious dialog that separated Marvel from the pack.
That was Marvel; without those three men, the whole thing that has become the Disney-owned conglomerate Marvel wouldn’t exist without those guys.
I was hoping that Dr. Strange the movie was going to do for me what the first Spider-Man movie had done: capture the tone and the feel (the magic) of the original Strange Tales and transport me back to the ’60s for a few hours.
By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth (who did not make their pallid presence felt in the film), it did not.
I was rather disappointed. That disappointment dominates my response to the movie, which so many other viewers enjoyed. I’ll see it again on DVD; maybe my response will be different . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, supposed Master of the Mystic Arts. The actor is perhaps best known for his role as Khan in recent Star Wars movies, bit should be seen as the master sleuth in the television series Sherlock.
1 The Cosmic All was an 8-page science fiction strip that first appeared in Creepy #38 (1971).
2 Kirby finally left Marvel in 1970 for better ‘working conditions,’ which he received at DC. There he went on a new creative spree, launching New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People, which sold poorly and are now revered. He then moved on to create OMAC, Kamandi, and The Demon, among others. He returned to Marvel in 1975, his tail between his legs, for his declining years as the King of Comics.
3 Ditko left Marvel in 1966 for unstated reasons, although better ‘working conditions’ (more money and control of his art and creations) is a good guess. He wrote and drew some great horror/fantasy stuff for Jim Warren (Creepy and Eerie) and then moved on to his own Ayn Randian strips like Avenging World and Mr. A. He found his way to DC where he created new above-ground comics, including the Question, the Creeper, and Hawk And Dove.
“Actually, Kirby poured it on back at Marvel in the late 70’s, working on Captain America, Black Panther, Machine Man, the Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, a Silver Surfer graphic novel, and an adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. After that, he left Marvel for the greener pastures of Hanna-Barbera, where he developed cartoons.
And then Pacific Comics, who gave him a creator-owned venue. While Captain Victory and Silver Star did alright, Pacific certainly didn’t have the distribution that DC or Marvel had. In the mid-1980’s he basically retired, doing only freelance work from that point on.
As for Steve Ditko, he’s still at it, but he’s officially retired as of 1998. Ditko has been more interested in discussing Ayn Rand than Dr. Strange, and unlike Kirby he does not frequent comics conventions.” – Frank Daniels
After Ditko left Marvel, several artists tried their hand at Dr. Strange, including Wally Wood acolyte Dan Adkins. This is a page of original pencil and inked art: Adkins’s take on the other realms of the story wasn’t bad at all. Not Steve Ditko, but not bad.