where were the hoary hosts of hoggoth? (a review of “dr. strange” the movie)

I FINALLY 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.

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.

 

DrStrange Ditko1

The An­cient One (yes, he was an Asian male, not a Cau­casian fe­male) and Dr Strange from the classic Steve Ditko pe­riod of the mid 1960s.

Dr Strange is funny?!!?

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.

 

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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

 

DrStrange Ditko SpidermanAnnual

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.

Lee and Kirby and Ditko

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 …

 

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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, but should be seen as the master sleuth in the tele­vi­sion se­ries Sher­lock.

 


FOOTNOTES:

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 ’70s, working on Cap­tain America, Black Pan­ther, Ma­chine Man, the Eter­nals, Devil Di­nosaur, a Silver Surfer graphic novel, and an adap­ta­tion of 2001: A Space OdysseyAfter 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

 

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