Strange Tales #115 (Dr. Strange)
Issue(s): Strange Tales #115 (Dr. Strange story only)
The old wizard refuses to help the Doctor because his "motives are still selfish." (Later, Doctor Strange will say that the Ancient One taught him to help all humans, including criminals, so this is probably manipulation on the Ancient One's part; he knows that Stephen will become his successor). The doctor is stuck in the cave due to a massive snowstorm (also possibly the Ancient One's doing) and he keeps butting heads with Mordo, the Ancient One's current disciple. One day, as the snow is nearly gone, Strange sees Mordo attack the Ancient One, but Mordo places a spell on Strange to prevent him from talking about it.
So Dr. Strange vows to learn magic so that he can remove the spell and protect the Ancient One, for "what would happen to the world as we know it" if the Ancient One was killed. As soon as Strange agrees to be a pupil, the old wizard removes Mordo's spell. He's known about Mordo's treachery all along but prefers to keep him close rather then set him loose on the world. Well, you know, he could stop teaching him powerful magic! Mordo becomes a vicious killer and a major threat to the world; it doesn't seem like a good move on the Ancient One's part to not banish him to another dimension or capture him or brainwash him or something. But that's how the origin ends.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This is being placed during the hero gap due to Dr. Strange's appearances in Marvel: The Lost Generation. I think it works very well since his early tales especially focus on the weird and supernatural which helps bridge the Monster Age, and since he operates outside of the public eye which means he fits in the Hero Gap. For more justification from Roger Stern, see the Marvel: The Lost Generation entry.
Continuity Insert? Y
My Reprint: Essential Dr. Strange vol. 1
Inbound References (21): show
I guess the reference to Doctor Strange training for "years" is enough justification to set this so far ahead of FANTASTIC FOUR #1, but I've never been comfortable with the idea of Strange being active before the beginning of the Marvel Age. It screws with the "seniority" of Marvel's Silver Age characters. Despite what John Byrne says in LOST GENERATION (which he apparently based on a vague, throwaway reference to Doctor Strange being a "name whispered in the shadows" in his earliest appearances) I prefer to think that Strange did not complete his training and become Doctor Strange as we know him until right around the same time (or just after) the Fantastic Four got their powers. The "Hero Gap" is an unnecessary and cluttered addition to the Marvel mythos and I wish it would be ignored.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | April 26, 2013 10:44 AM
"He's known about Mordo's treachery all along but prefers to keep him close... ...to not banish him to another dimension or capture him or brainwash him or something."
This can actually make a twisted bit of sense if you think about just how manipulative the Ancient One is in that first story.
He refuses to heal Strange's hands... because he wants him as an apprentice (and arguably, already knows in advance that Strange is destined to be his apprentice, and may have known for many years - long before Strange showed up). He clearly knows everything that's going on... but does nothing because he wants to force Strange to go through a bit of introspection and become the hero he's meant to be. He only tells people precisely as much as he wants them to know to get them to react in the way he wants them to.
Clearly, being Sorcerer Supreme doesn't require someone to be NICE, merely effective.
Now consider that some of Strange's earliest triumphs all come while fighting Mordo. The weaker, inexperienced Strange is constantly forced to train, improve, and generally become more and more powerful to keep defeating Mordo's schemes. Eventually, one of Mordo's schemes takes the Ancient One out of the picture entirely - forcing Strange to rise to the challenge without the aid of his mentor (and incidentally, making contact with the living avatar of the entire universe in the process).
By the time the Ancient One finally passes on and relinquishes his position as Sorcerer Supreme to Strange (in Marvel Premiere #10, in 1973), Strange has been around as a character for 10 years. More than enough time to hone his skills enough to be ready for the responsibility. And a LOT of that honing happened because Mordo was always around forcing him to become better.
I wouldn't put it past the Ancient One to deliberately train Mordo solely so that he could exist as a foil to Strange, unwittingly helping to train his own nemesis for the role he was ultimately destined to fulfill.
Posted by: ParanoidObsessive | July 19, 2014 11:57 AM
Since I was referencing the early Doctor Strange stories from Strange Tales in my comments about Doctor Strange vol 3 #10 (1989), I decided to look at fnord's write-ups on them. I've always been fond of these stories. Most people understandably cite Steve Ditko's three plus year run on Amazing Spider-Man as one of the highlights of his career, but for myself I have always preferred his Doctor Strange stories. He drew some mind-blowing stuff in them.
Obviously Ditko's work improved, and a couple of years after this issue, when he was plotting & drawing Strange's lengthy clash with Baron Mordo & Dormammu and the search for Eternity, we got some genuinely epic stories. But even this earlier material is great. Strange's origin really is brilliant. I wonder who came up with it, Lee or Ditko? All these decades later I suppose we will never know. Well, whoever was the main plotter on this story, it defined Strange for his entire existence.
I was recently thinking about this story, what with the controversial casting of Tilda Swindon as the Ancient One in the upcoming movie, to avoid any problems with Tibet and China. Maybe the filmmakers could have gone by Lee's script for this story and have the Ancient One be from India.
Posted by: Ben Herman | June 12, 2016 11:59 AM
Re: whether it was Lee or Ditko- note that Strange refuses to save a man's life unless he's paid- the same thing we saw Electro do in his first appearance. Byrne has argued that Ditko's heroes often initially act selfishly and need a kick in the pants from the universe to become heroes- for example, Peter Parker refusing to stop the burglar and having the universe punish him as a result. I'd be inclined to think this was therefore more Ditko than Lee.
Posted by: Michael | June 12, 2016 12:26 PM
That is a valid observation, Michael.
Although there isn't any way to confirm it one way or the other, it's generally agreed that on the early Doctor Strange and Spider-Man stories Ditko was very likely the uncredited co-plotter. Of course no one involved in the creation of those comic books could have had any idea that half a century later people would be so interested in the exact division of labor, of who was responsible for what. Otherwise Lee would probably have included more precise credits, if only to avoid people continually asking him about it for the next five decades.
Posted by: Ben Herman | June 12, 2016 12:40 PM
As an addendum to my last comment, with the Doctor Strange movie now out in theaters, it is interesting to see several news articles acknowledging Steve Ditko as either the primary or the sole creator of the character, and referring to Stan Lee's contributions as scripting Ditko's plots & editing Strange Tales.
Posted by: Ben Herman | November 4, 2016 11:42 AM
According to Marvel Saga #1, "it was a mere handful of years ago" that Doctor Stephen Strange had recently returned from his own travels and taken a house in New York's Greenwich Village. At that time, Namor was still an amnesiac derelict, Colonel Nick Fury still had two good eyes and was with the C.I.A., Tony Stark had not yet become Iron Man, Dr. Robert Bruce Banner was still working on the Gamma Bomb for General Ross, Dr. Henry Pym was about to test the size-changing particles he had discovered, Dr. Don Blake was experiencing a sudden urge to take a vacation to Norway, Peter Parker had not yet been bitten by that radioactive spider, and noted scientist Reed Richards was rumored to be involved in a secret space project.
I have no idea if this timetable is still considered valid.
Posted by: Don Campbell | November 4, 2016 2:30 PM
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