Sunday, April 3, 2016

Strange Days

By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!
    My other favorite Doctor who debuted the year I was born (1963) is Doctor Strange. I discovered him when I was a very young pre-teen growing out of my Supergirl and Wonder Woman comics and finding what I thought of as the "more mature", teenager-friendly Marvel Comics. (These superheroes had Angst and Stuff™, like me.)   

     I had come across a discarded copy of The Defenders and found myself most fascinated by the guy with the mustache and gray streaks in his hair that the other Defenders team members were just calling "Stephen" in this particular issue. He had somehow been captured by demons and badly needed rescuing by Valkyrie. (The fact that a valkyrie had to rescue him appealed to me. Norse mythology and the "Yay, girls!" factor.) I later learned that this was Doctor Stephen Strange and he usually wore a grandiose cape with a high gothic collar because he was some sort of  magician, and this was part of his fashion sense. Or at least the Sorcerer Supreme's, and his powers weren't working very well at this moment.
     This required further investigation on my part. (He seemed oddly sad in this particular comic and my teen-aged self wanted to make sure he was all right. He had Angst and Stuff™, apparently.) Strange in general was just a sad guy all around. He had important Sorceror Supreme stuff that needed doing and it was lonely and stressful work. I got that. 

      What this led to was my discovering what's been called the "trippy" and "psychedelic" weirdness of Steve Ditko's art, to be followed by such amazing artists as Gene Colan, Frank Brunner, P. Craig Russell and many others. Ditko originally based Strange's look on actor Vincent Price, but he went through many stages of handsomeness, from Errol Flynn to even Frank Zappa.

I still need Volume Four...
      Stephen Strange is a vain surgeon whose hands are scarred and crippled in a car accident. He travels the world in search of a cure and unwittingly finds himself in Tibet, where he meets a mysterious being named The Ancient One who sees that there is some hope and decency left in this arrogant, selfish man. And thus he trains him to become a dimension-hopping sorcerer who finally learns humility and becomes a hero. Angst and Stuff™ ensues. I ate it up.

Having fun with a blank
variant "sketch cover"and
my sketchbook drawing.

       The stories were just downright weird and the artwork was intricate, gorgeous and insane. I adored it. I found myself picking up issues of Doctor Strange intermittently through my college years, even though I was aware he wasn't exactly Marvel's top-selling superhero. (I went to college at Pratt Institute and often bought my comics in a small shop in Greenwich Village, the part of New York City where Doctor Strange's infamous Sanctum Sanctorum brownstone, with its distinctive window, was supposedly located.)

He tended to disappear and reappear in other characters' comics. I had hoped for years for a proper Doctor Strange film or television adaption, but knew his lack of sales probably would mean that it wouldn't be happening any time soon, if at all. And yes, I had seen the '70s Doctor Strange tv movie the first time it ever aired, and, well... just... no.) There was an excellent animated movie that Marvel released a few years back that changed a lot of the backstory but I enjoyed it nevertheless. This was closer to the Strange I was fond of.

      Oh, and then there was the Venture Brothers' Doctor Orpheus, of course, to hold me over with their wacky Doctor Strange parody. (Strange really needs a cat now and a goth teenage daughter... Doctor Orpheus is just so damned lovable.) BUT THEN I heard Stephen Strange's name mentioned for the first time in a modern Marvel film (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) which was the personal highlight of that film for me. Did this mean what I thought it meant...? After all these years, would we finally be getting a big-budget, special effects-laden, crazy Doctor Strange movie?

      Yes. And he would be played by Benedict (Sherlock) Cumberbatch. For me, it was like Christmas and Halloween (my favorite holiday) rolled into one. And did I mention it will also have Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor in it? (Swoons)

   Initially I thought Cumberbatch was far too young for the part, but hey, he's got the cheekbones. And he can play angst and arrogance equally well. I am keeping my fingers crossed. I'm hoping for the Doctor Strange movie I've always wanted to see for our 53rd birthday in November, Strange and I.
And I need to draw more of my favorite Marvel character. But he needs to say this just once in the film.
                                                            Just once? Please?

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