#DoctorStrange is the 14th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in many ways it's a fresh start. Unlike Captain America: Civil War, you don't need to be 100% up-to-speed with the wider #MCU in order to recognize the characters and appreciate the plot. Doctor Strange introduces viewers to a whole new aspect of the MCU, and in so doing it takes a small step away from the wider shared universe. Don't get me wrong; the eagle-eyed viewer will spot a few gentle continuity nods, but the truth is that Doctor Strange stands on its own two feet.
Having said that, #Marvel has been building up to this latest blockbuster for months. While you don't need to have watched any other Marvel movies in order to appreciate Doctor Strange, the tie-in comics are another matter. In fact, moreso than with any other MCU film to date, the tie-ins are essential reading. So here's your guide to everything you need to know from the tie-in comics!
Doctor Strange Prelude #1
The first issue of the official Prelude comics introduces us to the Masters of the Mystic Arts: the sorcerers who protect reality itself from the forces of darkness. Assembled by the Ancient One, the Masters of the Mystic Arts actively travel the world, policing it and preventing evil magic from going unchecked.
The Masters are the reason sorcery hasn't really been touched on in the MCU before now. The Masters are experts at identifying and containing mystical threats (although, as viewers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 will know, they sometimes miss a few). The reason that we haven't seen magic in the MCU before, basically, is because the Masters of the Mystic Arts have been really good at their job!
This first issue introduces us to a few key Masters; Benedict Wong's Wong, Mads Mikkelsen's Kaecilius, Linda Louise Duan's Tina Minoru, and Mark Anthony Brighton's Daniel Drumm. Those names will be very familiar to comic book fans, and Kaecilius and Wong are particularly important to Doctor Strange's plot.
Doctor Strange Prelude #2
The second Prelude comic introduces us to Tilda Swinton's Ancient One and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo. It does this by presenting a particularly important mission, with the Masters of the Mystic Arts identifying a threat that is beyond them; the Ancient One herself is the only one who can save the day here.
It's a fascinating issue, because it helps us understand the relationship between the Ancient One and Mordo, her prize pupil, and closest confidant. It also gives us a sense of just how powerful the Ancient One truly is, while offering some dark hints at a major character arc in the film.
The Zealot is an unusual Prelude comic; it's actually a digital Infinite Comic, sold on the ComiXology website. Although The Zealot is soon to be published in paper format, I personally strongly recommend purchasing the digital version. Infinite Comics give artists a tremendous opportunity to exercise their creativity, using the flow of panels to almost simulate animation. Paper format simply doesn't manage to capture the flow and style of an Infinite Comic.
Perhaps the most important tie-in, The Zealot dives deep into the character of Kaecilius, the main villain of Doctor Strange. It fleshes out his tragic backstory, explores the character journey that leads him to darkness, and shows the first faltering steps along that path to evil.
Let me be clear: this Infinite Comic is essential reading. It adds an additional dimension to Doctor Strange, giving the film extra levels of tone and depth. It's actually quite surprising to see some extremely important character arcs detailed in this Infinite Comic rather than in the film. If you don't pick this one up, you'll really be missing out.
Doctor Strange - Mystic Apprentice #1
Published just a week before the North American release of Doctor Strange, Mystic Apprentice #1 is the first comic to give us a taste of Stephen Strange's life in Kamar-Taj. Set during the events of the movie, it shows Stephen Strange as an apprentice, struggling to learn the skills he will need in order to survive. It's not essential, but it does flesh out his training in a little more detail, and resonates well with a couple of the film's in-jokes.
Mystic Apprentice is also accompanied by some bonus features, which are well worth picking up. It includes reprints from two classic Marvel comics. Strange Tales #110 was the issue that introduced him, and Strange Tales #115 finally gave eager readers Doctor Strange's backstory. Including reprints of these classic stories makes the book a worthwhile collector's piece.
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As you can see, unlike other Marvel films you don't need to rewatch everything that's gone before in order to appreciate Doctor Strange; but the tie-ins really are important for this film, and in the case of The Zealot give far more depth to the movie than it would otherwise have. If you want the complete experience of Doctor Strange, these are the tie-ins you need to read!
Doctor Strange releases November 4th - don't miss it!