Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange is a hero like no other.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created him to explore a new avenue in their storytelling and bring new themes to their stories. Rather than a suit of armor or a radioactive spider, his abilities come from the mystic arts. In Strange's 53-year history, he has travelled to countless dimensions and battled a number of foes, ranging from celestial beings such as Galactus to demons such as Mephisto.
But before all of this, he had to battle a much more relatable and human foe: his own ego.
The Finest Neurosurgeon In The World — And The Loneliest
Before Strange had even thought of the Eye of Agamotto, he was a highly respected neurosurgeon. He graduated from Columbia University in record time and quickly rose through the ranks at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
As a consequence of rapid success before the age of 30, however, he became arrogant, caring more about the money than about his patients.
He was a selfish and greedy man, even going so far as to refuse to treat anyone who couldn't afford their medical bills. Cold and egotistical, Strange also became a loner — especially when his mother passed away towards the end of his residency — closing himself off from the world.
Tragedy struck Stephen Strange again when, two years after his mother died, his father became terminally ill. Strange was unable to take any more heartbreak and refused to visit his dying father.
This outraged his brother, Victor, who confronted Strange at his apartment. The brothers argued until, in his blind rage, Victor walked out into the path of an oncoming car and was killed. Strange had lost his entire family — and he was about to lose his sense of self.
Deeper Into Depression
Wracked with guilt, Strange buried himself even deeper into his work and he became even more reclusive. One fateful day, he was involved in a terrible car accident — and though he survived, his life would never be the same again. The accident severely damaged the nerves in his hands, putting an end to his promising career.
As neurosurgery was all that he had ever known, Strange fell into a spiral of depression and used all of his time and energy to find a way to restore his hands. He pursued every possible treatment, whether legitimate or not, but he was still unable to find any answers. He became a vagrant who had to perform back-street medical procedures to raise the funds to pay his ever-increasing bar tabs. He had truly hit rock bottom.
Man Of Science, Man Of Faith
Strange's increasing desperation led him to the not-quite-scientific conclusion that a faith healer in Tibet named the Ancient One might be able to cure him. As a man of science, mysticism was totally alien to Strange, but he pawned the last of his possessions and traveled to the Himalayas, searching for answers at the Ancient One's palace.
The Ancient One looked into Strange's heart and saw a materialistic and egotistical man, albeit one with a buried goodness. He gave Strange a new purpose — not as a medical doctor, but as the Sorcerer Supreme, Earth's protector against magical threats, opening Strange's mind and introducing him to a whole new world of possibility.
"The movie's about a guy who gets his identity taken away," said Doctor Strange executive producer Stephen Broussard at a recent Marvel event in Los Angeles. "He took it for granted that he knew everything."
Screenwriter Jon Spaihts added, "He is obliged to accept the possibility that he can't understand all this intellectually," though — as a neurosurgeon — Strange is uniquely positioned with "an expertise between" objective science and subjective perception.
Strange observes mind-bending wonders that he could never have imagined, and realizes that there is far more to life than money. No longer a miserable Scrooge, Doctor Strange discovers a new reason to live.
Doctor Strange's Emotional Component Took Him Beyond The Crimefighter Archetype
Doctor Strange isn't the only superhero who is a loner, of course. It took Spider-Man many years to eventually join the Avengers; Batman spends most of his time brooding in a freakin' cave!
But Strange's journey is a cosmic reflection on solitude and the power of opening oneself up to a (literal) new worldview; at first he believes he can only be one thing — a neurosurgeon — but shedding his preconceptions is what frees him from his misery. By embracing reinvention, he is able to look after humanity instead of merely his own self-interest.
His role as the Sorcerer Supreme is not fueled by rage and vengeance; he is not trying to strike fear into criminals' hearts. In fact, Doctor Strange is almost the total opposite of this. Though he suffers personal tragedy, he battles back from the brink; his serenity — not his bitterness — is what makes him stronger.
Strange's Mission Is Drastically Different (And More Isolating) Than Other Superheroes'
Compared to Batman or Daredevil, who fight street toughs and mob bosses to clean up their cities, Strange's battle is in a totally different ballpark. As Sorcerer Supreme, Strange is tasked with protecting the Earth (and sometimes the entire universe) from a huge range of threats, from cosmic beings to demons, on a plane that the vast majority of people aren't even aware of.
He does this from his Manhattan base, the Sanctum Santorum, accompanied only by his assistant Wong. Strange takes it upon himself to shoulder the responsibility of protecting reality itself, and will often be found meditating or researching into the mystic arts to ensure he is ready for any threat that comes his way.
We All Want To Believe
It might not seem like it at first — since most of us don't have any neurosurgical or magical knowledge — but Doctor Strange's story is something that everyone can relate to in some way or another, even without a Cloak of Levitation. The problems that led him to become the Sorcerer Supreme were all very human: he let his pride get in the way of his decency, he lived for material possessions, and he stubbornly resisted change when circumstances forever altered his options.
Likewise, we're all living in a world that has forced us to reassess our dreams, maybe even putting them on hold. Nobody has had as easy of a decade as they could have; we all want a quick fix to our problems right now. If only we could cast a spell to vanquish student debt or wave our hand to reverse global warming!
Doctor Strange offers us a glimpse into the impossible at a time when the world's problems — war, hatred, environmental collapse — seem so insurmountable, only magic could solve them.
We've all had to endure change, no matter how small. It is one of life's great inevitabilities, and it's never easy, but Doctor Strange's story teaches us to embrace change rather than fear it. Often the greatest opportunities come along when you stop looking for them.
Bad things will happen in our lives, but that doesn't mean it is the end. The human spirit is capable of such amazing resiliency; we're able to overcome anything, and — as Stephen Strange discovers — the more we overcome, the more we become.
Doctor Strange opens in theaters on November 4th.