ByBrad Barnes, writer at
Author of PEANUTS PIRATES PATRIOTS on Amazon Kindle, illustrator and screenwriter
Brad Barnes

Benedict Cumberbatch has been cast as Doctor Strange in the upcoming Marvel movie! Benedict is the kind of performer who can bring the hyper-awareness required to bring a character such as Dr. Strange to life!

Steve Ditko: the man behind the Master!
Steve Ditko: the man behind the Master!

Created by Steve Ditko, written by Stan Lee, Dr. Strange was as unusual a superhero to emerge from the 1963 Marvel Bullpen as could be imagined! An egotistical surgeon of exquisite skill, Stephen Strange suffered an injury which destroyed his fine motor control, and he squandered his considerable fortune searching for a cure. Besotted by alcohol, he spends his last penny traveling to Tibet on the rumor that the Ancient One could fix his hands. Once he arrives, Strange embraces the teachings of the Ancient One and becomes his disciple, becoming a Master of the Black Arts.

Tilda Swinton: an excellent Ancient One!
Tilda Swinton: an excellent Ancient One!

The upcoming Marvel movie has cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. Tilda is an Academy Award winner of tremendous intensity and is an excellent choice for this character! In this era of gender roles blurring, Tilda can embody the Eastern mysticism which defines the Ancient One and bring her physical assurance to suggest 600 years of defending the earth against magical assault!

Moving on from the Ancient One!
Moving on from the Ancient One!

My favorite era of Dr. Strange stories is during the 1970s, when "Stainless" Steve Englehart took over the writing chores! Over his 25 issues, Steve took Dr. Strange from the inventory book Marvel Premiere into his own title, once again, as well as integrating Dr. Strange into The Defenders non-team book, so Steve brought Dr. Strange into the larger Marvel Universe in a powerful way!

Steve began his story with the death of the Ancient One, for he saw fit to have Dr. Strange began his journey as the Sorcerer Supreme! Steve's stories were a series of arcs in which Dr. Strange is shaken to his core, rises to the challenges and advances to the next round of cosmic conflict.

Looking over his stories, Steve did an impressive job of keeping Dr. Strange cosmic, using characters like Nightmare, Eternity, Dormamu and Umar from old school tales. Dr. Strange was also vulnerable to more mundane attacks from Silver Dagger, Dracula and even the Devil himself! Most importantly, Steve deepened our understanding of Clea; Dr. Strange's disciple and lover; tying her to Umar and distinguishing her as an adept in her own right.

A girl, a dragon, it's hard to be mystic!
A girl, a dragon, it's hard to be mystic!

The culmination of Steve's development of Clea is in the most audacious story during his run: The Occult History of America! Published in 1976, Steve used the Bicentennial of America as a springboard to bring time travel to this Master Of The Mystic Arts! Beginning in Dr. Strange #17, "Utopia Rising" and cresting in Dr. Strange #18, these two issues were weird, wonderful and unresolved.

Time travel in comics is mostly a tool to correct internal comics continuity, but Steve uses time travel to illuminate how America benefitted from occult actors throughout her history.

"Utopia Rising" finds Dr. Strange and Clea traveling back to London 1618, where the meet Sir Francis Bacon, who authored "New Atlantis". We learn of the College Of The Six Days Work, which was a mystic order of men who would populate a land that would become America.

"The Dream Is Over" has Dr. Strange and Clea taking a ship with Benjamin Franklin in 1775. An estrangement has been growing between Dr. Strange and Clea after he had saved the universe from destruction. Yet Eternity recreated everything but himself, so Dr. Strange knows that Clea is a recreation and has yet to fully reconcile himself to that fact, emotionally. For her part, Clea has already immigrated from Dormamu's realm to be with Dr. Strange, so his coolness to her is profoundly troubling. Into this breach comes Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin is a fleshy mystic, as accomplished as any man who has ever lived, so when Benjamin chooses to seduce Clea he meets no resistance.

Dr. Strange #18 was Steve Englehart's last issue, and other hands finished the story, so where Steve was going with this never saw print. From what I have read in interviews, Steve had a weird third act in mind, so maybe it is better that he did not finish where he was going, but I actually doubt that, because this is one of his better ideas with a character he had tremendous discipline with.

To my mind, Dr. Strange realizing that Clea had been seduced by a better man would have led Dr. Strange to make a deeper commitment to Clea than he had managed to, before. Dr. Strange needed to man up, and I think that her tryst with Benjamin Franklin would have resulted in that.

But I recommend this story to Benjamin Cumberbatch not simply because Benjamin Franklin is a pimp. Benjamin Cumberbatch has made the streets of London come alive as Sherlock, and I believe that a political conspiracy would play better on screen than a sorcerous conflict if calibrated in a particular way. Dr. Strange #17 and #18 succeed as character-building stories which happen to involve sorcery and politics.

In other words, forget about Baron Mordo and remember Benjamin Franklin!


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