Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange, best known under his alias Doctor Strange, is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Created by artist Steve Ditko, the character first appeared in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963). A former doctor, Strange serves as the Sorcerer Supreme, the primary protector of Earth against magical and mystical threats. Debuting in the Silver Age of comics, the character has been featured in several eponymous comics series and adapted in a variety of media including video games, an animated television show, and films.
In 2012, Doctor Strange was ranked 33rd in IGN's list of "The Top 50 Avengers". A Marvel Studios live-action film adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role is set for a 2016 theatrical release.
Artist Steve Ditko and scriptwriter Stan Lee have described the character as having been originally the idea of Ditko, who wrote in 2008, "On my own, I brought in to Lee a five-page, penciled story with a page/panel script of my idea of a new, different kind of character for variety in Marvel Comics. My character wound up being named Dr. Strange because he would appear in Strange Tales.In a 1963 letter to Jerry Bails, Lee called the character Ditko's idea, saying,
Well, we have a new character in the works for Strange Tales (just a 5-page filler named Dr. Strange) Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. It has sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him-- 'twas Steve's idea and I figured we'd give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much. Little sidelight: Originally decided to call him Mr. Strange, but thought the "Mr." bit too similar to Mr. Fantastic -- now, however, I remember we had a villain called Dr. Strange just recently in one of our mags, hope it won't be too confusing!
Doctor Strange debuted in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963), a split book shared with the feature "The Human Torch". Doctor Strange appeared in issues #110–111 and #114 before the character's eight-page origin story in #115 (Dec. 1963). Scripter Lee's take on the character was inspired by the Chandu the Magician radio program that aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System in the 1930s. He had Doctor Strange accompany spells with elaborate incantations; though these often referenced established mythological figures, Lee has said he never had any idea what the incantations meant and used them simply because they sounded mystical and mysterious. Ditko showcased surrealistic mystical landscapes and increasingly vivid visuals that helped make the feature a favorite of college students at the time. Comics historian Mike Benton wrote,
The Dr. Strange stories of the 1960s constructed a cohesive cosmology that would have thrilled any self-respecting theosophist. College students, minds freshly opened by psychedelic experiences and Eastern mysticism, read Ditko and Lee's Dr. Strange stories with the belief of a recent Hare Krishna convert. Meaning was everywhere, and readers analyzed the Dr. Strange stories for their relationship to Egyptian myths, Sumerian gods, and Jungian archetypes.
Splash page for Dr. Strange Master of Black Magic! in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963), the character's first appearance. Art by Steve Ditko
"People who read Doctor Strange thought people at Marvel must be heads [i.e. drug users]," recalled then-associate editor and former Doctor Strange writer Roy Thomas in 1971, "because they had had similar experiences high on mushrooms. But I don't use hallucinogens, nor do I think any artists do.'' Originating in the early 1960s, the character was a predictor of counter-cultural trends in art prior to them becoming more established in the later 1960s, according to comic historian Bradford W. Wright: "Dr. Strange remarkably predicted the youth counterculture's fascination with Eastern mysticism and psychedelia."
As co-plotter and later sole plotter in the Marvel Method, Ditko took Strange into ever-more-abstract realms. In a 17-issue story arc in Strange Tales #130-146 (March 1965-July 1966), Ditko introduced the cosmic character Eternity, who personified the universe and was depicted as a silhouette filled with the cosmos. As historian Bradford W. Wright described,
Steve Ditko contributed some of his most surrealistic work to the comic book and gave it a disorienting, hallucinogenic quality. Dr. Strange's adventures take place in bizarre worlds and twisting dimensions that resembled Salvador Dalí paintings. Inspired by the pulp-fiction magicians of Stan Lee's childhood as well as by contemporary Beat culture, Dr. Strange remarkably predicted the youth counterculture's fascination with Eastern mysticism and psychedelia. Never among Marvel's more popular or accessible characters, Dr. Strange still found a niche among an audience seeking a challenging alternative to more conventional superhero fare.
Golden Age artist/writer Bill Everett succeeded Ditko as artist with issues #147-152, followed by Marie Severin through #160 and Dan Adkins through #168, the final issue before the Nick Fury feature moved to its own title and Strange Tales was renamed Doctor Strange. Expanded to 20 pages per issue, the Doctor Strange solo series ran 15 issues, #169-183 (June 1968-Nov. 1969), continuing the numbering of Strange Tales. Thomas wrote the run of new stories, joined after the first three issues by the art team of penciler Gene Colan and inker Tom Palmer through the end. Colan drastically altered the look of the series, as Thomas recounted: "…he had his own view of what these other worlds should look like. Everyone else sort of copied Ditko's versions of those extra dimensions, which were great and wonderful. When Gene came on, he didn't feel a real rapport with that, I guess, so his extra dimensions tended to be just blackness and smoke and things of that sort… Sometimes it was a little strange for a dimension Doc Strange had been to before to look different when drawn by Gene, but nobody complained." Thomas recalled in 2000 that he returned to work a day late from a weekend comic book convention to find that Marvel production manager Sol Brodsky had assigned Doctor Strange to writer Archie Goodwin, newly ensconced at Marvel and writing Iron Man. Thomas convinced Brodsky to allow him to continue writing the title. "I got very possessive about Doctor Strange," Thomas recalled. "It wasn't a huge seller, but [by the time it was canceled] we were selling the low 40 percent range of more than 400,000 print run, so it was actually selling a couple hundred thousand copies [but] at the time you needed to sell even more."