At long last, we know who's playing Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, in Marvel's upcoming movie, due Nov. 2016. But who is Dr. Strange? And what's so great about him? We've rounded up eight fantastic storylines about the surgeon-turned-wizard that are both awesome, and provide great material for Benedict Cumberbatch.
Top image: Artwork by Gene Colan.
1) "The Origin of Doctor Strange," Strange Tales #115
Origin stories may be a dime a dozen these days, but Dr. Strange's story is something a little different—and it's tailor-made for the Sherlock star. Stephen Strange was a brilliant, selfish, and incredibly arrogant neurosurgeon before a car accident shattered his hands and ended his surgical career. Unable to accept that he could no longer operate and unwilling to assist other doctors ("I must be the best…the greatest!!! Or else…nothing!" Strange exclaims) he seeks out the Ancient One for magical assistance, and it's there that he begins his magical training and his path back to goodness and humanity. Put simply, no one does brilliant, selfish, and arrogant like Cumberbatch, and this is one origin story that might be worth the time.
2) "Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic" and "Return to the Nightmare World," Strange Tales # 110 and #116.
These stories revolve around the villain Nightmare, the ruler of a dark dream dimension — who, in our dream casting, is played by either David Bowie or Tilda Swinton. Nightmare's fantastical, psychological menace seems like the perfect foil for the actor who brought such layered intensity to the role of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. (And Steve Ditko's astonishing artwork, particularly trippy in "Return to the Nightmare World," seems like the perfect backdrop.)
3) "The Domain of the Dread Dormammu" and "Duel with the Dread Dormammu," Strange Tales #126 and #127
Speaking of trippy artwork, this two-part introduction to longtime Strange villain Dormammu would make one beautiful psychedelic movie. In these issues Strange crosses into a dark domain to confront Dormammu, the "most powerful of the dwellers in the realm of darkness," and stop him from crossing over into our world. It's a great story, and it's well-suited to Cumberbatch: Strange has to face some morally complicated choices, and there's no straightforward victory at the end. And then there's this moment, which he would just kill:
Clea: "Stop! You must go no further! The Dread Dormammu waits to slay you!" Strange: "I am aware of that!"
4) "Beware Tiboro, the Tyrant of the Sixth Dimension," Strange Tales #129
In this story, a pundit panel television show wants Dr. Strange to come on as a guest — and when he won't, they decide to prove that magic doesn't exist. Of course, their plan goes horribly awry, and Dr. Strange has to save the day. This falls directly into a major Cumberbatch talent: portraying a character who is right, when a lot of other people are very, very wrong. The final fight scene also shows Strange's tricky side, although it comes with some strange notions of fair play that would probably have to be jettisoned.
5) "The Silver Dagger," Dr. Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts #1-5
This arc features an honest-to-god talking caterpillar, and if you don't want to see Benedict Cumberbatch exchanging rapid-fire witty dialogue with an enormous talking caterpillar, then we have very different goals for this film. Strange's character here also seems to fit neatly into Cumberbatch's oeuvre: he veers between flippant and extremely angry, always with a nice veneer of arrogance.
6) "To Have Loved and Lost," Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts #55
Although it's a terrible introduction to the character—the issue is a sort of mind fuck about whether Strange's magical powers are even real or just a delusion—the dark tone would suit Cumberbatch well, and he could probably hit a rough-looking Strange who's questioning his own sanity right out of the park. Plus, the storyline of Strange dealing with the departure of his lover/disciple is uncommonly moving and intense.
7) X-Statix Presents: Deadgirl #1-5
A big departure in tone for Strange, this seriously funny story features a fussy and depressed Dr. Strange teaming up with Dead Girl to stop a great band of back-from-the-dead villains. There's a lot of the dry humor that Cumberbatch excels at, along with plenty of room for witty banter. Some sample dialogue:
Strange: By the waxing moons of the lilac planet…I sense a malign hand at work." Cop: Thank god you're here. They're holed up inside. You'll need a loudspeaker. Strange: "No. No loud-speaker. The enigmatic orb of Snnr will suffice. I mean, do. It'll do."
8) Doctor Strange: The Oath
This limited series from Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin is widely thought to be the gold standard in Dr. Strange comics, and for good reason. It's a current, funny, relevant take on the good Doctor, who is portrayed with a huge ego and a ton of charisma (both standard issue items for Cumberbatch characters). There's also a pretty good part for the Night Nurse, and Rosario Dawson—who's playing the character on Netflix's Daredevil series—could be awesome opposite Cumberbatch.
9) "The Eternity Saga," Strange Tales #130-146
This arc is remarkable both for its length and its vision. It's an epic battle between Strange, Baron Mordo, and Dormammu that features amazing fight scenes, impressive plot twists, and some truly stunning Ditko artwork. The great part is that Dr. Strange gets pushed to his absolute limits — he's stripped of his powers, rendered blind, and chained up, while fleeing from his most deadly and powerful enemy. Dr. Strange is searching for the mysterious Eternity, who's basically a galaxy enclosed in the body of a human.
10) "Time Doom!," Marvel Premiere #11-14
Wildly blasphemous, this time-traveling epic sees Dr. Strange and his nemesis Baron Mordo chasing the evil sorcerer Sise-Neg (Genesis spelled backwards) throughout time, as Sise-Neg goes backwards to the beginning of the universe. Sise-Neg actually succeeds in recreating the entire Marvel Universe and becomes, basically God. For crazy cosmic weirdness, it's hard to beat this level of insanity. The story was so controversial that Stan Lee wanted Steve Englehart and Frank Bruner to print a retraction, but the two made up a fake letter from a preacher praising the story, and printed that instead. What's great about this story is it gives Dr. Strange a perfect foil — another sorcerer who is willing to "play God," to the point of actually becoming God. And magic would be a fascinating way to introduce time travel to the Marvel movie universe.