Sunday, October 14, 2012

Who Was That Masked Man?

We'll let this character himself introduce you to your new

Marvel Trivia Question

Sorry. That's not the real question--he's just a little frustrated.
(Can you blame him?)

The real trivia question is: What was the name of this hero's secret identity??

It's really no big deal for a super-hero to adopt a secret identity--it's done all the time with new characters. But what if you're an established character, and everyone knows who and what you are? Isn't it a bit late to put on a mask and hide your identity from the world?

Well--let's take things one step at a time.

Initially, Dr. Strange had a good reason for changing his appearance thus. Involved in a pitched battle in another dimension, the foe he was fighting gave himself the appearance of Strange and fled back to Earth--consequently, the villain's presence on Earth (as Strange) prevented the real Dr. Strange from re-entering Earth's dimension, at least as himself. Unless he indulged in some mystical camouflage. Which resulted in the "masked marvel" costume you've already seen above.

As for who the culprit was who decided on this change in Dr. Strange's appearance, that would be writer Roy Thomas, presumably in an effort to boost sales of the Dr. Strange title by making Strange have more of a "super-hero" appearance--complete with secret identity, which we'll get to in a minute.

Needless to say, Strange was able to get back home and triumph over his opponent (Asmodeus, leader of the Sons of Satannish). But he decided to keep his new altered costume and mask:

If that explanation sounds a little glossed over, that's not surprising. As I said, Strange's identity is already a known fact to the world at large, mask or not. That would change later, with the help of Eternity--but for now, perhaps Thomas was just marking time in order to keep the costume around to see if it helped sales.

Now, keep in mind that Strange is still sort of under the radar at this point in time, as far as the Marvel universe is concerned. The most we'd seen of him prior to him getting his own title was in Strange Tales in half-issue tales, sharing the book with the Thing, the Human Torch, and Nick Fury (who was introduced in the title as head of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Doctor Strange was launched as its own book in June of 1968, ending the run of Strange Tales and taking over its numbering with issue #169.

I suppose Marvel was counting on the large "Doctor STRANGE" wording to bring along any regular readers of Strange Tales, and so felt it was a good idea to continue the old title's numbering--even though Dr. Strange had just over 20 issues of Strange Tales under his belt* (and half-issues, at that). Strange Tales had long since ceased to be a book with stories of the truly strange and weird tales it started out with--so any thoughts of alienating regular readers of Strange Tales with the switch in format was a ship that had already sailed.

*It looks like the abacus I lifted from the Ancient One's temple was defective! See the comments section for details.

Anyway, with his relative obscurity, Strange had a little room to maneuver, in terms of wiping his slate clean and starting over with no one the wiser. However, now giving him a secret identity was going to prove a little more hard to swallow. Anyone with eyes who knew of "Dr. Strange" could take one look at this new character and connect the dots. The colors of his garb were the same; the design of the marking on his chest was the same; and there's no getting around that cloak. And if you're still calling yourself "Dr. Strange," the thought of giving this character a secret identity seemed a non-starter.

What to do?

Enter "Stephen Sanders"--thanks to Eternity, who basically wiped "Stephen Strange" from Earth's history and memories. Let's let Strange himself sum things up:

That first series of Dr. Strange (changed from Doctor Strange after seven issues) only ran for fifteen issues, but featured some spectacular art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer in later issues--the respective penciller/inker team who would come to define not only Strange but other Marvel characters, either together or separately. And under Thomas's scripting, the stories hold their own for what came before with the character. Here's a splendid double-page spread by Colan and Palmer, featuring Strange and the Black Knight:

And in this scene where Strange is enlisting the help of the Avengers, he finds he has to perform an operation on the Knight, who has been injured by a mutual enemy. The scene is notable, in that it has Strange performing surgery for the first time since the accident which destroyed the use of his hands for such delicate work. Though you might cringe at a surgeon operating on a patient in full super-hero costume, sanitary conditions be damned.

But to make a long story short, after a time Strange became self-righteous in this new identity. After using both the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk to assist him in his battle with the Undying Ones (in separate meetings, but otherwise the first assemblage of the Defenders), Strange was disappointed in the kind of man he'd become. He decided to renounce sorcery, and return to private practice as a physician, though this time as a consultant. Which is why he virtually went off the map at Marvel, until it was time for Marvel Feature to introduce The Defenders--another concept of Roy Thomas, who of course needed Dr. Strange to complete the roster.

The problem was that, when we last left the good doctor, he was still in private consulting and with no powers. So at the tail end of that first Defenders story, Thomas included "The Return," where Strange finds himself walking by his old sanctum and sees that it's still showing signs of life. Investigating, he finds that his old enemy, Baron Mordo, has usurped his identity. Mordo quickly incapacitates the powerless Strange, and goes off to dinner--but Strange reaches out to the Ancient One, who tells him he can restore his powers but with the condition that Strange can never abandon sorcery again. And since we've already seen Strange fighting again in the prior story, it's obvious what Strange's answer was:

And presto, Dr. Strange is back. The Ancient One has also undone Eternity's creation of "Stephen Sanders," so Stephen Strange is back on the record and in everyone's memories. Beats me how the Ancient One can play ball on the same level as Eternity in that respect, since this was well before he died--but, I say let's just chalk it up to magic.


Jon H said...

Ah ha!

That masked Dr. Strange popped up in another of your posts (I think, maybe it was elsewhere) and I couldn't figure out what the deal was. It looked like The Vision wearing Dr. Strange's cloak.

Iain said...

I read that last battle between Steven and his masked Strange and got confused when he un-masked the fake strange to reveal him as Baron Mordu, does this mean the Baron was masked Strange all this time? Was the good Baron trying to fool everyone by doing good deeds? ^^

Rob Allen said...

You wrote: "Dr. Strange had just over 20 issues of Strange Tales under his belt" - not so! There were 55 Dr. Strange stories in Strange Tales #110-168.

Comicsfan said...

Quite right, Rob--that's a more sturdy belt than it looked like, eh? Thanks for the correction, which has been noted in the post.