Monday, March 1, 2021

Dr. Strange--Sorcerer Supreme!


In my early days of collecting comics, there were times that I would indulge in grabbing a random stack of a title and re-reading those issues in sequence, one after the other. Usually, they would be books that I hadn't laid eyes on in awhile--either that, or issues which had a storyline that I'd enjoyed and wanted to revisit. These days, with other irons in the fire, I've been revisiting comics through my work with the PPC--but I think if I were to choose such a stack today, one title I'd want to pull would be the issues featuring Roy Thomas's run on Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, a "stack" of issues which spanned from 1989-1993--further pared down to the thirty-five issues which were co-written with Thomas's wife, Dann. (Thomas would continue solo on the title for sixteen additional issues.)

For its first four issues, the title was published bi-monthly, perhaps because a Doctor Strange book had at times failed to reap the financial gains that Marvel had hoped for; nevertheless, with Thomas's arrival, the title shifted to monthly publication, and the die was cast. Coming aboard with Thomas was artist Jackson Guice, who had notably helped to launch X-Factor three years earlier and, here, inked his own work for much of his lengthy stay while also handling the book's cover art. That, in tandem with Thomas's penchant for featuring pairings and guest-stars that would grab a reader's attention if only for the sake of curiosity, produced some eye-catching and interesting stories that actually worked fairly well.

Nor would Thomas be reticent about expanding on the character of Strange himself, bringing new tangents to his relationship with his former disciple, Clea, as well as exploring Strange's family. In that respect, one door would tend to open another, as the book once again began to delve into the living dead when we discover that Strange had inadvertently made his brother, Victor (Vic), into a vampire (who would then go on to become the new Baron Blood). Granted, having Thomas at the helm likely tended to produce a few headaches for those working on Marvel's Appendix books.

And where there are vampires, can Morbius be far behind?

It will admittedly take some effort to get your head around Thomas's rationale on how Vic was transformed into a vampire. Suffice to say that once you've read the full, circuitous explanation, you may find yourself wondering why the Ancient One didn't have reservations about whether or not his disciple was ready to assume the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme.

As we can see, Thomas has taken the opportunity to trot out Strange's martial arts training, which normally wouldn't amount to much when facing a super-strong foe unless you're packing an iron fist. Against the likes of Arkon, a warlord whom Thomas originally scripted in 1970, Strange can only make a valiant but hopeless attempt to bring his foe down.

One of the series' most out of the ordinary issues came fairly early in Thomas's run, a story which was almost entirely devoted to excerpts from an upcoming book written by Strange's friend and former love interest, Morgana Blessing, during the time when Strange was presumed dead--a book which reveals the truth about Stephen Strange's life as a sorcerer, as seen through the eyes of one who was in a position to know exactly what that life entailed and what led up to it. Upon his return, Strange is livid with Morgana, but decides to give her the benefit of the doubt when he calls on her for an explanation--yet even with seeing Strange alive and well, Morgana isn't in an entirely receptive mood.

The article in the Daily Bugle's "Now" magazine is a read in itself, and no small effort on the part of the Thomases (assuming either or both of them created its layout and/or script).  It would definitely be a page-turner if you happened to be one of the New Yorkers who had caught word on the street of the mystic named Dr. Strange, or, even if you had never heard of him, a fascinating exposé if true. Either way, it would doubtless do the job of building interest in and anticipation of Morgana's book--the release of which would be a windfall for its publisher, J. Jonah Jameson, and the bane of Strange, whose coveted privacy would evaporate overnight.

And if you're wondering why Strange doesn't simply handle this mystically, Thomas covers that base almost immediately--as he must, since he means for this part of his plot to continue for several issues.

Offhand, you and I could probably think of a number of workarounds for Strange here--for instance, what about a spell that simply causes everyone to dismiss Morgana's book as poppycock? National Enquirer fare? (And that's just off the top of my head, Doctor--you're bound to be more innovative in your field than I would be.)

As for Victor, he would continue to receive exposure in the distinctive costume of Baron Blood--while in mid-1990, the Thomases also have the distinction of scripting the last Dr. Strange issue produced by artist Gene Colan, who provides both pencils and inks.

In short, there's quite enough to keep the reader busy while perusing this series, as Thomas takes the opportunity to leave a more lasting mark on the book than what he contributed to the character's brief 1968-69 title (which switched to bi-monthly publication in its last few issues). And in addition to expected appearances by characters such as Baron Mordo, the dread Dormammu, Eternity, et al., Thomas isn't hesitant to shake up the book with the unexpected, such as Hobgoblin, the Juggernaut, the return of Silver Dagger, the Scarecrow, Red Wolf... even the Black Crow, a character I frankly never thought I would see in a Marvel story again. Nor was the title immune to the plethora of characters populating some of that decade's crossover events: Acts of Vengeance, Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity War, and Infinity Crusade. There were few gems to be found once Marvel's fortunes went south in the mid-'90s--but among those series which managed to shine before that point was reached, you may enjoy what Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme had to offer.

Covers by Geof Isherwood, mid- to late-1992, when Thomas had shifted to writing solo



Colin Jones said...

Marvel recently published "Dr Strange: Surgeon Supreme" in which Stephen Strange regains his surgical abilities so he's a surgeon AND a sorcerer.

Big Murr said...

I was really grooving to the "Surgeon Supreme" and it tripped me up when the title abruptly ended after a measly six issues.

The cover with Galactus in this blog post snapped my eyebrows up. Immediately prior to "Surgeon Supreme" was Mark Waid doing "Dr. Strange". Here I naively thought the six-parter encounter between Strange and Galactus was their first "mystico a demigod-o" confrontation. (In that I mean, more in-depth than the Sorcerer Supreme flying in as a cameo in Fantastic Four, laying waste to the universe's greatest danger, then flying away.)

Or was that Galactus cover you've chosen a standard comic book "bait & switch" grabber?

Back in the once-upon-a-time, I grudgingly swallowed the cloying premise that Mantis was a super dooper, unrivalled martial artist. And then, in the Defenders-Avengers War, I was therefore pleasantly startled to learn Dr. Strange had not only broken a few boards in the Ancient One's dojo, but was legitimate peer to challenge Mantis.

Comic continuity left the martial arts in place over the years, but never again has Strange shown the expertise to be an equal to Iron Fist, Shang-Chi, or Elektra. He demonstrates skills, but usually gets slapped down.

Then again, the few times I've seen Mantis in more recent times (ie: Guardians of the Galaxy), her martial arts glory days are apparently behind her as well. The tragedy of a "Mary Sue" character being thrown out into the real world...

Comicsfan said...

Gosh, Colin, are they recycling Donald Blake? Each had to learn humility, and each of them had to figure out creative ways to bolt in the middle of an operation in order to stop whatever super-villain chose that moment to attack. :)

Murray, that was indeed a bona fide Galactus story with a mystical twist--Galactus needing Strange, and the Eye of Agamotto, after finding Eternity comatose in space. The story was part of the Infinity War crossover event.