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Top Ten Facts About DOCTOR STRANGE - We Are Movie Geeks

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Top Ten Facts About DOCTOR STRANGE

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Face front, true believers! Class is in session! Let’s call this “Doctor Strange 101”, an introduction to the newest member of the “Marvel movie-verse”, although, as you’ll soon learn, the sorcerer supreme is one of the oldest heroes. So, to get you up to speed before heading to the multiplex, we’re giving you a top ten list of facts about the “master of mystic arts”. First, a look at his lineage….

1. DOCTOR STRANGE HAS LOTS OF “MAGIC HERO” PREDECESSORS
Let’s go back over a 100 years, when magicians where a popular part of live entertainment. Many real-life stage performers like Houdini and Blackstone branched out into the printed page, starring in fictional exploits via booklets called “penny dreadfuls” which became the lurid pulp novels. In 1931 a radio show presented the adventures of the mysterious “Chandu the Magician” (one big fan was young Stan Lee). Edmund Lowe battled master criminal Bela Lugosi in 1932’s CHANDU THE MAGICIAN feature film from Fox studios. Two years later Lugosi would switch places, playing the hero in a movie serial.

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The greatest “slight-of-hand” hero sprang from the newspaper funny pages in 1934 when Lee Falk and Phil Davis created the comic strip sensation “Mandrake the Magician”. Writer Falk would score again a few years later with the first “costumed hero”, The Phantom. Mandrake would have his own radio program along with a movie serial.

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Comic books quickly emulated the hero with countless magic men. Before striking gold with the “man of steel” Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster launched “Dr. Occult”. “Zatara the Magician” was part of the landmark “Action Comics” issue one (his daughter Zatanna would be one of the first magic super-heroines). Fawcett comics, home of Captain Marvel, had “Ibis the Invincible”. The golden helmeted “Dr. Fate” was a founding member of DC comics’ Justice Society of America. There was even a “Doc Strange” in the 1940’s, though he was closer in spirit to the pulps’ “Doc Savage”, throwing punches rather than casting spells.

2. DOCTOR STRANGE WAS CREATED BY THE SPIDER-MAN TEAM

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That duo being editor/writer Stan Lee and artist, co-plotter Steve Ditko (the reclusive talent who is a real man of mystery, check out the excellent Jonathan Ross BBC doc “Searching for Steve Ditko” on YouTube). And, as mentioned above, the good doctor is part of that first wave of Marvel heroes. When the “Fantastic Four”  was a news stand smash, the floundering Atlas comics became Marvel, and Lee and his artists soon unleashed several follow-up hero books. “The Incredible Hulk”, “Ant Man and the Wasp”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “The Invincible Iron Man”, and “The Mighty Thor” preceded Strange with “The Avengers”, “Daredevil”, and “The X-Men” soon following. And speaking of Spidey….

3. DOCTOR STRANGE CO-STARRED WITH SPIDER-MAN ON A RECORD ALBUM

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Actually (as you see in this pic above) in a “rockcomic”, an LP album from Buddha records in 1972, its full title “Spider-Man: From Beyond the Grave”. With brand new rock songs for chapter stops, it tells an original tale of the “webhead” getting help from Dr. Strange as he rescues the ever-frail Aunt May from the clutches of the Kingpin. The Album opened up to showcase story illustrations by then current Spider-man artist John Romita. Let’s take a listen…

4. DOCTOR STRANGE SHARED A COMIC BOOK WITH THE HUMAN TORCH AND NICK FURY

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And strangely enough, it was “Strange Tales”. Pictured above is issue 110 featuring the doctor’s first appearance…and he’s not even on the cover!! Back in 1963, Marvel was limited by their retail distributor. They could only put out a dozen or so monthly books. And so they converted their fantasy, monster, and science fiction anthologies into super-hero pairings, splitting the page count. “Tales of Suspense” had a ten page lead “Iron Man” story, followed by a ten page “Captain America” tale. “The Incredible Hulk” shared “Tales to Astonish” with “Ant-Man/ Giant-Man” (until he was replaced with “Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner”). “The Human Torch” seemed to be the break-out star of the “Fantastic Four” comic, so Stan Lee decided he should star in solo stores in “Strange Tales” (Ben Grimm AKA “The Thing” would join the Torch). Doctor Strange would take up the back pages. Oddly, readers wouldn’t get to read his origin story until issue 115. When the TV and movie spy craze hit, the Torch was replaced by all new modern-day adventures of Nick Fury (the star of a WWII-set comic “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos”), now the director of a high-tech super espionage outfit known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (no doubt inspired by the TV smash “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”). Near the end of the 60’s Marvel changed distributors and was able to expand their line giving solo books to all their heroes, including the doctor.

5. FOR A SHORT TIME DOCTOR STRANGE WORE A MASK

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Yes, that’s him underneath the blue face mask. In response to sagging sales, the powers at Marvel decided that Strange should look more like your standard super-hero, hence the “cover-up” on this 1969 issue along with a tight-fitting body leotard hinting that his”sanctum santorium” has a pretty great weight room. Happily the change didn’t take, and readers were able to gaze into his dark, brooding eyes and be dazzled by his many facial hair experiments (pencil-thin ‘stashe, droopy “Fu-Manchu”, “Van Dyke” goatee, etc.) once more.

6. DOCTOR STRANGE LED HIS OWN “SUPER-TEAM”

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And there’s the first appearance of that team in the 1971 “try-out” book “Marvel Feature” issue one, “The Defenders”. For the first three issues of that book, and the first few issues of their solo title, the Defenders were Strange, the Incredible Hulk, and Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Their ever-expanding membership roster would include the Silver Surfer, Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Gargoyle, and Luke Cage, along with many others. Two years later they would go head to head with Marvel’s premiere hero team in “The Avengers/Defenders War” crossover story. Recently they were animated on “The Super Hero Squad Show”. And there’s a live action Defenders mini-series in the works for the Netflix streaming service, however the doctor will not be a part of it. This new show will unite the Marvel Netflix series stars: Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil.

7. DOCTOR STRANGE FIRST STARRED IN A MOVIE 38 YEARS AGO

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A 2 hour movie for television actually. In the mid 1970’s Marvel licensed several of their characters to Universal Studios for possible new TV shows on the CBS network. Thor, Iron Man, the Sub Mariner, and the Human Torch never made it into production (this deal may be the reason that the 1970’s NBC animated Fantastic Four Saturday morning show features “Herbie the Robot” rather than the Torch). One huge hit did come of this venture: producer Kenneth (“V”) Johnson’s  version of “The Incredible Hulk” starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferringo spawned a couple of 2-hour TV movies that lead to a weekly series that lasted 5 years and would inspire three 2-hour reunion TV movies for NBC in the late 80’s, early 90’s. There were a couple of 2-hour Captain America movies starring Reb Brown that aired, though no series followed. But Strange only got one shot. The pilot film written and directed by Phillip DuGuere, Jr. (“Simon & Simon”) and aired but once in 1978 when it was clobbered in the ratings by ABC’s “Roots” miniseries. It starred relative unknown Peter Hooten as psychiatry resident Stephen Strange who is trained by Thomas Lindmer (Oscar-winner Sir John Mills in a riff on the comics’ Ancient One) and aide Wong (Clyde Kusatsu) in order  to thwart the evil plans of immortal sorceress Morgan Lefay (“Arrested Development’s Lucille Bluth, Jessica Walter, in a slinky, sultry role). Oddly, Strange was given a costume more garish than the classic garments of the Marvel books. Here’s a bit of it…

8. DOCTOR STRANGE HAS BEEN ANIMATED FOR 35 YEARS

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And wouldn’t you know it, Spidey introduced the doctor to cartoon audiences way back in 1981 on his hit NBC Saturday morning program “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends”. The particular episode was titled “7 Little Superheroes” and was a take-off of the Agatha Christie whodunit “…And Then There Were None”. In the story, Spidey and those AFs Iceman and Firestar are invited to a secluded estate. There they meet the other four superheroes, Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, Shanna the She-Devil (a jungle heroine) and Doctor Strange. One by one they disappear, thanks to the Chameleon (voiced by the fabulous Hans Conried).

Over the next few decades Strange would pop up in nearly all the animated Marvel TV shows, from the X-Men to “Avengers Assemble”. He would eventually star in his own straight-to-home-video animated feature “Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme” in 2007.

9 DOCTOR STRANGE BATTLED DRACULA

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No fooling, there’s the pic to prove it. In the early 1970’s the restrictive Comics Code Authority finally loosened their rules and regulations and permitted supernatural characters “presented in the classic style”. Marvel, responding to the renewed interest in horror movies and TV shows, jumped in, publishing a comic based on the now public domain Bram Stoker’s Dracula, “The Tomb of Dracula”. It was soon established that Drac and his cast (including future film star Blade) were part of “the Marvel Universe”. The Count fought the other Marvel monsters (the “Werewolf by Night”, etc.) and almost bumped into Spider-Man on a cruise ship. It was inevitable that he would face down the “Master of the Mystic Arts”, and he did so in a crossover from his own book (issue 44) and Doctor Strange issue 14, both drawn by the incomparable Gene Colan (the regular artist on both titles). In a much later story, Strange would cast a spell that banished vampires from the Earth (of course it wouldn’t last).

10. DOCTOR STRANGE WAS A  1960’s COUNTER-CULTURE ICON

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The Marvel heroes were extremely popular with the 60’s college students, but Strange struck a chord with those, ahem, experimenting. The offices of the NYC Marvel bullpen were bombarded with letters wondering just which “substances” were inspiring these flights into other dimensions. Stan Lee always insisted that he never indulged in anything stronger than a martini. This notion was further fueled by Thomas Wolfe’s 1968 book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”. Wolfe mentioned that author Ken Kesey (“One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest) and his merry band of LSD-fueled pranksters were huge fans of the doctor’s comic book adventures.

There ya’ go! Oh alright, here’s a bonus: Strange was named checked in another Marvel Studios movie. In 2014’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, when SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell  is confronted by Cap, Black Widow, and the Falcon about potential Hydra targets, he rattles off a list that includes,”…Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange..”.

And that’s really it! You should be all set to grab a big tub of popcorn (or any snack), plop down in a plush, reclining seat, slip on those 3-D specs and witness the feature film debut of that superior spellcaster. Who says this isn’t the Marvel Studios era of titanic, terrific top ten lists? Excelsior!

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Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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