Sunday, 13 November 2016

Strange Tales #110. The first appearance of Dr Strange.

Strange Tales #110, Dr Strange makes his first appearance By the Hoary Hosts of Hogwarts! It's an exciting time for all fans of the mystics arts, with Meddly Mick Thrunglesnatch's Dr Strange taking the global box office by storm.

And that can only mean one thing.

That it's time for me to cynically cash-in and try to raise my page-view numbers by looking at the sorcerous surgeon's first ever appearance.

That appearance was, of course, within the pages of Strange Tales #110, and such was Marvel's faith in the character that he didn't even get to feature on the cover.

Was our hero daunted by this omission?

Of course he wasn't. He was too busy wondering when the Ancient One was finally going to die, and concentrating on the dark forces that surround us.

Strange Tales #110, Dr Strange
It's New York. A man is being tormented by dreams of a chained and hooded figure.

What can it mean?

He doesn't know but he knows of a man who might.

That man is Dr Strange who obliges by promising to enter his dreams that night to get to the heart of the problem.

No sooner has he done so and discovered the chained figure represents victims of the man's ruthless business practices, than Strange encounters a much bigger problem - his, "Ancient foe," Nightmare has appeared and now refuses to let him leave.

As Strange and Nightmare face-off, the nameless man wakes from his slumbers and decides to shoot Strange while he's still in a trance, in order to prevent him revealing what he knows.

Fortunately, thanks to his psychic link to Strange, the Ancient One opens the Eye of Agamotto, the would-be killer is thwarted and Strange escapes back to the land of the waking, all ready to give the man a good lecture and, no doubt, escort him to the nearest police station.

Strange Tales #110, Dr Strange, Nightmare
To be honest, with its total earnestness, its lack of length and its not exactly warm hero, the tale comes across more like a one-off curiosity than the start of a sensational new series that's going to take the world by storm but it's pleasingly drawn by Steve Ditko, and Stan Lee reins in his own showboating instincts to create a sense of the sombre and mysterious.

I'm not totally sure how Strange manages to get past Nightmare and back to the land of the waking. He basically just seems to fly past Nightmare who stands there while he does so. This does give the impression that he's not exactly the greatest threat in the universe.

Another oddity is there's a sequence in which Strange's astral self flies all the way from New York to Tibet, only to be told, when he gets there, to go straight back to New York. Well, that wasn't a wasted journey then.

The other thing that strikes me is that both Strange and the Ancient One spend the whole story with their eyes closed. There is literally not one panel where they have them open. I would assume this is Steve Ditko's attempt to make them look Asian, except I can't believe Ditko really believed that people from Asia never open their eyes. How did he think they avoid walking into things?

Therefore, I shall be kind and assume that it's simply intended as a trait that he decided people of a mystical bent possess. It is interesting though that the strip started out with two central characters who were Asian and, by the time the film was released, they'd both managed to turn non-Asian. I do worry that Wong might be next.

Strange Tales #110, Dr Strange
I also wonder if Ditko's intention was that the chained figure is meant to represent someone the unnamed man has murdered but Stan Lee, inspired by Jacob Marley, decided to water it down and make him simply represent the victims of the man's ruthless business methods.

Anyway, it's all nicely moody and atmospheric and gives us a pleasing introduction to a smattering of Strange's powers and his mentor but I refuse to believe there was a single person who read this tale at the time and concluded that one day it would be the subject of a multi-million dollar movie. Why, for that to be the case, they'd have to have been almost as psychic as Strange himself.

PS. A great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to the first person who can guess which early 1990s chart hit was lodged in my brain while I was reading the sequence in which Nightmare is refusing to let Strange get back to his own world.


Aggy said...


Well originally I was thinking "Nightmare on my street" by Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff but a quick google says that was released in 1988. So I check my second guess "Are you ready for Freddie" by Fat Boys but that was 1988 too.

From this I can deduce I listened to a lot of music in 1988...

So I don't know. Let's say "Dreams" by Gabrielle

Steve W. said...

Sadly, Aggy, it's none of those songs. The song I'm thinking of is very literal in its relation to the Dr Strange story.

James Gerald said...

Possibly Shakespeare sister Stay?Sad Ditko fan from Belfast!

Steve W. said...

James, you have got it 100% right. I couldn't stop thinking of the middle section of that song while reading the confrontation between Strange and Nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Good on you for noting that Dr Strange was originally Asian, Steve, as its something often ignored.
You didn't have much to say about his unusually advanced approach to facial hair styling though - don't think the moustache that curves up as well as down at the ends and those whacky shaped eyebrows made a return appearance.


Steve W. said...

I must concur that Strange's eyebrows and moustache do suggest he had far too much time on his hands. I can only assume there weren't too many supernatural threats around at that time and he had to find alternative ways to fill the long Tibetan hours.

Phil said...

Doesn't anyone notice that in the origin story Strange travels from New York to....India?

Steve W. said...

Phil, I've checked and you're right. In the first panel of his origin story, it says he's gone to India.

Anonymous said...

Steve, at the time of the first Strange story the Chinese occupation (or, for the benefit of any Maoists out there reading, liberation) was still relatively recent, and in the aftermath a lot of Tibetans moved to northern India, eg the Dalai Lama and all that lot in Dharmasala.
And the Indian state of Ladakh is (mostly) on the Himalayan plateaux and ethnically Tibetan anyway.

So no real contradiction there. Although frankly I always thought the "Himalayas" of American comics were an imaginative construct that had as much to do with Tibet or India as Marvel "London" did with the UK.


Steve W. said...

Thanks for the historical clarification, Sean. I do feel this site is a never-ending source of education for me.

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