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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 96

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we take a look at Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s Doctor Strange run in Strange Tales…

Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s run on Doctor Strange is one of the greatest single runs in comic book history, and I especially appreciate how the run actually had a real ENDING – that’s so rare to see in runs of the 1960s (Kirby and Lee never really had an ending, nor did Ditko and Lee on Amazing Spider-Man, heck, not even Lee and Romita on Amazing Spider-Man), and it’s really quite nice to see.

Doctor Strange first appears in Strange Tales #110, and when we see him, he’s already an established practitioner of magic…

After a two-issue break from #112-113, Strange then appeared from #115 through #146, with art (and plot) by Steve Ditko and script (and presumably early plotting) by Stan Lee – although Lee was replaced towards the end of the run as Ditko did not want to work with him anymore – after two issues by Roy Thomas, a young Denny O’Neil finished the run out with two issues.

In #115, Lee and Ditko debuted one of the great Marvel origins of all-time…

and after Strange finally resolves to help the Ancient One through magic…

The run got more complex and more intriguing and more dynamic as it went on, especially as Ditko got more and more creative with his page designs and the other characters.

A recurring character was a mysterious silver-haired woman who helped Strange when he was fighting against the Dread Dormammu.

In #146, everything comes to a head with a brilliant ending to the run by Ditko and O’Neil…

Amazing stuff, huh?


This is the first time I’ve seen these particular stories, although I’ve long seen references to them. Wow, Ditko’s art was about the best it ever was here. Sometimes his art could be very rushed-looking and bland, especially in later years, but this is fantastic. I love how Dormammu is suddenly inside Eternity once the fight really gets going.

I just realised– the Ancient One has stayed dead since the early seventies, hasn’t he? Aside from Gwen Stacy, he may be the only significant character to stay dead for so long. (Characters like Uncle Ben, who died in their first appearances don’t count. I’m talking about characters who had a significant presence in a series for some time before dying.)

Needless to say, Brian, this is a fabulous pick. The Steve Ditko Doctor Strange is one of the greatest Comic Book runs of all time, every bit the equal of, say, Jack Kirby’s work on Thor. A few random observations:

1. Art: The sheer beauty of Ditko’s work in this series staggers the imagination. The art on Strange becomes all the more impressive when one compares it to the work that Ditko was doing on SPIDER-MAN at the same time. From a superhero slugfest in a highly detailed urban cityscape to a psychadelic journey into a surreal , non-eucledian dimension, Ditko could do it all.

2. Script: Stan Lee’s scripting on Strange was some of his strongest work. His nomenclatural inventiveness knew no bounds: The dread Dormammu, the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, Omnipotent Oshtur, the seven rings of Raggadorr, the crimson bands of Cyttorak, etc.

3. Graphic Novel: The Strange vs. Dormammu/Mordo arc from 130 to 146 is a triumph of sustained narrative art, perhaps the best sustained Comic Book story line of the Silver Age.

4. Vincent Price: Take a look at Strange’s somewhat Eurasian appearance in ST 110, then compare it with his look in the origin story in 115. Try to tell me that Ditko was not using Vincent Price as a visual model for Strange from 115 on. For that matter, I am convinced that Ditko’s use of “lightshow” sorcery was influenced by the special effects in the wizard’s duel between Karloff and Price in the Roger Corman filmTHE RAVEN (It’s on YOUTUBE).

5. Read IT: If you have not read this, Jonathan Ross says that you need to rectify that mistake. The whole thing is available in the Essential DOCTOR STRANGE, for a mere $15.95.

Ditko’s masterpiece, and some of Lee’s best work well. The fact that the Dormammu/Mordo saga has never been give a color trade paperback is just criminal. It’s certainly the finest book-length story that Marvel put out in the ’60s!

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

April 7, 2010 at 11:23 am

That first Strange story is so much what I like to see in the series: Doc as a guy with one foot in both worlds, the mundane and mystic, and each one having its own share of threats and wonders. That’s what Doc lost when Ditko left, and while people like Steve Engelhart and Peter B. Gillis did a lot with a more fantastical Strange, it’s the stuff by writers like Roger Stern and Brian K. Vaughn that I like best for bringing back some of that original sensibility.

Ditko at his finest.

Drugs are pretty rad.

After receiving absolutely no requests, here are my reviews for the Ditko run on STRANGE. Each issue will be graded from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best and 1 being soul-destroying putridity. Beware, each review will contain spoilers (villains will be named, plots discussed, etc.).

110.The introduction.An unbelievably solid five pager. Noteworthy for the somewhat horror movie tone (Well, as horrific as the early 60s Comics Code would allow) and for Strange’s rather Eurasian look (WAs Srange originally supposed to be of mixed racial origins?). Both elements would not last long. Strange’s ultra cool Greenwich Village sanctum and sidekick Wong are both intoduced in this issue. GRADE:7.

111: Five pages of condensed brilliance from Ditko/Lee. A very important issue, as it marks the introduction of both long time foe Mordo and of The Ancient One (Called the Master here).GRADE: 7.

114: The second go around for Mordo. The issue introduces Strange pal Victoria Bentley. Note to Stan Lee, Someone called Sir Clive Bentley should be addressed as “Sir Clive,” not as “Sir Bentley.” GRADE: 7

115: The brillaint origin of Strange. This issue sees a massive page expansion, from 5 to 8. Note to contemporary Comic Book writers, see how Ditko and Lee could tell a marvellous origin tale in a mere 8 issues? Brevity can be a virtue. Strange’s origin is rather akin to Spider-Man’s, as both characters start out as rampant egotists (Strange is a heartless surgeon, Parker does not care if a criminal runs past him). Note that Strange now looks like Vincent Price. GRADE:10

116: Another solid effort. Nightmare returns for another go at Strange.GRADE: 7

117: Baron Mordo returns. Effortlessly good stuff from the Lee-Ditko team.GRADE:7

118: Change of pace tale, as Strange goes up against aliens. Does not really work. GRADE:6.

119: New villain Aggamon challenges Strange. Aggamon is noteworthy as a kind of prototype for Dormammu. A return to form. GRADE:7.

120:Strange goes up against a haunted house (Or is it?). Story has a kind of Silver Age DC feel to it. I half expected Doctor Thirteen to show up. GRADE: 6.

121:Baron Mordo returns. Fun stuff, with a great use of the old wax museum standby (Another nod to Vincent Price?). GRADE:7.

122:Nightmare returns. Fantastic stuff in this issue, as Ditko unleashes his weirdness mojo. GRADE:8.

123: Loki vs. DR. Strange! Guest appearance by Thor! Kirby characters rendered in the Ditko style! Tremendous fun. As a side note, Roger Stern has argued that this is Strange’s first “Modern Era” appearance, that the issues prior to 123 are all set before FF #1. GRADE:8

124: Guest Starring Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra! Serously, Stan must have liked that film as both Strange and Iron Man (in Tales of Suspense 44) had SA encounters with the siren of the Nile.Fun stuff. GRADE:7.

125: Baron Mordo returns. Great chase issue, with the tension notched up to 11 as Strange battles Mordo all over the globe. GRADE:8.

126-127:The dread one himself is introduced, as Strange fights Dormammu. Unbearably good. Ditko’s internal LSD factory goes into overdrive. Clea (Although nameless here) and the Mindless Ones are introduced as well. Doc gets his classic cape and amulet in 127. These issues mark the beginning of the classic era of Strange. GRADE:10

128: Strange vs. the Demon. Classic Ditko lightshow. GRADE:8.

129: Strange vs. Tiboro. Solid work, noteworthy as the first non-Stan Lee written issue,as Don Rico steps in (An early sign of Stan and Steve tension? ). GRADE:7.

130: This is it, “The start of the greatest black magic spectacular ever presented” (From Stan’s not at all hyperbolic intro).Seriously, this is a fantastic issue. Dormammu and Mordo team up to take down Strange and the Ancient One. Ditko’s art is beautiful throughout, as he carries us from Tibet to the Dark Dimension to a gloriously stylized Hong Kong. GRADE:10.

131: Strange vs. the Dormammu empowered Mordo in Hong Kong. More effortless virtuosity from Ditko, as Strange employs everything from fists (The good Doctor can throw a mean punch) to spells in his effort to escape. GRADE:10.

132: Strange returns to New York in his quest to find out how to take down the Dormammu empowered Strange. The Demon, from issue 128, returns as Mordo’s flunky. Fantastically surreal battle between Mordo and Strange. GRADE:10.

133: Strange, escaping from the super-powerful Mordo, travels to the realm of the evil Shazana. For a glimpse of Ditko’s chops, take a look at the superb, DAli-esque art on page three.Who needs acid when you have Ditko? GRADE:10.

134: Strange returns to Earth, where he firsts hears of “ETERNITY.” Fabulous extended spirit form chase sequence, as Mordo pursues Strange from the Earth to the heart of the Sun. Clea, showing her silver haired gumption, unleashes the Mindless Ones in an effort to help Strange. GRADE: 10

135: Strange goes to England in search (Where is Leonard Nemoy when you need him?) of ETERNITY. Ditko and Lee can do no wrong. GRADE:10.

136:Strange thinks that he has learned the secret of ETERNITY, but he instead encounters an extra-dimensional tyrant. Great stuff, but it merely serves as a prelude to 137. GRADE: 9.

137: Strange, in order to learn the secret of ETERNITY, must enter the mind of the comatose Ancient One. This is Ditko weirdness turned up to 12 (It’s one more past 11!). The art is heartbreakingly good. Words cannot begin to describe it. Lee’s script work is as good as anything that he ever did. GRADE:10.

138: Strange meets ETERNITY. Seriously, Ditko’s rendition of MAN as Microcosm alone makes the issue worthwhile. Words fail me. GRADE:10

139-141: Strange vs. Mordo and Dormammu mash-up. Brilliant wizardly duel between Mordo and Strange. Fantastic physical confrontation between Dormammu and Strange. Clea pays the price for aiding Strange (Victory carries a price). Meanwhile, a bomb awaits Strange in his Sanctum. Let’s see, I think that these three issues would take up about 12 issues of a Bendis written Strange.

142-143: Strange vs. Mordo’s minions. More fantastic art from Ditko. Strange spends the bulk of the issues with his head encased in a “MAn in the Iron Mask” type covering, while his hands are similarly enclosed, thereby rendering him incapable of casting a spell. Ditko’s commentary on the role of the work for hire artist? Another example of Ditko’s Objectivist beliefs in action? Is Dr. Strange John Galt?Roy thomas steps in to write 142, and does a fine job.GRADE:10

144: Strange goes in quest of the lost Clea, and fights the demonic Tazza. Written by Roy Thomas. This issue just might have, for my money, the single best scenes of magical combat that Ditko ever drew. GRADE:10.

145: Denny O’Neil sreps in as Strange fights Rasputin (No , not the X-Man).Solid work from Ditko, noteworthy for the scene in which Rasputin, realizing that his magical skills are not the equal of Strange’s, pulls a gun on Doc. Was Jess Whedon a Strange fan? DEspite this, the issue is not quite up to Ditko’s usual standards. GRADE:9.

146: “THE END–AT LAST!” As Brian noted, Ditko’s last isue actually does serve as a genuine climax to his tenure on the title. Solid work, but I think that Ditko’s art in this issue is not quite equal to his best. Indeed, the art has, to my way of thinking, a somewhat rushed air, as though Ditko needed to just get through it. Still, the confontation between Dormammu and ETERNITY has tremendous power. GRADE:9.

Holy cow…Ditko is masterful here! And it’s available for less than $20 bucks, so I’ll be picking the Essential up soon.

Strange’s arrogant face expression is o’so cool

The story from Strange Tales 130 to 146 may not have been collected in a color trade paperback, but it has been collected, in color, in a standard-sized paperback. I first read it that way about 1980, and I still have that copy. I also have the Marvel Masterworks Dr. Strange volume that starts at the beginning (but I think it might end at Strange Tales 143), so Ditko’s Dr. Strange work is available in color collections, though it may take some looking. It’s definitely worth the hunt. I’m still blown away every time I read these, especially 130-146, which is probably the best long-form super-hero story pre-Watchmen. Yes it’s that good.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy mentioned Roger Stern’s work on Dr. Strange, and I’d like to say that the six issues Stern did with Marshall Rogers in the early ’80s are the coolest Dr. Strange stories since Ditko. The Morgana Blessing time-travel story with Mordo, Dormammu, Nightmare, Victoria Bentley, Sgt. Nick Fury & the Howling Commandos, Rama-Tut and the Fantastic Four should be required reading for any Marvel zombie. I wish that run was in trade paperback, or better yet hardcover.

Those Roger Stern-Marshall Rogers stories (Hey! Roger & Rogers– that’s cool!) may not be available in trade paperback, but that’s okay as long as you have access to a decent comic-book store, because last I saw, the original issues were still available quite cheap. That’s how I got them. And they are great, as is the Michael Golden epilogue. (Watch out, though, because there is a fill-in in between.)

I forgot to even mention the Stern-Golden epilogue, but while that story wouldn’t make much sense without the Stern-Rogers run, the Stern-Rogers stories are complete without the epilogue. I still have all seven of those issues, and they’re getting a bit worn out, so I would love a collected edition, with or without the epilogue.

Does anyone know if the Dr.Strange marvel masterworks are recolored? I like the coloring of the originals and noticed the coloring of Ditko’s Amazing Spiderman is different in the new, color collected editions.

I stumbled across your site today while on a Ditko search. Great presentation on the best story in comic history.
I’m 54 years old and bought all those Ditko/Lee Dr. Strange comics when I was a kid. You’ll all be jealous to hear that I still have them, because my late mother never threw anything away! BTW I think that page 6 of the last Ditko-drawn Dr. Strange episode is the single best comic book page ever.

excellent! extraordinary! excelsior! tank you! tank you! tank you! you are the best!

But, was missing the pages number 6 and 7!

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