Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Commenter trajan23 did quick reviews of every issue of Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange run in the comments to my Year of Cool Comics post on the run and I figured he put in way too much effort for it not to be shared with everyone else.
So enjoy (but beware, there are some four-decades-old spoilers mixed in!)…
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 introduced 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 brilliant 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 marvelous 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! Seriously, 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 Mordo. 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 first 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. [He forgot to grade this one – it sounds like he’d say GRADE: 10, though – BC]
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 steps 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 issue 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 confrontation between Dormammu and ETERNITY has tremendous power. GRADE:9.
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