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Quick Reviews of Every Issue of Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange Run

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.

Story continues below

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.


Brian, thanks for the great & short synopisis [synopsi?] of these issues! Even this little taste makes these comics sound awesome!
Are they collected in TP form?

Thanks again!

Remember, these aren’t mine – they’re trajan23’s.

And yes, these are available in Marvel Essentials: Doctor Strange – they’re black and white, though.

I reccomend picking up the 4 Doctor Strange Classic issues from the 80s, they’re still really cheap and are beautiful color reprints of the meat of the lee/ditko run.

The All-Smelling Nose of Agamotto

April 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm

With so many artists out there imitating Jim Lee, Rob Liefield, and Michael Turner, I’m constantly wondering why no artists clone Steve Ditko.

Come on guys! If you’re going to copy somebody’s style, why not choose the best? Ditko too hard for ya? How about Gene Colan then?

Marcos Martin is very much like Ditko.

For those wondering about the Essential volume, I think the black and white really allows Ditko’s linework to shine through. It is a little less trippy, though.

Marcos Martin is very much like Ditko.

Ditko is also a huge influence on Brendan McCarthy, whose Spider-Man: Fever, starring Spidey and Dr. Strange in full-on Ditko fashion, is out this week!

Spider-man: Fever was quite extraordinary. Definitively recommended for Ditko’s Doctor Strange fans.

I wonder if trajan23 could do a quick review? :P

Ron Frenz imitated Ditko somewhat back in the ’80s (especially in ‘The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man), but his art doesn’t show much Ditko-influence nowadays.

Years and years ago Pocketbooks (?) issued colored paperbacks of these stories. I was…12? 13? Blew my freakin’ mind. I hadn’t read them again until Marvel issued the Dr. Strange Masterworks a few years ago. Vol. 1 and 2 contained most of the stories above including the “Dr. Strange on the run” storyline. Absolutely unequaled and well deserved of the title of “saga”!

Man…what I wouldn’t give to get a Ditko Dr. Strange Omnibus!

…that’s a hint Marvel!

I like this idea a lot. I’ve been thinking of doing the same with the first 163 issues of Flash (Wally).

>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.

I think he liked the idea of ancient Egypt in general back then. Don’t forget FF #19, the first appearance of Rama Tut, where they travel back via Dr. Doom’s time machine to become…“Prisoners of the Pharoah”!

This run is a masterpiece. I highly recommend spending the $ on the high quality Marvel Masterworks edition- it’s all in there. These stories are really meant to be read in glorious color.

Man…what I wouldn’t give to get a Ditko Dr. Strange Omnibus!

…that’s a hint Marvel!



Crusader K – I had those Dr. Strange (& Spider-man, Fantastic Four , & Hulk) color paperbacks back in the late ’70s, too. Read them so many times over that the pages almost fell out, and loved them so much a few years ago I tracked them down and bought them again. The only thing wrong with the Dr. Strange volumes is that they’re two stories short of the entire Ditko run, i.e. they don’t include Strange Tales 145 & 146. I always wondered why those last two stories were left out…
What those two slim paperbacks do show, though, is that the entire Ditko run can probably be stuffed into a somewhat thicker trade paperback edition (I find those hardcover Omnibus editions a little too pricey, and bulky). And Chris Egan is right, they have to be read in glorious color – which is why I personally never bothered with the Dr. Strange Essentials.

Wow, Brian, let me just say that I am honored to have my off- the -cuff mini-reviews singled out in this fashion. Needless to say, I am similarly bowled over by the responses. A few thoughts:

1. Typos: I cringe every time I glance at my mini reviews. Remember, kids, always proof read your work.

2. 139-141: I can’t believe that I left out the grade. AS you surmised Brian, they get a 10.

3. Spider-MAn: FEver: Thanks for the tip, Mario. Somehow I had failed to hear about FEVER. I would, of course, love the chance to shoot my mouth off again.

4. Pocket Book Dr. Strange: When I was 9 years old, I bought the second volume of Strange in the POCKETBOOK reprint series, the one containing Strange Tales 130-144. It blew my mind. I still have it, albeit somewhat the worse for the wear.

5. Color Doctor Strange: Some artists lose nothing in black and white. Gene Colan’s art, for example, looks fabulous in the B&W MARVEL ESSENTIAL format. Sadly, Ditko’s art , like Kirby’s , loses a bit when deprived of color. Even with this caveat, however, I still think that the ESSENTIAL DOCTOR STRANGE is a great deal. Ditko at 90% power is still enough to fry your brain.

130-146 is the shit.

Hey Brian,

Sorry for not reading closer. i was so engrossed in the reviews i didn’t read closely enough. Thanks for running these and for trajan23 writing them!

Im in the minority here, but i believe ditko’s dr strange is vastly superior to the work of jack kirby on fantastic four and others. its just that awesome. i have many of the original issues, inlcuding the cleopatra issue, loki issue, tiboro and others which my mother had from when she was young. they are the best comics i have ever read and it is all due to steve ditko

Note to contemporary Comic Book writers, see how Ditko and Lee could tell a marvelous origin tale in a mere 8 issues?

I’m sure you meant “pages” and not “issues” here, right?

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.

Where exactly did Roger Stern make this arguement? I’d be very very interested in reading it.

John TRumbell:

1. Yeah, the dreaded uncorrected typo strikes again. I meant 8 pages, not 8 issues.

2. Modern era Doctor Strange: Roger Stern makes the argument that Strange’s pre-STRANGE TALES #123 appearances occur prior to FF #1 in MARVEL: THE LOST GENERATION #5.

There is nothing that Morrison, Bruebaker, Ellis, Bendis,or any of the other hacks that were voted on by the readers of CBR as best writers have done that can touch this run, even (gasp) Moore. NOTHING! STAN LEE IS A COMIC GOD! GET IT THRU YOUR NUEVO(?) COMIC MINDS!

I was just commenting on the paperback reprint editions in the Year of Cool Comics post. I guess I should have read this first.

Roger Stern tied Dr. Strange into the Fantastic Four’s first meeting with Rama Tut in either Dr. Strange 52 or 53 from 1981.

It was #53. And Steve Englehart tied the Avengers into the story in West Coast Avengers #22.

Mike Loughlin

April 9, 2010 at 5:46 am

azjohnson5: Ditko did the majority of the plotting on Spider-Man (in the 2nd 1/2 of the Lee/ Ditko run, probably more) & Dr. Strange. I won’t discount Lee’s contribution entirely, but if we’re talking about the writing in Dr. Strange, Ditko gets (at least) equal credit.

While Ditko’s Dr. Strange is THE Dr. Strange, Englehart & Brunner and Colan and Stern & Rogers, Golden, Smith, etc. did a fantastic job with the character, expanding his world and character without slavishly imitating Ditko & Lee.


April 9, 2010 at 6:30 am

The fact that Ditko was drawing these Dr. Strange issues at the same he is also co-creating the first 38 issues of Amazing Spider-Man (a.k.a. “The Marvel Bible”) is nothing short of mind-blowing.

Mary, I did not know that Englehart tied the Avengers into that story too. I loved how Stern got Dr. Strange in there, was Englehart’s story as good?

If you love Lee-Ditko Dr. Strange, check out the Stern-Rogers run from Dr. Strange 48-53, and Stern and Golden’s epilogue in 55, they’re incredible. I think Mary will vouch for that.

I thought the West Coast Avengers story was great, but I don’t know enough about your tastes to know how much you’d like it. It’s part six of a seven-part time-travel story, which does have some weak moments, but it brings Moon Knight into the Avengers, begins Hank Pym’s ‘scientific adventurer’ phase, has a brief connection to Englehart’s Doctor Strange-Clea-Benjamin Franklin triangle, and most importantly, has the whole Mockingbird-Phantom Rider story, which had such important ramifications for the next few years of West Coast Avengers.

There sure ARE a lot of Doctor Strange fans out there (Yet MARVEL somehow thinks that he needs to be replaced by Brother Voodoo…). A few comments :

1. Roger Stern: I am in complete agreement with all of the Stern love on this thread. The man is a master of comic book story telling. some highlights of his run:

DOCTOR STRANGE 49-53: The absolutely brilliant Morgana Blessing/Time travel arc, featuring a cast of thousands: Nightmare, Dormammu, Sgt, Fury and his Howling Commandos, the FF, Rama-Tut, etc. The Marshal Rogers art is beautiful to behold (Check out page 4, panel 4 OF ISSUE 50, where Clea and Morganna are literally looking daggers at one another). The recent death of Marshall Rogers was a real blow to the world of comics.

DS 55: The legendary Roger Stern/ Michael Golden collaboration. Strange vs. D’Spayre! The art is breathtaking.

DS: 58-62: Strange vs. Dracula, co-starring Blade (long before he became a media darling), Hannibal King Why hasn’t he received his own title?), the Scarlet Witch, Captain Marvel (the gal from New Orleans version), and Frank Drake. The solid art is by Dan Green (58-61) and Steve Leialoha (62).

DS: 71-73: Doc and Clea vs. Umar. Top notch scriptng BY sTERN and great art from Paul Smith.

2. Collections: The Marshal Rogers and Golden drawn issues can be found in the ESSENTIAL DOCTOR STRANGE: VOLUME 4, which collects DS 30-56. The Strange vs. Dracula arc can be found in the DOCTOR STRANGE VS. DRACULA:THE MONTESI FORMULA trade paperback, which collects DS 14 (by Englehart and Colan) and TOMB OF DRACULA 44 (Wolfman and Colan) as well as DOCTOR STRANGE 58-62.

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