It’s difficult to impress me with a magician, unless we’re talking real-life magicians with a strong skeptical streak, like James Randi or Ricky Jay. Given that the concept of a person who has access to ‘mystical’ forces and who can manipulate beings (supernatural or otherwise) has been around for as long as humans have been able to communicate with one another, be it through grunts and squeals, it’s pretty damn difficult to come up with a new wrinkle to this old tired nag. Having no previous experience with the series, I had no high expectations for Steve Ditko‘s Doctor Strange, but I was pleasantly surprised. I liked the earnest, solemn Dr. Strange from the beginning, but it’s Ditko’s mind-boggling, soaring surrealistic landscapes that bloomed over time that really impressed me. It’s not an easy feat to make the reader feel like he’s being transported into another dimension, but Ditko pulled it off beautifully, making us feel Dr. Strange’s disorientation as he gets sucked into yet another psychedelic terrain.
To quote comics historian Mike Benton:
The Dr. Strange stories of the 1960s constructed a cohesive cosmology that would have thrilled any self-respecting theosophist. College students, minds freshly opened by psychedelic experiences and Eastern mysticism, read Ditko’s Dr. Strange stories with the belief of a recent Hare Krishna convert. Meaning was everywhere, and readers analyzed the Dr. Strange stories for their relationship to Egyptian myths, Sumerian gods, and Jungian archetypes.
What does this have to do with the current post? Precious little, actually. I’m a firm believer of not recycling dramatis personae past their due by date (defined, of course, as that time when their creator/author moves on to greener pastures, by design or because he has to). Doctor Strange moulded by other hands loses his raison d’être and becomes just another Joe in a funny cape, uttering ineffable, paranormal gobbledygook. Oh, sure, he’s aided by more mystical artifacts than before. How exciting… if you are excited by gadgets and gimmicks, that is.
He also encounters a lot of tentacles, apparently the most mystical, otherworldly apparitions *this* crew could think of. Welcome to 70’s (for the most part) Doctor Strange!
The Shambler from the Sea is scripted by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Frank Brunner, and inked by Sal Buscema and Ralph Reese:
Through an Orb Darkly is scripted by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner, pencilled by Frank Brunner and inked by Dick Giordano:
Mind Trip!, scripted by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Rudy Nebres, was published in Doctor Strange no. 22 (April 1977):
A Gathering of Fear! is scripted by Roger Stern and illustrated by Tom Sutton:
Wizard of the West Village is scripted by Chris Claremont and pencilled/inked… by a whole bunch of people:
… and there you have it!