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The Supreme Guide to Doctor Strange Comics (Before You Enter THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS)

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If you were a fan of Doctor Strange before seeing the first solo movie, you would have recognised the Ditko tribute in the visual effects and multidimensional mayhem. And that’s nothing compared to what’s in store for the sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (AKA Doctor Strange 2). With full awareness of how absolutely bonkers this movie will be, it’s totally fine to want some prep work beforehand. Just be forewarned: the back catalogue of Doctor Strange is complicated. He is, after all, the Sorcerer Supreme and Marvel’s “banner boy” for all things mystical and magical. If it can’t be explained, it usually falls into Doctor Strange’s realm – or at least one of the frequently visited realms. And no matter how much prep work you do, there is still no guarantee the MCU will honour that, mainly because Doctor Strange is the one area you can go completely off-script and still be considered canon. Nevertheless, here is our Supreme Guide to Doctor Strange comics, featuring the best story arcs, the most likely tie-ins to the upcoming movie, and a few key pieces to help with understanding the magical madness of Doctor Strange. 

Fair to say, here be spoilers – or at least the risk of spoilers. Originally, Doctor Strange was a fantastic alternative to the conventional superheroes. His stories were far more abstract and obscure. They tapped into the mystical and unexplainable, which was pretty much the vibe of the 1960s. Every time you thought you finally understood what was happening in Doctor Strange, the story would take a hard turn into some wacky alternate reality. Which is exactly the vibe we’re getting from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But there are clues here. There are hints of what we might see, and we have the comics to help out. 

Back to the Beginning of Doctor Strange

First, let’s recap what we know about Doctor Strange from the first movie. Doctor Stephen Strange was once a talented and arrogant surgeon, the same arrogance which contributed to his car accident and the subsequent injuries to his hands. Unable to cope with the loss of his career, lifestyle, and identity, Strange became obsessed with searching for anything that could heal his broken body. His journey led to Kathmandu and the rumoured origins of Kamar-Taj. By chance (perhaps?), he meets Mordo, a sorcerer and follower of the Ancient One. Eventually, Strange trains under Mordo and the Ancient One in the mystic arts. Frankly, he replaces one obsession with another, but at least this time, Strange harnesses his arrogance and intelligence for good rather than evil.

Doctor Strange (the movie) was fairly consistent with the comics. Steve Ditko created the character with story input from Stan Lee for the first appearance in Strange Tales #110 in 1963. However, it wasn’t until Strange Tales #115 that we see any hint of Doctor Strange’s origins; according to Stan Lee, they simply forgot. 

Three panels from STRANGE TALES #115 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, showing Strange refusing to assist at the hospital, going into seclusion, and becoming a "drifter" before overhearing talk of the Ancient One, who can cure anything.

Some of the best world-bending imagery in the first movie comes from Steve Ditko and his surrealistic work. It was most beautifully disorienting. It set the ideal of what a hallucinogenic trip would be like, and when Doctor Strange entered the MCU with his feature film, the visuals were a perfect match. While many things differ between the comics and the movie, many of the core elements remain the same. You can find them in the Doctor Strange Omnibus, Vol.1, illustrated by Steve Ditko with Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Dennis O’Neil, and Don Rico as writers. 

This is Silver Age comics at its best and a psychedelic trip back to the 1960s. This omnibus contains material from Strange Tales #110–111, #114–146, Amazing Spider-Man (1963–1998) Annual 2, and Marvel Omnibus. Despite most of this material covered to some extent in the first movie, Doctor Strange’s origins also share some insight into Mordo, his movie-mentor-turn-villain. Mordo returns in Doctor Strange 2

Into the Madness of The Darkhold

Fans of the MCU may already be familiar with the Darkhold, as mentioned in Agents of SHIELD and Runaways. However, it wasn’t until Agatha referred to the Darkhold in Wandavision that we finally had its confirmed existence. The Darkhold (AKA The Book of Sins) is a grimoire of iron-bound scrolls containing the collected knowledge of Chthon, an Elder God and first practitioner of dark magics. It includes spells detailing the origins of lycanthropy and vampirism, summoning Chthon and other elder gods, accessing Limbo, and conjuring the Darkforce. According to Agatha, there is a whole chapter for the Scarlet Witch and all of her chaos magic. The major downside is how the Darkhold corrupts anyone who reads it, which does not bode well for Wanda or Doctor Strange. If you want to dive into the Darkhold, pick up the collected edition Avengers/Doctor Strange: Rise of the Darkhold, published in 2018. It includes issues from Thor, Doctor Strange, Werewolf by Night, Avengers, Tomb of Dracula, and Marvel Spotlight, covering all of the important highlights from the Darkholds dark history. 

three panels from DOCTOR STRANGE #62. A figure says, "You... cannot use the Darkhold against me, Strange! The book will possess any who try to use it for good!" Strange replies, "That is true... for any who would use it in an unsuspecting way! Even for as practiced a sorcerer as myself, there is danger!" He holds up the glowing book and recites, "Katerama luciem..."
Image from DOCTOR STRANGE (1974–1987) #62 by Roger Stern, illustrated by Steve Leialoha

Making Friends With America Chavez

Thanks to Spider-Man: No Way Home and Loki, we are prepped for alternate reality travel. Cue America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez) and her ability to punch her way through the Multiverse. She is super-strong, super-fast, and super-snarky. While we can confirm America is part of the movie, it’s harder to determine how she fits in with Strange.

Cover of AMERICA by Gabby Rivera and Joe Quinones

In the comics, America is also part of the Young Avengers team, mixing it with Kate Bishop, Wiccan, and the gang. Unfortunately, America’s backstory has experienced a bit of a retcon recently. She was first introduced in Vengeance #1 (September 2011), written by Joe Casey with art by Nick Dragotta. You’ll better understand her background and character development with the 2017 solo run, America: The Life and Times of America Chavez written by Gabby Rivera and illustrated by Joe Quiñones. The latest 2021 update is America Chavez: Made in the USA by Kalinda Vázquez and illustrated by Carlos Gómez. Maybe the newest re-do will tie in with the movie? We have to wait and see. 

Former Rioter Mya Nunnally sheds more light on America in their article 8 Queer Marvel Characters Who Deserve Their Own Film.

Multiple Strange Variants

Speaking of multiverse characters, this also opens the door to multiple Strange variants. Both the trailer and the poster for Doctor Strange 2 have shown us a few variants of Doctor Strange, adding to the complexity of the storytelling. We’ve already had a look at Supreme Strange and his obsession with absorbing magical power. Some of the others include Zombie Strange and Defenders Strange. Defenders Strange has the most accessible backstory to read up on out of these three.

In the comics, Doctor Strange led a team of individuals to battle supernatural threats. The original “team” was made up of Doctor Strange, Hulk, and Namor. They first appeared as the Defenders in Marvel Feature #1 (Dec 1971), written by Roy Thomas and art by Ross Andru. Over time, various other members have come and gone, with Doctor Strange later managing multiple teams for individual missions. In 2017, Netflix launched The Defenders with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, but not Doctor Strange. To gain a feel for this suave Defenders variant of Doctor Strange, stick to the older material: Marvel Feature #1–3. If the rumours are true and Doctor Strange is to be the new Iron Man of the MCU, then allowing the creation of the Defenders would be a fantastic opener.

Image from MARVEL FEATURE 1, showing the Hulk, Doctor Strange, and Namor at the end of their mission, naming themselves the Defenders, while Hulk says, "Hulk never wants to get together again. Never! Hulk was in group once--called Avengers. Didn't like it."
Image from MARVEL FEATURE 1 by Roy Thomas and Ross Andru

Illuminati

The biggest reveal from the Doctor Strange 2 trailer was That Voice and the potential introduction of The Illuminati. We’re talking about Professor X and the unmistakable Sir Patrick Stewart. Bringing in the Illuminati is no easy task, requiring a little reading to catch up on. Start with New Avengers #7 written by Brian Michael Bendis and art by Steve McNiven.

The original members of the Illuminati represented the greatest minds of Earth: Iron Man/Tony Stark, Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Professor Charles Xavier, Doctor Stephen Strange, Namor the Submariner, and Black Bolt of the Inhumans. The group became a little more active (read: more interference) with writer Jonathan Hickman and the lead to Secret Wars, another upcoming MCU event. While this has the potential to finally bring in a good Fantastic Four movie along with X-Men and a potential retcon of the Inhumans series, I’m not sure about the whole Tony Stark reappearance thing. However, if you’re going to have Defender Strange and the Illuminati, you better be bringing Namor into the MCU. 

Image from NEW AVENGERS #7 showing Iron Man looking out at the other Illuminati members, all at a table
Image from NEW AVENGERS #7 by Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven

Is There More?

This is all just a taste from the trailer for Doctor Strange 2.  If that’s not enough and you are looking for more, there were also teases of Rintrah, Gargantos/Shuma-Gorath, and the return of Christine Palmer (played by Rachel McAdams). While each of them has significant roles in the comics, there is little lead-up or hint in the movies or trailers released so far. The truth is we will have to wait until May 6th for the release of Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness to see the bigger picture. 

At least we have some reading to do before then. 

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