Friday, 29 August 2008

Master Of Black Magic!

Strange Tales #110, July 1963
(By Lee and Ditko, or Ditko and Lee, if you prefer.)

Today we look at the first appearance of Dr Stephen Strange, from when he was merely the star of a backup strip in Strange Tales, the Human Torch's feature-title.

As you see from the picture above, this is an unusual origin, in that it's not being drawn by Jack Kirby. Instead, the quiet man of Marvel Comics, Steve Ditko, who would conjure up some of his (and Marvel's as whole) weirdest stuff for this title, once Dr Strange gained co-star status. But for now, this is a simple five page strip, in which the good Doctor helps a man get over some bad dreams.

There's some lovely noir art going on here:

Yes, kids, that man there is smoking. Were this the eighties, that would indicate this man is a wrong'un. Were it being published today, the cigarette would have been clumsily whited out, cos Joe Quesada hates smoking. But, this being the sixties, there is no hidden message, no subtext, nothing.

Anyway, Dr Strange decides to pop into his client's dream and check out what's what. To achieve this, though, the Doctor must first pay a visit to his master, the (currently unnamed) Ancient One. It's astral time!

Bit of foreshadowing then from the old boy, you see? Also, a subtle hint for how this adventure will wrap up.

Dropping into a trance, Dr Strange enters the mind of his client, where he meets a sinister chained man...

But wait, that's not all! Not only does this tale see the first appearance of the master of the mystic arts, but it also features the premiere appearance of the master of evil dreams, Nightmare! Here he is, folks!

Believe it or not, Nightmare will never again be so scary as he is now. And over the years, he'll put in a lot of appearances, most of them lame.

So, whilst Dr Strange is astrally arguing with Nightmare, his client wakes up, realises that the Doc has learned his dark secret, and decides to kill him. God bless America and its easily obtained handguns..!

Facing certain death, and unable to dodge past the oh-so-scary Nightmare, Dr Strange cries like a girl to his master, who decides to intervene.

Returning to his body (leaving Nightmare cursing him in true Scooby-Doo fashion), the Doctor has a quiet word with his somewhat ungrateful client.

And there you have it. No origin story yet, that wouldn't come along until 1968, when Roy Thomas would deliver Strange's origin, but in five pages, Stan and Steve pretty much tell us everything we need to know about our hero.

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