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mygif

Too bad BKV only wants to do original character stuff now. The Oath was fantastic.

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Sam Rauch said on March 24th, 2008 at 11:38 am

Dr. Strange now makes me think of Doctor Who ( or more properly, The Doctor,) right down to Night Nurse and Wong being companions. I like both characters, so this works out well.

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Well… maybe this is too obvious.

We all know that superheroes aren’t going to die. However, they can find themselves in some sticky situations, and it’s fun to see how they find their way out of them. Batman gets out of the seemingly-unbreakable trap because, it turns out, he had anticipated it and planned accordingly. When Willow goes crazy and tries to destroy the world, powerless Xander stands up to her and tells her he loves her until she breaks down. When (Glory? I think) seems unbeatable, Giles murders her innocent alter-ego in cold blood. Great character moments and/or unexpected, clever solutions can make for very satisfying stories.

With Dr. Strange- and correct me if I’m wrong, because it’s not like I’ve read a bunch of Dr. Strange comic books- you pretty much know how he’s going to get out of it. He’s going to wave his hands extra-hard, and recite some magic words extra-specially, and try a new spell that _just might work_, and hey, what do you know. It does.

It’s similar to a lazy Star Trek climax: the ship is falling into of a black hole, so let’s try turning up the flux capacitor up _three more triangles_. “Oh but me enginges kin’t take much moore”, everyone falls out of their chairs, and they get out by the skin of their teeth.

The problem (I imagine) is not that Dr. Strange is too powerful, exactly. It’s that the rules for when his magic fails and when they succeed are written anew with every encounter, and conform to narrative convenience instead of any kind of logic.

But, again, I’m really criticizing my idea of Dr. Strange, not a bunch of Dr. Strange comic books I’ve actually read.

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It’s funny that Clambone uses Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a contrast to Dr. Strange, because the Buffy story model for defeating bad guys – study, study, quest for Thingy that will beat up bad guy, beat up bad guy with Thingy, repeat – is almost lifted verbatim from the best Dr. Strange stories of the 70s.

Yes, a sloppy writer can reduce Dr. Strange to handwaving and mediocre storytelling, but that’s no different from a sloppy writer having Reed Richards invent a Cosmic Prolapsitron which destroys the bad guy; it’s all just handwaving of a different sort.

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GoatToucher said on March 24th, 2008 at 12:26 pm

What concerns me is that every time Quesada encounters a character that -he- has a tough time writing for (see: Captain America, Spider Man) he uses editorial mandate to pull the rug out from under that character and rebuild him as somebody Joey Q can wrap his mind around.

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To Clambone,

It was Glory. Badass Giles moment.

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NCallahan said on March 24th, 2008 at 1:00 pm

I saw an Dr. Strange one-shot somewhere (I think it was Marvel Double-Team) that represents to me, in a nut shell, a damn near perfect Dr. Strange story, if somewhat truncated.

Dr. Strange is walking on the beach one day and comes by a brother and a sister digging a bottle out of the sand. He comes over out of curiosity just as the kids open the bottle and all three of them are sucked inside. The bottle turns out to be the prison of an imp (exiled for touching his demon master’s harem) who declares that they’re now in his power and he plans to torture them for all eternity to relieve his boredom. Dr. Strange says he’ll take care of this easily and casts his no-fail demon-slaying spell. The imp is unaffected and Strange, panicking, pumps nearly all he can into his no-fail bottle-breaking spell. That also fails.

At this point, Strange only has enough juice for once more spell and, to mock him, the imp allows him to cast it before he makes with the eternal torment. Strange casts his spell and the bottle explodes, freeing them. When the kids ask what happened, Strange smirks and explains that he realized that the imp hadn’t been imprisoned in a bottle — the imp had been turned into a bottle! So Strange used his anti-demon spell not on the image of the imp before him, but on the bottle itself.

And there you go. About ten pages of dilemma-twist-victory, narration provided by Dr. Strange explaining things to the kids, and no convoluted restrictions set up on the doctor’s abilities.

One problem I think the character has, though, is that he has no peers in the superhero community, which is essential for a shared universe story. Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Daredevil can swap jokes about muggers. Beast, Mr. Fantastic, and Hank Pym can chatter excitedly about a conference they were just at. Captain America and Nick Fury can kick back and reminisce about WW2. But Strange is sort of by himself, which makes his presence in a shared universe setting awkward. Most of the characters in the Marvel U with similar stories and drives are cosmic characters, which puts them in a different sphere than Strange. The only earthbound characters I can think of off the top of my head are Dr. Doom, Ghost Rider, and that one girl from the Runaways, none of whom really work (Doom, maybe, but he’s bogged down in the F4 book). So Strange really falls back to being that one guy who does something nobody else can do, with little character development.

If you compare this to mystic heroes in the DC universe, well… you’ve got Dr. Fate, Zatanna, Etrigan, Phantom Stranger, the Spectre, Captain Marvel — the list can go on. If there’s a magical problem one of them can’t solve, you can bring in another mystic character without drastically altering the story (although, one assumes your doing the team up to add a little variation in the first place). Dr. Strange doesn’t get back-up — no other character operates in his sphere of influence. So he either has to be doing everything while other heroes sit around and watch or reduced to impotence and the situation has to be resolved by another method.

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mygif

Even Thor or Hercules don’t seem to get much interaction with the Sorcerer Supreme. Sure, Dr. Strange got in on things during the Reigning, where his involvement was key to the plan to assassinate Thor, but that’s it. When Thor or Hercules are having their magical adventures, they don’t bring Dr. Strange along for his wizardly knowledge. Have Juggernaut and Dr. Strange met? They probably have, Way Back In The Day, but it would’ve been neat to see Juggernaut go see Dr. Strange about the whole Cyttorak thing when his powers were on the wane. I mean, Strange used to use the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak all the time, right? Ghost Rider’s pretty magical, too, but he’s . . . well, let’s not talk about Ghost Rider.

But NCallahan’s got the real problem, I think. It’s not really the power that’s the problem, it’s the fact that Dr. Strange doesn’t have any friends. If Dr. Strange were less powerful, it’d be easier to fit him in with other characters. As it is, Dr. Strange is the top of a food chain consisting, essentially, of Dr. Strange and the characters MGK listed.

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mygif

I was going to argue, at first, with your medical analogy, until you brought it back around with aspirin, but still there is some fruit in that metaphor. Doctors don’t know everything, and, more important, not all doctors are medical doctors (I start studying for a PhD next year. In creative writing). Which brings to bear that Strange does have peers; the aforementioned Richards, McCoy, and Pym among them. The latter are scientists, but “any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic,” no? Also: isn’t magic one of Superman’s weaknesses? Serves to reason that science should be one of Strange’s. He can no all he’d like about metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, but he’d be powerless against string theory and the like.

I encountered the dramatic conflict of this problem in writing my first novel; my protagonists came into possession of what I’ve come to refer to, in its first iteration, as the Happy-Times-Go-Anywhere/Anywhen device. Several early readers commented on this, which raised some interesting questions and ultimately inspired some complications. Because not even computers or ATMs or cell phones work the way we want them to all the time, so why would a time machine? It can still go anywhere and do anything, but it may not work in the expected way.

I think the real issue is the idea of the superhero story, or what it has become. Because the real ethical dilemmas of a superhero story can’t really be addressed in the format most of them have used for delivery; the most popular among them has connections to Nietzsche’s ubermensch, but when has Superman ever acted as a superior being, above morality? One of the problems I had with the Superman Returns movie was that Superman just had Luther to fight; it’s one of the reasons I thought Superman: Peace on Earth worked better–it posited Superman in the real world, facing a real issue.

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mygif

My wife, a nurse, takes exception to the implication that only doctors have medical knowledge. “So do I,” she says.

“Yes,” I said, “but he is writing about Doctor Strange.”

“Fine,” she said. “So where’s Nurse Peculiar.”

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Andrew: Honestly, I’d love to see Nico Minoru guest-star in a Dr. Strange story. And Wiccan from Young Avengers. Marvel cleared the magic decks a few years back, killing off Agatha Harkness and making Scarlet Witch crazy, and it’s time to start rejuvenating it.

Will: As a matter of fact, Vaughan mentioned this in The Oath – which is almost, I think, a blueprint for how Dr. Strange stories should be written nowadays. When someone asked why Dr. Strange couldn’t just magic away Wong’s cancer or create more of the medicine Wong needed, he explained that when science creates or defines something, magic stops working on it. (Roughly.)

Kevin: my mom is a nurse as well, and while I don’t dispute at all that nurses have a significant amount of medical knowledge, they’re low-end generalists by design. In Marvel comics, Dr. Strange is a top-level surgeon, but using medical jargon as a metaphor, when it comes to magical stuff, Dr. Strange is like a combination of top-level surgeon, master diagnostic doctor, and a couple of dozen specialists.

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mygif

I believe we have found a name for a magically-versed Night Nurse in the future.

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Asinine Lad said on March 24th, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Fantastic. I have always liked Doctor Strange and I often get aggravated when he’s forced into a ‘super-hero’ role or story.

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The role of DKS character, BTW, was quite adequately filled during Roy Thomas’ run on the series in the 1990s by Rintrah, Doctor Strange’s new apprentice. I’d give Doctor Strange a new apprentice again if I were writing the series; several, perhaps. It’d make sense, him training different people up to the level of their abilities and teaching people how to use their mystic potential (one of the things I miss about the series; they used to have him routinely talking to other mystics, people that didn’t make a splash in the super-heroic universe, but were out there daily fighting the good fight. And seeing those guys helped you understand just how badass Doctor Strange was.)

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mygif

Dr Strange isn’t broken. He’s just plain boring.

The way that Marvel writes Dr Strange is a combination of their tired, old “the character never moves on” thing (which they do with every romance in the Marvel universe because Marvel writers can barely write for characters in relationships) and the “if I can just (insert improbable task)” crap they pulled off in every crappy, 80’s, action-based cartoon.

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mygif

Dr. Strange has a lot going for him that they just don’t use, similar to Captain America (whom they will eventually bring back because we all STILL call the current guy “Bucky” no matter the clothes!)

First he’s a medical doctor. This seldom gets much play and should.

Second, what he does ISN’T science, it’s MAGIC! in science, if A equals B then B equals A. In magic, that doesn’t have to be so.

Third, at the end of the day, he can’t ever REALLY win. The best he ever does is a holding action. I mean, he’s supposed to defend all of our reality against mystical threats. Kind of a big job.

Fourth, he SHOULD be doing what the Ancient One did with him and trying to find and train the next generation (including his sucessor).

People just don’t know how to write in general.

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NCallahan said on March 24th, 2008 at 10:34 pm

Do you know what I think Marvel needs? They need their own equivalent of Books of Magic. Not Books of Magic exactly, certainly not just lift the ideas wholesale, but something that does roughly the same thing — lay down definitively 1) the rules of magic, 2) the landscape of magic, and 3) what makes their magic stories different from their other stories. Because, at the end of the day, that’s why they have these sectioning-off of their properties into street-level, cosmic, knights, etc. — supposedly, each type of property brings its own offering to the table, separate from any other “genre”. (Which is also why I don’t think we need Strange running with the super-science crowd — if I’m reading a magic book, then I don’t want some dorkus sciencing it up.) Marvel should sit down, look at its properties, and decide what magic books have or should have that makes them different from Punisher or The Avengers or The X-men.

It’s kind of a shame that DC disentangled its mainline from the Vertigo books. I liked the idea that all those magic characters, no matter how often they attended Justice League meetings, we’re living in a universe with radically different priorities and perceptions.

Also, Constantine could’ve totally taken Batman.

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motteditor said on March 24th, 2008 at 11:09 pm

Was’t that what the recent Marvel Arcanum series of one-shots were intended to provide? Of course, they didn’t really do that and because they weren’t by Millar/Bendis/a TV writer, they were more or less ignored. They should have done for magic what Annihilation did for Marvel’s cosmic genre, but they just failed.

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“Andrew: Honestly, I’d love to see Nico Minoru guest-star in a Dr. Strange story. And Wiccan from Young Avengers. Marvel cleared the magic decks a few years back, killing off Agatha Harkness and making Scarlet Witch crazy, and it’s time to start rejuvenating it.”

I think they could go a long way to doing so by getting the magical characters who’ve sorta stood the test of time to get together and magic it up. The new JMS Thor had Loki working with Dr. Doom, so maybe Thor could team up with Dr. Strange. Or that God Squad thing Incredible Herc has going on.

“Which is also why I don’t think we need Strange running with the super-science crowd — if I’m reading a magic book, then I don’t want some dorkus sciencing it up.”

I agree, in principle. I also agree that MAGIC! shouldn’t get a free pass to have anyone pull things out of their ass while SCIENCE! doesn’t. But, once you get to a certain point in magicality, it’s no different from Treknobabble – well, except everyone’s wearing a gaudier outfit.

“Also, Constantine could’ve totally taken Batman.”

I’d pay monies to see them kill each other for reals.

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mygif

THANK YOU.
Dr. Strange is such an awesome Marvel character back when Marvel was more humans that heroes, less funny capes and tights and more ‘Gotta get to work so I can pay my rent and oh crap there’s Electro!’ One of his essential story quirks is that he does think he knows everything and can do everything and that this isn’t infinite power but infinite responsibility. One of my favorite Strange issues was just him checking out some crazy feeling that the universe was askew and going through all this mystery and magic to investigate the cause. No major villain, no confrontation, just a creepy mysterium that took the character through shadows and whatnot to find out what’s what.
I hope whatever they’re doing with the guy while he takes a time out is worth it. If not, he’ll be getting a domino mask and becoming Strange Man! With his sidekick, Wong! Oh, and a metal arm.

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mygif

I know its been said before, but BKV really hit it out of the park when he made “The Oath”.

It was just so good.

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John Seavey suggests that Dr Strange needs apprentices, which brings up the other possible model for a Dr Strange series – House. It’d be nice to see Strange training up the next generation of Marvel’s magic characters in the use of their powers; the teacher thing also gives him a reason to exposit and to step back and let not use his ‘awesome powers’ to solve everything with a handwave.

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Genevieve said on March 26th, 2008 at 1:05 am

RE: Bryce, NCallahan — I was just thinking the same thing. If Dr. Strange was marketed as and written as sci-fi/fantasy vs as superhero, he’d catch on more. I think the character is pretty damn awesome. And if they got fantasy authors in on the action I think that would make the whole thing pretty perfect. Specifically, I’m referring to the fact that the first Terry Pratchett novel I read was “Equal Rites” when I was eight years old, and if I had known that there was a comic equivalent available, I would never have gotten into manga (which probably would have been to my benefit mentally, but not socially).

This is kind of why I also like the Inhumans, and Namor-as-a-concept, because they came across as more human than the heroes in my first impressions of them, excepting of course rare moments of excellent writing for other characters. And also why it irritates me that both the Inhumans and Namor have been written like shit. Where’s my metaphor for indigenous people? Or angry mixed-race people? Or ancient people way more advanced than everybody else (non-metaphor)? Where’s my magic that can’t really be explained but is off the awesometer charts??

And yes; Constantine could take Batman in a minute. Interdimensional Judeo-Christian magical torment vs. “my parents died and that makes me sad but also badass (within human limits)” is kind of a no-brainer.

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Genevieve said on March 26th, 2008 at 1:12 am

Also, NeilB– excellent.

Bonus points for House-style tryouts and eliminations, including the inappropriate hijinks that get things done.

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As I watch Bendis bring back all of his favorite characters from the 70’s I can’t help but wonder if the only problem with Dr. Strange is that the current marvel writers didn’t read him. There is nothing wrong with the character except a lack of interest from the management of Marvel. Any Dr. Strange fan can make a bunch of great stories because we all want to see these stories. It’s like arguing that you can’t do Superman stories because he is so powerful.

What gets me is that Harry Potter took over the world with his popularity. That shows that readers are open to magic in their stories. Just give them a decent story to read. Give them characters with dynamics to care about.

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mygif

I firmly believe just about any character can be compelling given the right writer. I had no interest in the Hulk until PAD wrote his series.
All this talk about mystical characters makes me miss Magik. Screw bringing back Jean Grey, how about resurrecting Illyana?! Of course, this reminds me that Kitty Pryde inherited the soulsword…

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mygif

Amen to everything you said.

Dr. Strange is not ‘broken.’ He doesn’t need to be fixed, Marvel just needs to stop trying to shoehorn him into superhero books. He’s *supposed* to be incredibly powerful because the foes he flights against are gods and demons, not street criminals and ninjas and aliens. I wish that Marvel had the sense to put this character back into his element, and get some writers who understand how to write good magical/occult style fantasy instead of the same old boring superhero schtick.

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mygif

After we all “fix” Dr. Strange by making him awesome again, here’s some other suggestions I have for Marvel:

Inhumans = Are they dead or something?? Silent War sucked. They now hang out with Dr. Strange after he and Blackbolt leave the Illuminati and create their own organization of awesomeness.

Jean Grey = Cylon. Take her far, far away from the magical reboot ship and END HER.
Kitty Pryde = No longer the Mary Sue. I insist. Either stop giving her so much attention and write her realistically or END HER.
Wolverine = GOES AWAY FOREVER.

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Quote: MGK “Vaughan mentioned this in the oath-whichis almost, I think, a blue print for how dr strange stories should be written nowadays. When someone asked why Dr Strange couldn’t just magic away wongs cancer or create more of the medicine Wong needed , he explained that when science creates or defines something, magic stops working on it.”

That statement by Wong in BVK’s Oath, was in my opinion, it’s most flawed moment. Magic doesn’t work like that in the real world (yes I do believe in it) and it hasn’t either in the MU. Or Dr Strange wouldn’t have been able to travel back in time at the same time as the Fantastic four with their time machine. Dr Strange’s cloak shouldn’t be able to levitate because other heroes use some form of science based powers to do the same. there are plenty of others I could come up with but I’d be wasting time and space.

However clearly there was a point in the plot as to why Strange didn’t magic up more of the needed drugs.
A better reason would have been this;
Wong: ” Stephen can only easily recreate solid matter in what exists as a natural form, everything else is an energy construct. To recreate my medicine he’d need a sample of the real thing. And I’ve used the last of it”
A statement like this explains why Magic users in fiction can say make ropes into snakes but can’t make a jet fighter out of a house. As a living thing, the snake should be much harder.

I may post again later. :)

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mygif

I don’t think that Dr Strange needs to be fixed either, although a DKS would be a great boon.
Night Nurse might work nicely, wong clearly can’t work in this roll, but BKV did make him a humourous foil to Dr Strange.

Strange: “I was roaming the streets of new york city when spiderman was in diapers.”

Wong under his cuff: ” but he still gets confused in the outer boroughs.”

Rintrar once fulled the roll of DKS, but he was from another dimension and what I think Dr Strange does need, if anything, is to be well grounded when not involved in the mystical. So the magic seems more real, he needs to get wet in the rain and the ink from newspapers on his fingers.
Involvement with other superheros at some point is a given. but It might be best if they have the grit of the real world under their own fingertips. Spiderman is a good example of this I think.
Ghostrider dispite his mystic nature, less so I think. He’s a flaming skeleton ridding around on firey motorbike from hell. He’s a completely different brand of mystic sillyness and I think it’s best not to mix them.
Why didn’t Strange work well in the Avengers? Well the stories he was in had next to nothing to do with his magical world and the writer had him use his powers in very nonstandard ways. He never used his eye of Vishanti amulet to check for skrull intrusion within the group, his Cloak didn’t work, and he seemed to have gained the physical regenerative abilities of Wolverine, so he didn’t even seem like the real doctor.

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mygif

I agree with MGK’s statement’s entirely.

I like to look at characters as a kind of ‘tool’ for telling specific types of stories – they’re their own micro-genre.

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Lunchebox said on March 31st, 2008 at 4:13 am

I take issue with the fact that you credited Stan lee, who has even said himself several times, that he had nothing to do with Strange’s creation. He did, however script the first few features Strange starred in, but then I think Ditko did it on his own.

This is a very petty thing to nit pick at, yes, but I had to say it, or the fat little nerd inside me would not have shut up.

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If Stan Lee had little to do with Dr Strange ( He did come up with all those wayout names and phrases though didn’t he?) It could explain Strange’s sudden change in nature after Ditko left.
The first non Ditko story was the worst. Of which Stan Lee is credited with the first 5 pages.
Dr Strange keeps saying ”Thus speaks Dr Strange!” and is a complete A-hole with Wong for not paying the bills with money he doesn’t have.

I like the way Ditko got Strange out of some of the hard spots. When Baron Mordo trapped an astral Strange in a close topped ethereal cylinder. Strange didn’t escape by throwing a more powerful spell to break it. He flew all the way down the cylinder (which went right into the ground) untill it opened up on the other side of the earth.

I remember a later writer sadly couldn’t supply this form of sneeky IQ for the character. when confronted with a spell destorying time aging demon. None of the spells against him worked, untill in a cross-over issue by the same writer, one of the spells explicably did.
A better way would have been to magic a hole in the ground under (or perhaps in front of his path hidden by an illusion) the demon. The nature of the demon causes the spell to quickly fail, which means he’s trapped in the earth.
This then gives Dr Strange time to surround him with a circle of banishment (which I don’t think, actually needs to touch him as such).

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mygif

I think you raise a solid point, but I also disagree that Strange can’t tell superhero stories, or even be an Avenger. Let’s look at what is basicly the road map for a new Dr. Strange ongoing, The Oath. It says it all right there in the opener, “The world’s most prominant mystic detective.”. He’s the shaman of Greenwich Village, the neighborhood wise man of the digital age. My favorite classic Strange stories involved him, well, helping people-helping a man deal with his house being haunted, helping a woman escape an evil spirit’s wraith, helping a ghost find peace with her death and move on to the afterlife…the classic Marvel hero takes the Superman ideal of “A superhero wants to help.” and applies it to an element of everyday life, from family relationships(The Fantastic Four) to environmentalism(Namor) to civil rights(The X-Men) to the justice system(Daredevil). Why can’t Dr. Strange’s “I want to help.” niche be a spiritual one, and why does that make him not a proper superhero?

Now, the elephant in the room: Power. See, I think there are two assumptions people make that are faulty when it comes to Strange; I agree with you that he is hella powerful, and should be, being a man that can look a Great Old One in the eye and make the thing blink. But;

1) Magic is not science, so it takes nothing from science. Marvel Super Science takes a page or six from magic all the time. Richards, Pym, Stark, they’re the artificers and alchemists of the modern age. You even have the wise old soothsayer with Doc Samson’s psychology. Furthermore, real world mythological lore has never just been ‘Wave a wand and it happens.’. Magic is hard, magic takes work, magic takes a, dare I say, scientific level of discipline just to keep the fundamentals from coming undone and the spirits you’re drawing power from deciding to eat you. All of this means that Dr. Strange can weild a tremendous amount of power, but he has to be smart about it-he needs time to preform the right rituals, he needs to make pacts with the right spirits, he needs to use the proper materials, all of which give him the same weaknesses of any Marvel super scientist. You mentioned earlier how having Mephisto just go ‘Wwwwizard!’ and not explain what the magic did undermined the integrity of the story, because magic is just another plot device and needs to be treated as such. Same concept applies here.

2) Power is absolute. Yeah, you have the fans who bitch if Spider-Man is having a bad day despite “Sometimes Pete has a bad day and gets owned.” being a part of the story for longer than some people have been alive. Turning back to the Oath: for all of Strange’s cosmic power, proper preperation on the Brigand’s part nearly kills him. Yes, Strange spites the Lovecraftian idea of mankind being worthless by directly confronting the unknowable horrors of the world and forcing them to acknowledge him, but it’s just as important to remember that he can be tied up, beaten up, shot, and otherwise physically overwhelmed. The Great Wizard being helpless because he doesn’t have time to preform the proper ritual is a legitimate weakness, and one that when used properly, adds a lot of the drama and suspense to a Dr. Strange story.

Magic in a modern fantastic setting can be amazing if done properly-touching on similar metatextual elements as a proper Fantastic Four story can. Just going, “WAVE MY HAND, YO!” when you can have Dr. Strange have to wrestle the ghost of Charlie Brown, modern avatar of the postmodernist ideal, in order to force him to banish the spiritual rain cloud that’s tearing a family apart(At the whim of Nightmare, who wished to study the mental state the human mind goes through when the family unit collapses in order to further the range of human suffering he can feed off of.) is just lazy writing. If you’ve got a superhero wizard and you can’t make everything he does awesome, you aren’t having enough fun in showbusniess.

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