Levitation cape? Check. Sling ring? Check. Wong? Check. Doctor Strange has finally materialized on big screens and we couldn’t be more excited. A former surgeon plagued by arrogance who lost the ability to practice and follows the righteous path to becoming Earth’s mightiest conjurer – Stephen Strange adds a whole new dimension to the MCU. Armed only with the entire breadth of mystical knowledge and some really cool toys, this Sorcerer Supreme is poised to transport us into a realm of supernatural superheroing unlike any we’ve ever seen.
He has long been one of Marvel’s most popular characters. But for anyone not familiar with Eyes of Agamotto or Sanctum Sanctorums, you probably have a question or two about the Master of Mystic Arts. Like why does he hate Benjamin Franklin so much? Or, was Marvel on drugs when they created him? Well, we’ve traversed the astral plane far and wide to reveal some of this magician’s best kept secrets that will hopefully leave you shouting, “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!”
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Doctor Strange.
15. He Was Inspired by Chandu the Magician and Vincent Price
The Sorcerer Supreme we all know and love today first appeared in 1963’s Strange Tales #110. He was created by comic artist Steve Ditko and originally named Mr. Strange. His physical appearance was an homage to ’60s horror icon Vincent Price, who often played mystical sorcerers on film. In fact, the character was given the middle name “Vincent” and that ridiculous goatee. At the very last minute, Ditko and Stan Lee decided to change his title to distinguish the character from Mr. Fantastic. And since there was already a Dr. Strange villain in existence, they chose to spell out “Doctor” rather that go with its abbreviation.
But perhaps most of all, Doctor Strange was inspired by “Chandu the Magician.” This 1930s radio program featured a secret agent magician who could traverse the astral plane and project illusions. Both Lee and Ditko remembered the program fondly from their youths so when they were looking to bring a new element to Marvel comics, the supernatural world of Chandu seemed the perfect place to start.
14. He Hasn’t Been the Only Sorcerer Supreme
Doctor Strange is best known as the Sorcerer Supreme, which basically means he’s living out every eight-year-old’s dream of being the greatest magician in the universe. Or as Marvel likes to put it, he “is a practitioner of the mystic arts who commands a greater portion of the ambient magical energies than any other organism on a given world or dimension.” Translation: Doctor Strange is awesome.
While Stephen might be the most famous to bear the moniker, there have been several other Supreme Sorcerers over the past millennia or so. The very first was the godlike Agamotto. Others include an Atlantean mermaid, Merlin, Nightcrawler’s foster-mother, and Dr. Strange’s mentor, the Ancient One. When Strange relinquished the title from 1992 to 1995, and then again in 2009 after unsuccessfully flipping out on Hulk, Doctor Voodoo picked up the mantle. In several alternate universes Dr. Doom and even Tony Stark have been the Sorcerer Supreme.
13. He Lives in Greenwich Village
Anyone interested in paying the Sorcerer Supreme a visit need just swing by 177A Bleeker Street in New York City. Home of delicious pizza, bohemian living and Bob Dylan’s mumbling, Greenwich Village also notably houses Doctor Strange’s homebase, the Sanctum Sanctorum. Its address is a real-life reference to the apartment shared by comic writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich, and in the comics is said to be a focal point for supernatural energies, having been built on a site of pagan sacrifices. Which sucks for the tattoo parlor that currently resides there.
While Superman gets an ice fortress and the Justice League a cool space station, Stephen Strange gets a brownstone. Though to be fair it’s a three-story mansion in downtown Manhattan, which is a rarer resource than vibranium. Technically the building is a magical artifact itself that is vastly larger than it appears from the outside, houses Stephen’s many mystical objects and can magically disguise itself as a Starbucks. Which is a horrible way to keep people away.
12. He’s a Member of the Illuminati
Albert Pike. George Bush. Jay-Z. Beyonce. All have undoubtedly pulled the strings of history as members of the Illuminati. While related only in name to its real world counterpart, Marvel has its own version founded by Tony Stark. Comprising the world’s self-proclaimed most important people, its other founding members include Namor, Professor X, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt and, of course, the Master of the Mystic Arts.
Amidst doing things like kicking Hulk off Earth, avoiding a Kree-Skrull conflict and trying to destroy the Infinity Stones, the Illuminati have taken it upon themselves to secretly guide the events of the Marvel universe, usually with disastrous results. Each member represents a different aspect of society, with Doctor Strange appearing on behalf of the mystical community. One thing that becomes blatantly apparent through their meddling, is that getting a small group of really smart superheroes together to make decisions on behalf of the entire planet is a bad idea. But very entertaining. So it’s good news that with Doctor Strange’s big screen debut, the Illuminati will mostly likely follow close behind.
11. He Used to Wear a Full Face Mask
If you’ve seen some of the toys promoting the Doctor Strange film, you may have noticed one where he has a blue head. It’s an odd look, but does have a precedent in the comics. Starting in 1969’s Doctor Strange #177, the Sorcerer Supreme for a short time donned a more traditional superhero mask. This “blue costume” was the result of being exiled to another dimension and him only being able to return by adopting a new form with a full-face mask to conceal his identity. Looking more liked the blue-headed cousin of Red Skull than anything else, Doctor Strange’s mask phase worked for no one, and was thankfully scrapped shortly after its inception.
This wouldn’t be the only time he covered up, having sported a Rorschach-esque mask for a few issues during 1990s Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme. But for the most part Strange’s visage has been on full display; a trend the film will thankfully continue. Because why would anyone want to cover the fabulous face of Benedict Cumberbatch?
10. His Girlfriend Had an Affair with Benjamin Franklin
While most superheroes and their companions go through some tough times, Doctor Strange and the greatest love of his life, the sorceress Clea, have had a particularly rough go of it. For starters, she is the niece of his arch nemesis, Dormammu. Which means right off the bat they started off as enemies. But everyone knows magicians are babe magnets, so it’s no surprise she quickly developed feelings for him and the two eventually got married (and then divorced).
For a while Clea was Stephen’s mystic protege, getting caught up in the world of his supernatural battles. On one occasion during Dr. Strange #176 she was hypnotized by a demonic cult into killing him. Luckily she failed. Then there’s the time she cheated on him with Benjamin Franklin. That’s right, one of America’s greatest founding fathers hooked up with Doctor Strange’s girlfriend. In Doctor Strange Vol. 2 #18, Strange and Clea embark on a time traveling trip through the past to learn about the history of occultism. During the journey, Strange makes the classic mistake of leaving his girlfriend alone with Benjamin Franklin. Benji wastes no time getting Clea drunk on whiskey and saying creepy things as, “Thank God I’m not a puritan.” Then like the smooth revolutionary he is, Franklin removes his bifocals, puts out the candlelight and takes her on a mystical journey of American discovery.
For obvious reasons the writer of this story arc was quickly removed and the whole thing retconned the next issue into the far more acceptable: Clea actually had sex with the villainous wizard Stygryro disguised as Ben Franklin. Though at the time she didn’t know that. But Doctor Strange shouldn’t feel too bad – Benjamin Franklin probably slept with a lot of people’s girlfriends.
9. He Founded the Defenders
Anyone who’s a fan of Marvel’s awesome run of Netflix shows knows that things are leading up to the momentous crossover event, The Defenders. However this squad of New York-based street level superheroes, comprising Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist, will look much different than their comic counterpart. That team was founded by Doctor Strange, and originally included the Hulk, Namor and Silver Surfer protecting humanity against supernatural opponents.
As surprising as it may seem, Doctor Strange has never been a part of the Avengers. He’s more of an outsider, like the rest of the Defenders. Which is why initially they were formed as a non-team of superheroes who assemble only as needed to fight the other worldly foes outside the Avengers’ scope. While the lineup has changed repeatedly over the years, it did eventually include the likes of renowned loners, Daredevil and Cage. So here’s hoping at some point Doctor Strange makes an appearance alongside the Defenders’ newest incarnation. Probably not, but we can dream.
8. He is Not as Powerful as You Think (Anymore)
Depending on what you’ve heard and how much you read Doctor Strange comics, the Master of the Mystic Arts is often cited as one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. The “classic Doctor Strange” prior to the 1980s for all intents and purposes lived up to that claim. He could hold his own against an Infinity Gauntlet-wielding Adam Warlock, went toe-to-toe with the omnipotent Living Tribunal and performed open heart surgery on Eternity. True, he relied heavily on mystical artifacts like the Eye of Agamotto, Cloak of Levitation and books about vampires. But these provide him with a near infinite variety of spells capable of destroying planets that put him right up there beside Goku. At least, that used to be the case.
Since then the character has been drastically nerfed. While still considered someone you don’t want to mess with, Doctor Strange is far less powerful than he once was, or at least his abilities have fluctuated well beyond the point of consistency. On one occasion, he was even been defeated by a bunch of ninjas. Granted, they were ninjas, but we’re talking about a guy that can supposedly transmutate matter and conjure an unbreakable forcefield. Not something a few shuriken should be a match for.
7. He is the Scarlet Witch’s Mentor
In the comics Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch apprenticed under Doctor Strange for period of time. After all, she is known for her mutant abilities to warp reality and manipulate probability, making her the perfect pupil for the Sorcerer Supreme. Though while Strange spent years refining his skills under the masterful tutelage of the Ancient One, Wanda went relatively unchecked and has little comprehension of how to best use her powers. Which basically makes them a match made in magic.
With that in mind, there have been reports of Elizabeth Olsen’s character appearing in future sequels to Doctor Strange that could be introduced with a meeting between the two during Infinity War. Benedict Cumberbatch has already mentioned he believes his character could be the one to reunite the Avengers. And since there’s a very good chance Vision will die in that film, Wanda will find herself more alone than ever. Overall the MCU’s Scarlet Witch is in obvious need of guidance following the events of Age of Ultron and Civil War, which is a convenient thread just waiting to be resolved with an epic crossover.
6. He Inspired a Pink Floyd Album and is Huge with Potheads
With the ability to conjure astral projections and warp reality, it should be little surprise Doctor Strange is an inspiration to the psychedelic music scene. So much so that the cover imagery of Pink Floyd’s album “A Saucerful of Secrets” was based on art from his earlier issues. Then there’s the lyrics from T. Rex’s song Mambo Sun, “on a mountain range, I’m Doctor Strange for you.” Whatever that means.
Rock stars aren’t the only ones enchanted by the Sorcerer Supreme. Back in the day stoners loved reading Doctor Strange comics while getting high. After all he’s colorful, magical and talks to giant caterpillars smoking hookahs. Tom Wolfe even wrote about the influence in his iconic 1960s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test describing how well Strange goes with ganja. Which makes sense considering Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story recounts some truly bizarre tales of how the guys working on the Doctor Strange comics were constantly dropping acid. So while you’re having your mind blown watching a kaleidoscope of buildings and Benedict Cumberbatch traveling through space-time, just remember much of what you’re seeing on screen is thanks to LSD.
5. There’s a Doctor Strange Graphic Novel You Can Never Read
There are probably some Doctor Strange diehards out there who have devoured everything that’s ever been created involving the Sorcerer Supreme. Though they might be disheartened to learn that there’s at least one story that they’ll never be able to get their hands on so long as the co-creator of Doctor Strange has anything to say about it.
Apparently, Steve Ditko wrote and illustrated an entire Doctor Strange graphic novel (maybe even two or three) that has never been published or seen by anyone but a select few. Comic editor Tom Brevoort has said that Marvel approached Ditko to release the stories, but he’s not interested. Having also co-created Spider-Man and penciled some of the most iconic comics in history, including the unforgettable premiere issue of Chuck Norris and the Karate Commandos, Ditko is a legend in the industry with these books undoubtedly a Holy Grail for any fan.
4. He’s Been in Movies Before
While the latest film has the distinction of being Doctor Strange’s first full length feature film, he did appear in a 93-minute TV movie for CBS. You’ve probably never heard of it because it was awful. Had this 1978 pilot been successful the character would have gotten his own series alongside Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. Which is probably good it did not because Peter Hooten’s bushy mustache and the wardrobe department made the entire production look like a poorly made porno.
Beyond that misadventure he appeared in his own 2007 animated film and has been teased in previous Marvel movies. For example during Thor, one of Strange’s mystical objects, the crystal Orb of Agamotto, can be seen in Odin’s treasure chamber and in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Stephen Strange is mentioned as being a high-risk target under surveillance by Hydra. But none of these, nor this new incarnation, will live up to the incredible low bar set by that 1970s perm.
3. He Was Almost Played by Joaquin Phoenix
There’s a lot we know about the Doctor Strange film. Like the fact Benedict Cumberbatch was always the first choice to play the lead role. Although there were still a slew of A-list stars shortlisted for the part just in case Sherlock Holmes couldn’t find time in his busy schedule. Like Viggo Mortensen, Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Jake Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Jon Hamm and everyone’s favorite Walking Dead decapitated zombie head, Johnny Depp. Even Mads Mikkelson, who would go on to play the film’s villain, was at one point considered for the role.
However, the studio’s number two pick was Joaquin Phoenix, who came extremely close to donning Doctor Strange’s red cape after Cumberbatch declined due to a previous theatre commitment to play Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Phoenix spent three months in negotiations, but eventually turned the part down over his reluctance to do a multi-picture deal. In the end, the film’s release was pushed back from Summer to Fall to accommodate Benedict’s delayed schedule.
2. Tilda Swinton is in the Movie So China Doesn’t Get Offended
Even crazier (and more controversial) than the actors shortlisted to play the good Doctor, are those who were up for the role of his mentor, the Ancient One. In the comics the character is a Tibetan sorcerer named Yao. Which makes the likes of Ken Watanabe, Billy Nighy, Morgan Freeman and the ultimate pick, Tilda Swinton, seem like odd choices for the part.
However, Marvel Studio’s president Kevin Feige has said that the MCU has its own interpretation, with the character being more of a mantle than a specific person. Director Scott Derrikson added that casting Swinton was an effort to bring diversity to the MCU. Which makes no sense. Most likely the real reason was given by screenwriter Robert Cargill, who described the character as a cultural landmine. By having their film set in Tibet and featuring a powerful Tibetan character, there was a good chance of alienating the massive Chinese market and Marvel losing a butt load of money. Hence, the film’s version of the Ancient One is an innocuous bald female of Celtic descent. Though really, this whole controversy could have been avoided if they just went with Morgan Freeman. Because who’s going to complain about that?
1. The Film is Inspired by Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Fantasia
Doctor Strange has been in development for over 30 years. In 1986, Back to the Future co-writer Bob Gale created a script that went nowhere. A few years later Stan Lee took a stab at penning a version. Jump ahead to the early 90s and Wes Craven signed on to re-write and direct. Since then David Goyer, Guillermo del Torro and a handful of others have all been slated to take over until it finally went to the mostly unknown, Scott Derrikson.
Derrikson shelled out an “obnoxious amount” of his own money to create a 12-page scene for the film, illustrated with concept art and storyboards, proving he wanted the job more than anyone else. This template was used by cinematographer Ben Davies in setting the tone of the visuals, which he also drew heavily from Disney’s most psychedelic adventure, Fantasia.
Given the far out look of the movie, one of Derrikson’s goals from the get-go was to create a doorway to Marvel’s supernatural realm without getting too bogged down with technicalities. To achieve this he drew inspiration from both the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, where audiences enjoyed learning about new magical objects and the world governing their use on a cursory level. A good example is the mystical artifact he created unique to the film, the “sling ring,” which allows sorcerers to open teleportation portals through time and space. So if you’re having trouble wrapping your head around the mystical world of Doctor Strange, just imagine Harry Potter as a well-trained martial artist and you’ll get there.
Can you pull out any other unknown Doctor Strange facts from thin air? Show us in the comments.