Warning: SPOILERS for Doctor Strange #20
The Doctor Strange movie made sure to answer the most obvious question for viewers, having the Ancient One inform Strange that he could remain a world-renowned surgeon by channeling magic through his damaged hands... but only at the cost of being an effective Master of the Mystic Arts. While Strange ultimately chooses to use his magic to help others, fans of his comics are finally getting to see what happens when Doctor Strange decides to regain his surgical skills. And it's a mission that puts him face-to-face with an all-new Ancient One (who’s much older than his former mentor).
Following the shocking events of Doctor Strange #19, Doctor Strange finds himself in possession of a newly grown set of hands, free from his old nerve damage. Believing he can now be both sorcerer and surgeon, Strange dreams of returning to the operating room – only to realize that, while his hands may now be perfect, his knowledge is not what it used to be.
Medical science has made huge leaps in the Marvel Universe since Strange last held a scalpel, including the use of “gamma knives” (an invention of Dr. Bruce Banner's?) to detect brain tumors – and the good doctor knows he has a lot of catching up to do. Although his faithful ghost dog Bats points out that Doctor Strange’s responsibilities as Marvel's current Sorcerer Supreme outweigh any good he can do as a surgeon, Stephen’s resurfacing ego drives him to find another shortcut to regain his medical expertise: magically download all current medical knowledge into his brain, Matrix-style. This inspires Strange to seek out Kanna, the alien technomancer who guided Doctor Strange through outer space to help him regain his magic in the comic’s first arc. Unfortunately, Kanna’s busy defending a holy temple from an evil technomancer, Chondar-2, who's after the planet’s most powerful magical artifact... The Ancient One.
It turns out this Ancient One is the universe’s first artificial intelligence, a sentient magical construct trillions of years old that functions both as a well of power, and repository of arcane knowledge for all alien sorcerers in the Dakkar system. It’s an impressive being (and an ironic one, considering Doctor Strange came to Dakkar-7 seeking knowledge of a different sort). Tragically, Chondar-2 infects the Ancient One with a computer virus that gives him control of the entity, requiring Doctor Strange and Kanna to battle the once-benevolent teacher.
As Kanna is overpowered by the Ancient One, Doctor Strange learns a disturbing downside of his newly grown hands. They may be flawless, but they have no muscle memory to make the magical gestures that once came so effortlessly to him. Realizing he doesn’t have the time to concentrate and cast a precise spell, Strange resorts to cruder methods by having his Cloak of Levitation stab the Ancient One with his self-forged Sword/Scalpel of Strange. Since Doctor Strange’s magic is foreign to Chondar-2, the attack destroys the technomancer... but also obliterates the Ancient One.
It’s an unnerving ending both metaphorically and literally, as Strange meets this Ancient One while on a quest to regain his former status as a surgeon. By destroying this entity, Strange symbolically also stabs his old mentor as he edges back into his old life as a surgeon. The story ends with Kanna successfully downloading the medical knowledge Stephen requests, and Doctor Strange contemplates how well he can balance his responsibilities as Sorcerer Supreme (given his newfound difficulties in casting spells) with his return to the world of medicine.
Although Doctor Strange views his new hands as a gift, it’s very possible his recovery will also allow his old arrogance and ambition to recover as well – which may not bode well for the Marvel Universe when Dr. Strange returns, first in Doctor Strange Annual on October 30th, then in Mark Waid and Kev Walker’s Dr. Strange: Surgeon Supreme in December.