Posted by  Pete Albano - January 12, 2012 | Updated : January 17, 2012

The earliest tales about the Master of the Mystic Arts

Dr. Strange in Strange Tales

110 : Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic
111 : Face to Face With the Magic of Baron Mordo
114 : The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo
115 : The Origin of Dr. Strange
116 : Return to the Nightmare World
117 : The Many Traps of Baron Mordo
118 : The Possessed
119 : Beyond the Purple Veil
120 : The House of Shadows

Strange Tales 110 : Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic

strange tales 110 cover

The Master of Black Magic!

It's 1963 and Stan Lee with Steve Ditko are introducing a new character in the pages of Strange Tales 110. It's a low key debut, look at the cover above, it's all Human Torch; Dr. Strange takes up only 5 pages! But in those five pages look at how much has been packed in :

  • Strange himself, of course
  • The Ancient One
  • Nightmare
  • and the Eye of Agamotto

Oh yes, in these early appearances, Stephen isn't referred to as the Master of the Mystic Arts, he's the Master of Black Magic.

Strange Tales 111 : Face to Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo

strange tales 111 cover

Class is in session

Once again Dr. Strange gets five pages in Human Torch's comic book. I don't know if the idea is for Strange to benefit from the Torch's popularity or Lee and Ditko thought up the Doctor to help Johnny's flagging sales.

In this second instalment of Dr. Strange, yet another component is added to a barely visible backstory : Baron Mordo. Every hero needs a villain and for Dr. Strange it's a classmate. Yup. Isn't' it great that in order to be a student of the mystic arts you have to be old? Ok, it's not a requirement but this two are not young anymore. I think it makes perfect sense. Maybe more patience is needed. Maybe more knowledge of life. No teens or young adults. Strange has had a medical career and Mordo is no spring chicken. Well, to the Ancient One, these two must look like babies.

We don't have the fancy spells yet but astral projection is all the rage in this storyline.

Strange Tales 114 : The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo

strange tales 114 cover

Mordo vs. Strange Round 2

It's worth noting that the Dr. Strange installments in Strange Tales has skipped two issues. The last issue was 111. It's only guesswork on my part but I think that Lee and Ditko were waiting for fan feedback before they went ahead. I think at this time Marvel was using DC's distribution arm and Marvel was limited to only a handful of books. That's why they had double offerings per issue on some issues.

Anyway, it looks like Mordo is pretty popular because he's back in this issue. Also, here is the less popular Victoria Bentley. Maybe if Clea never came into the scene it would be Victoria by Strange's side.

What do we have here by way of spells? Let's see. Mental projection and an astral battle. More significant is Dr. Strange's attitude when the Ancient One tries to help him. He insists on going it alone; to earn the title of Master of the Mystic Arts.

Strange Tales 115 : The Origin of Dr Strange

strange tales 115 cover

A tale of redemption

As you can see above, still no sign on the cover that there's a Dr. Strange story inside. But. Surprise! Surprise! We have eight, count it, eight, pages of Dr. Strange, not the usual five. Signs of slightly increasing popularity.

If you're still not convinced then the story should convince you. It's "The Origin of Dr. Strange". Lee and Ditko are establishing the character.

Of course everybody knows this origin right? Let's just look at some finer points. Hmmm. I'm surprised to see that Dr. Strange did not want to study the mystic arts. Then why the heck did he trek all those snowy miles to the Himalayas? The obvious answer is simple desperation. He was so affected by the lost of his surgical skill that he just had to make the trip only to find out upon arrival that, man of science that he is, this magical lunacy didn't go down well with him. But fate will have what it wants and the Dr. is quickly caught up in Mordo's plot to kill the Ancient One. You'll note that as early as this time Mordo is praying to the dread Dormammu. You'll also note that Mordo has got a significant head start over Strange in terms of magical studies and training.

I'm looking for the turning point. What finally compelled Strange to become the Ancient One's pupil? He says its so he could fight Mordo. I think what Strange found in that remote Himalayan retreat was purpose. Something to do; something to focus on again besides being depressed at the lost of a career he could no longer get on with. Strange found meaning again, he had a challenge again - it made him feel alive.

Strange Tales 116 : Return of the Nightmare World

strange tales 116 cover

This guy reminds me of Gaiman's Sandman

Now there it is. An open acknowledgement from Stan Lee that Dr. Strange is a success together with more pages and the promise of an exciting new story. Lee and Ditko have a winner.

Nightmare was the first Dr. Strange villain, featured in Strange Tales 110 and now he's back. It's fascinating to see Ditko's early rendition of Nightmare's world and you know who Nightmare reminds me of? Morpheus that's who. The Sandman. Was Sam Keith channelling Nightmare when he did Sandman 1?


Ditko did the inside of Dr. Strange's Greenwich Village house just right - cluttered and shadowy, perfect atmosphere for the tale.

strange's sanctum sanctorum

Also making its first appearance is the Book of the Vishanti, and together with the book, one of my favorite aspects of Dr. Strange : that knowledge is power and that the mystic arts is a discipline that takes serious study. I love books and I like the rigors and rewards entailed by a structured approach to ones craft.

No fancy spells yet just a very dangerous adventure in Nightmare's realm.

Strange Tales 117 : The Many Traps of Baron Mordo

strange tales 117 cover

Traps and counter-traps

It's the sixth Dr. Strange story out from Marvel and it looks like the good Doctor is getting more popular. We now have a blurb on the front cover of the Human Torch's Strange Tales alerting readers of a Dr. Strange story inside.

I love how elegantly Baron Mordo weaves his spell at the beginning of this tale: First he creates a small magical replica of Dr. Strange's Greenwich Village brownstone, it quickly turns into a bubble of mist that floats to the real brownstone and envelopes it, thus setting Mordo's trap. Such things should be done in semi-darkness and artist par excellance Steve Ditko delivers.

baron mordo spellcasting

I suppose its a challenge for Lee to fit a tale in only eight pages but he does it with a truly elegant tale of traps and counter traps. No brute force here, just two magic users matching wits. When they do get to joust with spells I love that Ditko uses a dark cloud motif for Mordo and a bright lightning effect for Strange. These eight pages go satisfyingly fast.

baron mordo vs. dr. strange

Strange Tales 118 : The Possessed

strange tales 118 cover

The First Defender

As Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Strange is tasked with protecting the Earth from all supernatural threats. At the start of this tale we get acquainted with some of the tools he uses to accomplish his purpose. Here, for example, he logs into the Internet in 1964, or at least something like the Internet - a revolving Crystal ball replica of the Earth that he doesn't name, which is good, because we can call it Google Maps.

Anyway "Google Maps" alerts him to a magical hotspot in Eastern Europe.

The people of a small town are becoming the victims of mysterious possessions. The phenomena baffles Strange until he himself is attacked. Luckily one cannot get the upper hand of the Master of the Mystic Arts so easily. This is a classic tale showing Dr. Strange going about his duties as a defender of humanity. Up until recently Marvel has had a problem writing Strange because of his vast powers but this story from Stan Lee shows just how to handle it - this was not an easy victory for Dr. Strange.

Strange Tales 119 : Beyond The Purple Veil

strange tales 119 cover

Stop! Thief! Dr. Strange will save you but he'll leave the beat down to Spider-Man

I know I'm supposed to be talking about Dr. Strange but look at that Human Torch cover That is one of the worst-named villains ever. The Rabble Rouser! Lol!

This story involves a journey into another dimension, and if you know Steve Ditko's crazy art, you know that place is going to look wild - and it is.

There is a subtle message in this tale about how Dr. Strange relates to street crime. The kind of crime that would have Spider-Man or Daredevil coming in with their fists. Dr. Strange almost ignores crime, it's almost a non-issue to him. His powers place him in no danger from it at all but, more importantly, his place as a mystic protector has him looking at things differently. To Dr. Strange the world is not divided into criminals and innocents, its divided into mankind and magical threats. His attitude to the criminals in this issue bear witness to that.

Strange Tales 120 : The House of Shadows

strange tales 120 cover

Dr. Strange in a haunted house

In the creator's blurb it says : "Drawn by candlelight by : Steve Ditko", how can we resist!

Isn't this the plot that we're all looking for? There's a haunted house at the edge of town. A news crew and a small crowd film someone who goes in on a dare just for kicks. But the house really is haunted and evertying starts falling to pieces. Enter Dr. Strange.

Where getting some familiar names from the good Doctor at this point but none of those brilliant specific spells of his yet. I read "The Spells of the Omnipotent Oshtur", "The Vapors of the Vishanti", and "The Mystic Hosts of Hoggoth".

Amazingly, its the media that is the novel concept in this tale.

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