Comparing Doctor Strange: Comic Book vs Movie
Only Good Things Deserve “Cumberbatch-ing”
There are few things a real comic book fanboy can do to get his superhero rush jonesing more than watching the Doctor Strange movie.
They are the following: Getting art lessons from Steve Ditko, actually receiving real super powers, and dating someone that gets your juices flowing – in that order. This fan boy got to see a movie that he thought would never be made – Doctor Strange.
Ever since I was six and stumbled across my cousin’s comic book stash, I knew there was practically no chance of a live action Marvel movie actually being good enough to see in a movie theatre. I have to preface here, I am fifty years old and all of the live action movies I’ve seen up until Bryan Singer’s The X-Men in 2000, ended as spectacular failures.
Seriously, they were terrible. Outside of Bill Bixby putting on white contact lenses to become Lou Ferrigno, the live action comic book productions of Spider-Man, Captain America (2 versions), The Fantastic Four, and the little known first attempt at Doctor Strange were mind-numbingly awful.
But things change.
Industrial Light and Magic’s technology combined with a complete disregard of the comic book code brought comic book stories to film in all their glory. Spider-Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The X-Men, and The Avengers are now powerhouses at the box office.
And now we have Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme. And boy, is he awesome in that role. Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor who brought Sherlock Holmes into the 21st Century, Alan Turing out of the closet, Stephen Hawking out of his wheelchair, Khan Noonian Singh out of his Spaceship, and Julian Assange out of his Wikileaks.
Well, okay, Julian Assange can’t be made better through Cumberbatch-ing, but we can only ask so much.
But I digress. Let’s talk about Doctor Strange.
Like most origin stories from the Marvel Universe, this superhero origin was a joint effort of Stan Lee and someone else. The “someone else” in this case was legendary illustrator and writer, Steve Ditko. The two were the same team responsible for the creation of The Amazing Spider-Man.
Doctor Strange’s origin story is almost exactly like it was portrayed in the movie. My only critique of the story was that prior to Strange’s apprenticeship with the Ancient One, he was more of an arrogant ass.
If you didn’t have the money to pay him, he wouldn’t do the operation. Was he that good? Yeah, he was. Even with his mastery of the mystic arts, Doctor Strange is still one of the foremost experts in the Marvel Universe when it comes to medical problems.
The reason why Strange went broke in the comic books was not because he was trying to look for a cure for his condition, but because he refused to be subordinate to anyone else. If he couldn’t be the best brain surgeon in the world, he wouldn’t work at all. Doctor Strange’s comic book origin has him as a derelict in New York’s Bowery where he overheard a mention of the Ancient One’s healing miracles.
Strange’s ego and arrogance were not lost on the Ancient One in the comics, either. The Ancient One knew he was an ass. So much so that he not only refused to teach him, he continued Mordo’s training – despite knowing Mordo was plotting against him. How much of an arrogant selfish ass do you have to be to lose out to someone who’s trying to kill you?
Later, it was the Ancient One’s faith in Stephen Strange in his potential for good, as well as Strange’s dedication to the mystic arts that earned him a place as his disciple.
Unlike the movie, the training to become a sorcerer was grueling and long. It took years. While it was possible for the Cumberbatch Stephen Strange to use his photographic memory and learn faster than most people, the span of time it took for him to achieve mastery of the mystic arts was beyond belief in the movie.
By the time Doctor Strange was introduced in Strange Tales #110, he was a master, but not as good as Baron Mordo.
One other thing about Doctor Strange is that the movie version makes him more “hip” than he really is. The best phrase I can use is “fuddy duddy”. He’s not known for his humor, wise assery, or Beyoncé jokes. As a matter of fact, this doctor’s bedside manner really isn’t that good at all. And it’s a small wonder. If your job were to protect this dimension from any of thousands of extradimensional incursions which potentially could happen at any second, you might not have time to hone your social skills.
Stephen Strange is not charming. He is sophisticated, but he really doesn’t have the social niceties that are expected from someone in a position of authority.
In the comic book universe, we see Doctor Strange the most with the “non team” called the Defenders. While Netflix is toting this as the future team up of Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones, the comic book Defenders team has traditionally been made up of three to four people who really don’t like each other very much. They are Doctor Strange, Prince Namor (aka – The Submariner), the Hulk, and occasionally The Silver Surfer – but it’s usually the first three with their headquarters at Doctor Strange’s townhouse on Bleeker Street in New York.
These three have almost nothing in common. It usually falls to Doctor Strange to keep order within his household and to keep the Hulk and Submariner from killing each other.
To sum up, the thing you need to know about the comic book version of Doctor Stephen Strange is that he is a hero born of necessity. He does the job that has to be done. There really aren’t many who can do it (I’ll probably wind up doing an article of other magicians within the Marvel Universe who are peers of Doctor Strange like Doctor Druid, Brother Voodoo, and Agatha Harkness), however, for the most part, Doctor Strange is the front line of defense for all mystical threats – and that makes him a little rude.
I would like to step back a moment and talk about Doctor Strange’s co-star in the movie.
The man known as Mordo is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. His character is portrayed as a noble mystic who is working with Doctor Strange as a fellow student, part time teacher, and man who is fighting the good fight with the Ancient One in his defense of the Earth Dimension. If you knew nothing about the character, you’d think he was Doctor Strange’s partner.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Baron Mordo in the comic world has been working against Doctor Strange since his origin issue. He’s almost completely evil. He was the last disciple of the Ancient One prior to taking Stephen Strange on. Baron Mordo (for he is a baron) is all about power. The character of Kaecilius (played by Mads Mikkelson) is closer to the comic book character of Mordo than Ejiofor’s character in the movie. It is Mordo who allies himself with the Dread Dormammu in exchange for incredible power.
Mordo is not a good man by any stretch of the imagination. He wants nothing more than to have power and use it against others.
That and he hates Doctor Strange.
The Ancient One
What I’m about to say has been said too often through many other articles and I’m just going to repeat it. Tilda Swinton’s role as the Ancient One is definitely a situation of white washing – where a white person is playing a part that should be cast to a specific racial type. Please don’t get me wrong. I think she’s a fabulous actress. She acted the hell out of her role in Snow Piercer.
However, there is no logical reason why the Ancient One couldn’t have been cast as an Asian. In the comics, he is an Asian. It only makes sense. They’re in Tibet. Stephen Strange passed a prayer wheel used for Tibetan Buddhists.
It should strike people that a woman who has lived an indeterminately long time as a Celtic sorceress should not be in Tibet. Marvel tried to get out of the Tibet link by calling the place they’re in as Kamar-Taj. I’m willing to bet that it’s nowhere near Ireland.
As a matter of fact, it isn’t.
The Ancient One in the comic books serves as Doctor Strange’s mentor for quite a long time. He grew up in Kamar-Taj (near the Himalayas). After he began learning magic, his aging slowed down and he grew to acquire more and more mystic knowledge and power to eventually become the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth.
While the Ancient One has a history that is slightly more complex than what I just said, the only thing you need to know is that he got his powers by studying a very long time and he was very good at what he did.
The real thing you definitely need to know is the Ancient One didn’t actually die in the comics. The best way to say it would be “he transcended his physical body and became one with the universe”. His physical body might have died, but he has gone to a greater state of being.
The Multiverse of Doctor Strange
This is the one slice of awesome I’ve been dying to talk about since I saw the movie – the effects.
If Steve Ditko could come out of his cave for a moment and see this movie, he would be proud. The effects of Doctor Strange outside of his physical body on the astral plane were simply mind-blowing. If you have the opportunity to see this movie in 3-D, IMAX, or both – DO IT!
Simply put, I spent the time watching those parts of the movie simply stunned at how close the producers got to Steve Ditko’s vision of Doctor Strange’s universe. The other-dimensional realms that he traveled through were so visually astounding that I can’t even describe them here. They just have to be experienced.
As I was saying before, there is much about these effects that harkens to Steve Ditko and his run on the title. The perception of these worlds is “trippy” – meaning if you somehow acquired and used a hallucinogen prior to watching this movie, you might not survive it intact.
This brings me to the in-joke and Stan Lee’s cameo – look for him on the bus reading The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley. This book was Huxley’s seminal work on mescaline and other psychedelic drugs.
The Comparison as a Whole
There aren’t enough superlative adjectives for this movie. It was fantastic. It had a good story and was more or less faithful to the character and his origin. It had interesting twists and turns – plus for all comic book fans, enough Easter eggs to make them squeal – including cameo shots of the Wand of Watoomb and The Black Knight’s helmet which were both located in the New York Sanctum Sactorum.
What this medium did for the character was the manifestation of the spells and effects that should have been as part of a Doctor Strange story, ideally. What comic book readers typically get is a lot more detail that translates (sometimes) as camp. Here’s an example: When Doctor Strange has to use his powers in the comics and he draws energy from an extradimensional source. He casts the spell by reciting it. Normally, he’ll say something like “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth and the Seven Rings of Raggadorr open this door”
That’s how he does it in the comic books.
Within a movie narrative, it would only make sense if he “thinks” that. For example, when the forces of Kaecilius are using energy from the Dark Dimension of the Dread Dormammu, they’re not reciting the spell, but we know they’re using it by the tiny “dark dimension tattoo” on their heads.
The comic books give the reader a better idea how things work with Doctor Strange. Why? Because there’s no other real way to show that to the reader. Fans who read more into the spells know that certain hosts are better at some things than with others. I won’t go into details but you should know that for a sorcerer, it’s just better they use other dimensional energies than their own personal physical energy stores. Doing that could wipe them out.
Does this detract anything from the movie? Nope. Not at all.
Cumberbatch’s performance, as I said was nearly flawless. Nitpickers would attack his American accent and argue with the writers that his American accent could have been written around. Seriously, it didn’t matter and after a while, I didn’t even notice it.
Performances by Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, and Benedict Wong were great and certainly fit who they were. Rachel McAdams, taking on the role of one of the three Night Nurse characters, was a welcome addition to the Marvel mythos. Mads Mikkelsen gave a wonderful performance as the working antagonist and even managed to get one chuckle out of the audience. Perhaps one of the most underrated characters of the movie was Wong played by Benedict Wong. Unlike his role in the comic books, he is more than Doctor Strange’s manservant in New York but the guard and security of the Ancient One’s library. We’re left to believe that no one will screw with the library while Wong is in charge of it.
I recommend wholeheartedly for anyone with eyes to see this movie. I recommend even more to see it in 3-D. It is a great movie with a good story about one of Marvel’s most unsung heroes who finally is getting his time in the limelight.