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Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 Hardcover – October 4, 2016
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As a comic book character, Doctor Strange has never been the most popular of heroes. His comics have never been top sellers. But in his more than 5 decades of imaginative existence, this supreme sorcerer has always been one of the most unique creations in the Marvel Universe. He is also one of the most demanding and challenging, for fable chronicler and fan alike. Doctor Strange has best succeeded as a comic when he is interpreted by extremely talented comic creators, writers and artists that understand the distinctive foundation of the character and his special place in the world and universes of Marvel superheroes.
Doctor Strange is my all-time favorite Marvel Comics character.
And the core of the Master of the Mystic Art's foundation can be found in this most eagerly awaited tome, the "Doctor Strange Omnibus," an extra special book that collects the complete adventures of the oracle of the otherworldly as envisioned by his creators, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. While the majority of these stories have previously been reprinted in the black and white trade paperback, Essential Doctor Strange, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials) (v. 1), first published in 2001, this book marks the first time the good Doctor's premiere exploits have been compiled in a full color, hardcover archival volume. Specifically, this book contains stories from "Strange Tales" #110, 111, 114-146, and the special tale, "The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange," from the second "Spider-man Annual," published in 1965. A single tome that finally contains all of Steve Ditko's influential work on Doctor Strange...
...by the Vishanti, it's about time!!!
Doctor Strange's comic debut began humbly and unheralded as a 5 paged story, "Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic," in "Strange Tales" #110 in 1963. If a comic buyer of that time picked up this particular issue it wasn't for the highly anticipated premiere of a new Marvel hero. The cover of the comic doesn't mention the character but showcases "more fiery action from your favorite super-hero...the Human Torch!" The young firebrand, one quarter member of the "Fantastic Four," had been starring in his own solo adventure series in the comic since issue #101.The first tale of the mystic mage was the last story in the comic and immediately establishes an atmospheric tone for the character and the world and worlds he inhabits. His backdrop is inspired more by the mystery and horror genres than the action/adventure tales that had become the norm in super hero comics. A troubled man seeks out Doctor Strange with a desperate hope that he can help him conquer his fear of dreaming. The mysterious hero enters the man's sleeping mind with his "astral" or spiritual form and confronts an "ancient foe," Nightmare, where the two battle in the ethereal realm.
Writer Stan Lee scripts a tight short story, depicting Doctor Strange as an all-knowing figure, at least to his 'patient,' but also guided by the wisdom of his teacher, "The Master," an elderly man residing "somewhere in the remote vastness of Asia." Steve Ditko's art, seemingly simple in style is strong in ambiance. With its rich use of shadow work and clear storytelling in its page and panel progression, Mr. Ditko and Mr. Lee create an intriguing character with the promise of more magic to come!
What followed was a true expansion of the then evolving Marvel universe. While Mr. Lee would help develop a wide variety of exciting Marvel super heroes and super villains with his collaboration with the immensely talented comic genius Jack "King" Kirby, his work with Mr. Ditko on Doctor Strange would grow in a different creative direction. Mr. Kirby's bombastic expressionism became the larger than life heart of the so-called "Marvel Age of Comics." But at the same time, Mr. Ditko was illustrating the tales of the seer of sorcery in stories slowly expanding from 5 meager pages to 8 in "The Origin of Dr. Strange" in "Strange Tales" #115, where the reader learns the details of Steven Strange's path to the mystic arts. His vain, self-absorbed life as a talented surgeon. The terrible car accident that fatefully wounded his hands, ending his medical career. His descent into despair. His chance discovery of the mystery of "the Ancient One," and his desperate quest to find him and perhaps be physically healed. Finally, his long journey across the world where a man who had lost material wealth and fame would gain spiritual wealth, moral redemption and a new mission in life as the Master of the Mystic Arts! Under the mentor-ship of the Ancient One, formerly the Master, Doctor Strange would mature even as the page count of his adventures grew, with Mr. Ditko patiently building an artistic legacy that contrasted the mighty work of Mr. Kirby with a vision more surrealistic in scope, but no less wondrous in execution. He was on his way to producing his greatest comic work.
As the tales of Doctor Strange reached 10 pages in length, Mr. Lee and Mr. Ditko's work on the character grew more inspired. The shaman of the supernatural would match his magical wits with his long time nemesis and ex apprentice of the Ancient One, Baron Mordo, in his first 10 paged story, "Mordo Must Not Catch Me!" from "Strange Tales" #125. Then in issues #126 and 127, the creative pair produced one of the true classic stories in the chronicles of Doctor Strange, "The Domain of the Dread Dormammu!" and "Duel with the Dread Dormammu!" This two part tale introduces one of the mystic mage's arch villains, the despotic demon ruler, Dormammu, who would play a major role in many future Doctor Strange stories. They also feature the first appearance of an unnamed character who would become the love of Steven Strange's life, the beautiful, otherworldly woman he would learn is called Clea. Mr. Ditko's imagination was truly unleashed in this adventure. His vision of Dormammu's dimensional "realm of darkness," was perhaps unlike anything seen in comics before. An unreality not of darkness of sight and sound but of mood, Ditko created a domain of swirling colors, pathways of light that led to other globes of other realities, wisps of shadow dripping freely, unhindered by the laws of gravity, a fragile concept in this universe. When Doctor Strange ultimately battles Dormammu in a battle of magical wills, Mr. Ditko depicts a struggle not of physical force but rather of metaphysical power in which waves of unearthly energy erupt from hands invoking cosmic incantations, where bolts of bedevilment batter barriers of light and bands of mystical malevolence menace the antagonists only to be melted away and conjured again into dramatic and destructive new dangers.
These are some great comics!
But they are just the start of the unparalleled comics to come as Mr. Ditko would plot, co-plot and draw while Mr. Lee would plot and script Doctor Strange's continuously amazing adventures; culminating in "a tale so different, so unexpected, that we had to give it the feature cover spot" for the first time in "Strange Tales" #130, for the story ominously titled "The Defeat of Dr. Strange!" This tale would begin an epic multi-issue and multi-dimensional 17 part story arc that would set the Master of Black Magic on a quest to solve the mystery of Eternity, one of the all-time classic concepts realized by Mr. Ditko. Mr. Lee would get dialogue and script assistance from up and coming writers RoyThomas on "Strange Tales" issues #143 and #144, and Denny O'Neil on issues #145 and #146. This serial adventure would come to be regarded as Mr. Ditko's crowning achievement for "the House of Ideas."
Also during this creative period, Mr. Ditko and Mr. Lee would combine the adventures of their shared most famous characters, Doctor Strange and Spider-man, in a special crossover tale, "The Wondrous Worlds of Dr. Strange!" released in 1965's "Spider-man Annual" #2. The story's title and plot are symbolic of the impact the master magician would have on any interaction he had within the more earthly world of the Webbed Wallcrawler and the wider world of the Marvel universe. It's a testament to the strength of Doctor Strange as a character and the otherworldly concepts encountered in his own comic series that when he appeared in an annual devoted to a popular character like Spider-man, it is a "Strange Tales" styled story, a magical villain called Xandu that the heroic pair unite to defeat rather than one of Spidey's foes like the Green Goblin or Dr. Octopus. It thus makes their meeting that much more special for Spider-man's regular readers but also highlights the unique qualities of the Doctor Strange character.
This "Omnibus" edition provides comic fans a one volume history of a singular time in the evolution of Marvel Comics. The comic pages and covers reprinted within its stitch-sewn, hardcover binding are reproduced clearly on high quality paper. This tome also includes the original letters pages to select issues of the "Strange Tales" comics, giving contemporary readers the chance to look at how fans of the 1960's were impressed with these stories. As an additional bonus, the volume contains a special art section featuring illustrations created for the classic character over the years and more, including: a Steve Ditko pin-up of Doctor Strange from "Marvel Collectors' Item Classics" #10 (1967), a testimonial by Stan Lee, "Mainly About a Master of the Mystic Arts," taken from the "Origins of Marvel Comics" book from 1974: a rare treat; reproductions of original artwork by Mr. Ditko (!): the splash page to "Let There Be Victory!" from "Strange Tales" #141 (1966): an unfinished pencil sketch by Mr. Ditko of Doctor Strange and the Ancient One: a reprinting of artwork for a Doctor Strange T-shirt, based on artwork from "Strange Tales" #127, and the story, "Duel with the Dread Dormammu," done by Mr. Ditko with Marie Severin: for the completest, covers to selected comics that contained reprints of Doctor Strange's adventures in "Strange Tales," such as: "Marvel Tales (1965, 1970, 1971)," "Marvel Collectors' Item Classics (1966-1969)," "Marvel's Greatest Comics (1969, 1970)," "Giant-Size Marvel Triple Action (1975)," and "Strange Tales" #182-188 (1975, 1976).
In 1984, Marvel Comics published a 4 issue comic called "Doctor Strange Classics," which reprinted "Strange Tales" #130-141, stories from "the quest for Eternity" story arc. A highlight of this short reprint series is the fact that the comics featured wrap-around covers drawn by John Byrne and Al Milgrom done in a style paying homage to Steve Ditko. They also included pin-ups by various artists and a pair of introductions by Stan Lee, and fan favorite writer Roger Stern, respectively. The above content is included in this volume.
This special collection also features painted illustrations for the covers to the "Marvel Masterworks" trade paper back editions devoted to Doctor Strange: Vol. 1 (2010) by Steve Ditko and Dean White, and Vol. 2 (2013) by Steve Ditko and Richard Isanove. It concludes with a reproduction of its cover, a fully painted interpretation of the black magic master by artist Alex Ross. The above mentioned works of art are reprinted unadorned with logos and other text. This book's dust jacket is illustrated by Mr. Ross, while a variant edition showcases a dust jacket reprinting Mr. Ditko's memorable swan song cover to "Strange Tales" #146.
Regretfully, Mr. Ditko would leave Doctor Strange and Marvel Comics behind with "Strange Tales" issue #146 due to creative differences with Stan Lee. But as the stories contained in this special hardcover edition display, Mr. Ditko created a body of imaginative work that would influence generations of comic creators and enrapture countless lovers of the comic book medium.
It is a lasting tribute to his genius.
This very special book comes with my most sincere recommendation.
The extras are nice, but not really as informative as some of the extras in, say, the first "Master of Kung Fu" volume. It's nice to have the letters pages, but many of them refer to the Human Torch stories that shared the "Strange Tales" book, which are not included. It's also interesting to see how polarizing the Dr Strange stories were-- people either seem to love them or hate them, which is odd for a seminal run that has been almost universally praised over the years. I also got a good laugh out of Stan Lee telling us that he loved getting mail about Dr Strange because it would have all these crackpot theories about Strange's alliterative spells being based on actual arcane knowledge of the ancients rather than something he was just making up.
On the plus side, these stories provide a backdrop to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. In addition, this is a Marvel Omnibus which means it is a hardback and the pages and color are very high quality. It is worth the cover price for the back ground stories and the physical qualities of the book but some younger readers today may find the depiction of Asians some what offensive.