Doctor Strange – WARNING! SPOILERS! – Beth and I saw the latest Marvel Studios movie last night, and one of the first things that struck me was how similar Stephen Strange was to Gregory House. Of course, Strange was a brilliant but arrogant and jerky doctor decades before House, but the fact that he’s played by a British guy doing an American accent just strengthens the connection. I read the first Marvel Masterworks volume of Dr. Strange comics to get an idea of the character.
He was a creation of artist Steve Ditko, who also co-created Spider-Man despite being an Ayn Rand fan. Seriously, Spider-Man pretty much only succeeds when he DOESN’T act in his own self-interest. Even though he also has to overcome his selfishness, Strange probably has more of the Randian hero in him. Even before learning magic, he’s an exceptional person doing important things beyond the comprehension of the common folk. One thing I noted is how the comic stories really don’t fit the Chekhov’s Gun school of writing. Strange’s powers are never clearly detailed, and the plots often depend on his using a power we didn’t previously know he had. I think this is intentional to some extent; we’re supposed to get the general idea of what he’s doing, but not all the specifics, as that would ruin the mystic quality. The magic is largely made up, but based somewhat on earlier fiction and actual occult practices. For instance, the Eye of Agamotto was inspired by the Amulet of Snail Martyrs.
The art depicts a lot of psychedelic landscapes in alternate dimensions, and we see that with the Dark Dimension in the film, along with a lot of other surrealistic effects.
The movie actually did set up most of the magic Strange uses, including the time-reversing spell that he’s told never to use but later has to. It’s like Ant-Man going sub-atomic or the Ghostbusters crossing the streams. Cagliostro was an actual occultist and Freemason in the nineteenth century, his real name being Giuseppe Balsamo; apparently Marvel had an older sorcerer steal Balsamo’s identity. And I appreciated that Strange defeated Dormammu partially through magic, but also by being really irritating. He definitely used his strengths there.
Dormammu is a pretty cool name that I don’t think has any particular meaning. I thought of how it parallels Mamu, the Japanese name for Wart in Super Mario Bros. 2, which I understand is an anagram of muma, meaning either a nightmare or a demon. Another Dr. Strange villain is a demon CALLED Nightmare, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. I doubt Stan Lee or whoever was working with Japanese anagrams. Also, I couldn’t help thinking, “Frére Jacques, Frére Jacques, Dormammu.”
I’ve heard that making the Ancient One white was an example of the whitewashing that so frequently goes on in movies, but it might have been done to avoid the stereotypical mystical Asian guru, although she was still IN Asia. The location of Kamar-Taj was changed from Tibet to Kathmandu, possibly to appease the Chinese audiences who apparently make or break every Hollywood movie these days. There was a conscious attempt to increase diversity in that Mordo was black, and Wong (originally Strange’s butler) a skilled magician and fighter in his own right.
In the comics, it’s Mordo who betrays the Ancient One, and I believe Kaecilius is his assistant.
The movie makes Kaecilius the betrayer, and we don’t see Mordo turning villainous until the post-credits scene. There’s also a setup for Strange appearing in the next Thor movie, and that’s a team-up I want to see. One of Strange’s earliest crossovers in the comic had Loki tricking him into capturing Thor.
Didn’t The Dark World end with Thor still being fooled by Loki’s impersonation of Odin, though? The mid-credits scene has him say that he and Loki are both on Earth searching for Odin, so I guess there must have been some developments in between.