Doctor Strange

Unearthed: Strange Tales #110

This one’s a treat for me, y’all. Strange Tales #110 is the first appearance of Doctor Strange! Most of you will know him from the 2016 movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch, but this original version is much more dark and brooding. Let’s dive right in!

At this time, the main feature was actually the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four. Weird, right? Who was yearning for the tales of Johnny Storm versus friggin’ PASTE-POT PETE?

There we go. I’ve always loved Strange’s outfit, and this version doesn’t even have his amazing cloak. That’s for later. But let me point out Strange’s eyes, which appear closed. I believe Steve Ditko, the artist, drew them to represent an epicanthic fold, such as occurs predominantly in people of Asian descent. This is his attempt to capitalize on the “mysterious Orient” phenomenon of the time, when Westerners believed the Asian continent to be a surpassingly mystical place. Strange eventually gets non-Asian eyes as the series goes on.

Here you can see Ditko’s familiarity with moody environments and dramatic lighting, a style he developed working on the horror comics he was known for doing before superhero comics.

Strange’s eyebrows and mustache are out of control.


Here’s one of Strange’s cool tricks: his ‘astral body’ can separate from his physical self and travel anywhere, passing through solid objects, ghost-like.

Here he’s using his astral form to enter this dude’s dream. And we don’t get the full effect in this issue, but trust me: Steve Ditko draws some nutty stuff when we leave the physical realm. Just wait.

Pay your late library fees, kids.

We don’t get a great look at Nightmare here, but in future episodes, fans of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman might want to take note.

Oh no! The dreamer has awoken and trapped Strange within the dream world! And as we all know, if you die within real life, you… die within the dream?

Strange calls out to the Ancient One, the old mystic who has taught Strange the ways of magic. He doesn’t actually GIVE Strange his powers, as the good doctor had mentioned earlier.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Steve Ditko draws the BEST hands.

There’s just a super cool aesthetic Ditko uses in the Doctor Strange stories. Look at the intricate linework around the Eye of Agamotto here.

We’ll get to see more of what the Eye can do in future episodes. Its origins are mysterious and I’m not sure that it’s ever fully explained how the Ancient One has it in the first place.

This part’s a little hazy. Nightmare didn’t say that he was preventing Strange from leaving the dream. He was really just pointing out that the guy was threatening his physical body. So Strange could have left at any time, and probably should have.

It’s almost like this guy planned the whole thing, which he couldn’t have. Or that really WAS the plot of this story, and it was just poorly communicated.

Ah yes, the classic twist, a staple of the horror comics Ditko drew so often. It’s no wonder he turned to it to introduce this Doctor Strange character. But fear not, dear reader! Stephen Strange’s stories grow ever more magical! Join us on Friday for Strange Tales #111!