Dr. Strange #1 (1974)

I know what I said the other day about comics in the 1970s. Yeah, most of them suck, and most of them don’t deserve to be part of any so-called "Bronze Age." And yeah, that’s true – just try to read most of the ordinary comics from that era. Fantastic Four? Mostly crap. Batman? Some good issues, mostly crap. Black Goliath, the Champions, the Freedom Fighters, Superman Family? Crap, crap, crap, crap. A lot of really nice people worked on them, but most of them were crap.

But there were a whole lotta comics from that era that weren’t crap. Swamp Thing was one. Steve Englehart’s take on Doctor Strange was another. Along with artists Frank Brunner and Dick Giordano, Englehart produced a wonderful Doctor Strange, a true man of the 1970s who was contented with his life and yet still was devoted to his life, his career, his passions, his rising and advancing. As Englehart puts it on the first page of this comic, "One man lives a different reality – a true reality. He does not shrink from the unknown. He is, therefore, his own shelter – and the shelter for all his fellows. He is Stephen Strange, a doctor – and a sorcerer supreme."

From there we shift to a warm scene of domestic bliss. Strange and his live-in lover and disciple Clea are having a fun, quiet evening at home. All is calm before a strange man with a silver dagger appears, and then all hell breaks loose. Strange is stabbed in the back by Silver Dagger, passes through the eye of death, and meets a caterpillar straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

This sounds like a flashback to the psychedelic ’60s, but it’s really the beginning to a saga that will literally span life and death and change Stephen Strange forever. How can a man not be changed who faces death right in the eye?

The team of Englehart and Brunner is a wonderful complement to each other. It’s clear that the two men were great pals, because they are very much in sync throughout the comic.

There’s a theory that the second-tier Marvel books of the ’70s had freedoms that the first-tier books didn’t have. Where the FF and Thor just recycled old plotlines, comics like Doctor Strange, the Black Panther, and even the X-Men had freedom to innovate and try new things. More often than not, they delivered on that freedom. Such is definitely the case here.


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