One of my favorite comic book characters is Doctor Strange. No, I’m not talking about Doctor Strangelove and I am certainly not talking about Doctor Who (no offense to any Whovians out there). I have met a surprising amount of people who are confused about Doctor Strange, and for good reason. The character has unfortunately gone through a lot of dry spells in his comic appearances as of late.
My love of Doctor Strange began as a kid. I spent a lot of time going through boxes of comic books that belonged to my older brothers and older neighborhood kids. I understood very little of Doctor Strange below the age of ten and instead related to how pretty all the art’s colors were, the character Clea, and the fantasy of magic in general. It was not until much later that I began to understand more about the character and his story arcs.
Again, unfortunately he has not had a very incredible appearance in the comics for quite some time–well over a decade, I would say. With that opinion being stated, you should be able to surmise that I am not the biggest fan of his representation in semi-recent stories such as the New Avengers, Secret Invasion, World War Hulk, or Fear Itself. It is not that I simply reject the writing in these comics because it is a “new” take on Strange; in fact, in each of these books I have found several things to like. I especially enjoy his newest costume as I am sure the old blue tights, albeit iconic to the character, were hard to take seriously by modern readers. The problem is that over all, Doctor Strange still doesn’t feel like Doctor Strange.
I suppose this sort of thing happens to characters like him, however. Doctor Strange’s “powers” and limitations are clearly hard to grasp for some. To me, he always used his magic based off of his immense research and focus, and everything he did had some sort of barrier even he could not cross. He was still quite powerful, so he was kept out of the realm of awareness for most other Marvel characters and was something of a recluse with his own circle of related characters. For a while, especially in New Avengers and Secret Invasion, his powers were degraded to laser light shows and the innate magical ability to waste space on a team slot. It is understandable considering he is simply not a “team” player outside of the Defenders for reasons such as his overpowered magical capability.
I personally feel a big reason Doctor Strange’s appearances are boring and lackluster to a fan like myself or other like-minded readers is in part due to the sudden disappearance of his own cast of characters. Villains such as Dormammu, Baron Mordo, and Nightmare (a character that actually helped to influenced Neil Gaiman’s Sandman) were part of what made his stories so fun to read. They were unique, and each of them supernatural beyond mutants or metahumans in their own way. Because of Doctor Strange’s magical alignment in the universe, it also opened a gateway to other magical characters such as Satanna, Enchantress, Arkon, and Mephisto. And last, but certainly not least, his main romantic interest, Clea, remains one of my favorite Marvel heriones.
Clea was a pretty awesome female character. Yes, she got kidnapped from time to time, and yes, she was often times the target of Doctor Strange’s enemies. Over all, I felt that she was a very strong character regardless of such tropes. Not only did she start as a novice mystic, Clea was inexperienced to the Earth-world altogether. She came from the Dark Dimension, where her uncle Dormammu reigned, became Doctor Strange’s disciple, and eventually became arguably more powerful than Strange himself. Her natural aptitude for magic and mysticism actually even made him a bit jealous, triggering irritation and jealousy. He had to spend long hours studying and working for his ability, and she simply was a natural thanks to her half-Faltine heritage.
There were times that Clea even bailed him out of certain death, comically apologizing for her intervention in case he was to be embarrassed by being rescued by a girl. Clea even went on to be the Sorceress Supreme of the Dark Dimension and lead a rebellion against her evil uncle’s forces. So, despite having been “victimized” a few times by Strange’s cast of spell-casting creepers, Clea prevailed. This is something that, especially at the time, was not too common to read in comic books for female characters.
Another element of the Clea/Strange relationship was their Student/Teacher affiliation. At times there was friction caused by this affilitation, but there was nothing gross or shady about it. There was no taboo, spank-worthy or self-gratifying coercion going on. Their relationship was simply that they loved one another, even marrying thanks to some nifty inter-dimensional wedding rings, and that he was teaching her how to be a better magic user. Win-win, I’d say.
Their relationship did not come without struggles, either. Clea would sometimes become jealous of Strange’s relations with other females, even when they were completely innocent, and suffer insecurities. She pulled a few shady tricks, such as impersonating her own husband to talk to a woman she feared was still in a romantic relationship with him, to cope with her insecurity but was never a vengeful prat about it. I liked this. It just felt more real–like a real woman might actually feel about her powerful significant other’s dealings with numerous beautiful ladies of importance.
Clea was also often illustrated very reasonably: her breasts were not ridiculously over sized, and her waistline ranged from thin to thick. Although I love many female Marvel characters guilty of being illustrated like softcore slices of cheesecake, Clea broke the mold more often than not.
So what happened to her? Well, let’s just say that she was written off the same way many lady counterparts of powerful men in comics are. Sometime during the Illuminati run, it was revealed that Clea divorced Doctor Strange. Okay, but why? Because she was “tired of fighting ghouls and goblins” and wanted to go back to her home dimension. I was quite dumbfounded by this issue’s representation of Clea since Clea never had a problem leading a rebellion against monsters before, was a very powerful sorceress, and her home dimension is still overrun with the such monsters. To dig a little deeper, their marriage included those aforementioned intergalactic wedding rings that let them communicate across dimensions. Just another case of misrepresentation, I suppose. Unfortunately, it seems that this case of misrepresentation was so monumental that decades worth of character development were trashed and Clea apparently cannot exist as her own character without the strong arms of her dedicated male counterpart.
I would say that maybe there is hope since GRRM, the guy responsible for the Game of Throne’s HBO series and novels, has expressed interest in writing Doctor Strange, but his requirements might be a little too steep! He states that he would write a Doctor Strange series only if no other writer ever retcons anything he writes ever. While this is a nice fantasy to have, well… let’s just say I’d be pleasantly surprised if he ever got to write for Doctor Strange with that requirement as part of the deal. The man clearly gets Doctor Strange, and I think he could write Strange’s female cast in a much stronger way than seen in recent times.
In the meantime, you can catch Doctor Strange in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. Have fun spamming “HOAR-HOAR-HOAR-HOARY HO-HOARY HO-HOARY-HOSTS!” at your enemies!
By the way…