It is no secret that fans of Dr. Strange are feeling quite unnerved by the way the character has been written in current comics. Seemingly out of no where, Dr. Strange fell from grace, and not just from his title of the Sorcerer Supreme. Whereas Dr. Strange used to be written as a man with integrity and dignity, he is now portrayed as a womanizer and borderline pervert with no reasonable transition from one characterization to the other.
Clea, the main female love interest of Dr. Strange, has been done a bit of injustice in recent years. Although she is a character who notably fought and prevailed against the Dread Dormammu with the likes of Dr. Strange and even on her own as she lead a rebellion in the Dark Dimension, Clea was suddenly removed from marital status with the lead male Dr. Strange for a most confusing reason: she was tired of fighting ghouls and goblins. [Illuminati] For those who are not familiar with the character, Clea’s home world is the Dark Dimension, where she has insisted on leading a rebellion against the likes of ghouls and goblins employed by her evil uncle and most notable magical villain, Dormammu. For her to want to divorce Dr. Strange over something she clearly enjoys doing seems to be quite an oversight.
To further add insult to injury, Dr. Strange and Clea’s longstanding, loving, and well developed relationship was tarnished in the Fearless Defenders #9 when he was portrayed in a flashback committing various infidelities with call girls. While Dr. Strange is not a perfect man, and his flaws are just one reason we enjoy the character, the idea that he would lose all sight of respect for his wife as well as self control seems not only out of character, but forced.
To clarify, I am not claiming that a man must be married to be viewed as a man with integrity. Unfortunately in Doctor Strange’s case, we see a man suddenly retconned as single, having cheated on his wife in a back-logged event, and developing a habit of boning college-age women who look up to him as a teacher. While Clea once started as a disciple, let’s make no mistake: their relationship did not start a shameful thing of regret, and Clea may be thousands of years old to boot. Furthermore, as alluded to in the Illuminati comics, Clea’s character suffers the trope of a bitchy woman who could not stand up to her husband’s great responsibility and power… regardless of the fact that she had grown more powerful than Strange himself (potentially, okay?!)!
What bothers me most about Dr. Strange’s current characterization in the Marvel Universe is not that he is no longer Sorcerer Supreme; surely he could lose that title and struggle with his new role. It is that he, as a character and as a man, has degenerated to a disrespectful husband and a womanizer. This sudden twist of character feels like a plight to lure in new Dr. Strange readers by interesting them with the imagery of a powerful man capable of obtaining numerous women. Perhaps it was an attempt to call back to his origins in while the promise of a movie, featuring the talented Benedict Cumberbatch as the title role of Strange himself, is in the works. Regardless of the behind-the-scenes reason, the transpiration of Strange’s character not only confuses me as a longtime fan, but insults the very reason I loved the character in the first place. The same can be said for his powerful, beautifully developed wife, Clea.
I have written about sexism on this blog before, but in no way do I believe sexism only exists toward women. I see it affect men in various ways. The very idea that a married male character could not bring in readers, let alone money from comic sales, has been expressed as a concern already for the likes of Spider-man. [*Ahem* Spider-man and Mary Jane] The insinuation that a man somehow loses his interest factor because he weds a woman is just as detrimental to men as it is to women, and in some ways it is even worse for the male gender; women are considered a “good woman” when they settle with a man, however men are considered “whipped” and “weak”. How is this fair to the married male comic book readers? What sort of message does this send?
As far as the endless stream of failed or retconned marriages of comic book continuity goes, I am already used to the message I receive as a woman. I am but dead weight to the man I love now that I have been “obtained”, I am a source of forced tragedy, I am a ploy for furthering his plot in life, I am unworthy of my own story.
Why are there such few relationships in modern comics that display the success of compromise, growth, and respect between a loving married couple? Is it because such a thing is perceived as boring? If so, why do we not challenge ourselves to create interesting stories that happen to involve this theme from time to time? Just browsing through my digital collection of 80’s Dr. Strange comics shows me that it has been done before.
Furthermore, the idea that a man who has spent years upon years studying and mastering the Mystic Arts with the unbreakable discipline of a Tibetan Monk suddenly losing so much self control implies that men are simply incapable of having such a trait. So many men do have self control, dignity, and practice respect toward women in their lives, and yet they seem to be rarely represented in favorable forms of media such as comics.
It is not that I cannot perceive or approve of a single Dr. Strange who hooks up with many women of his desires. A beautifully illustrated graphic novel, [Into Shamballa], once portrayed a pre-Sorcerer Supreme Strange unable to control his lust for a harem of women and engaging in an orgy. While he had his fun, this resulted in a failure of a test of restraint, and was a well learned lesson for his training. Prior to Clea there was Victoria, a woman unhealthily in love with Strange, but understandably wronged by him.
When Strange was married to Clea, however, he was most faithful despite the women who expressed interest in him… including the sexy Enchantress!
Then there was Morgana Blessing. Clea, certain that Morgana would be a better lover for her beloved Stephen Strange, left in a state of emotional distress so that he may explore a relationship with her. This act, although hugely insecure on Clea’s part, was both selfish and selfless at once; an incredible story that true lovers may encounter when they doubt their own self worth next to their beloved. While Stephen did attempt a relationship with Morgana, it simply was not fulfilling, and he longed for Clea to return. Fortunately, she did, and their relationship continued under the premise that she promise one thing: do not ever do such a foolish thing again, and know that I love you!
Through out Clea and Dr. Strange’s long relationship, we witnessed a disciple become a lover, develop an extreme magical prowess, face reasonable jealousy, overcome insecurities and inequalities within the relationship, and grow not only in their relationship but as their own, separate characters. We also witnessed the duo overcome cultural tropes as they evolved with the times, such as the time Clea tried to apologize for saving Dr. Strange from Arkon and Enchantress because she worried he would feel emasculated–and he responded with bountiful laughter! So, how does this result in Dr. Strange’s backlogged infidelity, Clea’s illogical reason for leaving him prior to the writing of his cheating, and Dr. Strange’s creepy penchant for hookers and college students?
I also understand that Dr. Strange has not had a consistent book in many years, which may have helped lead him to this strange new path by ill-researched writing. His powers are difficult to summarize and the series of events of his background are also difficult to follow. I am also not so unreasonable as to accuse writers of being intentionally sexist or offensive. However, I think it is very reasonable to accept that these cultural tropes are so present that they can easily, if even incidentally, be woven into common stories.
So, I appeal for Dr. Strange’s character, for Clea’s character, and for their marriage! I can only hope the movie portrays a multi-faceted Clea we saw in the comics decades ago. The movie-verse of Sharon Carter has given me hope for this, but anytime I open a comic with Dr. Strange in it these days, those hopes are quickly diminished.
See: Dr. Strange & Clea More about the two characters.
Also: Brian Michael Bendis once inferred that Clea could not be taken seriously as a character because of her pants. I’m sorry, how seriously were we supposed to take Dr. Strange’s frilly blue tights?