Saturday, September 24, 2005

Doctor Strange at the Movies

Steve Ditko's run on Doctor Strange (with Stan Lee but make no mistake! Even more than Spider-man, Doctor Strange was Ditko's.)is one of my favorite early Marvel continuities. Oh, a super-hero magician was hardly new. In fact, at one time in the forties, there were probably more than a hundred from Mandrake to Sargon to Zatara. Initially, though, this series had more in common with series like DC's Doctor Thirteen, the Ghost Breaker as Doc helped various ordinary folk deal with paranormal crises whether they believed in the paranormal or not. Once it hit it's stride, though, we had a long, psychedelic (which, if you know anything about Ditko is weird in and of itself) odyssey of a story featuring Strange on the run throughout our world and the trippiest dimensions ever imagined on paper, eventually battling the dread Dormammu and meeting the quite literally awesome figure of Eternity. Did you ever notice how much movie reference Ditko used? Peter Parker, as drawn in many early issues of Spidey, was clearly drawn to look like then popular movie star Robert Walker, Jr.
When Doc first appeared, it was around the same time as Roger Corman's THE RAVEN was in theaters. Thus the early Strange (above left) resembles that film's star Vincent Price (above far left). When Ditko and Lee finally did the magician's origin, however, they turne to the film LOST HORIZON for plot points and then Strange began to resemble that film's star, Ronald Colman (See also above).
In 1978, a minor actor named Peter Hooten played Dr. Strange in a TV movie/pilot that is regarded by many fans as one of the best of the Marel TV projects (certainly better than the TV Daredevil who had no eyeholes in his mask. According to legend, Stan Lee brought this to the producers' attention and they said "He doesn't need them! He can't see!" to which Stan the Man reportedly replied "But no one is supposed to KNOW that!!") Note the resemblance even in this ad to the picture of Price above. I haven't actually seen it since 1978 but I remember it fondly and if YOU want to see it, it is out there somewhere on VHS and, I'm told, turns up on the Sci-Fi channel from time to time.


  1. The Raven is a complete riot. Roger Corman, King of the Hacks, had made a string of Poe-inspired movies in rapid succession. (That way he could re-use sets and shots, thereby saving tons of cash. Vintage Corman.) I think The Raven was one of the last. Check out the cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Jack Nicholson, and Boris Karloff. Holy frijoles. The traditional actors Price and Karloff against the Method Acting madness of Nicholson and Lorre are worth the price of rental. So very weird.

    It didn't take itself at all seriously--it started with a raven flying into Price's castle, speaking with the voice of Lorre. Lorre had been transformed into the bird by an eeevil sorcerer or some such. (It's been about ten years since I've seen it, so the details are a little fuzzy in my gin-addled brain.)

    The Corman Poe movies were hurried, slap-dash affairs, and dammit, they were all the better for it. The very last one, The Terror, was almost entirely improvised. Corman had Karloff on contract for one last day, so he shot a bunch of random shots of Boris doing assorted things. Later, Corman and a bunch of his cronies (including Nicholson) shot a bunch of other footage around it, making it up as they went.

    God bless Roger Corman and his oeuvre of brilliant garbage.

  2. Anonymous3:55 PM

    I've ALWAYS loved Ditko's DS more than his ASM. Re-read some of them over and over and over. And I'm really glad I'm not the ONLY one who's noticed Ditko's old movie influences! Some artists whose styles are more "cartoony", it's harder to notice they're using real people (Kirby does the same thing). With Ditko (and a few others) I suspect his influences go back a generation or more before he was doing the comics-- which make it almost impossible for most younger fans (who may never even have seen Ditko's stuff at all) to know WHERE some of these people came from.

    Lee has said more than once he thought DS was based on David Niven. While it's true in some panels the face is close, the PERSONALITY Niven puts out in every film I've ever seen him in is all wrong. The last couple years I've become a big Colman fan-- the resemblance to both the face and personality was unmistakable. And when I consider that DS's origin is the ONLY Ditko episode that really "feels" like Stan plotted it, well, he's always shamelessly ripping off old movies. (The LOST HORIZON influence can't be missed-- gee, The Ancient One is really Sam Jaffee!) The art in the origin is SO different from the episodes before it-- and several AFTER it-- I also strongly suspect it was done about 8th, not 3rd. It's just a personal theory, but I suspect Ditko was doing the whole thing "on spec" and planning to shop it around... Lee just decided to go for it, though he certainly did NOTHING to promote it early on. Also, Ditko may never have bothered with an origin. Stan says in the ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS book he realized he'd "forgotten" to do the origin-- I think he just realized after the 2 try-out episodes that it needed one, so had Steve do one before printing the others he'd already done. Again, just speculation on my part...

    And yeah, I just watched THE RAVEN (#5 of 8--collect 'em all!), and Price DEFINITELY appears to be the inspiration for the "early" Strange. And the magic battle with Karloff may be the closest anyone's seen to this day to a DS-style magic battle.

    Every since I realized Strange was patterned after Price and then Colman, I've been trying to figure out who may have served as the inspiration for Mordo-- and Clea. (Lon Chaney Sr.?) By the way, watching DEEP SPACE NINE it struck me that Alexander Siddig & Nana Visitor might make perfect modern-day Doc & Clea...!

    Oh yeah-- and Peter Hooten? DEAD RINGER for the Frank Brunner version of Doc!