Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. What kinds of images does this name conjure (no pun intended -- oh, okay, it was totally intended) for you? If you only know the character from his time in the New Avengers (or Secret Avengers, or Hidden Valley Ranch Avengers, whatever they're calling themselves nowadays), then to you, he's probably just a weird-looking dude in a wild costume. There was a time, however, when he found himself at the center of some of the craziest, most mind-bending adventures the world has ever seen. How can Stephen Strange be brought back to prominence?
With Great Power...
First, let's take a look at his abilities. While anyone can say "Master of the Mystic Arts", what exactly does that mean? Generally, magic in the Marvel universe is somewhat fuzzy. Writers tend to use it like a hand-wavey sort of easy solution to a problem. The reach of magic is ill-defined, and that's part of why Dr. Strange doesn't compel interest. What exactly can he do?
It all really depends on the situation. In the "real world", we've seen him fly, separate his astral form from his body, and make his companions undetectable to normal means -- hell, even mystical means were unable to pierce his veil. That's 'cause he's the Master, yo. For straight physical beat-ups, he's not much good. His influence lies behind the scenes of the universe, and that's where any story involving him should remain. To wit:
Our universe is merely one of an infinitude of dimensions, each with its own denizens, laws, and its own Sorcerer Supreme. Many of them are actively hostile to Earth, and want to take over. Doc Strange's primary responsibility is protecting us and the sanctity of our ethereal sphere. He's saved our bacon innumerable times, but the public at large will never know it, because it lies beyond their understanding. Reason number two why Strange isn't so popular.
Beyond that, who is Stephen Strange, really?
Nice Stache, man
Besides the fact that he can rock a fu manchu like no one else, little is known about the man as a person. He was once an extremely successful surgeon; so successful, in fact, that he became vain and arrogant. However, in a car accident his hands became damaged to the point where he was no longer able to practice his profession, and this led him down a dark spiral of depression and hopelessness.
Overhearing a random conversation in a dive bar, Strange undertook a desperate journey to the Orient, looking for the man known only as The Ancient One. Strange hoped to find a cure for his affliction, but instead discovered an evil sorcery student named Baron Mordo, who plotted to overthrow his master. Strange alerted the Ancient One to this treachery, and in the process realized that there was more to the world than he had known. He became the Ancient One's new disciple, and in time grew to become the Master of the Mystic Arts.
There is a lot there for a good scribe to work with: the fall from grace, redemption, the abuse of power... all great topics for compelling fiction. Yet the kinds of stories we typically get from Dr. Strange writers focus on mere power plays. Strange versus the demon/rival sorcerer of the moment. There is a great deal of potential simply gone to waste.
So how can this be turned around? I'll cover that in my next blog post... stay tuned, True Believers!