As much as I never really got into reading his stories on a regular basis, I’m a big fan of Doctor Strange.
Marvel’s a world full of armored geniuses, super-soliders and Viking gods. Standing right beside them is this bookworm, a former surgeon who managed to become Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme? How did he do it? Did he stumble across a magical MacGuffin or get touched by an angel or bitten by a magical spider?
No. He worked for it.
Granted, his origin story isn’t a terribly noble one, but this is Marvel we’re talking about. Strange was a gifted surgeon who cared more about his wealth and reputation than actually helping people. He got involved in an auto accident that damaged the nerves in his hands. He lost much of the fine manipulation necessary to be a surgeon. Stubborn and vain, Strange refused to take a position as a consultant or practice ‘lesser’ medicine and hunted down every potential cure he could find. His search was fruitless and drained his fortune, leaving him a destitute back-alley doctor, his reputation lost and his bar tabs mounting. Finally, he heard word of someone called “the Ancient One,” pawned the last of his possessions to seek the hidden monastery, and begged for the Ancient One to heal him.
The Ancient One refused. Furious, Strange very nearly left only to see the Ancient One beset by mysical forces. His curiosity overwhelmed his frustration and he began to speak to the Ancient One as a pupil does to a student. Uncovering treachery and trying to warn the master, Strange overcame his selfishness and vowed to combat the evil he’d seen with his own eyes. Through years of study and practice, he became a sorcerer and one of the foremost minds of the arcane in the world.
He’s been through a lot. He’s faced all sorts of challenges from the likes of Doctor Doom to personifications of cosmic forces. He’s survived them all, with nothing more than the contents of old scrolls and his own quick thinking. And he has never, ever gone back to thinking only about himself. At every turn, he’s contributed to the greater good of the world around him.
How is this not something to which we should aspire? Doctor Strange is a shining example of the proper response to hubris and hardship. Despite all his challenges, all he’s lost, he soldiers on, taking on the next obstacle as resolutely as possible. He never gives up. Even when he loses the title of Sorcerer Supreme, he holds on to his abilities not to pursue his own aims, but to help from the sidelines, advise from the shadows. He still refuses to give up on a world that would have given up on him long ago.
I have to wonder if, these days, walking as he does with a sullen disposition and rocking a mean trenchcoat, he ever thinks back to those days as a surgeon, to the way he’d casually light a cigarette the moment he’s out of the operating room ensuring the patient can pay for the life-saving medicine he just administered. Since becoming a sorcerer, he’s never demanded payment, never asked for special recognition or reward. Even when he’s all but bugged to remain with Luke Cage’s New Avengers, he politely and humbly tries to tell them he’s not worthy to stand among them, that his mistakes are too great, his burdens too much for others to bear. Yet he has borne the hardships of others many times, and when Strange finally cracks the smallest of smiles, it’s a greater statement than reams of text could make.
Brian Michael Bendis and Grant Immoren are doing a fantastic job with Strange. I’m glad to see him in this current form and look forward to more. When I was a child, I was fascinated with the magic. Nowadays, I’m fascinated by the man.