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Dr. Strange In Animation - A Retrospective

Quirky. Look it up in the dictionary and it will most likely tell you something along the lines of a peculiar occurrence or unusual person, situation or event. Talk about it in a comic book and the first thing that would enter my mind would be one person – Steve Ditko. Creating such characters as The Question, The Creeper and The Blue Beetle for DC, Ditko is best known for his work at Marvel as the co-creator of Spider-Man, with him being the one responsible for Spider-Man’s spectacular costume and he remains universally unmatched when it comes to creating unique, original villains.

Spider-Man was one of the more down to Earth comic books back in the day, with just as much emphasis being placed on his normal, everyday life as it was with him fighting whatever brilliant villain Ditko and writer Stan ‘The Man’ Lee could dream up this month. This goes to make the duo’s second most famous creation all the more stranger, if you’ll pardon the pun because Dr. Strange is really out there. He’s never really hit the mainstream that much and has struggled to carry his own title on and off throughout the decades since his creation which has resulted in him appearing as a guest star in books a lot, rather than be the leading man.

The same can be said for his animation career. He never appeared in any of the 1960’s show and given how dry Marvel’s animation well was in the 70’s he never appeared there either. Strange, like many Marvel characters, began his cartoon career in Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends in one of the corniest but still brilliant half hours of television of animation you’ll ever seen.

Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends refused to let things like logic, utter cheese and verisimilitude get in the way of having a great show. The best example of this is Seven Little Superheroes. The episode sees the Spider-Friends meeting Dr. Strange, Shanna The She Devil, Namor and Captain America in The Chameleon’s mansion as he tricks them and one by one, defeats them until only Spider-Man remains (never question who the true star of the show is here, folks). The episode is best known for The Chameleon’s fine love of poetry and the infamous defeat of Namor. The shape shifter deceived the Prince of Atlantis by filling a swimming pool filled with alcohol! This moment will forever be remembered as one of the highlights of the 80’s!

He (and most of the other guest stars) don’t really get up to that much in the episode. I actually think his costume translated pretty well onto the small screen and the casting was pretty good. Nothing especially memorable here though.

Dr. Strange would again team up with Spidey in Spidey’s next show, in the third season premiere in an episode simply entitled “Dr. Strange”. This is more like an episode of Dr. Strange with Spider-Man guest starring – it’s defiantly one of the more ‘out there’ episodes which is a common complaint amongst fans, many of whom asked just what Dr. Strange is doing on a Spider-Man cartoon.

The episode in question sees Spider-Man searching for the missing Mary Jane who has been brainwashed into joining Baron Mordo’s cult, who in turn, are trying to steal The Wand Of Watoomb so they can use it’s power to free the dread Dormammu. His sidekick Wong also appears in the episode. The episode isn’t bad, it just doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man story.

We do learn the characters origin in the episode – it’s pretty much taken straight from the comic. A gifted surgeon, Steven Strange was involved in a car accident which damaged the nerves in his hands, meaning he could no longer perform the delicate operations required from his chosen profession. Seeking a miracle cure, he travelled to Asia and pleaded with a mysterious man called The Ancient One for help. Later accepting his offer to learn magic, Steven became Dr. Strange, Master Of The Mystic Arts.

To this day, no one has bothered to explain exactly what the Mystic Arts are.

It seems Dr Strange can pretty much do anything – which makes for a pretty dull lead character, which is probably why he struggles to maintain his own comic and will probably never star in his own animated show, unless he has a ridiculously popular movie made. People have similar problems with Superman but Strange especially suffers because his rouges gallery isn’t that impressive and he doesn’t have much in the way of a supporting cast – he also has no human alter ego so there’s no real conflict or hook to the character – he is The Sorcerer Supreme, be all, end all. Perhaps he, like Namor and The Silver Surfer, simply work better as guest stars.

Strange would turn up on TV one last time in The Incredible Hulk and She Hulk. The horrendous dip in quality in season two is well documented in various other areas of this site/message board but eh, here’s another one to add to the list. What started as a somewhat fascinating look at Bruce Banner seeking a cure for the beast within and trying to maintain something of a romance with Betty Ross while her Father Thunderbolt Ross attempted to rid the world of The Hulk. Oh, and it had lots and lots of guest stars and the majority of them whooped ass. Many people consider The Ghost Rider team up to be the best but I’ve always been partial to the Iron Man episode myself. One thing pretty much everyone agrees with though – The Dr. Strange team up is the worst.

The episode is actually one of the better efforts of the second season but still falls short and She Hulk is naturally to blame. They did attempt to show the inner torment between green and grey Hulk but it’s lost in a sea of stupid She Hulk one liners. Dr Strange takes third place to She Hulk and Banner’s conflict and thus doesn’t really do much. The design is slightly weirder than the Spider-Man model but is coloured better – I much prefer this one in all honesty. He was also recast - Maurice LaMarche now played the part and did a stellar job, but … it’s Brain from Animainiacs. He doesn’t do anything different with it and every time he spoke all I could think of is

“It’s Pinky and The Brain! It’s Pinky and The Brain! One is a genius the other’s insane! They’re laboratory mice, something something spice! They’re Pinky, they’re Pinky and The Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain!”

Good theme. Shame I can’t remember all the words.

Which brings us to now – Dr. Strange will star in his own TV. Does the character have the chops to fill his own DTV? The creative team developing the feature believe he does – both Greg Johnson and Frank Paur have stated that Dr. Strange looks to be the strongest of the four features so far and the preview did kick ass.

I admit that Dr. Strange has never really interested me as a character. Perhaps this DTV will change my mind.