Dr. Strange a test whether Marvel’s juggernaut continues

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko's final Dr. Strange story.

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko’s final Dr. Strange story.

For the past eight years, Marvel Studios has been a juggernaut. The natural question is how long can this last? Next month may provide an answer.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned brand’s next movie up is Dr. Strange, Marvel’s master of the mystic arts.

The good doctor has been more of a cult hit than a mass-market one. He began as a backup feature in Strange Tales, the creation of artist Steve Ditko, who turns 89 on Nov. 2, two days before the movie’s U.S. release date.

Dr. Strange operated in alternate dimensions. As portrayed by Ditko, they were visual striking but looked nothing like our own. Strange had once been a talented, but arrogant, surgeon. He could no longer be a surgeon following an accident, but those events would lead him to his true vocation.

Some college age fans in the 1960s were convinced Ditko was on drugs. He wasn’t. His politics were considerably different than the ardent followers of Dr. Strange.

Dr. Strange wasn’t the commercial success of other Marvel characters. Ditko departed Marvel in 1966, with his final Dr. Strange story appearing in Strange Tales No. 146. While Ditko would later return, he refused to illustrate stories featuring Spider-Man or Dr. Strange, where he made his mark.

Various talented artists and writers took up the Dr. Strange mantle over the decades, including Gene Colan, Frank Brunner, Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart among others. For some, though, it would never be the same without Ditko.

The character was the subject of a 1978 TV movie, but not much came of it.

Now, 53 years after his debut, Dr. Strange hits the big screen in the person of actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Marvel has had some unlikely hits, including 2015’s Ant-Man, based on one of its lesser known characters. But Ant-Man was still a super hero, Marvel’s bread and butter. Dr. Strange….well, he’s something different.

At this point, it’d be foolish to bet against Marvel. Still, it’s going to be interesting to see how one of the company’s quirkiest characters, devised by one of its quirkiest creators in Steve Ditko, translates to the screen.

How will the Dr. Strange film handle the creator credit?

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko's final Dr. Strange story.

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko’s final Dr. Strange story.

We’re three months away from Marvel Studios’ next movie, Dr. Strange, as the studio tells its first mystic story. We’re curious about a non-magical question, namely how will the movie present its creator credit?

Dr. Strange made his debut in Strange Tales 110 in 1963. The comic’s lead feature was solo stories starring the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four. Doc’s first tale was a mere five pages and he wasn’t mentioned on the cover.

That first story, “Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic!” simply credited Stan Lee with the story and Steve Ditko with the art. But things were more complicated than that.

The Comic Reader No. 16 included a promotional letter from Stan Lee saying Dr. Strange, “‘Twas Steve’s idea.” (Check out the Steve Ditko FAQ page maintained by the United Fanzine Organization and the Dial B for Blog website for more details.)

Moreover, it has become known Ditko plotted stories he drew. With the Amazing Spider-Man he began getting a plot credit with issue 25 and with Dr. Strange, he got one starting with Strange Tales 135. By coincidence, that was the same issue Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. made its debut, replacing the Human Torch (and later Human Torch and Thing) stories.

With Marvel movies until now, Stan Lee has received top billing in the “based on the comic by” credit credit where the lead character’s first comic stories was either plotted or written by him. Also, in interviews, he has said in such cases he should be considered the creator because such characters were his idea to begin with.

With Dr. Strange, that’s not the case. So will the film leave him off the creator credit? Or would he be included but with second billing? (“Based on the comic by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee”)

The guess here is the credit will read, “Based on the comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko,” and be consistent with previous Marvel films. But we’ll see.

In 2007, Jonathan Ross hosted a documentary about Ditko, even seeking out the reclusive artist in New York. Here’s the segment concerning Dr. Strange, one of the most unusual characters in Marvel’s roster.

 

UPDATE Nov. 2: People who’ve seen the movie say the credit is “Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.” Can’t say the Spy Commander is surprised.