On the Profoundly Rational Doctor Stephen Strange (Part 4)

Even smiling at the literal-mindedness of the West was no little matter in the Marvel books of the period. To be a super-hero was to be a Cold Warrior, and it was taken for granted that the Soviet Union and its various communist allies constituted an irredeemable and absolute evil. Though that conviction declined in its degree of xenophobia and loathing as the middle of the decade approached, there was never a suggestion that a peaceful accord with Bolshevism was either possible or desirable. Even Thor, a Godly citizen of Asgard, would enthusiastically launch himself into battle with the USA’s Marxist-Leninist – and even Maoist – opponents, while the Hulk, who typically scorned American society, never thought twice about identifying the Reds as the far greater threat. Only the Ancient One was ever portrayed as both a hero and a cynic when it came to the Republic’s virtues.

In his turn, Strange paid no attention at all to enemy spies or super-villains, concerned as he was with nothing but magical threats. In Beware Tiboro!, there was even a suggestion that he despaired of both sides of the international conflict during the period.  “…The Lord Of The Seething Volcano, Evil Ruler From The Dim, Dead Past”, Tiboro gains the power to invade Earth from his own “Sixth Dimension” whenever “civilisation has reached a point of crisis … (when Earth) seethes with tension and unrest … with the menace of war and anarchy!”.  Yet the apparent faltering of this quality of “civilization” which empowered Tiboro was in no way associated by Strange with America’s enemies. Instead, there was a sense that “man’s ideals” as a whole were growing weaker, and that striving to secure not victory, but “true peace”, was the only way to keep Tiboro locked away in his own realm. America as much as any other nation appeared to be blamed by Strange for what was happening to the world, and all he seemed able to do was to “pray” that the situation wouldn’t worsen again.

It’s a mark of how utterly Strange had changed that he’d ceased to associate malevolence with anything that couldn’t be identified with the abuse of magic. The Reds, it seems, weren’t solely to blame for the age’s nuclear stand-off at all. Indeed, Strange’s new world-view was so radically different from that of his fellow Americans that he may even have embraced a belief in predestination, as was suggested when he declared;

“I was born to battle the forces of evil – - and though death be my reward, I would have it no other way.”

The implication is, of course, that although he’d “have it no other way”, he had little choice about the matter in the first place.  Few even in the nascent counter-culture of the period would have gone quite as far in the direction of out-there as that.

Having enthusiastically abandoned everything of his previous life, Strange never showed the slightest sign of wanting to pass as one of us at any time in his new existence. (Perhaps that was something that he’d never aspired to in the first place. Climbing to the top of the greasy pole and wanting to socialise once he’d arrived are, after all, very different things.) Rather than regretting the fact that his duties, abilities and experiences marked him out and away from the crowd, Strange was happy to both embrace and display the fundamental differences between himself and his fellow men and women. Unless compelled to travel in disguise in order to avoid detection by the likes of Mordo’s wraiths, Strange never seemed to think twice about wearing anything other than his full costume in public. Even the Fantastic Four, whose private identities were a matter of public record, were regularly shown wearing the fashions of the day while engaging with everyday matters, But Strange was by choice a man who regularly walked among the people while never attempting to avoid turning heads. As such, it wasn’t just superheroes such as the Human Torch who’d heard of “the one man who knows hocus-pocus”. Everyone, it seems, knew who Doctor Strange was. Pedestrians he walked past either looked forward to telling their families that they’d seen him, or speculated that he’d been paid to parade around in order to “impress the rubes”. But whatever they believed about him, they knew who he was and what was said about him.

That this helped create a celebrity of sorts out of Strange didn’t apparently bother the Earth’s leading magical defender a whit. New York’s police officers recognized him and spoke to him with respect, seeking him out for advice and admitting that his unorthodox ways generated astonishing successes. Print journalists clustered in his wake as he made his way through the streets of the profane world, TV experts invited him to speak on their late-night programs. Neither hermit nor typical citizen, Strange simply seems to have been perfectly at ease with the role he’d assumed. No angst, no disaffection, no longing for community, comradeship or romance. He had a job to do, a role to perform, and there was no distinction to be made between his public and private life. To all intents and purposes, Stephen Strange and Doctor Strange were at every moment of the day one and the same.

To be continued.

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Colin Smith is currently Q Magazine’s comics columnist and blogs at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics and on Tumbler.

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1 Comment

  1. Tim Barnett says:

    Could the good doctor’s decision to wear his uniform at all times when out and about be seen as an aspect of his role as a shaman?

    My knowledge of shamanism is pretty limited (Morrison’s Lord Fanny & the Flex Mentallo mini probably account for at least 50% of my understanding) but his role as Sorcerer Supreme sets him up as shaman to mankind so he has to place himself outside of society somehow. With Marvel’s Manhattan-centric universe he can’t be based in some mountain fastness and with it been an ostensibly kids comic he can’t engage in the more outré practices of shamen in the real world, so always wearing your costume is a way of demonstrating this aspect of his role.

    Whilst I’m no dedicated follower of fashion history I’m pretty confident the cloak with over-sized pointed collar hadn’t been a part of the mainstream wardrobe for at least a century even back in the 60s.

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