Doctor Strange is perhaps the best example of an all-time Marvel great whose limited collected comics, strange Marvel Unlimited gaps, and general continuity obsfucation have kept the character in the dark for many comic book fans. If he’s not the leader in confusing comics paths, he’s certainly up there with the Silver Surfer and The X-Men.
As you might imagine, it has taken nearly all my mystical might, and a consultative visit to the domain of the Dread Dormammu himself, to put together a reading order for Dr. Strange comics! Enjoy the comics, and always remember: The Sorcerer Supreme sits silently inside his Sanctum Sanctorum, studiously (6 times fast).
I) Dr. Strange Origins and The 1960’s
These are the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko issues that start it all, beginning in Marvel’s formative years, from 1963 to 1966.
The debut Dr. Strange tales are relatively breezy, comprising just half of Strange Tales during this time period. The comparatively shortened story-telling format helps generate Marvel’s first real multi-issue epic, Ditko’s cosmically plotted odyssey: “The Search for Eternity!”
These are must reads for any Marvel Comics fan, and certainly the best place to start with Dr. Strange.
Note that if you’re reading on Marvel Unlimited this will also get you 1) a bunch of Human Torch stories and 2) The debut of SHIELD, and Nick Fury as the head of SHIELD. The Torch stories are largely forgettable, but the early SHIELD comics feature some really fun team dynamics, as well as some Jack Kirby weapons designs that are just the coolest. Also, no, these bonus stories have no bearing on the events of Dr. Strange, although he may appear in some of the Torch’s adventures.
Marvel’s 2010’s “Season One” initiative gave some of their finest creative talents a shot at retelling the origins of their roster of heroes. Greg Pak was given the keys to Dr. Strange, and the end result is a solid modern addition to the foundation created by Ditko and Lee.
Thomas is best known for his work on Avengers, but he took charge of Doctor Strange (alongside Denny O’Neil) after Stanly the Manly and Steve Ditko abdicated the throne.
The Dr. Strange comics from this period come down a notch from “The Search For Eternity,” but then again, most comics do. There are some major Strange-verse additions to Marvel’s magical kingdom, as well as the first appearance of Dr. Strange’s “blue-body” look.
Marvel Unlimited includes Strange Tales #147 (August 1966) to #168 (May 1968)
Marvel Unlimited includes Doctor Strange #169 (June 1968) to #178 (March 1969)
II) Psychedelic Dr. Strange Meets The 1970’s — The Steve Englehardt Run
Although it’s the Avengers who get all the hype these days, it’s the second supergroup that retains Marvel’s cool cache. The Defenders are perpetually dysfunctional, endlessly weird, and frequently some of the best superteam comics of the 1970s.
Early Defenders kick off as a team-up between Dr. Strange, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Hulk, and Silver Surfer. Black Knight and Valkyrie join the team before long.
New fans will want to explore The Defenders #1 to #11 and make their way through the Defenders crossover with the Avengers, The Avengers/Defenders War.
Issues: Marvel Feature #1 to #3, Defenders #1 to #8
Avengers vs. Defenders War Reading Order: Avengers #115, Defenders #8, Avengers #116, Defenders #9, Avengers #117, Defenders #10, Avengers #118, Defenders #11
Steve Englehardt Doctor Strange — Dr. Strange: A Separate Reality
These issues are quite noticeably absent from Marvel Unlimited at the start of 2016, which is a giant bummer.
Note that this period of Dr. Strange runs for 81 issues, and constitutes the second volume of Dr. Strange.
Issues: Marvel Premiere #9 to #14 + Dr. Strange #1 to #5
Steve Gerber Defenders
For all intents and purposes, “read the Defenders” is pretty solid Doctor Strange reading order advice. I highlight the Gerber run because 1) Steve Gerber wrote Howard the Duck and 2) The Defenders rarely get weirder than these comics. Reading these issues is basically the Marvel Comics equivalent of unearthing ‘Locust Abortion Technician’ on vinyl.. except, you know, you don’t have to hide the album from your Mom.
Issues: Defenders #22 to #41
You can’t possibly be waiting for me to explain this in more detail – go check it out!
Issues: Tomb of Dracula #44, Dr. Strange #14, Tomb of Dracula #45
III) Dr. Strange In The 1980’s – The Roger Stern & Peter Gillis Era
During the 1980’s Roger Stern penned some of the most important, and consistently solid Captain America, Avengers, Spider-Man, and yes, Doctor Strange comics. His extended run gives the good Doctor’s solo series new life.
Issues: Dr. Strange #48 to #74 — Popular stories are from #48 to #53, #55 to #62, #68 to #74
It’s still a strangely well kept secret that Marvel produced oodles of original graphic novels throughout the 1980’s. Sure, titles like The Death of Captain Marvel and X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills are heralded on all kinds of lists, but Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa? If it weren’t for Doctor Strange, it would just make me think of Uncharted 2.
Marvel Original Graphic Novel #23.
Following the Roger Stern era, Peter Gillis closes out the second volume of Doctor Strange.
Issues: Dr. Strange #76 to #81
Gillis’ Doctor Strange run continues within the pages of the newly relaunched Strange Tales.
Issues: Strange Tales #1 to #19
I don’t want to play favorites, but there’s a reason “Triumph and Torment” is one of my 100 favorite comics of all time. If you can read only one Doctor Strange comic published before 2000, make it Triumph and Torment.
Roger Stern and an early Mike Mignola (Hellboy) tightly craft one of the best Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom, and frankly Marvel team-up stories in Marvel’s history. It’s an incredible accomplishment and goes a long way to establishing Doom as a sympathetic (if ultimately irredeemable) villain. It also cements Strange as the rare the Marvel hero with a skillset Doom envies, as Doom literally copies Strange’s magic technique as he continues to develop his sorcery.
Marvel Original Graphic Novel #49 (1989)
IV) Dr. Strange in the 1990’s — Roy Thomas Returns + Infinity Gauntlet
Following the Strange Tales era, Doctor Strange rebranded once again, this time to Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. Roy Thomas returned to the mighty Marvel magician after 20+ years away from the character.
Jim Starlin and Ron Lim’s mega Thanos event may seem like an odd inclusion, but Doctor Strange actually plays one of the most significant tie-in comics, alongside Silver Surfer.
You don’t have to read these issues to understand Infinity Gauntlet, but I find that they add some nice color in the way the best tie-ins can. Plus, the Sorcerer Supreme fights a Dark Dimension version of Doctor Doom, so count me in.
Strange continues his close involvement with the cosmic weight of the Infinity trilogy.
Dr. Strange: What is It That Disturbs You, Stephen? (OGN – 1997)
V) Dr. Strange Enters the 2000’s
Doctor Strange has a very, well, strange stretch of comics across the early 2000’s Marvel Knights period of Marvel.
First there’s a short-lived and nearly erased from history four issue Marvel Knights series, and then there’s this J. Michael Straczynski reboot of the character simply titled “Strange.”
I don’t know whether this comic was supposed to completely alter Doctor Strange’s continuity, or if somebody just forget to mention it was a part of the Ultimate Universe, but “Strange” is best read as an alternate reality retelling of the Doc’s origins.
When you get past the “does this count?” discussion, JMS actually puts together a solid six issue run that I imagine may be more influential on the MCU version of Doctor Strange than anyone expects.
As per usual, there’s Dormammu, threatening the Defenders and Doc Strange once again!
More light-hearted, more humorous, and more concise, “The Oath” is just about everybody’s favorite Doctor Strange comic during the 2000’s. Leave it to Brian K. Vaughn (Saga, Y: The Last Man) and Marcos Martin (Private Eye) to craft a gorgeous murder mystery with Strange as Sherlock Holmes, Wong as Watson, and the Night Nurse as… the sexy yet equally skilled Night Nurse.
This is a must-read, and one of my favorite 100 Marvel Comics from 1998 to 2015.
Speaking of Brian Michael Bendis, he also includes Stephen Strange as one of Marvel’s well-intentioned, yet flawed Illuminati. In a weird way, these are actually some of the best Doctor Strange comics from 2000 to 2007.
These issues should be read before the New Avengers / Secret Invasion tie-ins.
Following his involvement in the Illuminati, Doctor Strange plays a major role in World War Hulk. For the record, you should definitely check out Planet Hulk before you dive into World War Hulk, although WWH recaps the Hulk saga nicely.
Strange’s questionable decisions in WWH generate some of the best action of the event, and also cement his status as an ethically compromised Sorcerer Supreme. This theme on Doctor Strange – whether or not he’s a good man – will continue on through to 2015.
Remember: Read this before New Avengers: “The Search For the Sorcerer Supreme.”
From 2004 to 2010, the Marvel Universe runs through Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers, and Doctor Strange begins to play a major role in these comics following Civil War (starting with New Avengers #26).
If you embark upon the New Avengers journey, know that you are jumping in after Avengers Disassembled, House of M, and Civil War, and before Secret Invasion. So yes, there are a lot of Universe-wide events that fill in the details from this time period.
For pure Strange happenings, you’ll want the New Avengers story arc entitled “The Search for the Sorcerer Supreme”, or New Avengers #51 to #54. Note that if you jump straight to this story arc, you will want to read Illuminati and World War Hulk (the next two story entries) first.
Not a Doctor Strange story per say, but a functional follow-up to “Search for the Sorcerer Supreme,” and written by the great Rick Remender.
Given the creative combo of Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Daredevil) and Emma Rios (Osborn, Pretty Deadly), my expectations for “Strange” were sky high. The four issue miniseries doesn’t quite deliver on that promise, but presents a solid post-Sorcerer Supreme look into Stephen Strange’s life nonetheless.
Short-lived Defenders series from the typically excellent Matt Fraction.
In the grand tradition of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, we have another Doctor Strange story masquerading as a Spider-Man title.
Doctor Strange continues his involvement with the Illuminati during the Marvel NOW! relaunch of New Avengers. Jonathan Hickman dedicates part of the story to Strange’s comprimises with the Dark Arts, and sets the stage for Strange’s involvement in Secret Wars.
I highly recommend the entire Jonathan Hickman Avengers & New Avengers era, but the simplest solution to Doctor Strange comics is going to be New Avengers Annual #1, which is entirely a Strange story.
I love Secret Wars. It’s my favorite Marvel event of all time. Doctor Strange plays a major role, and you should check it out!
VI) All-New All-Different Doctor Strange
Following the conclusion of Secret Wars, Doctor Strange was given an All-New All-Different title with Jason Aaron (Scalped, Star Wars) at the helm. So far it’s a quirkier, less tortured Doctor Strange, with an emphasis on mystical dimensions and the Sanctum Sanctorum.