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Omnibussin: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Mapping

Doctor Strange (1974) #4’s iconic cover by Frank Brunner.

Whether you enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe or not, in one respect at least it has turned out to be of indisputable benefit to comic readers: if a character’s showing up in a movie, you can bet your bottom dollar Marvel Comics is gonna give them a title even if they haven’t had a regular one since 1983 (as was the case with Shang-Chi). And Marvel’s collections arm is also gonna devote the entire year their movie comes out to cranking out new or reprinted collections of their old material. Now, that’s the kind of comics-to-movies-back-to-comics synergy I can get behind! Thankfully, that was the case with one of my favorite characters in this universe: the top wizard; the chief magicman; the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Doctor Stephen Strange (M.D.).

Doctor Strange’s had kind of a complicated publication history, having his book canceled or relaunched with a new title more than once, even in the days when that didn’t happen as often as it does today in comics. That is reflected in his omnibus collection as well; inasmuch as there was no Doctor Strange omnibus at all until 2016, when his first movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch came out. Ever since, Strange’s popularity has only risen, thanks to the character showing up in every other Marvel movie, and there being a regular(-ish) Doctor Strange comic again. That’s meant several more omnibuses in the time since and, with the sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness coming out this May, that trend is only going to escalate.

Marvel Premiere (1972) #3 by Barry Windsor-Smith & Stan Lee

Before we get into what’s missing and what we’d like to see collected in the future, we must look back at what we already have. 2016 saw the release of a first omnibus containing what—after more than half a century—probably remains the best or at least most character-defining Doctor Strange story: the original run by co-creators Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. In 2017 and 2018, Roy Thomas’ second go at the character, under the title of Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme, was collected in two burly volumes, co-written by his wife Dann Thomas and with beautiful art by Jackson Guice and Geof Isherwood. These two omnibuses took Strange from 1988 to 1993, but this now very nineties title continued beyond Thomas, and its collection will be completed this April when the third volume is released, written by David Quinn, J.M. DeMatteis, Dan Abnett, and famed sex pest Warren Ellis; with art by Mark Buckingham, Melvin Rubi, Peter Gross, Evan Skolnick, Todd DeZago, Marc Andreyko, and returning champion Marie Severin.

But don’t forget: this is a movie year, so there is more coming: Doctor Strange by Aaron & Bachalo will be out this March; and Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 2 was just released (mine arrived as I wrote this!), following directly from Ditko’s original run, with Stan Lee staying on for a while before Roy Thomas takes over, with art by Gene Colan, Bill Everett, Marie Severin, and Dan Adkins.

So, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme is covered and the 21st Century titles are on their way with the Aaron & Bachalo omnibus (the short Cates run got an oversized hardcover

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, which I imagine is all it’ll ever get; and Mark Waid’s work would make for a good omnibus, but that’s a story for another day). Now we can get to what’s missing: the great gap between Strange’s return to publication in 1971’s Marvel Feature #1 after his first title ended in 1969 (just collected in Vol. 2) and the start of Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme in 1988. And this isn’t just a substantial amount of time: some of the most iconic Doctor Strange stories ever told take place during the seventies and eighties, encompassing the character’s return to publication in Marvel Premiere after a brief absence, and then his entire second series starting in 1974, as well as a third one under the classic name of Strange Tales (the title Doctor Strange debuted in with Ditko and Lee), not to mention the many—and I do mean many—extra stories from several anthology titles throughout the decades. This is the gap we aim to plug today, by mapping three new beautiful volumes!

You may have seen Shuma-Gorath’s handsome visage used for a creature in the Doctor Strange sequel trailer!
Marvel Premiere (1972) #10 by Steve Englehart & Frank Brunner.

The good doctor’s return in Marvel Premiere briefly had the title going through a revolving door of writers and artists (including Stan Lee, Barry-Windsor Smith, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Gardner Fox, and P. Craig Russell), before it settled on the marvelous creative team of Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner. While most other authors had been trying to recapture that Ditko magic, Englehart and Brunner went for a new angle: this Doctor Strange was more human, more romantic, more gothic, and he faced enemies and environments less out of a fifties monster magazine or a sixties LSD trip and more out of the Cthulhu Mythos and Gothic horror. This is also when Clea, Stephen’s apprentice and partner from the Dark Dimension, started to become her own character (which is finally paying off now, as she becomes Earth’s new Sorcerer Supreme!).

This new angle met such success that Doctor Strange got his own title again, 1974’s Doctor Strange (or Doctor Strange Vol. 2; or Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts). Even though Brunner moved on after his first dozen issues with Englehart, Gene Colan smoothly took over and they worked together until issue #18. When they abruptly left together in the middle of their ongoing storyline with a wizard named Stygyro (and Benjamin Franklin getting it on with Clea), the title went through a brief fallow period with Marv Wolfman until Jim Starlin, by then already known for his cosmic work, took over the title in order to bring that ongoing story to an amazingly cosmic conclusion involving his creation the In-Betweener. (Starlin, along with Al Milgrom, also gave us “Doctor Stranger Yet”, which is a stroke of genius.) Sadly, he didn’t quite manage to finish either, so Roger Stern and Tom Sutton were the ones to wrap up that story in their first few issues together.

Marvel Cosmic reaches new heights in Doctor Strange (1974) #27 by Roger Stern & Tom Sutton.

And that’s what I would expect Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 3 to contain: Marvel Premiere (1974) #3-14; Doctor Strange (1974) #1-28 and Annual #1; as well as the Tomb of Dracula (1972) #44 crossover, by Steve Englehart, Frank Brunner, and Gene Colan, with Marv Wolfman, Jim Starlin, Roger Stern, and Tom Sutton. If you’re well acquainted with Doctor Strange, you may know Roger Stern wrote him for a long time (1977 to 1985, on-and-off), so you may ask: why would I include his first two issues in this volume and not the next? Plainly, because this is very much Stern capping off the plot Englehart had left dangling (and Wolfman and Starlin had played around with but never quite concluded), and when Stern and Sutton return for issue #29, it very much feels like the beginning of their own run. It feels like a start. Leaving issues #27-28 off of this third volume wouldn’t just make it feel unfinished; it would mean starting a Stern omnibus in a climactic fight against a cosmic entity, which would be madness. And not the fun multiversal kind.

The Dweller-in-Darkness arrives! Doctor Strange (1974) #30 by Roger Stern & Tom Sutton.

From this point forward, there are several ways to collect the remaining gap. Roger Stern’s lengthy run (made reality by a succession of excellent artists, chiefly Tom Sutton, Terry Austin, Marshall Rogers, Paul Smith, and Gene Colan) was briefly interrupted by a stint written by none other than the legendary Chris Claremont of X-Men fame, so Marvel could divide it all in two: a first tome which would conclude with Claremont’s eight issues; and a second one with Stern’s return. These would be short books for this format, but they could be filled out with the many one-off stories from the anthology titles, such as Marvel Fanfare and Marvel Comics Presents. If this was mapped this way, however, the following run, which Peter B. Gillis wrote in the last issues of the 1974 Doctor Strange title and in a new series reusing the classic title of Strange Tales, would make for a rather short and unexciting omnibus. I believe I have the solution: a single volume for the entire Roger Stern run, including the issues in the middle written by Chris Claremont (which couldn’t possibly be excluded, as he introduced several characters and plots of which Stern would make good use upon his return); and a separate book with not only Gillis’s run but also all the ancillary, anthological Doctor Strange stories and graphic novels that would never be collected otherwise.

Doctor Strange by Roger Stern Omnibus (or Doctor Strange by Stern & Claremont Omnibus, which I imagine would sell even better) would include the following: Doctor Strange (1974) #29-74 (confusingly, issue #74 is written by Peter B. Gillis but caps off Stern’s story, while Stern’s issue #75 is very much the setup for the following story by Gillis; hence this mapping); the Man-Thing (1979) #4 crossover; as well as the backup story in Defenders (1972) #53, a story with Clea which is continued by Claremont in Marvel Fanfare (1982) #5; the backup story written by Stern in that same title’s issue #6; and, last but definitely not least, the classic Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment graphic novel by Roger Stern and Mike Mignola of later Hellboy fame.

Stern & Mignola’s “Triumph & Torment” may well be one of the best stories in all of Marvel.

If you like Doctor Strange and you’re into this oversized hardcover format, this volume would be a must-have: in it you’d find the machinations of the Dweller-in-Darkness, an Elder God and Fear Lord you may have just seen adapted in the Shang-Chi movie; the N’Garai demons and Margali of the Winding Road from X-Men because Claremont couldn’t help himself; new characters Morgana Blessing and Sara Wolfe; several of Strange’s most memorable encounters with his arch-nemesis Baron Mordo; a return in time to one of the earliest stories told in the Marvel Universe; a rematch with Dracula that finds them fighting over the dreaded Darkhold, with the help of the Scarlet Witch and Blade, leading to an explosive finale against Dracula that you couldn’t possibly expect; the true independence of Clea as a character, culminating with the Dark Dimension sorcerer leading a rebellion back in her homeland; and a graphic novel that isn’t just one of the best stories ever told for Doctor Strange but the definitive Doctor Doom and Mephisto stories, period.

Clea develops into a powerful rebel leader. Doctor Strange (1974) #71 by Roger Stern & Paul Smith.

The third and final volume would include the final issues of Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts, by Peter B. Gillis, who then relaunched the character into a new Strange Tales title shared by Cloak & Dagger, with artists Chris Warner, Rich Case, and Randy Emberlin; the excellent Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa graphic novel by J.M. DeMatteis and Dan Green; and, as previously delineated, an assortment of brief stories from anthology titles spanning from the seventies to the early nineties, including several team-ups with Spider-Man in Marvel-Team Up, a What If? story which wonders what would happen if Doctor Strange became a disciple of Dormammu instead of the Ancient One’s, and several short stories in Marvel Fanfare and Marvel Comics Presents.

I would title this Doctor Strange: Strange Tales Omnibus, not only because it contains the second title under that name but because the rest are, after all, a ton of “Strange tales.” Except for the acclaimed Into Shamballa, this is perhaps not the most well-received era of Doctor Strange, but there are several gems to be found here, not only in Gillis’s run but in the short stories. Befitting Doctor Strange, you will find a lot of experimentation with the format here; lots of wild stories with dreamlike art. Incidentally, this is also when we are introduced to Rintrah, an extradimensional green minotaur who trains at Kamar-Taj and would later become Strange’s new apprentice; and who we will meet in the silver-screen in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness!

Meet Rintrah, in the middle of Kamar-Taj. He isn’t having a great time.

Admittedly, that was a lot to process, so here is a recap of the three volumes we have mapped here, with their expected title, defining authors, contents in order, and precise page count (and an estimation of an additional 20-to-50 pages for credits, introductions, and the extras at the back):

Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 3, by Steve Englehart Frank Brunner, and Gene Colan, with Marv Wolfman, Jim Starlin, Roger Stern, and Tom Sutton: Marvel Premiere (1972) #3-10, #11 (only the first or “A” story), and #12-14 (241 pages); Doctor Strange (1974) #1-2, #3 (only the framing story around the reprint), and #4-13 (245 pages); Tomb of Dracula (1972) #44 (18 pages); Doctor Strange #14-20 and the cover for #21, which is otherwise a reprint (133 pages); Doctor Strange Annual #1 (36 pages); and Doctor Strange #22-28 (130 pages). In total, this would make the omnibus at least 803 pages, and no more than around 850 with credits, intros, and extras.

Doctor Strange by Stern & Claremont Omnibus, not only by Roger Stern and Chris Claremont but also by excellent artists Tom Sutton, Terry Austin, Marshall Rogers, Paul Smith, Gene Colan, and Mike Mignola: Doctor Strange (1974) #29-40 (215 pages), Man-Thing (1979) #4 (18 pages), Doctor Strange #41-46 (128 pages), Defenders (1972) #53 (B story) (5 pages); Marvel Fanfare (1982) #5 (A) (18 pages) and #6 (B) (14 pages); Doctor Strange #47-74 (698 pages); and Marvel Graphic Novel #49: Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment (81 pages). This would be a hefty 1177-page omnibus, or about 1200-to-1225 pages with everything included.

Doctor Strange: Strange Tales Omnibus, by Peter B. Gillis, Chris Warner, Rich Case, and Randy Emberlin, with J.M. DeMatteis and Dan Green, as well as several shorter stories by Sal Buscema, Terry Shoemaker, Chris Claremont, Howard Chaykin, Mike Vosburg, Fabian Nicieza, Mark Badger, Howard Mackie, Rick Leonardi, and others: Doctor Strange (1974) #75-81 (162 pages); Strange Tales (1987) #1-6 (B), #7, #8-19 (B) (239 pages); What If? (1977) #18 (34 pages); Marvel Team-Up (1972) #21, #35, #50-51, #76-77, and #80-81 (147 pages); Marvel Fanfare (1982) #8 (A), #20-21, #41 (A), and #31 (B) (103 pages); Marvel Graphic Novel #23: Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa (65 pages); Marvel Comics Presents (1988) #19 (C), and #20 (C and D stories) (26 pages); Marvel Fanfare #49 (A) and #52 (B) (36 pages); and finally, Marvel Comics Presents #44 (C), #61 (D), #79 (D), #101-106 (C stories), and #103 (D) (86 pages). Despite the interminable table of contents, most of these are short stories, so this omnibus would only be at a manageable 898 pages or, after all other additions, no more than 950 pages.

And there we have it: almost two decades of Doctor Strange separated into three volumes! I mentioned this in the inaugural column, but it bears repeating: this is all for fun and a bit of wishful thinking, but I do try and predict how Marvel would realistically map these omnibuses, and they do keep track of what the fandom is asking for. Anyway: we’ve done X-Men; we’ve done Doctor Strange; next time, something new! Don’t hesitate to suggest what you’d like me to tackle next!

Luka Nieto Garay:
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