"Twas Steve's idea..." said Stan Lee about Dr. Strange in a letter to Jerry Bails in 1963. However, it's interesting to ponder just what gave Steve the idea to do a strip about a 'Master of Black Magic' (later changed to 'Mystic Arts') in the first place.
Ditko had been the inker on the origin of Lee and Jack Kirby's strip, Dr Droom, and it's legitimate to wonder whether the artist may have been inspired (consciously or not) by this earlier character, whose genesis is remarkably similar to that of Stephen Strange. That would explain the subject matter, but not Ditko's seeming lack of interest in revealing the origins of the good Dr S, who, in his very first adventure, is plunged straight into an encounter with Nightmare, his "ancient foe". Stan merely adapted Droom's beginnings to fit the origins of the protagonist he was initially going to call Mr Strange, not Dr, but his input into Strange's backstory, as well as his characterisation via dialogue, plus his mood-setting expository captions, fully justifies his description as co-creator of the strip in my view.
After all, without Lee, all you have is a magician who gets involved in some quirky adventures (Ditko's wonderful art notwithstanding); with Lee, you have character motivation, mystical sounding incantations, and a sense of drama, dynamism, and danger as only he could deliver.
That's not to downplay Steve Ditko's plotting and art, though - it's just that he wasn't much of a scripter, as his later self-penned stories for other companies starkly demonstrates. His plot ideas, however, were often brilliant. Case in point: Who can forget the 12-part saga of Dr Strange on the run from a Dormammu-enhanced Baron Mordo, surely one of the most spectacular sagas of the Silver Age? However, while Strange's origins are lifted from Dr Droom's, the strips are not really that similar when more fully compared. In fact, Droom (who debuted in Amazing Adventures 1 in June 1961) soon gets sidetracked from the world of the occult, as his subsequent adventures (2, 3, 4 and 6) have him encountering aliens from under the sea, different dimensions, and other planets.
In his origin, the Tibetan Lama who gives him his powers declares "You are now the nemesis of all occult powers that are sinister and corrupt!" However, in his third outing, after defeating an alien from Saturn called Zemu, he declares, in answer to what made him suspicious of his disguised (as a human) foe, "It was his boast of having real magic powers!" He goes on, "I, of all men, know that real magic does not exist! All is illusion! All is fantasy!"
|In Amazing Adventures 2 (Jul 1961) Dr Droom investigates the disappearance of an ocean liner and discovers it has been abducted by the sub-marine inhabitants of Atlantis, who bear no resemblance to Prince Namor or his people.|
So, despite similar beginnings, the two series have only a superficial resemblance to one another. Interestingly, when Dr Droom passes the Lama's tests of endurance, his eyes become 'slanted' (to use the terminology of the times), as an Oriental appearance is supposedly more suited to his new role in life.
|No political correctness in sight here - Dr Droom's skin colour and features are altered to better match his new role as a master of the mystic arts.|
|The Droom adventure in AA3 (Aug 1961) pits Droom against another magician, who turns out to be an alien from the planet Saturn, using advanced science to simulate mystic feats.|
In case you were worried about him, Dr. Droom reappeared in the '70s (first in reprints, then as a guest star in other titles), but was rechristened Dr Druid to avoid confusion with a Latverian Doctor with a similar name. He even became a member of The Avengers for a while in the late '80s.
However, let's not skirt around the controversy that you 're all wondering about. Didn't Stan Lee claim to have created Dr Strange in his 1974 book Origins Of Marvel Comics? How does that gel with Steve Ditko's assertion that he plotted and drew the first Dr S tale without any input from Stan?
|Amazing Adventures 4 (Sep 1961) had Droom combat alien invaders once again, this time convincing the extra-terrestrials that a construction site wrecking machine was a sentient lifeform. For a magician, Droom wasn't doing a whole lot of magicking ...|
In 'Origins' he reminisces about listening as a kid to a radio show called Chandu, The Magician, which had a gong with a resounding 'Bonnnggg' in the intro, then says "Anyway, Steve Ditko once again took up the art chores while I penned the words, and before you could say 'Who needs it?' Dr Strange was born. He was a magician, and if ever we do his stories on the radio, you'd better believe he's gonna have a gong!" (No radio show alas, but we now have a big-budget movie instead.)
I think Stan's vagueness on the matter is probably down to his poor memory, rather than him trying to deliberately misdirect credit away from Steve, as, had he been a liar as some of his detractors prefer to believe, he'd surely never have admitted to Jerry Bails in 1963 that he hadn't come up with the idea himself.
Anyway, regardless of who did precisely what, Dr Strange as he first appeared to the comics-reading public was the joint result of Stan, Steve, and Dr Droom, so all three deserve our undying thanks. And I'm sure Benedict Cumberbatch feels the same as he looks again at the cheque he received for bringing Marvel's Mystic Master to life on the big screen. When last seen, Dr Droom/Druid was heard mumbling, "It's not fair! It should have been me up there! It's an injustice it is!"
Now how do I wrap this up? Ah, what the hell, I can't stop myself - "May your amulet never tickle!"
NEXT: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN