Monday, January 04, 2016

Real Name: Dr. Stephen Strange
First Appearance: Strange Tales #110 (July, 1963)
Fight Club Ranking: #62

Featured Fights:
- vs Baron Mordo: Strange Tales #111 (Aug 1963)
- vs The Infinity Mind Gem: New Avengers: Illuminati #2 (Mar 2007)
- vs Queen Veranke & The Hand: New Avengers #27 (Apr 2007)
- vs The Mighty Avengers: New Avengers #36 (Jan 2008)
vs The Hood & Dormammu: New Avengers #54 (Aug 2009)

There can be no doubt about which hero dominated the mindspace during the first days of 2016!
Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme is scheduled to cast a spell on theatres early November. Consequently, the caped mystic entered pre-release hype in the last week of the year with a commanding presence on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. It was an adequate introduction to British star Benedict Cumberbatch as the next big screen Marvel hero: Doctor Strange.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Ant-Man (2015) are already proof positive Marvel Entertainment has the power to take the unlikeliest of comics and turn them into viable mainstream franchises. Never the less, Strange will be a further experiment in how far the Disney/Marvel movie machine can venture away from formulaic superheroes. More than Captain America: Civil War; this "Phase 3" solo vehicle arguably shoulders the burden of initiating recovery from a financially dominant, but creatively uninspiring Avengers sequel. Saturation is just one of the enemies Strange could thwart.

Differentiation will be a mixed agenda for the big screen Doctor Strange. A lot of the heavy lifting will likely be left to a new palette of visual effects. Casting is taking a major role too - for better, or worse. Film versions of The Ancient One and Baron Mordo are on course to veer significantly from their comic book inspirations. It's par for the course for major franchises, who already have one foot out of their origins, and have become the battleground for a social course correction for the United States.

Cumberbatch isn't an obvious choice for Dr. Stephen Strange, either. The character of the comics has always had a certain warmth, humor and suave charm about him. Not entirely dissimilar from Tony Stark - moustache, and all. Cumberbatch has certainly shown screen charisma and a sense of humor, but he more naturally services the aloof aspects of the character, in a fringe manner. The performance will likely be a few steps removed from his work as BBC's Sherlock, but like most things, it remains to be seen how much will resemble the character of print, past or present.

It's hard not to get excited by the images released to Entertainment Weekly. Visually, there are more changes. For all intents and purposes, this appears to be a costume that can rightly lay claim to "capturing the spirit of the character" -- a cliché all too often untrue of movies. The red cape, the blue body, the Eye of Agammoto. Even the whitened temples are in the hair! Probably the result of some violent or magic trauma. Like Tony Stark, he's traded the moustache for a more contemporary goatee. Hey! Fair enough. An instantly recognizable Dr. Strange by any other name!

Perhaps the only thing more exciting than the costume is the magic! Or rather, the visual representation of magic. Magic circles and runes have become popular in the past few years, and they're here on the cover of Entertainment Weekly! Marvel are promising a unique visual and conceptual experience for this film. Investing in occult iconography is a great step to adding visual flair and distinction to the world of Strange. I liked it in the comics - and I like it here!

I also like that Marvel seem to be touting magic as a selling point, rather than running from it.
Trepidation over meshing magic esoterica and superhero pseudo-science was broached all those years ago with Thor. The film version of Asgard and the Norse gods ultimately played it somewhere down the middle - more Wizard of Oz than Lord of the Rings. This many movies later, I'm sure most will agree they could've -- and maybe should -- go further. Doctor Strange may be their first step toward doing so.
That makes Dr. Strange the first Hero of the Week for 2016! I'll be singling out characters from time to time who are turning heads, or catching my attention. I hope you'll take the opportunity to use the links at the top to reconnect with some of the HOTW's past battles on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths. I'm hoping to initiate a couple of new characters into the rankings with this Friday's Fight Night. Hope to see you then!

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