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By Thomas Wheeler

As with any massively populated universe of fictional, pop-culture characters, some of the heroes of the Marvel Universe are better known than others. Topping the list would be the likes of Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and a few others.

Then there's characters that aren't as well-known. Cloak & Dagger, Deathlok, Machine Man, um -- okay, where's my Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe?

Then there's the characters that fall somewhere in-between. I'd describe these as characters that a reasonably knowledgeable comics fan would recognize if they're mentioned to him, but they're not going to be the first ones that come to mind when one thinks of the Marvel Universe's A-list team. Characters like Black Panther, the Vision, and the Master of the Mystic Arts himself -- DOCTOR STRANGE.

Doctor Strange has been around since the earliest days of the Marvel Universe, and has had several versions of a title of his own, as well as been a member of a couple of super-teams, most notably the Defenders, as well as more recently, the Avengers -- although that was during a time so convoluted you couldn't really tell the players WITH a program and it seemed that half the Marvel Universe was running around with Avengers ID. The other half was trying to kill them.

Although I've never followed the adventures of Doctor Strange all that closely, I've always sort of liked the guy, and have always thought he deserved more of a break, popularity-wise, than he's tended to get. Fortunately, he's among a number of not-quite-as-well-knowns that's on a list of characters that are likely to receive their own cinematic debuts in the next several years. This forthcoming phase of Marvel-based movies will feature characters in somewhat less-pricey-to-produce movies which will nevertheless be part of the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe, and which hopefully will give some of these characters, such as Ant-Man, Power Pack, and Doctor Strange, a long-deserved chance at the spotlight.

In the meantime, I recently came across a Marvel Universe action figure of Doctor Strange, and decided to add it to my rather selective collection of Marvel Universe figures. Let's have a look at the history of the character, and then take a look at his action figure.

Doctor Stephen Strange was co-created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, and first appeared in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963).

Debuting in the Silver Age of comics, the character has featured in several self-titled series and Marvel-endorsed products including arcade and video games; animated television series; a direct-to-DVD film; and merchandise such as trading cards.

Doctor Strange debuted in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963), a "split book" shared with fellow Marvel character the Human Torch until issue #134 (July 1965), and then super-spy Nick Fury until issue #168 (May 1968). Strange appeared in issues #110-111 and #114 before the character's eight-page origin story appeared in #115 (Dec. 1963).

From the beginning, Doctor Strange used magical artifacts to augment his power, such as the Cloak of Levitation, the Eye of Agamotto, the Book of the Vishanti, and the Orb of Agamotto. From the first story, Strange's residence, the Sanctum Sanctorum, was a part of the character's mythos. The circular window divided by four sweeping lines on the front of the residence (the fictional protective Seal of the Vishanti) became a trademark image of the series. Strange's personal servant, Wong, guarded the residence in his absence.

Doctor Strange was originally Dr. Stephen Strange, a world-renowned but selfish neurosurgeon who only cared about wealth from his career. Then a car accident damaged his hands, shattering the bones. The damage and subsequent healing, however, effectively ended his ability to conduct the surgery as he had before, since his hands now trembled uncontrollably.

Too proud to take on a teaching job, Strange desperately began the search for a cure to restore his hands, consulting various doctors, homeopathic treatments and travelling around the world to remote regions for exotic cures, all to no avail.

Having completely exhausted all funds, Strange located a hermit called the Ancient One in the Himalayas. The Ancient One refused to help because of Strange's selfishness, but sensed his good side which he attempts to bring to the surface. He fails, but Strange's goodness does show itself when he discovers the Ancient One's disciple, Baron Mordo, attempting to kill the old man. After Strange selflessly thwarts Mordo, he is taught the mystic arts.

As the Ancient One's new disciple, Strange encounters the entity Nightmare, and a number of odd mystical foes, before battling his eventual arch-foe: Dormammu, a warlord from an alternate dimension called the "Dark Dimension". Strange is also aided by a nameless girl, later called Clea, who is eventually revealed to be Dormammu's niece. When Strange helps a weakened Dormammu drive off the rampaging Mindless Ones and return them to their prison, he is allowed to leave unchallenged.

In keeping with Lee's emphasis on continuity, Strange guest starred in The Fantastic Four #27 (June 1964) and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 (1965), and encountered the Norse god Loki, foster brother of Thor, in Strange Tales #123 (August 1964).

The series continued with Lee dialoging Ditko's plots through Strange Tales #142, followed by Roy Thomas and Denny O'Neil. Golden Age artist/writer Bill Everett succeeded Ditko as artist with issues #147-152, followed by Marie Severin through #160 and Dan Adkins through #168, the final issue before the Nick Fury feature moved to its own title and Strange Tales was renamed Doctor Strange.

Lee returned to write the character in Strange Tales #151-157; followed by Thomas (#158-159); and two writers who did virtually no other Marvel work, Raymond Marais (#160-161) and Jim Lawrence (#162-166). Another cosmic entity, the Living Tribunal, was introduced in issue #157 (June 1967) and the evil Umar, sister of Dormammu, in #150 (Nov. 1966). The title, however, was flagging.

Expanded to 20 pages per issue, the Doctor Strange solo series ran 15 issues, #169-183 (June 1968 - Nov. 1969), continuing the numbering of Strange Tales. Thomas wrote the run of new stories, joined after the first three issues by the art team of penciler Gene Colan and inker Tom Palmer through the end.

In #177, Thomas and Colan attempted to boost sales by revamping Strange's appearance to more closely resemble those of other superheroes, giving him a form-fitting blue costume, a full-head mask and a secret identity as Dr. Stephen Sanders. The cancellation with #183 was abrupt (there was a "Next issue" blurb in the last issue), and outstanding storylines were resolved in Sub-Mariner #22 (Feb. 1970) and The Incredible Hulk vol. 2, #126 (April 1970).

Strange next appeared in the first three issues (Dec. 1971 - June 1972) of the quarterly showcase title Marvel Feature, appearing in both the main story detailing the formation of superhero "non-team" the Defenders, and the related back-up story. The character then starred in a revival solo series in Marvel Premiere #3-14 (July 1972 – March 1974). This arc marked the debut of another recurring foe, the entity Shuma-Gorath, created by writer Steve Englehart and artist Frank Brunner. In issues #8-10 (May-Sept. 1973), in order to stop Shuma-Gorath from entering our reality, Strange was forced to shut down the Ancient One's mind, causing his mentor's physical death. Strange then assumed the title of Sorcerer Supreme.

The Marvel Premiere series segued to the character's second ongoing title, Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts, which ran 81 issues (June 1974 – Feb. 1987). During this period Strange met his allies Topaz in #75 (Feb. 1986) and Rintrah in #80 (Dec. 1986). The series ended with a cliffhanger as the Sanctum Sanctorum was heavily damaged during a battle. Among the losses was Doctor Strange's entire collection of mystic books and other important artifacts.

The title was discontinued so that the character's adventures could be transferred to another "split book" format series, Strange Tales vol. 2, #1-19 (April 1987 – Oct. 1988), which was shared with street heroes Cloak and Dagger. This new Doctor Strange series resolved Strange's quest to reclaim his power and missing artifacts, as well as resurrect the Defenders, who had died in the last issue of that team's title.

Strange was returned to his own series, this time titled Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme, which ran 90 issues (Nov. 1988 - June 1996). The initial creative team was writer Peter B. Gillis and artists Richard Case and Randy Emberlin, with storylines often written as multi-issue arcs. During this time the series became part of the "Midnight Sons" group of Marvel's supernatural comics. He would also form the Secret Defenders with a rotating roster of heroes, and reunite with the original Defenders.

The character was also featured in several limited series, the first being Doctor Strange: The Flight of Bones #1-4 (Feb.–May 1999), with a series of spontaneous combustions by criminals instigated by old foe Dormammu. Another limited series, Doctor Strange: The Oath #1-5 (Dec. 2006 – April 2007), focused on Strange's responsibilities as both sorcerer and doctor.

Strange appeared as a supporting character in the 2000s. In New Avengers #7 (July 2005), writer Brian Michael Bendis retconned Marvel history and established that in the past, several metahumans, including Strange, formed a secret council called the Illuminati to deal with future threats to Earth.

In present-day continuity, during the 2006-2007 company-wide Civil War storyline involving the introduction of a federal Superhuman Registration Act, which splits the superhero community, Strange is opposed to mandatory registration and later secretly shelters in his residence the anti-registration splinter group of the Avengers. The legislation was eventually repealed.

Doctor Strange appeared as a regular character throughout the 2010-2013 New Avengers series, from issue #1 (August 2010) through the final issue #34 (January 2013). The character has remained a constant in the Marvel Universe over the decades.

Doctor Strange has been described as "the mightiest magician in the cosmos", and as "more powerful by far than any of your fellow humanoids" by Eternity, the sentience of the Marvel Universe.

Doctor Strange has held the title of Sorcerer Supreme from 1973 with the death of the Ancient One to the present, with only an interruption from 1992 to 1995. He relinquished the title once again in 2009, but reclaimed it in 2012 when he proved himself willing to protect the world even without the title.

Strange draws power from several mystical entities, such as the Vishanti (Hoggoth, Oshtur, and Agamotto) and the Octessence (Balthakk, Cyttorak, Farallah, Ikonn, Krakkan, Raggadorr, Valtorr, and Watoomb). These entities usually lend their power to a particular effect, such as the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, which are used by Strange to entrap foes.

Strange can use magic to achieve virtually any effect he desires, such as flight, immortality, energy blasts, teleportation, astral projection, telepathy, (including the ability to contact others telepathically even if his body is paralyzed), the creation of materials (such as food and water), creating planet-wide protective shields, restoring himself from bodily destruction, stopping and reversing time, sealing black holes, restoring universes, absorbing enough power to unconsciously destroy galaxies, and co-operatively channeling the mass of the entire Marvel Universe.

You'd think with all that, the guy would be a bit more prominent than he seems to be most of the time.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. This is really one of the most distinctive Marvel Universe figures I've come across. Given the fact that Doctor Strange doesn't dress like a typical superhero, he needed more distinctive parts for his action figure incarnation.

The headsculpt is superb. Doctor Strange isn't that unusual-looking an individual, despite his distinctly unusual occupation. He's a relatively normal-looking man, with very slightly upswept black hair, that is white at the temples. He has a fairly long black mustache, and a small patch of beard under his lower lip. These have all been well painted. One eyebrow is slightly upraised over the other, in a sort of Spockian expression. I'm not really sure how often Doctor Strange has done this in the comics, but it does add a little personality to the figure.

Doctor Strange wears a loose-fitting blue shirt, that hangs below his waist and is tied off at the waist with a yellow-gold fabric belt. The billowing sleeves are brought in at the lower arm by a pair of tight-fitting yellow-gold gloves that have black spots on them. There is a light blue pattern on the front of the shirt that looks as much as anything like some sort of trident. Well, nobody ever said that being sorcerer supreme conveyed much of a fashion sense.

Despite how ornate Doctor Strange's shirt and gloves may be, his leggings are plain black. It's a rather unusual contrast. There aren't even distinctive boots, although presumable the leggings have some sort of shoe-like soles built into them. I doubt the Doc is going around in his stocking feet. Some of those interdimensional mystic whatevers that he travels to are probably a bit chilly.

Most notable is Doctor Strange's cape, which is actually one of his mystic tools. The cape is large, thick, and mostly red, with an ornate gold border and a high collar with two upswept points. The detail on the cape is extremely impressively sculpted, and the paint job is very nicely done. The cape has been designed to look as though it is flared out somewhat, but it's not really waving to one side or the other. It's a very even distribution of the "material", as it were.

In the center of the front of the cape, is the Eye of Agamotto, one of Doctor Strange's most powerful mystic devices. It also makes a convenient cape clasp. Interestingly, the eye has been sculpted in an open position.

Doctor Strange's hands have been posed with the second and third fingers brought in, and the first and fourth fingers outstretched, along with the thumbs. Apparently however mysticism works in the Marvel Universe, this positioning helps -- just in case you thought he was trying to imitate how Spider-Man activates his web-shooters.

One thing that impresses me is that, despite the size and seeming weight of the cape, the figure still stands up on his own two feet without difficulty. Usually a cape this size would be a severe hindrance to balance, but somehow, it isn't in this case.

Of course, the figure is very well articulated. Doctor Strange is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), wrists (very extensively), mid-torso -- admittedly rather glaring on the loose-fitting shirt, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops (or perhaps I should say lower leg swivel since he doesn't really have boots), and ankles -- surprisingly extensively here, too, with a sort of side-rotation as well as the expected up and down movement of the feet.

Any complaints? Well -- a few mild criticisms. Some of the facial details could have been a little more neatly painted. I've actually seen several Doctor Stranges, including in a comic-based two-pack with the Silver Surfer, and this is the first one I'd seen that was painted acceptably enough. Admittedly, this is something I'm very particular about. At the time time, I know that any modern toy company is well capable of neatly painting very fine details on their figures, so there's no reason not to hold them to a high standard in this regard.

Then there's the other matter. I've had loose-jointed figures before, but I don't recall that I've ever had one whose right leg fell off as soon as I took him out of the package. Fortunately, I was able to snap it back into place -- with only moderate difficulty. I find myself wondering if there might have been some sort of undetectable mold glitch, or even assembly problem, since the left leg seems to be attached rather firmly. Either way, I call that a distinct quality control problem.

However, this still leaves the matter of rather loose articulation, and it's something that I've been encountering on more than a few Marvel Universe figures, especially recently. Knees, elbows, swivels -- something needs some tightening up across the board here. I bought a figure of the Hulk in the Marvel Universe line, and his waist is so loose in its movement that you could bring his arms out to the side and spin him around from the waist up like a green fan. Now come on -- the Hulk!?

Don't misunderstand me. I am pleased that the Marvel Universe figures are as well articulated as they are, and I don't want to see their level of articulation taken away from them, as has happened with a number of other 4" scale lines in recent times. I do NOT want to see that happen here, not at all. But I do think there's an issue here regarding assembly, or molding, or quality control, that needs to be addressed. A word that should never be associated with a good action figure is "flimsy", and I'm finding myself close to using that word here.

These characters are too well-regarded, and the designs of these action figures too impressive, for there to be these sorts of shortcomings in the final assembly and movement. Maintain the articulation in the Marvel Universe line, by all means, but find out what's not quite working as it should and get it tightened up a bit.

So, what's my final word here? The degree of prominence of Doctor Strange in the Marvel Universe likely depends on how much of a fan someone you ask about him is. I've always liked him, even if I thought many of his adventures lived up a little too well to his name -- strange -- but I also tend to feel that he is a significant part of the Marvel Universe whose value to the Marvel Universe if frequently underrated. With luck, he'll get that live-action movie in a few years, and maybe a bit more respect in the process.

In the meantime, we have this fine Marvel Universe figure of him, and it's a superb likeness, and a well-crafted figure. I'm pleased to have him, and I believe you'll enjoy him being part of your Marvel Universe, too!

The MARVEL UNIVERSE action figure of DOCTOR STRANGE definitely has my highest recommendation!