Perfect 10: Doctor Strange by Jordan Edwards

Perfect 10 is a series of essential recommendations that fully encapsulate a comic character – 10 desert island picks of runs, single issues, arcs, etc – curated by Comfort Food Comics.

My first encounter with the Sorcerer Supreme was within the pages of Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2 #57. This is the great Straczynski and Romita Happy Birthday story (check out the great article series by Down the Webline for more on that run). Strange was presented here as this larger than life mystic professional, a man who’s very appearance was a turning of the tide in favour of the heroes. I was instantly fascinated by this character and tracked down as much content with the good Doctor as I could. Years later here I am attempting to nail down 10 Perfect Doctor Strange comics. That’s no easy feat. Despite being a character with relatively low sales and few long runs there have been a lot of incredible stories. So to my dismay I had to leave out comics by the likes of Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart and Jonathan Hickman. Seriously there is a ton of great stuff and if this list does anything I hope it can get you to take another look at his impressive back catalogue. So without further ado and by the Ageless Vishanti here’s my Perfect 10 Doctor Strange comics. 

1. Doctor Strange The Oath: By Brian K. Vaughn, Marcos Martin, Álvaro López, Javier Rodriguez & Willie Schubert.

All right let’s get the obvious out of the way. Everyone who’s anyone knows that The Oath has kinda become THE Doctor Strange story. It’s the most recommended and possibly the most highly regarded. It’s not necessarily my favourite but damn is it good. I don’t think it’s the perfect encapsulation of Strange as a whole given it’s more grounded than most of his stories. It’s set in a more tangible world. Rather than following Strange as he battles through hoards of fiendish creatures in some far off realm, we follow Strange as he looks for a cure for Wong. It’s a simpler story that focuses inwards on Strange as a person, his struggles, his flaws and his relationships. HIs relationship with Wong especially is a standout. Unfortunately Wong is billed more as a manservant throughout most of Strange’s history. Here through Brian K. Vaughn wisely chose to present them as equals. It works really well to ground Stephen and focus more on his relationships to others. It’s not a typical Strange story, but that just helps give it a unique flavour within the wider Strange canon. 

2. Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom Triumph and Torment from Marvel: Graphic Novel #49: By Roger Stern, Mike Mignola, Mark Badger & Jim Novak.

Triumph and Torment is often recommended but it seems to be because of the Doctor Doom side of the story. Yes Dooms character arc and the peeks into his psyche are great but I think people kind of skip over how great Stephen is in this. This is a story about Strange learning to see a different side to Doom.  I think it’s one of the great Strange stories for how it highlights his empathy. His willingness to help others and put differences aside. 

 It’s a darker tale as Strange grapples with death and morality as he literally fights his way through Hell with Doom. It’s a great, gothic haunting story with a top tier creative team. Roger Stern, perhaps Strange’s best writer, teams up with Hellboy’s own Mike Mignola. Mignola is absolutely perfect for both of these characters and sets up a really moody and eerie atmosphere that is married wonderfully with Stern’s dark and contemplative text. It’s an absolute dream team that spawned one of the rightfully lauded Doctor Strange stories. 

3. Doctor Strange Vol.1 #390: By Donny Cates, Frazer Irving, Chip Zdarsky & Cory Petit.

Donny Cates had a tragically brief run with the character before that volume’s cancellation. It had one great introductory arc (which you may remember from Dave’s Perfect 10 for Sentry) with a depowered Strange fighting Sorcerer Supreme, Loki. This was followed by a pretty underwhelming event, Damnation. But after that we got one of the most delightful Spider-Man/ Strange stories ever as a wrapup to the run. About half of this list could be the team ups between these two characters. They’re really fun together and this issue really highlights why. Spidey is a way for Strange to unwind. He helps Strange loosen up a little and they help to ground each other. It also helps that Spidey talks to an actual Spider in a delightful Chip Zdarsky double page spread. It’s the most light hearted entry on this list with a more comedic, tongue in cheek approach. Just goes to show how varied the world of Strange can really be. He can be a serious character dealing with some heavy spiritual and mystical themes but he’s also the Marvel universe’s resident magic guy, so of course he gets visits like this. Also it features the amazing talking ghost dog Bats, who couldn’t not be in this list. 

4. Amazing Spider-Man Annual Vol.1 #2: By Stan Lee, Steve Ditko & Sam Rosen.

Another great Spidey/Strange story comes with their first meeting in Spider-Man Annual #2. Spidey and Strange were both Ditko creations but in wildly different ways. How does Spider-Man, the largely street level teenager integrate into the interdimensional world of the Master of the Mystic Arts? That’s really this Annual’s sales pitch. Ditko bounces their worlds off each other in a really fun way by having them combat the same threat through different avenues. Spidey and Strange fight the forces of both evil magic as well as dumb thugs. It’s great fun and boasts some of Ditko’s absolute career best art.  

5. Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #1-12: By Robbie Thompson, Javier Rodrieguez, Álvaro López, Jordie Bellaire & Joe Carmagna. 

While I’m sure many lists covering this character ramble on about Jason Aaron’s run, I won’t be doing the same. I love Aaron but I don’t have any particular love for his take on Strange. However his status quo change of a depowered Strange utilizing enchanted weaponry is a fun concept, which would be done much better elsewhere. Enter the Sorcerers Supreme, a short and sweet 12 issues by Robbie Thompson with art mostly by Javier Rodriguez. A super underrated series that aims to show some of history’s other Sorcerers Supreme. There are some great new characters and some fun takes on existing ones, all wrapped up in a great swords and sorcery story with some absolutely stunning art. Seriously Javier Rodriguez is an absolute star and fills this book with gorgeous splash pages and creative panel layouts. This doesn’t get talked about a whole lot which I think is a shame since it’s definitely worth another look. Strange is often a team player in books like Defenders and New Avengers but I think this does an especially good job at showcasing Strange’s capability as a leader. 

6. New Avengers Annual Vol.3 #1: Frank Barbiere, Marco Rudy & Joe Caramagna.  

I could recommend the entirety of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers run here but that feels a bit like cheating. Strange is a big part of a lot of Hickman’s New Avengers work but he’s hardly the star. So I decided to narrow it down to a single story and ultimately landed on an issue that Hickman didn’t even write. This Annual continues the proud tradition of Doctor Strange comics having devastatingly beautiful art. The story follows Strange heading to a monastery to help purge a girl of a demon who will end the world, pretty typical Doctor Strange shenanigans. What makes the story interesting is the parallel with a tale from Strange’s past. It creates a great look at Strange and how far he has come, the lessons he’s learned, the mistakes he’s made and the burden he must carry. That burden is a big part of why I love Strange. His is a dangerous business but he knows the price he must pay. This is one of the better stories showcasing that. This issue contains some absolutely stunning art by Marco Rudy Teixeira Retagi with a scratchy style that perfectly suits this darker story. Great stuff

7. The Eternity Saga from Strange Tales Vol.1 #130-146: By Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Dennis O’Neil Artie Simek, Sam Rosen & Stan Godlberg.

The beginning few stories of Ditko’s Doctor Strange are decent if not particularly groundbreaking. It’s largely Strange conducting mundane exorcisms and using a combination of the Eye of Agamotto and his astral form to take down baddies. But eventually the series kicks into overdrive and starts the ambitious longform story, The Eternity Saga. This story takes place in the backmatter of Strange Tales #130 through 144. Remember, this was back in the Silver Age where stories were at most a few issues. A long running arc like this was super ambitious and well ahead of its time. It’s an epic story that throws more at Strange than he had ever dealt with previously. He evades Baron Mordo across the world, bests Dormammu in combat, and encounters Eternity in his first appearance. It’s a story that is massive in scope which somehow manages to meet expectations largely due to Ditko’s incredible artistry. This is the first thing I think of when I think of Doctor Strange. So much of the characters’ very essence and iconography is distilled within these pages. So many images are seared into my mind here, it’s had such an impact on me ever since I first read it and has informed a lot of my taste in comics. It’s classic, iconic and absolutely still worth a look.

8. Into Shamballa from Marvel Graphic Novel Vol.1 #23: By J.M. DeMatteis, Dan Green & Ken Bruzenak. 

Good luck getting your hands on this one. Sadly Marvel refuses to reprint this wonderful story and it can’t be found digitally, Marvel Unlimited or otherwise. So this is easily the hardest story to get on this list, making it an underrated gem reserved for Strange’s most diehard of disciples. It’s a shame because DeMatteis and Green put in such strong work here. The story follows the spirit of the Ancient One and a bunch of other spirits who direct the human race as they present to Strange a spell. This spell will create a paradisiac world for the human race but at the cost of total destruction. It’s not exactly a subtle dilemma but it remains compelling throughout. DeMatteis largely leaves the storytelling to Green. It’s an absolutely stunning work and it’s a shame that it isn’t widely published because Green crafts some stellar visuals. I won’t spoil it’s ending but it ties a really neat bow on the whole story. Super good stuff.

9. The Montesi Formula from  Doctor Strange Vol.2 #59-62: By Roger Stern, Dan Green, Steve Leialoha, Terry Austin, Bob Sharen, Jim Novak, Janice Chiang, Joe Rosen & Rick Magyar.

Look I could have filled this entire list with just Roger Stern comics. The dudes a favourite here at CFC and for me that’s largely because of his work on Doctor Strange. It’s common knowledge that Stern was supposed to work on this series alongside Frank Miller before he was given Daredevil. However, what many people don’t seem to realize is that Stern still worked with a bunch of the 80’s best artists. Guys like Paul Smith and Marshall Rogers put out some stunning work on this title. So I refrained myself from filling this list with Stern stuff and nailed down one solid pick (outside Triumph and Torment). That was no easy feat. Ultimately I landed on issues 59 through 62. This story partners Strange up with The Avengers, Blade and Hannibal King to take down Dracula. It’s Doctor Strange vs freaking Dracula! You know what you’re getting into here and it’s as good as it sounds.  

10. Doctor Strange Annual Vol.1 #1: By Marv Wolfman, P. Craig Russell & John Costanza 

 Doctor Strange: What is it That Disturbs You Stephen?: By Marc Andreyko, P.Craig Russell, Lovern Kindzierski & Galen Showman

This is a bit of cheating here since it’s two different issues separated by 21 years. But they really are the same story. Back in 1976 Doctor Strange’s Annual was given to the hands of Marv Wolfman and P. Craig Russell. It tells the story of Strange rescuing his beloved Clea in exchange for sorting out some far off sibling rivalry between royalty. It’s a great little one off story that is made even better when Rusell returned over two decades later to refine it with Marc Andreyko. In What is it That Disturbs You Stephen we see a Russell at the height of his artistry revisiting a story in a new way. The basic plot is largely the same with Clea swapped out for Wong. However there are some significant artistic and thematic differences between them that make both stories a fine compliment to each other. It’s great seeing an artist’s style change so dramatically into something even better and it helps that it’s also a really great Doctor Strange story.

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