Doctor Stephen Strange has to be one of the most interesting characters I've read about in my life. This might not mean much coming from someone who isn't a big fan of Marvel or even comic books in the first place, but it's rare for someone like me to genuinely like a character who is the main hero of a story. Many characters I've enjoyed in my lifetime have mostly been villains, minor characters, or characters who've gotten no more than 5 minutes of screentime, so Stephen is a rare exception along with Vash the Stampede (funny that both characters are extremely powerful, yet have pacifistic battling styles).
I've nearly sworn off consuming any content from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) after getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of movies and TV shows (on exclusive streaming services) that seem to release or air every few months or so. However, that all changed when I saw Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness eight times. Since then, I've watched the 2016 film twice, Infinity War, Endgame, and his dedicated episode from What If...?. I also fully intend to watch No Way Home very soon.
That being said, as much as I adore the Doctor Strange films, I can't say the same about the source material: the comic books. I do not dare to share my thoughts anywhere on my social medias lest I risk being bombarded with angry messages from comic book fans.
So, I'll share my thoughts here! If comic fans are allowed to criticize the movies (often unfairly), then I should also be allowed to criticize the comic books.
This blog post will be covering my opinions on the films, characters, and how both mediums approached these characters. Bear in mind that I have no interest in reading every issue of Doctor Strange, so most (if not all) of my knowledge about the comics is based on Wikia and TV Tropes articles, as well as other fans' analyses.
Let's get strange.
Stephen Vincent Strange
For those who don't know who Doctor Strange is, here are some facts that are consistent with both the comics and the MCU:
- Formerly a famous and arrogant neurosurgeon until a car accident gave him severe nerve damage in his hands, leaving him unable to operate ever again.
- Used what money he had remaining to travel to the East, hoping to find a miracle cure that would heal his hands, but was instead taught to use magic by a wise sorcerer called "The Ancient One".
- Although that magic can be used to heal his hands, Stephen instead decides to augment his skills in the Mystic Arts to protect the world from magical threats.
The biggest difference between comic!Stephen and MCU!Stephen are their statuses as "Sorcerer Supreme", a title only given to those who are worthy to lead the other Masters of the Mystic Arts. Comic!Stephen has this title, while MCU!Stephen does not, on the technicality that he (and half of the world's population) disappeared for five years. In the MCU, the title is instead given to his friend Wong, who I will discuss later on.
"original character dont steal"
I've seen a lot of comic book fans say that he was much weaker or "dumbed down" in the MCU compared to the comics. His power supposedly matches those of several god-like characters, which I find to be needlessly overpowered for someone like Stephen. I honestly prefer that he isn't the best sorcerer in his story. I feel like this helps humble him and make him more relatable as a character, and it gives him the chance to continue his character development. The comic books already established him as Sorcerer Supreme, so that doesn't leave Stephen much room to grow, nor would he ever need a reason to.
Heck, I'd go so far as to say that if Stephen is as powerful as comic fans say he is, then he has absolutely no reason to continue protecting the Earth. He has no attachment to anyone or even his fellow superheroes except for his extradimensional wife Clea (who I will be also be discussing later on). Having him continue to protect the Earth because he's "just that heroic" is simply poor writing in my opinion.
From what I've read, the writers for Volume 4 tried to mitigate his status as an overpowered character. They opted to create some lore where casting any spell (black or white) exacts a heavy physical toll on the sorcerers that cast them, using the analogy that "punching someone also hurts you".
This is also the reason why Doctor Strange can no longer consume normal human food, as his digestive tract had become so warped from the magic he's used that he can only eat things of magical properties, all of which tastes absolutely horrible to the doctor.
Excuse me? I'm sorry...what is this???
Not only am I not a fan of romanticizing severe sleep deprivation and potentially deadly health issues, this lore seems like a poor attempt at making a character more angsty than actually making them a flawed character. It just screams, "Thiz iz Doctor Strange!!!1!! He's Sorcerer Supreme & teh most POWERFUL sorcerer, but i swear hes not OP!!!!! his magic comes at a TERRIBLE PRICE he cant eat normal human food anymoar bc of his magic and he's always sick!!!!! he's flawed!!! :P" I can accept something like this coming from teenagers having fun with their OCs, but not from professional comic book writers. Writing flawed characters doesn't mean giving them unnecessary fluff for a backstory or making them needlessly suffer trying protect their world.
I will also mention that the writers apparently thought it was a good idea to have Stephen literally cheat on his wife as if it's a good "flaw" or something. I would talk more about how this is just bad writing, but I don't really want this section to be any longer than it should be lol
Imperfection is Beautiful
Now, I'm not saying that the MCU is perfect either. However, I can say that MCU!Stephen is a very good example of a well-written character with flaws.
In the MCU, despite being one of the most powerful Masters of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange is still human. Stephen is a fully grown man, but I think the movies do a great job in letting the audience know that he still has a lot to learn about himself and the world he calls home. This is further emphasized when he "loses" the title of Sorcerer Supreme to Wong. He is one of the smartest and most powerful sorcerers around, but he isn't THE best, and that's ok!
The movies also make it clear that he still struggles with loss. Stephen becomes a doctor because of an incident that involved his younger sister Donna. In the comics, Donna got hurt in a skating accident, while in Multiverse of Madness, Stephen was unable to save her after she fell through the ice and ultimately drowned (she did drown at 17 in the comics, but the skating accident was what got Stephen to pursue medicine). In the film, Donna's death still haunts Stephen even as an adult, as he visibly tears up upon retelling it. His alternate self confirms how traumatic the incident was to both Stephens, saying, "...but we don't talk about that, do we?", indicating that Stephen has not told this to anyone else.
This short scene alone says so much about Stephen's character. Not only does he still feel guilty over his sister's death, but it also contributes to his constant need to always be in control and to never, ever fail. It also shows that his pride has interfered with him being able to truly confide his insecurities and fears to anyone, including his ex-girlfriend Christine.
Speaking of Christine, Stephen's struggle with loss also applies to his fellow surgeon, having dated her at some point in their lives. They broke up on amicable terms and still remained close friends until his car accident, after which he ruined their friendship by lashing out at her and driving her away. He has since matured and shown genuine remorse for his actions after studying the Mystic Arts, and hoped to rekindle his and Chrstine's relationship. Christine rejects his feelings (and rightfully so) and instead chooses to just stay friends with him.
Although the two are good enough friends that he attends Christine's wedding, it's obvious throughout the second film that Stephen still loves Christine very much, evidenced by him still keeping the watch that Chrstine gave him when they were dating. Even after it stopped working during his time in Nepal, he always kept the watch, and it remains as a treasured memory.
Stephen accepts that he and Christine might never get together again, but he hasn't been able to truly move on from losing his first love, as shown during Christine's wedding. A phrase gets repeated throughout the second film that truly cements his current struggle, "Are you happy, Stephen?" We also learn just how hard it is for Stephen to move on when his alternate self becomes obsessed enough to search for a universe where both he and Christine are happily together (spoiler alert: there are none lol). It is only after seeing firsthand the destruction his alternate self and the film's main antagonist had caused does Stephen learn the importance of moving on and facing your fears.
Many fans have said this film was objectively one of the worst MCU films, but I have to disagree. It certainly has its flaws, but I belive it did a truly magnificent job at showing Stephen's growth and overcoming this internal conflicts. The film shows that not all problems are just monsters that you can slay and then call it a day; they can also be our own flaws and the choices we make to become better people. Doctor Strange may be a Master of the Mystic Arts, but he is human just like the rest of us: always changing and growing.
We Hope To See You Again!
Perhaps I'm being a little unfair to comic!Stephen, especially since I have only read a few issues of Volume 4, and I don't intend on reading more. I have no doubt that he is a beloved character, but I'm just not that impressed with the subpar writing. Say what you will about MCU!Stephen being weak, I still think he's still better written than comic!Stephen, and I'd be perfectly content if he never got in another relationship with another woman again.
"But Bechno, what about Clea--?"
Speak of the freaking devil!
Clea of the Dark Dimension
Unlike my discussion about Stephen's characterization, I don't think I'll be discussing much about Clea since well...there really isn't much to her, which I feel like is a shame. I think she was absolutely beautiful during the mid-credit scene in Multiverse of Madness. I loved her serious attitude, and I was interested in learning more about her origins.
Clea (no surname) is an extradimensional being who hails from the Dark Dimension, home of Dormammu, one of Doctor Strange's most powerful enemies. In fact, she is Dormammu's niece, and was tasked by the dark entity to keep an eye on Doctor Strange and report anything that he might have been up to. However, she took a liking to the Doctor and chose to help him instead.
After finding out about her treachery, Dormammu trapped Clea in another dimension, where Doctor Strange comes to rescue her on a number of occasions until he took her in to live with him in the New York Sanctum. Clea becomes Stephen's pupil and learns to become a powerful sorcerer, eventually gaining the ability to overthrow her family and become the next rule of the Dark Dimension. It is during this time that Stephen and Clea fell in love and eventually get married. However, due to their taxing jobs as protectors of their respective dimensions, they don't get to see each other much.
I already have a problem with this backstory alone since it seems to me that Clea was solely written to be Stephen's love interest and nothing else, but given that this was from 50 to 60 years ago, I'm giving this pass. I personally would have liked it better if they stayed close friends since the two just didn't seem that compatible to me. However, I think my biggest problem with Clea is how she is written in later issues of the comic books.
The Token Strong Female Character
Normally, I try to be lenient on how female comic book characters are written, since most of the time they are unfortunate products of writers who simply don't know how to write women. It's been like this for a long time, and I'm uncertain if that will be changing any time soon. From what little I've seen of her, Clea seems to be a fairly serious woman who doesn't have a good grasp on human culture. It's a good start, but her character had slowly gotten worse from there.
From what I noticed, she went from a slightly confused but well-meaning lady to a cold and vicious jerk, who has no qualms about killing others as a means to reach her goals, as made very clear in Strange (2022). For context, Strange (2022) takes place after the death of Doctor Strange, and Clea inherits the title of Sorcerer Supreme, the Cloak of Levitation, and Stephen's last name.
Jesus Christ. Talk about disrespecting your so-called husband's legacy as a pacifistic hero and abusing your power as Sorcerer Supreme. :\\\\
I think Clea might be a victim of a common scenario I see among comic book writers. They want to steer away from making their female characters always needing to be rescued, so they opt to make them "strong female characters", which can potentially make these characters even worse. For those who aren't familiar with the term "strong female characters", it's actually a shortened form of "strong female characters who don't need no man". These women are cold and ruthless and make make it painfully clear to the audience that they are strong and that they don't need any men rescuing them. As a result, these women tend to be as one-dimensional as their damsel-in-distress counterparts.
What makes Clea stand out as a "strong female character" is that she still thinks about Stephen. In fact, her entire life seems to revolve around Stephen to the point of a rather unhealthy obsession, which brings to my next point.
Clea has definitely gotten the much-deserved spotlight she's needed for a while...but in the worst way possible. In Strange (2022), Clea is heartbroken over the loss of her beloved Stephen Strange, so she dedicates herself to finding a way to bring back the love of her life. Instead of letting herself mourn and move on from losing Stephen, she becomes obsessed in using her magic and (poorly deserved) title as Sorcerer Supreme to resurrect the good Doctor, no matter the consquences.
This is a similar premise to Multiverse of Madness, with the Scarlet Witch murdering countless people in order to live in a universe where she can be with her two sons. The difference is that the Scarlet Witch is (rightfully) portrayed as a villain, while Clea is portrayed as a hero, for some odd reason. So far, Clea has ignored her own duties as Sorcerer Supreme, using all of her time to find a way to resurrect Stephen, murdering her enemies along the way. Wong has criticized her for this, trying to remind her that Stephen never tried to kill anyone. Of course, Wong's words fall on deaf ears with Clea completely ignoring him in her selfish quest.
-breathes in- Thanks, I hate this. I was hoping that after Stephen's death, the issues would perhaps cover Clea trying to give herself time to mourn. We could have had her struggling with becoming Sorcerer Surpreme and learning how to live with the other humans on Earth. If fans insist on having her be violent, then at least have her make mistakes and eventually realize how important it was for Stephen to maintain a pacifistic outlook on life, and to honor that legacy. Instead, we get this tripe of a story, and I essentially see fans cry "YAAAAS QUEEN!!!". It's appalling and rather sickening.
A Far-off Dream, But a Dream
I'm honestly not looking forward to seeing Clea if the MCU decides to add her into the next Doctor Strange movie. From what I've seen so far about her, she's a pretty horrible match for Stephen and just an overall poorly-written character. I can only hope that the MCU will give her a decent personality, but I would honestly prefer not seeing her at all. I mean heck, we never got to see Stephen and Mordo's fight despite there being an end-credits scene of Mordo having snapped in the first Doctor Strange film, so I'm holding onto that hope.
I honestly feel pretty guilty for being in the minority of disliking Clea, but at the same time, I can't really bring myself to care about a character who really was just meant to be a love interest for Stephen. I can only hope that if she has a major role in the next Doctor Strange movie that she would at least attempt to get along with the others, and not ignore them like she does in the comics. That brings me to the next character!
Anyone who tells you that the comic book characters are better than their MCU counterparts need a wake-up call because oh my goodness, Wong got the absolute best glow-up in the MCU. So, who is he?
In the comic books, Wong comes from a long line of servants whose only purpose is to serve and assist the Sorcerer Surpreme. Wong starts out as merely a butler to the doctor but the two eventually become best friends. Wong helps take care of the doctor and the New York Sanctum where they reside, doing all of the cleaning and cooking as weel as being the one responsible for teaching Stephen how to do martial arts. As far as I know, Wong is still a servant in the year 2022 who mostly stays in the background. I've seen fans argue that he has become more of a best friend to Stephen than a servant, but seeing this argument seems to mostly ignore the fact that at the end of the day, Wong is still Stephen's servant. Or...should I say, 'was', up until Stephen's death.
In this issue, we seeing Wong struggling with the fact that Stephen died before he did, reminiscing on what his father previously told him, "There is no greater failure for you than to outlive your Sorcerer Supreme. You will die before they do. That is your duty. They are everything. You--we--are NOTHING.
So, let's see...a manservant of an known Asian ethnicity who teaches their master martial arts and is often depicted bald with oriental clothing. Totally not an Asian stereotype!! I personally think the most appalling thing is how comic book writers haven't really made much of an effort to mitigate the fact that Wong is a walking racial stereotype. Sure, they can give Stephen unnecessary lore about his declining health and make Clea a complete wench, but heaven forbid they make Wong something other than a servant.
Thankfully, he becomes a much better character in the MCU.
No Longer a Racial Stereotype
In the MCU, Wong is a guardian of the library at Kamar-Taj and was already a master sorcerer before Stephen came into the picture. They did not get along very well at first, but become closer friends the more interactions they had together. They banter, crack jokes at each other, and help support each other in battle. We see that their friendship is genuine and not based on the fact that Wong "serves him". Wong is his own character from the very start, and after Thanos's snap, becomes Sorcerer Surpeme, not Stephen. Even after becoming Sorcerer Supreme, he and Stephen remain close friends, with the two working together in Multiverse of Madness to protect America Chavez, while still bantering with each other occasionally.
I personally believe that Wong having a separate life from Stephen really makes their friendship feel more genuine, as it is something that developed on their own time, not just on the fact that Wong's job is to serve Stephen. This also gives the Wong so much potential, as he was given solo appearances in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and She-Hulk, without Stephen needing to be there! As much as I do love Stephen, Wong deserves all of the spotlight! The MCU was sensible enough to not make him some Asian stereotype, but an actual character with agency!! Just, aaaah, that's so freaking cool, and I entirely support it.
The Hero We Don't Deserve, but Got Anyway
Part of me is a little sad that I couldn't talk a little bit more about Wong, but honestly, I think I've said everything I wanted to say regarding his character. From a walking stereotype to an actual character is something I appreciate in seeing in the recent Marvel movies. I honestly am excited to see what else they'll do with more Asian characters, and seeing Wong make more appearances (cameo or not) will always be a delight!
If you made it this far in my post, thank you for reading! If you mostly skimmed this, that's ok, too! It's definitely a lot, but I feel better typing everything out. It's certainly safer to say my thoughts here than on social media, that's for sure. Even though it's frustrating seeing a lot of people talk about how well-written the comic books are, I'm perfectly content just enjoying the MCU and creating ideas with my wife! She's actually working on a fanfic at the moment, and I'm so excited to read it!
Do any of you have opinions about series/characters/etc. that you're passionate about, but are otherwise too scared to say on social media? If so, have you felt like Neocities or other personal sites are safer places to speak? I'd love to hear any thoughts. :3
If you did manage to read all the way to this paragraph, just click the ":3" face in the paragraph above this one. Thank you for reading and have a great day!