Ant-Man, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Black Widow. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made household names out of a range of comic book characters fairly unknown to the uninitiated, but none is quite like Doctor Strange.
Before you dive headfirst into Marvel magic, here are a few things you need to know to unlock your third eye and get close with the super-handed superhero.
How will this "strange" new magic work?
The idea of magic isn't a completely new concept in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, most superheroes to date have some sort of scientific origin stories when it comes to their powers. Tony Stark has his Iron Man suit, Steve Rogers ("Captain America") was injected with a super soldier serum and the Guardians of the Galaxy are basically all various aliens. Thor and Loki might be the most magical characters the MCU has portrayed, but even their powers come from another realm.
So introducing Doctor Strange and his world of magic may seem like a big risk, but Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige insists it's just building on Marvel's trend of introducing ideas in order to unlock future story lines.
"You begin to seed these ideas so that they can be just another tool in our storytelling toolbox later," Feige said. "Introducing Ant-Man and the notion of Pym particles in that film, and suddenly you have a great sequence with Giant Man in 'Civil War.' "
In fact, Feige argues that this movie magic is a precursor of what's to come.
"In that same way, certainly the introduction of Strange and the notion of the multiverse, the notion of being able to pull energies and powers from other dimensions that are just beyond our grasp — all of that will come in handy as we get into a story line with a purple villain with a glove full of Infinity Stones."
Of course, Marvel doesn't always follow what was established in its comic books to the letter. But knowing that director Scott Derrickson landed "Doctor Strange" by writing a scene straight out of Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's "Doctor Strange" comic book miniseries "The Oath" makes brushing up on Strange's comic book lore a good idea.
Who is Doctor Strange?
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as surgeon-turned-sorcerer supreme Dr. Stephen Strange. Created by Steve Ditko, Strange made his comic book debut in a 1963 issue of "Strange Tales."
Before his introduction into the mystical arts, Strange was a brilliant but arrogant surgeon. After a car accident damages his hands, leaving him incapable of performing surgeries, Strange goes on a global quest to heal himself. His pride couldn't handle being anything less than the best in his field.
His journey would leave him penniless and alone but eventually lead him to the doorstep of the Ancient One. After a humbling mix of mystical learning and martial arts training, Doctor Strange awakens his third eye and becomes a powerful sorcerer. His powers are derived from the energy of the universe combined with mystical artifacts such as the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto (more on that later).
What makes Doctor Strange so strange?
Doctor Strange leads the way for Marvel to expand its universe into the realms of mystics, demons, monsters and additional otherworldly dimensions merely hinted at in previous films. But the unconventional stories weren't the only thing that set "Doctor Strange" apart.
Creator and artist Ditko used vivid and surreal visuals in the "Doctor Strange" comics. The art evolved as Strange ventured into increasingly abstract realms that evoked the effects of being under the influence of hallucinogens. Simply put: The art was trippy.
What's with the cape and necklace?
Strange traditionally wears the Cloak of Levitation in the comics, and the magical accessory has been seen multiple times in the film's trailers and clips.
Given to him by the Ancient One, the cloak protects the wearer against magical attacks (it's almost indestructible). Plus, it levitates. And Strange can alter its appearance to take on other forms while wearing it.
The necklace is more than just a decoration fastening Doctor Strange's cape — it's the Eye of Agamotto. Agamotto is one of the trio of powerful mystical beings who give Strange power and the responsibility of serving as Earth's champion and protector.
As an extremely powerful mystical being, Agamotto created an ell-seeing eye, which is enclosed in the amulet Strange wears. The Eye of Agamotto, traditionally bestowed on the sorcerer supreme, gives Strange the ability to see through illusions and disguises, revealing the truth. The fact that the hero is wearing this necklace is a big deal to comic fans. One does not simply throw on the Eye of Agamotto.
Who (or what) is the Ancient One?
In comics, the Ancient One is portrayed as a Tibetan man, who has spent centuries perfecting his craft and protecting the world from evil. As a character conceived of in the 1960s, the Ancient One is rife with stereotypes. A magical Asian there mostly to pass on "Asian wisdom" to the non-Asian hero probably would not translate well to the more socially conscious modern-movie audience.
Enter Tilda Swinton, who was cast to play the Ancient One. While the gender-swapping helped to increase the number of prominent female characters in "Doctor Strange" (as well as in the Marvel universe as a whole), it also became an unfortunate example of Hollywood's continued tendency to whitewash Asian characters. (Derrickson, to his credit, has honestly acknowledged the criticism.)
In the film, the Ancient One is the leader of an order of sorcerers committed to protecting the Earth from mystical threats called the Masters of the Mystic Arts (which in the comics is a title held by Doctor Strange).
Who is Christine Palmer?
Christine Palmer was one of the characters in Marvel's "Night Nurse" comic series, which followed three roommates who worked as nurses during, you guessed it, the night shift.
Written by Jean Thomas, the short-lived '70s series featured Palmer as well as Linda Carter and Georgia Jenkins. Later, Carter was depicted as having taken Night Nurse as a code name, and she appeared in "Daredevil" and "Doctor Strange" comics as a medical practitioner who helped injured superheroes.
In the film, Christine Palmer is Strange's former love interest — although in the comics, Carter was the Night Nurse who appeared with Doctor Strange.
Rachel McAdams portrays Palmer in the film, but she's not exactly the Palmer from the comic books, nor does she take on the mantle of Night Nurse.
"My character is an amalgamation of a few different women, which kind of took the pressure off in a way," McAdams said. "There wasn't one person that I was trying to become. There's a little bit more leeway, room to play."
Who are the villains?
Doctor Strange's comic book foes include Baron Mordo, a fellow student of the Ancient One's. A skilled magician, Mordo is unafraid of using powerful black magic and even plots to kill the Ancient One. One of his disciples, Kaecilius, is also a skilled magic user and also battles Strange.
In the film, Mordo is portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor and is one of Strange's allies, so there's a twist.
Meanwhile Kaecilius, played by Mads Mikkelsen, appears to be an out-and-out villain. Both he and Mordo are powerful conjurers with complicated plans.
Who is Wong?
In the comic books, Wong is a trained martial artist and Doctor Strange's servant. He comes from a family who has served the Ancient One for generations. He is a devoted ally, confidant and friend (and also a victim of racist stereotypes of the '60s).
In the film, Wong is played by Benedict Wong, and instead of a servant, he's also part of the Masters of the Mystic Arts led by the Ancient One.
What comics should I read before watching "Doctor Strange"?
Considering the connection mentioned by Derrickson himself, Vaughan and Martin's miniseries "The Oath" would be a good place to start.
Fans of more recent Marvel comics should consider looking into writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo's "Doctor Strange" series that kicked off in 2015.
Of course, those interested in seeing how everything started should check out Stan Lee and Ditko's "Strange Tales" No. 110 and on from 1963.
Will Doctor Strange ever team up with the Avengers?
The short answer is probably. Why else would Doctor Strange have been introduced with his own solo film in the Marvel universe?
In comic books, Strange has been affiliated with various teams, including the New Avengers and the Defenders. In fact, Strange is one of the founding members of the Defenders, which is more of a superhero non-team, with its rotating roster and absence of rules or headquarters.
The Defenders' original incarnation included the Hulk and Namor before expanding to include Iron Fist and Ant-Man. Marvel's incarnation will include Netflix's roster of characters, such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
Among Doctor Strange's list of comic book allies who have a counterpart in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Spider-Man, with whom he has developed a true friendship.
Strange also worked alongside Tony Stark, Charles Xavier, Reed Richards, Namor and Black Bolt in a secret group of influencers known as the Illuminati. And while it's unlikely fans will see a Marvel version of the team (especially with that roster), perhaps this Illuminati connection between Stark and Strange, and Strange's regretting his decision to not take a side during the comic book events of "Civil War," can hint to a potential way to bring Strange into contact with the Avengers.