Dr Strange in the 80s

The 1980s were a golden age for Doctor Strange, who appeared in multiple titles with excellent writing and fantastic surrealist art. In fact, the sheer abundance of appearances in this period can make a collector’s task a little daunting, so here we’ll provide some order to the material, touching on some major story arcs so you’ll know which issues are important to own, and get a feel for the type of storytelling from this period.

Doctor Strange, Vol.2, 71-76

Marvel Premiere #10A former surgeon who lost the skill of his hands in a car accident, Stephen Strange discovered spiritual enlightenment and extraordinary magical power, enabling him to ward off Lovecraftian monsters and roam across bizarre dimensions, either mentally with the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto, or floating physically with his Cloak of Levitation. The quaint diction of his rhyming spells and the crazy surrealist visuals of Steve Ditko and his successors were a striking departure in mood from the sci-fi in most comics since the sixties. This was a return to pulp horror, where anything could happen. In Marvel Premiere No. 8-10 (1973), Dr. Strange took over the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme from his mentor the Ancient One. He was thenceforth responsible for defending Earth’s dimension, not from physical threats, but from unseen horrors of the mind and spirit.Surrealist art

The much-maligned 1978 TV movie actually gets some important aspects of Dr. Strange right. In fact, it did too good a job of portraying the occult and diabolical, so that it was denounced by some citizens’ groups. (In fairness, there’s a part where Asmodeus is summoned!) A nice touch was making Stephen Strange a psychologist rather than a surgeon, since Doctor Strange excels in psychological realism, blurring the line between mind and spirit. More than a few writers have hinted that his mystical battles are really of the mind.

Doctor Strange entered the 80s with his own bimonthly title and as the leader of the secret team known as the Defenders, who usually included the Incredible Hulk, Valkyrie, and Nighthawk, though there was no telling who Doc would summon. The Defenders deserve a separate discussion, but Doctor Strange fans should definitely take a look at Defenders Vol. 1, No. 90-125. These can be acquired cheaply in the Marvel Essential paperbacks of The Defenders, Vol. 4-6.

The Doctor Strange solo title (Vol. 2) runs from No. 39 in February 1980 and culminates in two major story arcs in No. 70-74 (1985) and No. 75-81 (1986-87). These are important background for the late 80s titles.Doctor Strange, Vol.2, 68

Having cured the Black Knight of madness (No. 68), Dr. Strange finds that he is being attacked for no apparent reason by Umar, sister of Dormammu, who succeeded the latter as ruler of the Dark Dimension. Dr. Strange’s disciple Clea had returned to her native dimension to organize a rebellion against Umar’s rule, and the queen supposed Strange was involved.

Doctor Strange, Vol.2, 71 introWhen Dr. Strange decides to sneak into the Dark Dimension and assist the rebels, we are treated to a great story that reveals the origin of Dormammu’s rise to power and shows fantastic mindscapes of the Dark Dimension. To leave or enter their hideout, the rebels have to traverse the mystic prison of the ever-warring Mindless Ones. Clea uses her knowledge of Earth pop culture for secret passwords, from “Yo Adrian” to “The Pepsi Generation.” This being the 80s, it’s no spoiler to say that the good guys win, but in the process we learn something unsettling about Clea.

Mindless Ones

UrthonaThis theme of the hero having to lose something in order to prevail will be repeated, to greater extremes, in later Doctor Strange stories. In the final story arc of his title (No. 75-81), Doctor Strange must destroy all of his mystic talismans and scrolls in order to save his friends and the world from Urthona, a would-be usurping Sorcerer Supreme from a distant galaxy. Worse, he is forced to kill a human host and to use black magic.

This sets the tone for a darker, more conflicted Dr. Strange in Strange Tales Vol. 2 (19 monthly issues, 1987-88, shared with Cloak and Dagger). What saves this series from being nihilistic is that Dr. Strange never delights in using black magic, though he finds himself forced by circumstances to compromise his prized purity in order to protect his world. He resists this necessity and tries to forestall it, even making his friends forget him. Ultimately, he must make an alliance with the Ancient One’s old enemy in order to face and defeat an even greater threat (but not before losing an eye in No. 10).

Dr. Strange Sorcerer Supreme No. 5Some semblance of normalcy is restored in the subsequent monthly series, titled: “Dr. Strange: Sorcerer Supreme” (1988-96) A more athletic Stephen Strange returns to his white-magic ways with the help of his friends and restored talismans. Serious havoc is wrought, however, by his old rival Baron Mordo in “The Faust Gambit” (No. 5-8, 1989) and “The Dark Wars” (No. 21-24, 1990). The latter miniseries has a feature on “Legends and Lore of the Dark Dimension.” Vishanti in Demon's DebtLater, we get a glimpse of the oft-invoked, seldom seen Vishanti (“Demon’s Debt,” No. 48, 1992) The Vishanti were first identified in the 80s (Doctor Strange, Vol. 2, No. 49) as omnipresent Oshtur, all-seeing Agamotto, and Hoggoth, he of the “hoary hosts.” Earlier mentions in spells implied the Vishanti were distinct from these beings.

The 80s Doctor Strange is also responsible for sending an out-of-control Hulk to the interdimensional Crossroads, setting up one of the strangest, most creative Incredible Hulk storylines. But that’s for another time.

Three Stooges Con 2016

Three Stooges Con Program The first major Three Stooges convention in about 17 years took place this past month, with celebrity guests (including Adam West!) and Stooge family members, rooms full of memorabilia for display and sale, and non-stop screening of Stooge films, including some rarities. Attendees from across the country agreed it was well worth the trip to Trevose, PA. If you couldn’t make it this time, here are the highlights of my visit, from Stooges trivia to collectibles tips. Would I meet Adam West? Find out below!

The families of the Stooges were on hand to share their memories, answer questions and meet with fans up close. Moe’s daughter Joan, now 89, has faithfully attended even the smaller annual gatherings in Fort Washington. The families provided great tidbits about the boys, some of which are not already in published sources. The first stop for Stooges history is Moe’s autobiography (my 1977 first ed. shown). Joan and others have also released books. Moe Howard autobiography

The boys looked like ordinary, well-dressed men in their regular lives, and were not recognizable unless you were up close. They sometimes took advantage of this to play pranks. When eating out, Moe would place an incomprehensible order using his famous double-talk to confuse the waitress. She would turn to Larry, saying, “Maybe we’d better start with you,” and he’d answer, “I’ll have the same.”

Larry’s grandson remembers once Moe, Larry and Shemp decided to put up wallpaper themselves. They laid out the paper, and Larry started to apply the glue, and brushed right over Moe’s hand. Moe paused, reached out and whacked Larry with his brush, and before you knew it, they were doing a full fight scene for one seven-year-old audience member. When they settled down and saw the mess, Moe deadpanned, “I know a contractor.”

Emil Sitka’s son Saxon recalled that, in the scene in “The Tooth Will Out” where Emil comes bursting out of Vesuvius Ravioli yelling at the Stooges, he originally started yelling, “You bastards!” and other epithets. When they cut, the director asked incredulously, “What was THAT?” All the curses were audible on film, so the take was unusable and had to be shot again, this time with scripted, family-friendly exclamations.

Shemp’s daughter in law Geri Greenbaum, married to his son Mort for 20 years, was proud that Mort started the first self-service gas station. Girls in t-shirts and shorts would come out on roller skates. If a customer chose to pump his own gas, they’d hand him the pump, skate back to the office and bring back change.

Interestingly, none of the Stooges really had idols that they looked up to, though there were certainly some contemporaries that they admired (Chaplin, Laurel, Gleason). They were too busy working on their craft to indulge in that sort of thinking. They were setting standards instead of following examples.

First issue of Three Stooges comic
Dell Four Color 1170 Some pre-press copies of the first issue of a new Three Stooges comic were available. One of the writers, S.A. Check, was on hand to sign copies. They explained this will be an ongoing, bimonthly series (not a limited edition or one-off), so the second issue will be in June. There are five different covers for the first issue, and there will be multiple covers for future issues as well. The first issue has two new stories and a reprint of “Midway Madness” from Dell Four Color #1170 (1961). The parody ads are also a nice touch.

Adam West, who appeared in the Stooges’ final feature film, “Outlaws is Coming” (1965), though I think he’s also known for something else, was signing photos and memorabilia. I tried to be cool about it, but that wasn’t happening.

Adam West at Three Stooges Con April 2016

Oh, right, now I remember who he is. If you haven’t already, check out the delightfully surreal “Return to the Batcave” DVD from 2003. By the way, Adam West is tremendously funny in real life, and really delights in interacting with the fans. You can see some of his bizarre self-deprecating deadpan in “Return,” which is a reunion special done right.

There are mixed opinions about “Outlaws is Coming.” Many see it as a clever Western spoof, but some may find the humor a bit telegraphed. Keep in mind the 1960s feature films were aimed at child audiences. The Elvis and Beatles references are either clever or strained attempts at staying up-to-date, depending on your point of view. Johnny Ginger, one of two surviving “Outlaws” from the film, was also on hand to chat and sign autographs.

Naturally, Stooge shorts were being screened constantly. I especially enjoyed the rarely shown Shemp solo films. These help you appreciate that much of what we think of as “Stooge humor” was actually a broader genre, and they were just the “best of breed.” Some of the Shemp shorts are online, including the hilarious “Mr. Noisy.” Shemp actually beat the other Stooges to film, appearing in a couple of Fatty Arbuckle films.

Pauley book on Stooges filming locations Jim Pauley gave a great talk about his investigation into the Hollywood filming locations of the Columbia shorts. The research was impressive, and can’t be replicated by Google Map searches. For example, a checkerboard sidewalk where Curly stood is now a school, fenced in and tarred over, but they got pics while there was still access. They also found the steep staircase where the boys slid down blocks of ice past a cul-de-sac in a quiet residential neighborhood. You can find details in the handsomely printed book, with high quality paper and photography. This is one of those books well worth having in hard copy.

Without scooping the book, I can share the location of the famous beer barrel scene in “Three Little Beers,” since this was previously known. This was on Echo Park Ave., but different side streets seem to have been used for different shots. The shots with the policeman at the intersection and the final pile-up of barrels with (real-life) onlookers were definitely filmed at Echo Park and Delta St. The building with distinctive double-windows and fire escape still stands today. This is not a cross-shaped intersection, however, so the scenes showing the barrels rolling down the cross intersection must have been shot elsewhere, likely Echo Park and Scott Ave.

Three Little Beers filming locations on Echo Park Ave

Also check out the new Papercutz graphic novels for kids. The stories follow the continuity of the 2012 movie, if “continuity” is even a meaningful concept for the Stooges.