The Strange Library: Ten Essential ‘Doctor Strange’ Comics
Doctor Strange is a second-tier character in the Marvel pantheon, but he's making the leap to the big leagues thanks to the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. To help get you up to speed with the character, we've compiled a list of ten of the best Doctor Strange stories ever published. These are the stories that will introduce you to his major foes and his main supporting cast, and get you acquainted with all the many great talents that have worked on the character over the years.
These are all stories that are available to buy right now, most of them in print, so you can even catch up on them before seeing the movie this weekend, and pretend that you've always been an expert!
Originally packaged as Doctor Strange: Season One, this original graphic novel is a modernized retelling of Doctor Strange's origin, repackaged as an Indiana Jones-esque adventure story that likely served as significant inspiration for the movie's take on the origin story.
Dizzyingly beautiful art by Emma Rios make this one worth the buy alone. If what you really want is a primer on Doctor Strange's origin, and you haven't acquired a taste for Silver Age comics, this is the book to grab.
If, on the other hand, you're the kind of person that just wants to jump on with what's new, this book is the first volume of the current Doctor Strange series, and you could hardly do wrong starting here. Picking up on themes similar to his run writing Thor: God of Thunder, Jason Aaron crafts a story in which the Sorcerer Supreme finds himself in a particularly vulnerable position, as mysterious forces are destroying magic all around him. Chris Bachalo brings exactly the right amount of psychedelia necessary for a solid tale of the master of the mystic arts.
Speaking of artists with a good handle on Marvel mysticism, this book is a collection of various Doctor Strange stories over the years with art by the legendary P. Craig Russell, whose fluid line and occasionally whimsical layouts lend themselves well to fantasy stories.
This whole collection is worth it just for the stories from Marvel Fanfare, especially the one from #5, with a script by Chris Claremont and breakdowns by Marshall Rogers, showcasing Strange's relationship with his apprentice and lover Clea, as well as his ongoing battle with his greatest foe, the dread Dormammu.
While Marvel's cinematic universe is likely setting up Doctor Strange to eventually join the Avengers, a team on which he has been a frequent member in recent years, his classic team affiliation is actually the Defenders.
If you would like to see how a powerful wizard interacts with a bunch of super-powered muggles, there are many eras of the Defenders to check out. This era, written by Matt Fraction, with art by Terry Dodson and others, has the benefit of still being in print, and also of doing some very interesting and fun things with format and storytelling.
If you want to check out some other eras digitally, you can see the original line-up here, a more modern comedic take on the original line-up here, and Doctor Strange as the anchor and driving force of a rotating team of heroes here.
Steve Englehart is considered one of the greatest writers in Doctor Strange history, and this volume collects two of his most famous stories, “Time Doom” — controversial due to placing Doctor Strange at the creation of the universe — and “The Silver Dagger,” which opens with Doctor Strange getting stabbed, and leads to everyone getting trapped in the Eye of Agamotto. As a bonus, this volume also includes some earlier stories with sweet art by the legendary Gene Colan.
A writer who is sometimes forgotten by fans at large, but well regarded by Doctor Strange fans, is Peter B. Gillis, who began his run of stories in the 1980s with this tale that picks up on the end of previous writer Roger Stern's run (on which more in a second).
This collection sees Doctor Strange losing everything, literally, and Gillis's story focuses on the layers of Strange as a human, examining the dichotomy between the man and the magician. If you like this story — and you will — you can see Gillis's take on the character continued in Strange Tales.
It is a fact generally agreed upon that the best Doctor Strange stories besides those plotted by Steve Ditko were those written by Roger Stern, who, perhaps not coincidentally, also wrote the best Spider-Man stories not plotted by Steve Ditko.
Despite these two tales not currently being in print, I could not in good conscience leave these classics off the list. Notably, The Montesi Formula sees the battle you never knew you wanted: Doctor Strange versus Dracula, as Strange attempts to cast a spell that would rid the world of vampires forever. Into the Dark Dimension features cursed swords, interdimensional dictators, magical rebellions, and that rarest of treasures, Paul Smith art.
Perhaps Stern's best work on Doctor Strange (except maybe “To Have Loved and Lost,” which is not in print) came in a graphic novel that sees Strange allied with an unexpected companion: Doctor Doom. Together, the two doctors fight against the forces of Hell to rescue Doom's poor, damned mother.
Besides an exciting story that perfectly encapsulates the characters of both Strange and Doom, this book features gorgeous art by a young Mike Mignola, years before he would create Hellboy.
Here's where it all began! This is the run that introduces Stephen Strange, gives his origin, and sees him meet his greatest allies and foes: the Ancient One, Wong, Dormammu, Baron Mordo, Eternity — all those dudes are in this!
This hugely innovative run has historically been one of the most unjustly overlooked set of issues from the early Marvel era. But the trippy plotting and ground-breaking artwork by Steve Ditko make this era of the book a stone-cold masterpiece whose glory all the other books on this list are trying to chase. If you only have time for one story from this several-year run, make it “The Eternity Saga” from #130-146, which sees Strange being mercilessly pursued by Mordo and Dormammu as he hunts for the embodiment of literally everything.
The Doctor Strange Omnibus offers the most comprehensive collection of this period, but for a smaller and more affordable pick, you could grab the Marvel Masterworks collection instead.
Maybe you can't handle Stan Lee's dialogue. Maybe you don't have the dollars or the shelf space for a big fat omnibus. Maybe you only have time to read one book before you've got to meet your friends at the theater to see Doctor Strange. If any of those apply, if you're only going to read one Doctor Strange book from this list, you should probably make it this one.
With a story by Saga's Brian K. Vaughan that serves as a mystery in which Strange attempts to solve his own attempted murder, and art by Ditko's modern-day heir Marcos Martin, this story feels like a perfect transition of Ditko's classic storytelling into sensibilities that will appeal to new and current readers. Also, perhaps most significantly, this is the story that made Night Nurse a star.