When Marvel finally wriggled free of their distribution deal with DC Comics, they were at last able to expand their line of comics and deliver to their fans the comics they desired. So the split books which had been featuring two superstars were busted apart giving more room. Tales to Astonish became the The Incredible Hulk and the Sub-Mariner started afresh with a number one, likewise did Tales of Suspense become Captain America with Iron Man beginning his own series. And so we had Strange Tales become Doctor Strange, and the series starring Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD started a brand new series.
The first thing that jumps out at you in this debut issue (of sorts) is the way Dan Adkins expands his artistic storytelling. What had been rather cramped suddenly blossomed across the page and sometimes two with some fantastic effects. Adkins was an artist who was able to generate a great sense of realism and playing that against the weird dimensions which Strange often played in gave the book a really distinctive look. The first new issue gives us a Doctor Strange in repose between battles and it gives him time to reflect on his origin. We get an expanded version of the story by Roy Thomas first related so long ago in Strange Tales.
But that reverie is short lived as the menace of Nightmare appears, not seen since that earliest Doctor Strange story.
Adkins delivers possibly the best single comic of his career here with art that explodes across the pages and despite his tendency to a static pose offers up some truly memorable scenes.
But Adkins was slow and he would spend most of his career as an extremely capable inker.
Another man who was to go on to gain repute as an inker is Tom Palmer and he handles the artwork on the third Doctor Strange installment which takes the Doctor into some truly peculiar dimensions as he recruits Victoria Bently to help him rescue Clea. But just as Doc is able to discover her whereabouts an old villain raises his flaming head.
The menace of Dormammu returns and it comes at a propitious time as one of the greatest artists to ever draw Doctor Strange debuts on the series -- Gene "The Dean" Colan. Teamed with the pencil artist of the previous issue Tom Palmer, one of the great art teams in the history of comics appears for the first time and it's a blockbuster.
Colan immediately brings a dynamic and lush quality to the pages which now have room to fully demonstrate the weirdness of Doc's many worlds.
Dormammu and his sister Umar too are back seeking a way to Earth and domination there and so is the lovely Clea. Doc's search for her alongside Victoria Bentley is the key that allowed Dormammu access. But he's turned aside at the last moment.
Then the Sons of Satannish appear. Doc takes Victoria home to England and comes in contact with Lord Nekron, an acolyte of Satannish who seeks to steal Doc's power and of course fails.
The Sons of Satannish appear front and center at that point as their leader Asmodeus uses the combined might of the cult to attack Doc as he and Clea attempt to enjoy a night on the town.
Clea is kidnapped by the Sons and Doc is barely able to save her as he confronts the constant danger his public identity is constantly bringing to his door.
The identity of Asmodeus is revealed and he is defeated but not before Doc must change his look and his very being to keep the secret of his identity which has proven a weakness.
The new Doc, as designed by Gene Colan is more purely a superhero and it's a look I've always cottoned to. The strangeness and coldness of the design work well for a hero who had in some ways grown too chummy since his early days as an aloof mystic.
But before his ultimate defeat Asmodeus unleashes the threat of Fire and Ice as his spell brings to Earth the Asgardian twin powers of Ymir the Frost Giant and Surtur the Fire Giant. To stop this menace Doc conscripts the help of Dane Whitman the Black Knight to invade the dimension of Tiboro to gain access to certain of the Sons of Satannish who had been exiled there.
Barely escaping the menace of Tiboro, Doc crosses over into The Avengers and allies himself with the Black Panther, the Vision, and Hawkeye to battle the twin giants of fire and ice. They just barely win the battle as teams shift to Antarctica to battle Surtur and Wakanda to battle Ymir.
The run takes a break as a reprint is used to buy some time for the production team. It's a reprint of Spider-Man's team-up with Doctor Strange from the pages of the second Amazing Spider-Man Annual.
The great Ditko art is on display again as the heroes reject the threat of Wand of Watoomb and its wielder.
Doc is then almost immediately drawn into conflict with Nightmare who has somehow taken the enigmatic Eternity prisoner.
Gene Colan and Tom Palmer are at the top of their game through these issues. Magnificent stuff.
Doc battle Nightmare and falls victim to his own Eye of Agamotto when Nightmare is able to gain control of one of Doc's most potent weapons.
But Strange makes an odd play when he conjures up the Juggernaut from the Crimson Dimension. This unstoppable force proves to be a potent wild card as he attacks Nightmare. When the two later team up Doc is ready for them.
And then it's the Undying Ones. In Doctor Strange's final issue (of this run) he comes across a threat which will cause him to call upon some astonishing allies. That is a story for another time, when we witness the beginnings of the non-team called The Defenders.
More to come.