Now that Marvel is rolling the dice on the American public falling in love with Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange, it’s important that we look at how creator Steve Ditko (and numerous Strange writers through the years) came up with the idea for the Sorcerer Supreme. We all find inspiration in things that we loved as children, so it’s no surprise that comic book writers of the '60s were drawing mucho inspiration from pulp comics and radio serials of the 1930s and '40s. One of the most popular pulp comics at the time was The Shadow, a story about a fabulously dressed mystery man with the powers of an Eastern mystic. Sound familiar? There are more ways The Shadow inspired Doctor Strange, and they’re going to change the way you look at the Marvel hero.
Of all the things Doctor Strange stole from The Shadow, the most important piece of the puzzle is his backstory. Admittedly, there’s nothing original about a rich playboy who is kind of a jerk traveling to Asia to learn how to do hero stuff, but in the case of Shadow v. Strange, it feels very familiar. In the 40-plus years since Doctor Strange was sprung from the skull of Steve Ditko, writers have been retconning the sorcerer in order to make him less pulp hero and more swinging '70s magic dude, but there are some character traits that can’t be erased. Keep reading to find out all the things that Doctor Strange and The Shadow have in common.
Everyone Gets a Dumb Catchphrase
Was there a rule during the first 60 or 70 years of comics that said characters had to have a catch phrase? Or was that just a thing that people did? The Shadow actually had two catch phrases: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows..." and "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay... The Shadow knows!" Both of those are terrible and they have too many syllables, but they don't hold a candle to Doctor Strange's terrible catch phrase, "By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!" Those catchphrases aren't all that similar but they're both very dumb!
They Have Non-Powered Buddies
Both Doctor Strange and The Shadow have helpers who take care of things in New York that two classy magic men about town aren't able to do. While Cranston has an entire group of "agents," a select collection of folks who he's saved for one reason of another, Strange has Wong, his personal valet who's a descendant of a Chinese monk who lived roughly one thousand years ago and was a student of the occult. It's probably too late to retcon that character now, but couldn't we name the Chinese valet "Mark" or anything that isn't Wong? While it's likely that Wong probably isn't a direct reference to any of the Shadows's agents, he does bare a striking resemblance to Ming Dwan, one of Cranston's agents in Chinatown.
To be fair to Steve Ditko (and the creators of magic guys everywhere), what else are you going to give your magic guy to wear? A track suit? The fact that both Doctor Strange and The Shadow share a penchant for high collars is kind of weird, but it's not damning. Still, if Benedict Cumberbatch ends up wearing a red scarf or a wide-brimmed hat, we're going to flip out.
Who Wasn't a Selfish Playboy Before They Were a Hero?
Depending on which version of The Shadow you read/listen to/watch, the pulp hero was either a pilot for the French army, an opium smuggler, or that lovely catch-all "a wealthy young man about town," (read: total douchebag). The same can mostly be said for Stephen Strange, who begins the comics as a pigheaded surgeon who loses his ability to operate on patients after getting into a car accident. It's only through the magic of positive thinking and realizing that they were d*cks that each character is able to become a hero.