Strange Ways, Here We Come: Marvel’s Dr Strange and his psychedelic secrets

Strange Ways, Here We Come: Marvel’s Dr Strange and his psychedelic secrets
From LSD to Ayn Rand to Satanism, the roots of Marvel’s latest superstar are a tangle of the American unconscious. John Naughton elevates to the astral plane to investigate. 

“Open Your Mind,” advises the trailer to the forthcoming movie of Doctor Strange. “Change Your Reality”, it adds, as cityscapes fold in on one another Inception-style and the titular Marvel comic-book hero – made flesh in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch – opens the doors of perception and inspects his new, deceptively spacious surroundings.

Though he’s had to bide his time patiently to take his place on the big screen in the new Marvel Comics Universe, behind the likes of Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and the rest, Doctor Strange arrives on the big screen this month and expectations are, well, high.

Because from his very earliest appearances in July 1963 in the pages of Strange Tales #110, Doctor Strange, with his cosmic wanderings across astral planes, protecting Earth from dark forces often only with his mind, has been intimately linked to LSD and the counterculture.

Since that time, he has been reimagined successfully by writers such as Roger Stern and most recently, Brian K. Vaughan in the excellent one-shot, The Oath. But most comic book aficionados would agree that there have been two iterations of the Sorcerer Supreme that stand out above the rest. The first was the original run, drawn by his creator, the enigmatic, reclusive, comic book genius, Steve Ditko and the second was during an intense period of creativity at Marvel in the early 70s when writer Steve Englehart and artist Frank Brunner took over his story. Continue reading “Strange Ways, Here We Come: Marvel’s Dr Strange and his psychedelic secrets”

ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare

ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare
AGGRO! In the long, hot summer of 1976, ACTION comic’s blood-crazed sharks, spy thugs and football yobs warped young minds across Britain. Creator Pat Mills tells JOHN NAUGHTON about the comic The Sun called the Sevenpenny Nightmare.

In the recent trend for publishing books based around specific years, no-one has yet laid claim to 1976. Like visitors strolling past a boss-eyed mongrel at Battersea Dogs’ Home, prospective authors have failed to see the appeal of a year that began with 15 people murdered in Northern Ireland before the Christmas decorations came down and continued in grindingly grim fashion with front pages dominated by endless tales of industrial aggro or Cod and Cold War stand-offs. Civil war raged in Angola and bombs exploded throughout London. Is this the MPLA, is this the IRA? Yes, on both counts, Johnny.

01 copy 2
Action’s most infamous cover, as seen in High-Rise.

Listen closely and you can hear the tectonic plates of post-war political consensus pulling apart as Harold Wilson bailed out, James Callaghan took over and Labour tottered on with a majority as insubstantial as a Hill’s Angel halter top.

Inflation hit 24%, while interest rates ran at 11.5% and the pound dipped below $2. Seven years earlier, the Labour government had produced its white paper entitled In Place Of Strife. In 1976, there didn’t seem to be anything else.

Against this febrile backdrop, a story played out in the world of comic publishing that continues to fascinate to this day. Action – a weekly boys’ comic with a new attitude and a roster of radical characters – debuted a week before Valentine’s Day and was closed down by Bonfire Night. This wasn’t due to lack of popularity; when it shut, the comic was selling 180,000 copies per week. Instead, having attracted questions in the House and outrage in the media, its publishers, IPC, withdrew it “for editorial reconsideration”. Like Jack Nicholson’s Randle McMurphy at the conclusion of that year’s multiple Oscar-winner One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, it re-emerged a shadow of its former self on December 4. The following year IPC applied the metaphorical pillow over the face when it was merged with Battle and five years later, it quietly expired. Continue reading “ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare”