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Doctor Strange

Marvel Legends
by yo go re

Of all the heroes that populated the early Marvel Universe, there were only two that weren't somehow shaped by the hand of Jack Kirby: Daredevil and Dr. Strange.

Former surgeon Stephen Strange is now Master of the Mystic Arts and Earth's Sorcerer Supreme. Aided by a magical Cloak of Levitation and the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto allows him to see through illusions and read minds. Also, he possesses a wide array of arcane texts, artifacts, books and relics. When extraordinary events occur and the unexplainable becomes commonplace, rest assured: the doctor is in the house!

Doctor Strange was originally nothing more than generic filler material, a way for Stan Lee to eat up five pages in the back of Strange Tales. For some reason the character caught on, and Stan decided to give him a belated origin story. Stephen held the starring slot in the title for six years before it was cancelled, and he's been kicking around the fringes of the Marvel Universe ever since.

Though he's a long-standing and extremely powerful character, Dr. Strange isn't exactly toy-friendly, which is why the only previous figure was released years ago in the Spider-Man animated line.

Dr. Strange is a short figure, not even 6" tall, which makes sense in a way: unlike most superheroes, who are enhanced somehow, Strange is a normal human; he shouldn't be as big as Captain America. He's articulated at the head, shoulders, elbows, gloves, wrists, fingers, waist, hips, knees, shins, ankles and toes. He doesn't have any sort of torso joint, but there are a few reasons for that.

First of all, Dr. Strange's costume isn't some skintight number like all his compatriots wear, but a loose and billowing tunic. A torso joint is easier to conceal when you don't have a thousand distinct wrinkles to work around, and the Vishanti symbol on his chest would look weird if it suddenly split in half.

The sculpt is good, with the cloth bunching as it should around the sash at his waist. His symbol is carved into his shirt, and his sleeves hang down over his stippled gloves. There's no detailing on his legs, but since he always wore black tights, that makes sense. You shouldn't even be noticing his legs, honestly.

Strange's hands are posed in the classic incantation gesture Ditko created; it's pretty much the same as Spider-Man's webshooting pose - index and pinky fingers extended, others curled into the palms - but the sculpt is all-new. ToyBiz could have just reused some Spidey hands, but the wrinkles on the gloves show that they didn't.

In recent years, that gesture has come to be identified as some sort of pseudo-Satanic thing: just ask any heavy metal fan. Or better yet, ask any delusional reactionary Christian mother who thinks she's on a crusade to save children's souls. The gesture was introduced to rock music through KISS (a group already accused of being Satanists) when Gene Simmons, wanting to wave to fans without dropping his guitar pick, held it with his middle fingers and raised the rest to wave. Now, Gene was a comicbook fan, so he would have recognized Dr. Strange's gesture; it seems probable that he saw a picture of himself waving, thought it looked cool, and started doing it more at concerts and in photos.

While the pose does look like the traditional "devil horns" (a gesture that started in Sumerian times as a way to ward off [rather than invoke] the devil), Ditko has revealed that its true origins were much different - he got it from American Sign Language, where it means nothing more sinister and subversive than "I love you." Yes, for nearly half a century, Dr. Strange has been using the power of love to defeat the world's villains.

When he first appeared, Dr. Strange looked almost Asian, but he soon took on more western traits. That's the version Marvel Legends has given us, with the high, arching eyebrows, the pointy hair and the thin moustache. He's giving us a piercing look with his blue eyes, and the gray on his temples looks excellent. Dr. Strange was never the classic young, handsome hero - he was always more of a creepy old man, the superheroic equivalent of horror master Vincent Price.

Dr. Strange's only "accessory" is his cloak of levitation, proving that Marvel was doing the ridiculously oversized and wrinkly red cape thing years before Todd even thought of buying another man's balls. Like Vision's cape, the cloak is made from a thin, flexible rubber that both holds a sculpted pattern and allows for free movement. The size of the thing is astounding, nearly swallowing the figure when he's wearing it. That's the second reason for no chest joint - the cape's weight might have made holding a pose difficult.

The paint apps are great, with dark washes on the cape making it look almost brick red. The yellow hem is textured with a few squiggly lines intended to suggest the intricate pattern seen in the comics, and the cowl stands up tall. The cloak is clasped with the Amulet of Agamotto, one of Strange's major mystical items (based on the real Nepalese "All-Seeing Eye of the Buddha" charm).

The original plan for ML9 was to put action features in the figures' bases, but that idea was mercifully killed and replaced by Galactus. Each figure comes with a piece of the big G man, and Dr. Strange has the right arm. The purple and blue that ToyBiz chose for the paint scheme is very nice, with a metallic sheen suggesting extraterrestrial origins. Lots of linear details on the glove and up the arm, too.

The arm is articulated at the fingers, wrist, glove and twice at the elbow. To hide the construction of the large elbows, there are squares of plastic on either side of the pins to keep the uninterrupted look of the arm. The elbow joints are ratchet style, clicking into place rather than just using friction to hold them steady - a good choice for a figure this large. The positioning of the fingers is slightly different than the arm that came with Grey Hulk.

These days, in Marvel Legends, you've got about a 50/50 chance of getting a crappy poster book instead of a free comic. It looks like Dr. Strange is going the poster route - the cover of the book is even labelled a "Marvel Masterwork Pin-Up." But amazingly, behind that trippy Ditko cover you'll find an actual story. No, better than that, four actual stories! ToyBiz collected Doc's first four appearances from Strange Tales, giving us some fun, short tales that really give a feel for the character.

You have to think that ToyBiz missed a golden opportunity for a variant figure here: cast Stephen in translucent blue plastic with just a few details painted on and give us his astral form. Heck, if Phasing Vision was popular, Astral Strange would have been, too.

-- 05/06/05

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