Even twenty years ago, few would have expected Doctor Strange to be the focus of a highly-anticipated blockbuster film starring an actor of Benedict Cumberbatch’s caliber. Although the character had been the focus of several solo comic series and even starred in a made-for-tv movie in 1978, the Master of Mystic Arts usually enjoyed little more than second-tier status. With his odd hairstyle and penchant for saying things like “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!”, the Doctor seemed doomed to C-list status.
Even that would have been a step up from his origins. The brainchild of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange debuted as a backup feature in 1963’s Strange Tales #110. The main feature in that issue? A tale that pitted Fantastic Four member the Human Torch against C-level baddies the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete.
Despite that ignoble beginning, Strange soon captured the imagination of college kids who tuned out to Ditko’s increasingly psychedelic visuals and Stan Lee’s unnatural dialogue. Over the years, Strange became one of Marvel’s consummate supporting figures. He had his own adventures, but was often most memorable when showing up to advise on some larger existential threat.
Since his 2016 solo film (and Marvel Cinematic Universe debut), Doctor Strange seems to have settled into an advisory role in films such as Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. But after six years, he’s now returning to theaters as the main character in a movie that promises more reality-bending adventure than its predecessor.
Here are a few great comic book stories to catch up with as you prepare to check in with the Doctor when Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness releases in May.