With talk swirling about a Doctor Strange movie outing, I’m excited to see one of Marvel’s most under-served characters on the big screen.  Among my earliest comic-reading experiences were the original Defenders series, a book which never had to work to explain why Doctor Strange didn’t just wave his hands and fix the problem.  Modern Marvel comics don’t seem to be able to pull that off, though, as repeatedly he has been limited, depowered, redefined or hamstrung to keep from having to write around his many powers.  This seems like a shame to me, given his skill set and abilities, as well as the best moustache in the Marvel Universe, which leads to today’s magical mystery query…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) always loved the adventures of Doctor Fate and even Magicman, but can see where the problem comes in, asking: Do magic powered characters like Doctor Strange work as superheroes?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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8 Comments

  1. Dan
    September 25, 2014 at 11:27 am — Reply

    is Harry Potter not a superhero? he might as well be magical Spider-Man.

  2. September 25, 2014 at 11:37 am — Reply

    I think it all depends on how the character is written and how well defined they are. If you give a magical character some clear limitations, then it isn’t much different than a hero with advanced tech or well above average physical skills. However, even a character without clear limitations can work IF written properly.

  3. September 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm — Reply

    I agree with Alisha — it’s all up to the writer. A well-defined character with set parameters can be interesting whether (s)he is a detective, a Kryptonian, or the Sorcerer Supreme. A vague sense of who the character is will be fatal; so will a fuzzy approach to the power set.

    My favorite example is the White Witch. Even Shooter scoped her powers nicely, and Levitz used the D&D approach to near perfection. Her sense of dedication and ethics helped explain what spells she had regularly available and what she would not do.

    Both Dr. Strange (especially — as Matthew notes — in the mid-period Defenders) and Zatanna work very well when written carefully and are disasters when not.

  4. Steve Cramer
    September 25, 2014 at 8:25 pm — Reply

    My favorite Dr. Strange run is Roger Stern’s from the 1980’s. While there were some major epics (the destruction of all vampires; Clea’s rebellion in Dormammu’s realm), my favorite stories were the one-issue, small-scale plots involving some curious (mystical) character or a mystery (ex. the hippie golf course gardener who proved to be the long-sought reincarnation of a lama). So sure, a good writer could come up with a good DS movie. (I assume, though, we will end up watching DS deal with the imminent destruction of the earth or the universe or all realities or something like that.)

  5. Malone_hasco
    September 26, 2014 at 2:48 am — Reply

    They are often hard to write well, but if put in good hands they work as well as any other. Dr Fate is one of my all time favorite DC characters, I had no problem at all with him being in JSA. Alan Scott is magic based character too, yet they were nothing like each other.

    • September 26, 2014 at 9:17 am — Reply

      I like using Alan Scott when this topic comes up among my friends since even with the various retcons that try tying him to the GLC, he’s still a magic based hero. Some try to argue that those who use magical artifacts aren’t the same as magic users, but I can’t really see much of a difference except in how they use the power. There are pros and cons to both means of utilizing magical powers. In some settings, those with magical artifacts are usually stronger than those with natural affinity for magic use, in other settings the reverse is true, and in others still there is no real difference except in the skill of the individual or the item/form of magic.

  6. September 26, 2014 at 7:35 am — Reply

    I think they can work, unfortunately they seem to suffer from power creep worse than any other variation on super heroes. There are many great stories of magical heroes, but the constant one upmanship of comics seems to work against them.

    I wonder if Harry Dresden counts as a super hero?

  7. Shush
    September 26, 2014 at 11:39 pm — Reply

    To answer the question: yes.

    On another podcast that I listen to, Writing Excuses, author Brandon Sanderson created what he called ‘Sanderson’s First Law.’ To paraphrase, “The more/better magic is understood, the more it can be used to solve the protagonist’s/story’s problems.” This is what everyone before me has more or less stated. If something is well-defined i.e. properly understood by the audience, then it it’s okay to use it as a tool to fix whatever mess the story has put a character in. Superman can fly and is really strong (among other things), and we know that so he can use his flight and his strength to save the day. The same goes for Magic Superheroes. If magic is just… magic, then an audience will feel cheated when that is used to save the day. It’s a cheat and we feel cheated.

    So it’s up to a writer to either cheat or not cheat.

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