Every now and then I renew my frustration that a) Dr. Strange can't maintain a series, and b) 90% of the time his on-goings go to heck in a handbasket pretty dang fast.
The number one complaint I hear from people is that his magic is too powerful and too undefined.
I agree... and the same could be said for the Silver Surfer who's power cosmic is too powerful and too undefined.
But powerful heroes have had series before. Iron Man is nigh unbeatable (you'd almost call him invincible) with his super-science, yet he keeps getting challenged (usually in business or espionage). The Hulk is the strongest there is, yet he keeps getting beat down (usually emotionally). Reed's science is riddiculously powerful and never defined, yet he continues to have stories (usually because his science plays in the background). Not to mentional all-powerful DC characters like Superman, Batman and Green Lantern.
Creatively, the other white elephant is Strange's personality, or lack there of. You have a stoic, nearly celebate (despite having a few hot girlfriends), seemingly all-knowing (or dues ex machina-knowing anyway) character with a stoic and uninteresting stereotype of a manservant. Even his most frequent on-again-off-again girlfriend is a stoic and largely uninteresting generic rebel-daughter-of-a-tyrant.
Finally, there's the visual hurdle. Although several artists (most notably Ditko) have made Strange's world an amazing one to adventure through, his personal appearance has almost always been less-than-pleasing on the eye for the general super-hero-reading public. Attempts to modernize the outfit have various times have ranged from the forced (black-mask version) to the pretentiously overdone (the long-haired, Vertigo-esque look of the late 90s).
How to deal with these?
First of all, accept the fact that he is uber-powerful. That does not mean however, that he has a spell for any and every occassion. What that means is, send him against near-Galactus-level baddies. Give him new enemies that are niether good nor evil, just a powerful threat to life as we know it. Give his existing enemies new layers. Dormamuu would be much more interesting if he had more of a motivation than "I want to rule everything." Magneto is such a great enemy because you can almost sympathize with him. Red Skull is formidable because he believes what he's doing is right. Imagine a comic in which Nightmare, ruler of all bad dreams, was actually an intelligent threat. I never again want to see a story where he pretends to be Freddy Kruger only to twirl his mustache when Strange uncovers his ploy (that was in an old MCP issue). Hey, if Annihilus can become a cosmic-level threat, so can Nightmare.
Speaking of which, Strange is called Sorcerer Supreme of the entire dimension, so why does he never leave Earth? Yes the Nexis of All Realities is on Earth, but that doesn't mean it is the only place menaced by demons and dimension-hoppers. I'd like to see this issue addressed at some point. I think of the Walker
from Captain Marvel or Darklore
from Warlock Chronicles and I think - geez, why hasn't Strange met these guys? What about Krugarr
? Could Strange meet someone like him in 616? What about the time-travelling Strange of 2099? There are stories outside of demons and dimensional travel!
As for Strange not having set magic rules... the first solution is, stop inventing new spells for whatever the situation demands
. This has been a particular problem with Civil War and New Avengers. But if you stick primarily to what's been established, have the good doctor look up
new spells when needed, instead of just knowing them by rote. Also, perhaps some spells require certain artifacts... the Eye can't do everything.
As for personality and his supporting cast... I love what was done with the recent Dead Girl and Oath series... in both cases Strange was shown as emotionally vulnerable despite his seeming emotionless facade. He is still
self-concious about his hand-problem, and he is getting older, but he is no less attracted to (strangely) beautiful women - and they're attracted to him. In both series Wong has been shown as compitent, a fighter and, in all too few momments, as having a sense of humor. I'd like more insight into this whole "manservant" thing. It sounds demeaning and even racially insensative... there must be more to that relationship. Clea too, could use some more depth. We get that she's destined to be with Strange and that she must struggle to overthrow her father but.. so what? Leia was in the same situation and she had a heck of a lot more personality.
As for the costume.. it all comes down to art. I'm a bigger fan of presenting his costume not so much as a super-hero outfit but as ceremonial dressings used for magical enhancement. Let's lose the gloves and the leotard and leave the shirt untucked. Get him some looser pants, maybe slacks, and accept that the cloak of levitation can transform - why not have him change it on a regular basis for style and confort? And, as much as I respect Larsen... no curled mustaches.
... hmmm... got that out.