Doctor Strange is dead. That's no spoiler - Marvel announced it would happen when The Death of Doctor Strange event was first mentioned publicly, just by the name of it. But after reading September 22's The Death of Doctor Strange #1, we know that death is not the ending of the story - but the beginning.
Spoilers ahead for The Death of Doctor Strange #1.
Doctor Strange is dead.
Doctor Strange is alive.
There's no resurrection involved in this sleight of hand; it's a well-used mythological and comic book cliche that goes back centuries. In the case of The Death of Doctor Strange #1, it's a younger version of Doctor Strange that appears following the death of his modern self, with the specific task to pick up where his older self left off.
For some Avengers fans, they'll remember this very same kind of story in the 1995-1996 event Avengers: The Crossing, with a teenage version of Tony Stark recruited from the past by the Avengers to help battle a modern-day Tony Stark who made a dark turn and aligned himself with Kang the Conqueror. The older Stark eventually regrets his ways and sacrifices himself to stop what he started, leaving a 19-year-old version of himself behind to become Marvel's main Iron Man. Fans dubbed him 'Teen Tony.'
It's too soon to say what this younger version of Doctor Strange will be - he's still old enough to have a little grey in his hair, but for now, we'll call him Doogie Strange (after Doogie Howser, MD - hey, even our jokes are from the distant past!)
Over the course of The Death of Doctor Strange #1, it's revealed that Doctor Strange "severed" a portion of his soul and put it away in a pocket universe as a failsafe in the event that he was killed in the future.
How did Doctor Strange die?
Midway through the issues after a series of scenes showing Doctor Strange's day-to-day tasks, he hears a knock on his front door at the Sanctum Santorum. Strange summons his classic attire and answers it. At first, he greets them with no alarm, so it appears who or whatever is at this door is not immediately threatening to him. But then they interrupt him to say today will be his "last day."
The fight begins with a magical blast of some sort at the Sanctum Santorum's doorstep, then a nine-panel grid with Strange being knocked back on his heels. He's constrained against a wall with magical blue tendrils of energy, followed by the as-yet-unrevealed assailant brandishing a dagger and then things go black.
(Remember, the Scarlet Witch is shown to have died by a fatal stabbing from a mystery figure also brandishing a dagger. This leads us to a theory on how Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch's murders are connected.)
Although the fatal blow isn't shown in detail, his body is found later with that dagger left in his chest - and magic users from around the Marvel notice something changing in the wind.
Another thing you might miss from reading the comic is that his hands are also missing, with pools of blood spilling out of his sleeves. After decades of being injured to the point he couldn't perform surgery anymore, recent events restored his full use of his hands and he began doing surgery once again - well, until now of course.
Although his hands are missing, his two iconic magical items - the Eye of Agamotto and the Cloak of Levitation - remain on his body.
How does the Marvel Universe react?
Wong, Thor, Alpha Flight's Shaman, the ghost dog Bats, Limbo's Sorcerer Supreme Magik, Strange's assistant Zelma Stanton, Brother Voodoo, and Reed Richards are shown feeling a reaction to the killing of Doctor Strange - even though they are far away. All have an obvious connection to magic except for Richards, who is shown being aware of it somehow by a computer monitor reading "Dimensional Breach Imminent."
Earlier in the issue, Doyle Dormammu from the Strange Academy asks the Sorcerer Supreme about "something happening in the outer planes" that he is sensing, but isn't aware what it is. Strange mentions this has been brought to his attention earlier that day but doesn't have an answer for him.
Back at the crime scene, Wong, Zelda, Bats, and Brother Voodoo are the apparent first-responders to Strange's death, although the murderer is long gone. Strange's long-time foe Baron Mordo (with Kaecilius) arrives next. After first being blamed for the murder by Wong, Mordo says he didn't do it - and is mad because someone else 'stole' his right to kill Strange himself.
They're interrupted by a call to Doctor Strange's Avengers membership card (yeah, it has 5G) from Captain America. Cap isn't aware of Strange's death, and is calling for an "Avengers emergency".
"We need Strange. We're tracking multiple extradimensional invasions and are emoving to engage immediately."
According to Stanton, the Purple Dimension, the Sixth Dimension, and the sunken city of Kalumesh have already taken advantage of Strange's barrier falling and intruded into Earth.
Earlier in the issue during a presentation to the Strange Academy, Doctor Strange outlines that part of his job as Earth's Sorcerer Supreme is to act as "part of the planet's natural defenses."
He specifically talks about a barrier spell - a "master spell" as he calls it - he must maintain that "strengthens the boundaries between our dimension and the outer planes," which would include the Asgard, Limbo, Dark Dimension, the Celestial Concordance, the Consecution of Colors, and more. All those named have, at one point or another, attempted invasions of Earth before, and this barrier spell helps fend that off.
This storyline of the barrier spell being down will apparently spin off into the tie-in book Death of Doctor Strange: Avengers, with the Strange-less Avengers trying to respond to these magical emergencies.
But the last respondent to the death of Doctor Strange is the aforementioned younger Doctor Strange, Doogie Strange.
Who is Doogie Strange?
Although it's not specified in The Death of Doctor Strange #1, the outfit Doogie Strange wears dates this version to a very specific time - his first year in action, November 1963 through December 1964.
When Doctor Strange first began using magic, his mentor the Ancient One gifted him a set of magical items - including a blue Cloak of Levitation and the Amulet of Agamotto. You can tell them apart from the color of the cloak, and how the Amulet of Agamotto is square. It isn't until December 1964's Strange Tales #127 that Strange receives the round Eye of Agamotto talisman and the more powerful red Cloak of Levitation.
(Strange ended up gifting the blue Cloak to an apprentice years later, while the Amulet remained in Strange's possession - although Deadpool did steal it once.)
So by the looks of The Death of Doctor Strange #1, Doogie Strange is a first-year version of Doctor Strange who hasn't completed his training under the Ancient One. He isn't even the Sorcerer Supreme at this stage - that wouldn't be until ten years later, in publication time.
How did Doctor Strange plan for Doogie Strange?
Strange was around when the whole 'Teen Tony' thing happened, but the first-person narration from Strange in The Death of Doctor Strange #1 reveals the plan is inspired by something much older - a 300+-year-old character from Russian folklore called Koschei.
(Yes, the same Koschlei, 'The Deathless,' that Mike Mignola has adapted as a character in his Mignolaverse family of characters with Hellboy recently.)
There are various versions of the Koschei folklore, but the common element is that he was an evil mage who attempted to become immortal by saving a piece of his soul away and hiding it inside an object - similar to how a Horcrux is used by Voldemort in the Harry Potter mythology.
According to Strange's narration, the Sorcerer Supreme did the same as a failsafe in case he was killed. And now it's being put to use.
As the first issue ends, it's a story on two fronts - one to find out who murdered Doctor Strange, but then at the same time also stepping into the breach Strange left to protect Earth against other-dimensional invasions and other magic calamities.
It remains to be seen if Doogie Strange is just here temporarily, or will be pressed into full-time duty beyond just this series.
Marvel has said the next Sorcerer Supreme of Earth will be named in December - and we've got a shortlist of potential Sorcerer Supremes already going.