Dr. Strange has always been one of the weirder superheroes out there. His powers are magic but he still likes to wear a skintight suit and beat up monsters and supervillains from time to time. He frequently encounters cosmic beings like the physical embodiment of Eternity. And his greatest enemy’s head is always on fire. Don’t get me wrong, Dr. Strange can be cool because of the weird. That said, having his wife fall hard for pudgy, old founding father Benjamin Franklin and sleeping with him is weird even for Dr. Strange. And it only gets weirder. Let’s take a look at this story, perhaps the least likely one to be used in Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange movie.
Steve Engleheart had a memorable run on Doctor Strange around 1974, writing issues #1-18 of the title. He’d previously written the character as a team member of The Defenders. It’s certainly a product of its time. Very trippy and metaphysical. Worlds are created and destroyed and bizarre, otherwordly creatures are constantly disguising themselves. Dr. Strange is often going into his astral form for out of body experiences. Like I said, it’s a product of its time, basically taking the hippie drug culture and turning it into a superheroic metaphor. But he was suddenly taken off the title with issue #18 and his editor, Marv Wolfman stepped in. That helps explain some of this, but not all.
Just to catch you up, Dr. Strange is a former arrogant surgeon who lost his ability to practice after a car accident. He seeks a way to rehabilitate himself and ultimately comes across the Ancient One who trains him in the mystical arts and ultimately bestows upon him the title of Sorcerer Supreme, tasked with defending Earth from other-dimensional invaders. Clea is Dr. Strange’s lover, disciple and eventually, wife (and shortly after that, ex-wife). She looks human but technically she’s from the energy beings called The Faltine, from the Dark Dimension. Her uncle is Dr. Strange’s nemesis, the Dread Dormammu.
Leading up to the final issue, Dr. Strange and his lover, Clea, had decided to travel through America’s past to learn about its occult history. This brought them across founding father, Benjamin Franklin. And wouldn’t you know it? Ben and Clea hit it off. They really seem to connect, you know? Gene Colan’s realistic and deeply shadowed art really ups the intimate vibe these two have going on in issue #18. So while Dr. Strange is off reading some books or fighting a Yeti or whatever, skeevy ‘ol Benji gives Clea some wine, lights some candles and presumably starts using his bedroom voice to drop lines like “I’m not a puritan, thank god!”
And they certainly appear to sleep together (to the extent comics were able to convey back in those days with the Comics Code stamp of approval needed on covers). Look at smooth pimpin’ Franklin put out the last candle with his bare hands. So manly. What woman couldn’t turn down his charms? He didn’t even need to humblebrag about discovering lightning. And then that’s how Engleheart’s run ended! With Dr. Strange’s lover getting it on with Ben Franklin!
Marv Wolfman quickly worked to undo it all. Dr. Strange shows up and retroactively changes things. He says that Ben Franklin was actually one of Dr. Strange’s enemies in disguise. Which enemy? Why his lamest one ever, Stygyro. Stygyro looked like this:
Yup, that’s the most cliche wizard ever. White beard, blue robe, staff and a goofy ass pointy hat with stars on it. No wonder this dude changed his appearance to look like Ben Franklin. Only a guy that looks like Stygyro would look more appealing to women by changing into an old, fat, bald guy with bifocals. But at least he still cuckolded Dr. Strange, right?
Well, no. Because the following issue Dr. Strange realizes that there’s an evil cabal of wizards that have been casting illusions leading to him revoking his Sorcerer Supreme status and a bunch of his powers. Which not only changed it so that Clea didn’t sleep with anyone, but even undid Engleheart’s last several issues where Earth had been destroyed and then rebuilt by Eternity as part of a cosmic wager. In just two issues Wolfman undid a bunch of Engleheart’s work. But if you left the title when Engleheart did, you saw Ben Franklin getting down with Dr. Strange’s special lady friend.