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What Only True Marvel Fans Know About The Ancient One


Doctor Strange is no one without the Ancient
One. The character is now known for Tilda Swinton’s
gender-swapped portrayal in the MCU, but he has decades of comic-book history that predate
her offbeat incarnation. A lot of classic comic book heroes aren’t
as old as we think they are. Storm, for example, is a huge part of the
X-Men, but she was first introduced over a decade after the first X-Men comics hit the
stands. It’s actually pretty rare that the most iconic
parts of a superhero’s world are present at the start. The Ancient One, on the other hand, has been
a part of Doctor Strange’s story from the very beginning. “Thank you, Ancient One, for seeing me.” “You’re very welcome.” The Ancient One made his debut in the same
story that introduced the Sorcerer Supreme, in 1963’s Strange Tales #110, when Strange
visits “the Master,” who sits alone in a hidden temple somewhere in “the remote vastness of
Asia.” Later, he lends Strange some of his power,
and with that, their relationship is established: old man and young, teacher and pupil, a sorcerer
and his successor. For a very long time, that first appearance
gave us virtually all we knew about the Ancient One, but in 1966, Denny O’Neil and Bill Everettl
plumbed the depths of his fathomless soul in Strange Tales #148’s “The Origin of The
Ancient One!” It turned out that the Ancient One wasn’t
born magical. Five hundred years in the past, he was a simple
farmer in the Himalayas, living a peaceful, idyllic life, but that wasn’t enough for the
unnamed youth who would become the Ancient One, or his friend Kaluu. Together, they would delve into the supernatural,
one towards enlightenment, the other to domination and conquest. The resulting conflict would destroy their
homeland, and five centuries later, they would meet again to settle their ancient scores. Fortunately for the world, only one of them
had Doctor Strange on his side. Can the Ancient One die? It’s a tough question, but we’ve seen it happen
in the MCU, so what about the comics? Is this Master of the Mystic Arts truly immortal? In 1973, we found out once and for all, and
the answer is…sort of? Death is already a pretty weird concept in
comics, and it only gets weirder if you’re an immortal being whose powers spread beyond
the mortal plane. The closest the Ancient One has come was a
storyline in the pages of Marvel Premiere that saw the eldritch being known as Shuma-Gorath
invading the Ancient One’s mind. The Ancient One commands Doctor Strange to
destroy his mentor’s mortal form, condemning him to death while trapping Shuma-Gorath and
saving the world. Strange does, but then a spectral version
of the Ancient One informs his grieving student that he is “more than alive” now that he has
become “one with the universe.” In true comic book fashion, death wasn’t the
end for the Ancient One, but his return to the mortal world was a little rougher than
most. In a 1977 storyline called “The Return of
the Ancient One,” Doctor Strange’s all-powerful mentor does indeed come back to life as a
side-effect of one of Strange’s many battles against unknowable cosmic horrors. He’s not the regular Ancient One, though. This time, he’s back as a down-on-his-luck
alcoholic, using his magic to ensure an ever-flowing supply of alcohol. Strange eventually discovered the Ancient
One in an alley, casting petty spells on those who intrude upon his drunken stupor, yanked
from his eternal rest in a “soul shattering” transformation. Disoriented, he took refuge in a mortal shell
and drank to dull the shock of his rude awakening and maintain his powers. Naturally, Doctor Strange saves the day and
the Ancient One is able to shuffle off the mortal coil once more, “to be one with the
universe.” But for a moment, he had to be mortal again,
a despairing, all-too-human mortal without the power of the cosmos at his fingers. It’s a lesson he and Strange never forget. Despite the fact that the character has almost
50 years of comics behind him, most people will know the Ancient One as an ageless Celtic
woman played by Tilda Swinton. This is not, however, the only time the Ancient
One has made the leap from the page to the screen. The first came in 1978, as part of the failed
pilot turned TV movie version of Dr. Strange. Here, the Ancient One was a bodiless entity
voiced by actor Michael Ansara. The Ancient One next appeared in the 1990s
Spider-Man: The Animated Series, where he featured briefly in an episode titled, you
guessed it, “Doctor Strange.” Most recently in animation, he was part of
the 2007 Marvel animated feature Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. Perhaps his most notable recent adaptation,
however, comes from his place in the Marvel video games, particularly 2006’s Marvel: Ultimate
Alliance. He only appears as a fogged image in a mirror
in Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, but he actually speaks with multiple characters. Too bad for him that one of them is Deadpool. “Who dares disturb my meditation?” “Grampy! Is that you?” So, we’ve learned that the Ancient One is
boundlessly powerful, to the point that not even death has a hold on him. We’ve learned that he’s such a huge part of
Stephen Strange’s story that when the good doctor appears in movies, cartoons, or video
games, the Ancient One usually shows up too. We’ve learned that his expertise came at a
terrible price he can never truly repay. “Yes, but you’re leaving out the most important
part.” What haven’t we learned? His name. Despite the many aspects of the Ancient One
that have changed with the times, he’s never been given a name beyond his title. The official Marvel website and the comics
refer to him only as “a youth” in the past and “the Ancient One” in the present. Whoever he was, he isn’t any longer. And he’s pretty okay with that. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Looper videos about your favorite
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