It's rough seeing Doctor Strange nowadays. He doesn't have a Sanctum Sanctorum, he doesn't have his Cape of Levitation, he doesn't have his All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto. He's now just a regular guy in a trench coat whose suave mustache is the only clue to any casual viewer that he's someone extraordinary and not a random pervert fresh from some half decayed porno theater.
At some point in the last couple of years Marvel seems to have become ashamed of its magic characters, sweeping under the carpet any character whose existence didn't fit logically in a world where radiation gives men super powers and so of course Doctor Strange, Marvel's living embodiment of magic, was the one to receive the most downgrading. They scrubbed away all the most intriguing Ditkonian elements away from, leaving him to seem like nothing special at all.
If such treatment were done to some random C-lister from the 70s like Adam Warlock there wouldn't be much reason for concern, but this is Doctor Strange, he's a staple of the Marvel universe. In his earliest adventures Steve Ditko defied conventions and created a world of psychedelic imagery combined with postmodern art thereby influencing numerous artists for generations to come. Then in the 1970s Steve Englehart would use the character to explore the metaphysical and spiritual concerns which helped to usher in deeper storytelling in comics. Then in the 80s Roger Stern would begin an epic run on the character that ranks among Stern's best work. Since then the character has been in miniseries featuring some of the best talents in comics; Brian K. Vaughn, Peter Milligan, Brendan McCarthy, Mike Allred, Tony Harris. In case you were not aware those people have got ALL KINDS of Eisners. My point is Strange has had numerous classic stories and clearly draws the attention of significant talent.
I think Marvel's just ashamed of the camp. Despite my argument in how great Doctor Strange is, I have to admit that he's also kind of corny. He's the guy who shouts "By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!" or "By the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto". Then there's the wild hand gestures, the mustache, and that costume that brings to mind a mix between a Dio album cover and Joseph's Technicolor Dreamcoat. And Wong, he's got an Asian servant named Wong. It's no wonder that the character spawned a hilarious parody in Doctor Orpheus on Adult Swim's "Venture Bros", because to his very core he is pretty goofy. Maybe this is why Marvel has been so aggressive about cleaning house on the character, seeing just what needed to be removed to make the character seem serious. But instead of making him better focused it just caused him to tumble further and further away from what made him appealing. It's just one of those unfortunate side effects of a comic audience demanding "serious" storytelling.
But I can't say Marvel didn't try, in the 2000s there were a slew of fantastic miniseries. Marvel didn't radically change Strange in any of these stories, instead trying to sell the classic version of the character to today's audience. They even went as far as to get some of their best creative minds to work on these titles. But despite their best efforts no one read them. After that they passed him along to Brian Michael Bendis to see what he could do. Needless to say that lead to how things are now.
But maybe this dark time for the character is on its way out. Matt Fraction will be writing a new Defenders ongoing featuring Doctor Strange. Fraction sounds like he has some solid ideas which will definitely take advantage of this character. I won't lie, the part I find most exciting is seeing Strange in promo art wearing what appears to be a goofy red vest over a black body suit, it's no flowing cape that looks like an old Indian rug but it'll do.