Inversus

Doctor Strange vs. Gandalf: 'Falcon and Winter Soldier' asks. We answered.

“Gandalf! I’ve come to bargain!”

A sorcerer is a wizard without a hat. At least, that’s Sam Wilson’s take on it, based on the latest episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Bucky Barnes has his own theory though: there are no wizards, and Doctor Strange, despite all his powers, definitely doesn’t count.

Maybe it comes down to semantics. Maybe there really is a major difference between a sorcerer and a wizard, beyond just the hat. Either way, Sam and Bucky’s argument got us thinking: What would happen if Gandalf and Doctor Strange got into it?

Good thing we have Inversus to help us find out.

Putting aside the fact that Marvel Comics’ resident Sorcerer Supreme will never cross paths with the Tolkien Estate’s White Wizard, what reason would they have to fight? If anything, it’s easier to imagine two as allies. Stephen Strange and Gandalf both have a wealth of knowledge concerning mystical artifacts, and the larger ins and outs of the universe. Both are heroes at their core, driven by their own agendas but ultimately in service of the greater good. Perhaps in battling each other they’ll only emerge as stronger sorcerers… er, wizards. Let’s find out.

INVERSUS is an Inverse series that pits the best of the best against each other from all corners of the superhero omniverse…and beyond.

In the Red Corner: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange stands ready for battle.Marvel Studios

Standing at 6’2 and weighing 180 pounds, Doctor Strange is a Master of the Mystic Arts and the Sorcerer Supreme. He defends the Earth and the larger multiverse from supernatural threats.

Once a brilliant and arrogant surgeon, Stephen Strange was humbled after his hands were injured in an accident. Seeking a means to heal himself, Strange traveled to a monastery in Tibet where he learned to heal his hands through the mystic arts, under the tutelage of the Ancient One. Taking up residence in New York’s Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange has become an indispensable ally for Marvel’s heroes, from the street-level to the cosmic.

Stephen Strange first appeared in Marvel’s 1963 comic Strange Tales #110, and later made his MCU debut in Doctor Strange. (After being name-checked in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that is.) Strange’s ability to see every possible future proved essential in defeating Thanos during Avengers: Endgame. He’ll next be turning his attentions to the multiverse, and the growing powers of Wanda Maximoff, the newly dubbed Scarlet Witch.

Doctor Strange’s powers consist of vast magical abilities, too numerous to be quantified. He possesses the Eye of Agamotto, which in the MCU contains the Time Stone. He often makes use of energy blasts, flight, teleportation, intangibility, astral projection, conjuring, and dimensional travel. He also possesses universal awareness, allowing him to sense shifts in time and space. Beyond his magical abilities, Strange is also a skilled martial artist, proficient in sword and axe-fighting.

In the Blue Corner: Gandalf

Gandalf gears up for Strange times.Warner Bros.

Gandalf is whatever size he needs to be. As one of the Maiar, he is an immortal spirit who inhabits a physical body when he needs to. Though he is viewed as a wizard among the denizens of Middle-earth, J.R.R. Tolkien described him as being akin to an angel. And as such a creature, he stands as an ultimate good against the ultimate evil.

Once called Olórin, and later Mithrandir by the elves, Gandalf was tasked by the Creator to guide the world of men and offer council, rather than attempt to match Sauron’s strength with his own. As a wizard, Gandalf’s role was to guide the inhabitants of Middle-earth so that they might save themselves. While inhabiting the mortal body of Gandalf the Grey and later Gandalf the White, he aided men, elves, and hobbits in the battle against Sauron and the destruction of the One Ring.

Gandalf first appeared in 1937’s The Hobbit, which Bucky read when it first came out. He later made his live-action debut in the Lord of the Rings series, specifically The Fellowship of the Ring. Good-natured, and often symbolized by fire, Gandalf spent ages wandering the world of men, offering counsel until the conclusion of the War of the Ring in which he departed the world of men to spend immortality in the Undying Lands along with his horse, Shadowfax.

Gandalf is one of the most powerful beings in the universe. His abilities were somewhat restricted on Middle-earth while he possessed a physical form, but even there he is one of its most powerful beings, a wielder of the flame of Anor and servant of the Secret Fire. He has extrasensory abilities that allow him knowledge of the past, future, and the inner workings of the mind. The totality of his abilities is uncharted. He wields a staff and the elven sword Glamdring on Middle-earth; outside of it, he has no need for weapons. He is a divine being.

Doctor Strange vs. Gandalf: Fight!

“And my axe!”Chris Bachalo, Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange’s astral form has pierced the veil to a previously unexplored dimension. He is surrounded by white light, so bright that he is rendered blind. These are the Undying Lands.

He hears a voice, calm, reassuring. “You appear lost, little wizard.” Gandalf looks upon Stephen Strange, a strange descendent of man’s world. He peers into Strange’s inner-being, sees his past battles and the encounters that lie ahead. Gandalf realizes the man believes himself to be a great sorcerer, but he is too young to know otherwise. He has the potential to be great, but for now, he is merely a sapling, unaware of the sky he may one day reach.

Strange senses his thoughts being pried into. He panics in his blindness and attempts to cast the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak to bind the figure he senses in front of him. The spell fizzles before the words even leave his mouth. He then feels the Eye of Agamotto, revealing the Time Stone.

“Ah, such a curious trinket,” Gandalf says, admiring the green stone.

“It’s an Infinity Stone,” Strange says, fearful this stranger will take it from him. “I will defend it with my life.”

“No need,” Gandalf replies. “I have no desire for a mere crumb of the universe. You believe that stone is power. It is but a mote of dust in the grand scheme of all things.”

Doctor Strange reaches for the axe at his waist. Gandalf laughs. Had this been Middle-earth, he might have engaged in a clash of steel for the man’s amusement. But he was beyond such things now.

“Go home, little wizard,” he says. “Your world needs you. Though perhaps we shall meet again eons from now, and you can tell me what you learned in your old age, should you prove lucky enough to earn it.”

And with that, Gandalf thrusts Doctor Strange out of the Undying Lands and back into the Sanctum Santorum. Strange, his sight restored, stands on uneasy legs, and realizes that when it comes to the Mystic Arts, he has far more to learn than he could have possibly imagined.

Doctor Strange vs. Gandalf: The Verdict

Nice try, Stephen!Warner Bros.

Gandalf would immediately realize that Doctor Strange meant him no harm, and he would never expend the efforts to harm a weaker being. While Doctor Strange believes he has encountered great evil in his lifetime — Dormammu, Mephisto, Nightmare — it is nothing compared to Sauron’s might.

Gandalf has stood against evil for eons, before Doctor Strange was even a glimmer in his parents’ eyes. Gandalf would surely find amusement in what passes for magic on modern Earth, but Doctor Strange is nothing more than a bird flapping its wings in the wind and believing great change has been created.

Stephen Strange, a sorcerer? Indeed. But he’s no match for this wizard. The Inversus winner is… Gandalf.