Marvel Comics has, over decades, with the help of countless creators, invented one of the most epic and sprawling worlds that exists in all of fiction. Of the hundreds of characters that comprise the central superhero world alone, it’s understandable that some will fall through the cracks or fail to gain proper representation, despite how intrinsically cool their concepts are.
One such underrepresented character is Clea, the ex-wife of Doctor Strange who trained with him and eventually became Sorcerer Supreme in her own right. Despite years of appearances, Clea has yet to have a truly defining character arc and tends to show up as the under-characterized student, sidekick, and girlfriend of Doctor Strange. Reduced to the status of Mary Sue for the Master of the Mystic Arts Stephen Strange, there is a lot more to Clea’s story than has ever been told.
For the first couple years of appearances, Clea wasn’t even given a name, and was referred to as “silver-haired girl.” She was held captive by Strange’s nemesis The Dread Dormammu. Strange brings his fight to his enemy’s door and discovers Clea along the way. Dormammu is shown to have a sister named Umar, and it was Umar that gave birth to Clea. It has never been clearly stated when exactly that occurred, a result of the complete lack of focus on her character over the years, but she is believed to be thousands of years old. When she escaped with Stephen, she became his pupil and girlfriend for years.
Clea’s father was the ruler of the so-called Dark Dimension, of which she herself would eventually become Sorcerer Supreme over. Both Clea and her mother are Faltines, a race of beings made of pure magical energy. Faltines exist in their own universe, but both Dormammu and Umar were banished forever when they murdered one of their fellow beings. As they invaded the Dark Dimension together, Umar met the disciple of Dormammu known as Orini, father of Clea. They had sex, but she was immediately disgusted by and disdainful of him. Growing frustrated with her position in life, she lashed out at her brother and was banished to a pocket world within the Dark Dimension. Clea appears to have spent most of her childhood essentially parentless. It wasn’t until years later that she even discovered that Umar was her mother.
Eventually, Clea came up against her mother in battle and defeated her. Afterward, she exposed her mother as an uncaring tyrant, which led to Clea herself gaining rule over the Dark Dimension. Although she and Strange married at this time, her responsibilities there kept them apart often, until Dormammu ultimately returned to reclaim his throne. Surprisingly, Umar and Clea seemed to more or less reconcile at this time as they defeated Dormammu with the assistance of Strange. She returned to Earth with Strange, but their union was never consistent, and she was gone again with their marriage annulled before long.
One interesting thing about Clea’s character is that it is implied that when she isn’t on-panel with Stephen Strange, she is on her own waging an unending thousand year war against Dormammu’s tyranny in the Dark Dimension. Clea has bested villains that Strange himself has struggled with like Umar and The Enchantress, and has proven herself to be the student that became the teacher and, in some ways, surpassed Strange’s power.
In Fearless Defenders, Clea was shown to have the power of resurrection, which Strange is not known to have. She returned Annabelle Riggs to life after she had fallen in battle. Initially reluctant, Clea eventually allows herself to be coaxed into helping Valkyrie return Riggs to the waking world. This flexibility of morality is seldom seen in comics and is indeed one of Clea’s most intriguing traits. Besides that, while she did help the Defenders, she did so by forcing the two women to share a single host body, which is another reminder that one must always read the fine print at the bottom of any contract with Clea Strange.
While she definitely isn’t given enough focus in the standard Marvel Universe, the 616, she has appeared in parallel realities on occasion. In the Earth X Universe, a major plot point of the story revealed Clea to have attempted to kill Strange and steal his power to appease her lover Loki. She is imprisoned in Asgard, but Strange feels bad for failing to meet her needs and travels to free her. They are briefly reunited, but ultimately Clea insists that he will never be able to understand her. Although portraying Clea as a sympathetic character didn’t seem to be high on the list of priorities in the Earth X universe, her position remains understandable. It may be dismissive at best for Strange to attribute her antipathy for him and her attraction to Loki as simply being a byproduct of his neglect of her when there are in fact a number of perfectly valid reasons to want to betray Stephen Strange if you are Clea. When she insists he doesn’t get where she’s coming from, that is actually consistent across realities.
Despite years of mishandling or just flatout ignoring Clea, there’s a lot to like about her. The lack of focus on her past and the implication that she has a significant and long history before her meeting of Stephen Strange makes it seem odd that there hasn’t been a stronger focus on her character. The fact that Clea has stuck around so insistently over the years despite being shunted to the side in story after story indicates an appealing aspect to her character that has yet to be explored. Her role as Sorcerer Supreme of the Dark Dimensions is much too fascinating to leave unexplained.