Nicodemus West

nicodemuswestfilmPenultimate character appearing in Doctor Strange is a supporting one, belonging to Stephen Strange‘s civilian life: Nicodemus West, portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg. In the movie, West is a pretty skilled doctor, who has the misfortune of working in the same hospital as medical rockstar Stephen Strange, so that only his failures receive the spotlight, while Strange takes all the glory (well, since the film opens on him trying to take the organs from a patient who’s actually still alive, maybe this is not exactly an injustice). Along with many other things, Strange will also learn to trust him during his training in Kamar-Taj. In the comics, West is a doctor and a colleague of Strange’s, but he has a deeper evolution, especially in recent times: let’s see together.

Born and raised in New York City, Nicodemus West was a brilliant young man, who studied to become a doctor. His all-time idol was Stephen Strange, a genius surgeon who accomplished a number of nearly impossible operations: West specialised in surgery just to become like him, and he himself became an extremely gifted surgeon, one of the absolute best in New York Hospital. During a terrible car accident, Stephen Strange suffered severe injuries, and Nicodemus West was the one called to operate on him: during an exhausting intervention, West managed to save Strange’s life and even to save his hands, but he failed to repair the nerves, so that the doctor wouldn’t have been able to be a surgeon anymore. Nicodemus felt like he had failed as a doctor, and that his incompetence had brought his idol to abandon the profession; plus, he also felt guilty for all the people that now Strange was unable to save. Wanting to atone in some way, West started monitoring Strange, following with interest nicodemuswestcomics1his attempts to regain the use of his hands…until he lost him. Eager to know what was happening to his ex-colleague, West followed him to his last known location, Tibet, where he tracked his movements to Kamar-Taj, a hidden sanctuary on the mountains. West arrived little after Strange had completed his training and left, but the Ancient One, who had taught the ex-surgeon the ways of the mystic arts, sensed Nicodemus’ good heart and pain, and decided to take him in as a student as well. Nicodemus West proved to be skilled in the mystic arts as well, and he was a good student…but as soon as he was taught healing spells, he became anxious with healing all the world’s diseases with his newfound powers and he left Kamar-Taj before completing his training. On the border between India and Tibet West found a wounded girl, and he managed to heal her with a simple spell. He finally had found his true calling…maybe.

Believing he could heal anybody with his spells, Nicodemus West came back to New York City, and he accepted as a patient Reginald Pavlish, a popular lawyer and activist who had a terminal cancer, and who Strange refused to cure the year before because of his lack of money. West used a spell to stimulate the white cells to attack the tumor, but he lost control of the incantation, and the white cells started to attack the entire body, killing the man in minutes. West, intentioned to pay the price of his arrogance, was about to turn himself in, but at the last moment he was contacted by representatives of Timely Pharmaceuticals, a medical organization who was quite worried of the growing number of magic users who could make traditional medicine obsolete, mining their profit. Timely offered West a deal: he would have become the company’s CEO, under the condition of never using magic again and of helping them neutralizing other mystic users, in exchange of them covering his incident with Pavlish; persuaded that magic was more a damage than a blessing for medicine, West accepted the offer. For years, he directed the company, responding only to the Board of Directors, and he nicodemuswestcomics2discouraged the use of mystic arts in any way he could. When years later Doctor Strange acquired the Otkid’s Elixir to cure Wong‘s inoperable brain tumor, the Board ordered West to steal and destroy such a powerful artifact; Nicodemus sent the professional thief Brigand to do the job, equipping him with powerful mystical weapons, but not only the thief stole the Elixir, he also killed an innocent doctor and nearly killed Strange himself. Albeit he did not approve of Brigand’s methods, he didn’t disobey his superiors and prepared for the destruction of the formula. After disposing of the Marrakant Hellguard, a powerful demon West had summoned to finish Brigand’s job, Doctor Strange broke into Timely, confronting Nicodemus to claim the Elixir back: it was finally time for West to prove to the Sorcerer Supreme that magic could do not good to the world, and he would have used all his power to prove his point…at whatever cost.

Nicodemus West is a brilliant man, used to be the absolute best in his field…and who, for this same reason, has quite some problems in accepting his own failures. Being trained by the Ancient One, he’s a skilled sorcerer, able to cast some powerful spells, to use ancient artifacts (such as the Sands of Nisanti, that prevent any use of magic for three minutes in a restricted area) and to summon deadly demons; since he didn’t finish his training and he lacks of experience, however, he’s no match for a true sorcerer. Nicodemus West is mainly a man who lies to himsef, who prefers to believe that magic cannot be any good for mankind rather than to accept that his own inexperience and arrogance caused the death of a man he tried to save: guided by the best of intentions, the idealistic West fell into a trap set by his own unbearable sense of guilt.

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