Jason Aaron (W), Kevin Nowlan, Leonardo Romero (A) Kevin Nowlan, Jordie Bellaire (C)
Cover by Kevin Nowlan
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I was kind of surprised when I realized that I hadn’t actually talked about the current Doctor Strange series yet. I’m the B-List Defender, and Stephen Strange hasn’t had a solo comic series in about a decade. More than that, this is a unique and character-focused series that is really good.
I was caught off-guard by how good this book is. That’s not to slag off Jason Aaron or the Sorcerer Supreme himself. Aaron has written some good stuff, and I’ve always liked Doctor Strange. I’m just not generally into magic stories, and the first issue was kind of…2010sie, if that makes sense. Stephen himself was fast-talking and weird, and he got a new, quirky young woman assistant. That has become a series of tropes common in comics recently. I think it’s partially due to the success of Doctor Who in the past few years (a show that I do adore, mind you). Not all comics that have these tropes are bad, it’s just, you know, you see a storytelling pattern and it starts bothering you. Invincible Iron Man does it with Friday and Mary Jane, Doctor Strange sort of does it, and Silver Surfer does nothing but it going on (that comic is Doctor Who in everything but name.).
But I digress. This comic actually made use of those tropes. Doctor Strange is fast-talking and arrogant because he needs to be, and this comic shows it well. He talks fast to distract himself from the horrific and eldritch world in which he lives. He’s arrogant because he needs to be as Sorcerer Supreme. The quirky female assistant, Zelma Stanton, though her character is not very well explored, grounds this book some and provides some appreciated comic relief.
This issue picks up in the aftermath of the Last Days of Magic story, where an extradimensional science cult, the Empirikul, came to Earth and destroyed all sources of magic. Doctor Strange and the other sorcerers of the world were only barely able to stop them before they killed magic completely.
This issue is one of those “breather” issues I love so much. Stephen, Zelma, and Wong are all trying to pick up the pieces in the shadow of what has happened. Strange is trying to cultivate magic wherever he sees it while ruminating on his past. Zelma is trying to compile the remaining spells in the world. Wong is shutting down the cult of followers that had been serving him and Strange in the shadows.
That’s pretty much the gist of the issue with the exception of a surprise return that I won’t spoil here. I will say it’s a classic Strange villain, and it has me pretty excited for the next issue.
This comic has always done one very smart thing; it keeps itself grounded in between all the spell-weaving and dimension-crossing. It’s a pretty funny contrast to the way the trailers for the Doctor Strange movie are painting themselves. The trailers look epic and surreal, and this comic pretty much replies with “Yeah, Stephen does all that stuff, but he sometimes reads books and goes to a bar with no doors and a floating-head bartender.”
None of that is to insult the trailers of course. That movie looks amazing.
This issue does a really good job at cooling down after the big Last Days of Magic climax. It’s all very downbeat and bare bones feeling. Strange is just trying to figure out what comes next while doing what he can to protect the world from violent magic-based forces. The flashbacks feel appropriate, because you can understand why Strange would be looking to his past to figure out what to do in the present.
The humor is still here with Strange and Stanton. The dialogue is witty. The pacing is appropriately slowed down. This is one of those comics that does a lot by only doing a little.
I was a little disappointed to see Bachalo leave as the artist. His art is wild and fits the comic perfectly. I do hope he comes back, but, if he doesn’t, Nowlan and Romero have done a fine job with this issue. They keep the aesthetic qualities that make this comic unique, particularly the weird flowing ethereal objects that float by from time-to-time on the page.
This book is a good and calm read. It won’t change your life, and I won’t say it’s “necessary” to understanding all forthcoming Doctor Strange stories. However, it is a perfect encapsulation of what makes this comic work. With a strange yet grounded tone and a compelling lead character, Doctor Strange nails another great issue.
Final Score: 8/10