Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

15 May 2010

Strange: The Doctor Is Out!

Collects: Strange #1-4 (2010)

Released: April 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 96 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785144250

What is this?: Stephen Strange, stripped of most of his magical might, muddles his way through the arcane world and meets a natural adept named Casey

The culprits: Writer Mark Waid and artist Emma Rios

I have a compulsion to buy new Dr. Strange material. I don’t know why; I’m often disappointed. (According to the ads inside the front cover, I managed to miss the Staczynski Strange mini somehow. Huh.) Anyway, this time the compulsion led me to Strange: The Doctor Is Out!.

Written by the veteran and reliable Mark Waid, Strange follows the former Sorcerer Supreme as he adjusts to not having (much) magic at his command. But while putting out a crisis, he runs into Casey, a plucky teenager girl who’s a natural adept. You can see where this is going — no, no, this isn’t a Clea situation.

Strange: The Doctor Is Out! coverThe pacing on this four-issue miniseries feels off. The first issue has Strange and Casey meeting and solving a crisis; Casey has to find him again in #2, which is followed by a satire of children’s beauty pageants in #3, and then a cataclysm in #4. (Isn’t that always the way? First Little Miss contests, then the magical apocalypse.) The beginning dwells too long on a plot that hardly needs to be given a quarter of the page total, and at the end, Silver Dagger comes out of nowhere to be a minor annoyance rather than the more serious threat the character deserves. The magical crisis in #4 seems all out of proportion to what came before it; it ramps up the tension from, say, a 4 to 11 and expects readers to go along with it. It doesn’t work, though; it takes more than a thinly veiled Wall Street malfeasance reference for me to believe all of magic is in such danger that Shaky Hands McStrange has to perform surgery on Eternity.

Along with being powerless, Strange seems brainless at times. With souls on the line in a baseball game vs. demons, Shaky decides to bat instead of a professional hitter. Strange doesn’t consider that giving an enchanted item and teaching a spell to a natural adept might have consequences if he isn’t there to guide her. He decides he’s the best candidate to operate on Eternity, despite his coordination and magical problems. He’s even outwitted by a not very subtle demon. That last wouldn’t be a problem alone, but combined with the others, it doesn’t make Strange look good.

There are a lot of different ways this could have gone that would have been better. I like the character of Casey, and I liked her interactions with Strange. A more down-to-Earth series, with Strange teaching her and dealing with her problems, would have been excellent. Or having Casey help Strange deal with his new status quo — without allies or magic — might have been entertaining. Instead, it’s a lot of fireworks and not enough character.

Strange and CaseyAs I mentioned in my review of Runways: Homeschooling, I’m not much for manga-influenced artists, and Emma Rios is no exception. Again, that’s a personal preference. But there are times when Rios’s storytelling is muddled — I’m a baseball fan, and I can’t tell what’s going on in the 2 ½ pages following the dropped third strike in #1, for instance. Rios’s design for Strange seems a bit stereotypical for manga / anime; I’m sure I’ve seen something very similar to Strange’s appearance on the title page in some anime, but it’s just escaping me. The glasses, hair, and fashion for Casey seem a bit stereotypical as well, although it’s as much an American stereotype as anything. On the other hand, Rios’s demons are creative and much more horrifying that the Technicolor goblins Marvel has used in the past, and those demons are a major part of the book.

Still, unless you’re a big fan of Rios’s work, there’s no reason to get Strange —unless Casey becomes an important character somewhere down the line.

Rating: Sanctum Sanctorum window symbol Half Sanctum Sanctorum  symbol (1.5 of 5)

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Blogger Marc said...

Bummer, I was actually really looking forward to this book. I'm a huge Dr. Strange fan, and I loved his two most recent series by JMS and BKV. But this seems like a missed's doubtful this will be the status quo for Dr. Strange forever, so why not make use of it? Have him trying to adjust to a normal, non-magical life for a while, perhaps (like you suggested) while trying to teach another person to do the things he no longer can do himself.

Oh well, maybe there'll be a sequel series of some kind that'll be more oriented towards fans of the character like us. Thanks for saving me the money on this one.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Raoul said...

I liked the Vaughan one as well (although as I said, I somehow missed the JMS one). It's almost as if Strange is living in denial in this one -- he still thinks he has to save reality all the time instead of the "real" Sorcerer Supreme. His lack of magic makes no difference i the end -- he still does the same stuff as always.

2:37 PM  

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