Loki: Sorcerer Supreme Part 1: (Doctor Strange #381 Comic Review)

Legacy begins for Doctor Strange and its time to move over Stephen, there’s a new Sorcerer Supreme in town. Raising the stakes…and the house, Loki gets to grips with the role of being the magical defender of the realm as well as taking on the irrepressible Zelma Stanton. Also as Wanda is waiting in the wings to give her two cents can the Thunder God be far behind? Look out Loki Laufeyson, you won’t know what’s hit you!

DOCTOR STRANGE #381
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Cover Artists: Mike Del Mundo
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What You Need to Know:
After his defeat of anti-magic zealots from another dimension Strange has suffered a crippling blow in the form of poisoning whilst on a quest to find magical artifacts in a realm of decreased magic to help him defend the world. Saved by the sacrifice of his friend, the librarian Zelma Stanton who took on some of the poison to save him, he has, in turn, bequeathed her magical defenses of her own which have, in turn, weakened him. All of which is against the wishes of his former assistant Wong, who has since gone and left the two alone in Bleeker Street and we find Zelma as is his apprentice. In short order, both have had to deal with possession and help each other through the turmoil of recent months all while Zelma learns the ropes.

What You’ll Find Out:
We find ourselves on the familiar front path of 177A Bleeker Street, with a couple of noticeable exceptions. Firstly it’s seemingly under new management since last we visited. Secondly, it is also currently floating above the ground. About twenty feet or so to be more precise. A fact that seems not to have phased Zelma Stanton in the least as she arrives home to find a visitor wearing dark glasses waiting as she searches her bag, seemingly for her keys. Reassuringly he himself IS shocked to find the Doctors domicile in mid-air as Zelma calmly informs him “he’s not home” and he isn’t keen on walk-ins, hence the new high profile of the house apparently. As she explains she pulls out a stepladder from her purse, which is lucky considering, and far more practical than keys anyway. The visitor goes on to explain he is no stranger to weird happenings as he is currently convinced his eyeballs are haunted. Not missing a beat she asks if its one spirit for both or one for each eye. He confirms they are arguing with each other, so deduces it must be two. Our girl calmly tells him she can deal with it as she maneuvers the ladder to the doorstep and they climb up to the entrance.

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Meanwhile, a reassuring narrator informs us things have changed somewhat, which is lucky for those of us who thought we’d missed something and goes on to inform us all an explanation will follow soon. Upon following Zelma up the ladder our visitor arrives at the threshold and exclaims surprise as he comes face to face with what looks like giant snakes and glass-like liquid globules competing for airspace with birds in the gravitationally challenged environment. As if all this is perfectly normal Zelma asks her houseguest to remove his shoes and offers him refreshment in the form of cucumber sandwiches and tea, which the snakes will thoughtfully bring them if he desires. As if on cue a trio of more manageably sized snakes politely welcome her and it’s soon clear they are endeavoring to ingratiate themselves on her so she will put in a good word with the master of the house, who is still seemingly absent. As she assures them she will do so she guides the guest past a heavily chained wooden door with an ax buried in it and deftly avoids his questions as she leads him to the library.

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Clearly proud of her latest organizational achievements she welcomes him into the library declaring it to be the greatest in the ten realms, admitting it could be hyperbole as it’s simply what she was told, musing on the fact that she also heard the one in Asgard smells of goats. Now how does she know this we wonder… All this is too much for the man, who asks her where “he” is and Zelma is forced to admit she hasn’t heard from Stephen in ages. Clearly, something has happened as she goes on to mention the stuff in the news and on social media is all true. He interrupts her saying he isn’t interested in Stephen Strange, he wants to know what has happened to the REAL Sorcerer Supreme, where is Loki. Cue the narrator. Doctor Strange informs us that what we are hearing is, in fact, the truth. Loki IS the Sorcerer Supreme. He goes on to recount a tale of lost tournaments and fields our obvious questions just in time to be interrupted by the Trickster God himself who we can see do battle with Vampa-Cabra Warriors while defending a prone snake/spider hybrid female from the goat-like demons in some far off dimension.

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Narration duties switch to Loki who it seems is drinking ale in The Bar With No Doors, the magical watering hole for those of a mystical bent, telling anyone who will listen of his magical prowess in his recent battle and stating he is the new Sorcerer Supreme. His audience includes a more than skeptical Wanda Maximoff, who marvels at his seeming inability to even manage being the god of Lies. She is incredulous to his story and says even half the amount of magic he claims to have utilised comes with a price. To which Loki offers a rebuke that this rule is a nonsense and he plans to simply do away with it. Count Kaos agrees with Wanda, hinting that to be a god of something should mean they are actually good at it, making the mistake of mentioning the “T” word. This apparently doesn’t irk Loki at all, however, who simply smiles and says that he believes his audience should be able to go about their magical business without having to deal with such banalities as paying a price or obeying rules. He continues his pitch telling the crowd they should come to him and assures them he can “eat” the price. This is all too much for Lord Kaos who smells a rat and knows that Loki has something up his sleeve. Loki admits that as a newbie he is asking them for help in return of his eating of sins and mentions that he doesn’t have the keys to a certain room he wants access to and it clearly bugs him. Thus answering the question of who has been attacking the door we have witnessed in the house on Bleeker Street. Also in a deft attempt at minimising the importance of the room he makes mention of a spell called The Exile Of Singhsoon. This is met with immense amusement by the gathering crowd which seems to include every mystical being in the Marvel universe. Kaos continues mocking Loki for not only playing at being Sorcerer Supreme but also for donning the clothes of Doctor Strange and calls him a maniac, telling him even if anyone knew the spell they wouldn’t tell him about it. Finally, Loki has had enough and with an eldritch glow to his eyes, he binds him with arcane glowing bands and insisting he is the Sorcerer Supreme threatens to turn him inside out for his transgression. The bar owner, a floating head in a jar, has also had enough and as the mood has clearly switched sees fit to tell Loki to leave his bar, whereupon Loki makes the bar simply cease to exist, spilling all of the shocked patrons including Damian Hellstrom, Shaman and Brother Voodoo, himself a former Sorcerer Supreme, out onto the street.

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Insisting he only came to help and they know how to reach him if they need to, he storms off and texts Zelma that things at the bar ‘got weird’ and he is convinced he isn’t doing it right, though he has clearly mastered text speak. Just as an ominous rumbling distracts him he barely has time to send another text full of emojis, that he is going to be late, when he is faced with Thor. As she begins to tell him she is wise to him he simply removes the cloak and Eye of Agamotto, thrusts it at her and tells her he should give up, isn’t up to convincing people he has changed. She is clearly taken aback and asks what he’s really up to. He reminds her that as Sorcerer Supreme Strange nearly lost Earth to the man who tore the cloak to pieces and it was HE who managed to piece it back together. Unimpressed by his needlework skills she again asks him as to what he is doing. Insisting he only wants to help he tells her if she takes him back to Asgard and prison she will leave Earth defenseless. As earlier with Wanda, Thor finds it hard to believe him. In order to convince her he transports her to the Appalachian Mountains, which she is shocked to see he accomplishes without even uttering a spell. Loki states that to shout spells only serves to inform attackers of intent and is foolhardy. He goes on to show her what he brought her there to witness. A group of Frost Giants is preparing for battle and she is shocked to realize Asgard is completely unaware of their presence on Midgard. Loki reassures her that although they have used stolen magic and passed the notice of Heimdall, as Sorcerer Supreme he sees all. Thanking him, she impresses on him the importance of not wasting the chance and that she will be watching. Unperturbed Loki assures her that he knows, watching her depart to deal with the new threat and wishes her luck as he teleports to who knows where most likely to catch up with Zelma.

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Meanwhile, Wanda is on the warpath. Demanding answers, she seeks out Stephen Strange and finds he has swapped his cloak and Eye of Agamotto for a white lab coat and stethoscope. Hands thrust resolutely in his pockets, he is seemingly unrepentant and insists she lower her tone and goes on to tell her he has retired. Wanda balks and says he can’t simply give up and retire just because he got beat and isn’t the Sorcerer Supreme anymore and should get his head back in the game. Strange informs her that it is pointless to insult him, he didn’t learn magic to be a hero but to heal his hands and help others and though he isn’t happy Loki has his title there is little he can do about it. Turning to leave Wanda throws one final insult at him as a parting gift, calling him Doctor Doolittle. As she slams the door a voice nearby asks who Doctor Doolittle is and Stephen looks down to see a Bassett Hound wearing a cone collar and explains the reference. To which the dog looks up and voices his opinion that it is a pretty good joke.
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What Just Happened?
From the start, the quirky humor is apparent without being overtly obvious or seeming forced to angle for laughs alone. Reminding me of the best of the Vertigo line it has a lot in common with Books Of Magic. With its equal parts dark and funny humor and sense of the bizarre and magical elements in a mundane world, as well as the standout deadpan character of Zelma it delivers on all counts and in a balanced way. Witticisms at the drop of a Horned crown and still no indication as to what has happened to our good Doctor. Which brings us to the dilemma at hand. Although it could have been jarring not having the titular character present from the offset she helps smooth the transition and the narration from Strange goes part way to calm any fears of confusion. As a character used to inform us of the world of magic she is more than a plot device and a unique visual into the world she is thrust into. She is the calm in the eye of the storm. The snakes trying to convince her to put in a good word for them and similarly the floating belongings don’t phase her in the slightest and it is all perfectly in character for these last few issues and the things she has been witness to. Also, she doesn’t bat an eyelid when a man tells her his eyes are haunted. Just asks if it’s a separate spirit for each eye. She’s a superstar and she’s taking it all in her stride, on top of which she has organized Strange’s library to conform to Dewey Decimal system. I love it, this appeals to my sense of OCD. On top of which she has also exhibited that oft magical feminine trick of being able to conjure anything from out of a seemingly bottomless purse (or handbag to us Brits).
Cut to the bar with Loki boasting of his exploits to an incredulous audience and you could be forgiven for thinking the movie universe had crossed over and he is getting revenge for his prat-fall at the hands of Doctor Strange when he and Thor recently visited him in Bleeker Street in Thor Ragnarok. Not to be outdone in cameo appearances Thor also shows up to deliver the never-ending Asgardian “I’m watching you” tactic to the heir apparent in his role of Sorcerer Supreme. And he deftly turns the tables on her and proves to her he is a force for good by revealing the presence of Frost Giants? Now how DID they get there and how did they remain hidden so long? I’m sensing more is to come on that score. Also, later on, we are treated to a bespectacled Strange being admonished by Wanda, it’s funny how different people look wearing glasses, isn’t it? She proceeds in telling Stephen to get his head back in the game….hello? Pot/kettle much? The dialogue between them is a nice turnaround and harkens back to similar situations between them, with a distinct role reversal in recent years. The standout moment for me was the tête-à-tête between our newly demoted veterinarian and his hirsute pint-sized ally in the cone collar. Sheer sidekick magic happening right there. I want to see more of this.

Rating: 7/10

Final Thought: Following on in the format of all Legacy initial issues we also have a great little recounting of the origin of Doctor Strange. Written by Robbie Thompson with art by Nico Henrichon its a fitting swan song for the artist of the last few issues who will be sorely missed. However, the title is in good hands as the colors of Jordie Bellaire are a good match for Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art. Similarly the writing talents of Donny Cates transition so smoothly it feels good to see the team is warming to the task, especially given the arc is a complete role change for everyone concerned, artist, writer, colorist, Dog Whispering Doctor and God of Lies alike.

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