REVIEW: Doctor Strange #388 (Bats In The Belfry)

Strange has had a hard time in Vegas and it is about to get a lot worse as he travels to another realm to battle for the right to his very soul with only his talking ghost dog for company.

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DOCTOR STRANGE #388
Author: Donny Cates
Artist: Niko Henrichon
Colors: Laurent Grossat
Letters: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover: Mike Del Mundo
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What You Need to Know:

After failing in a desperate gamble to win back the souls of the people of Las Vegas, Strange is being punished by Mephisto. Now the Lord of Hell has tricked him into believing Clea, Loki and the Scarlet Witch have come to rescue him and while he is pushing back the forces of who he thinks are the enemy, he is, in fact, fighting against the very heroes who are trying to save him.

What You’ll Find Out:

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NOTE: These events take place after those of Doctor Strange: Damnation #3.
After a brief recap of Bats the Basset where we are shown the events of Damnation #3, we are then introduced to what he saw when his spirit entered the body of Strange. He encounters Stephen in his glamoured state believing he is fighting for his freedom alongside Loki and Wanda and attempts to shake him out of it. When Strange dismisses him telling him he can’t be distracted the truth suddenly hits home, quite literally and Strange is left feeling foolish as the spell breaks.

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As they sit there in a blank white void Strange remarks at how impressed he is that such a glamour could be put on a disembodied soul and Bats attempts to shake him out of his reverie by asking what’s next. Stephen is unsure and begins to work out where they are, in what has become his usual second-guessing way of late. Bats remarks that it’s great to have such reliable info and Strange seems to go into a spiral of self-loathing. Bats is clearly having none of it and reminds him that he isn’t the only one to have had a bad time of it lately. After he is done ranting there is an awkward moment of silence before Strange apologizes and suggests they get out of there. Bats asks if Strange now has a plan and is reliably informed that while he was on his soapbox a rather obvious exit has made itself known and as they head for it they agree it is surely a trap.

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Even as they walk into a vast room full of nothing but people playing One Arm Bandits as far as the eye can see Strange and Bats remark that it is on point for Mephisto. As they walk along the hall watching in horror they guess that everyone is mindlessly playing for their very lives. Bats asks why they continue to play when the game is clearly rigged and Strange is in the process of explaining that people will always cling to hope even when there is none when he makes himself an example of the very point he is making as he sees someone he knows in the mindless throng. Clea herself is at a machine and as he rushes to her insisting she is the Inside Man Wong informed him of, Bats tries to explain that he is mistaken, the Inside Man was Scarlet Spider all along and Strange argues against this. As they near her the wheels of her machine stop spinning to reveal two sixes and an unhappy Emoji and the machine opens up and swallows her, dragging our two erstwhile heroes along for the ride.

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As they are dropped into a decidedly less than welcoming Necrotic Sub Realm they discuss the dangers around them while attempting to navigate their way to Clea, who is caught up by some giant tentacles. As it dawns on Strange just what they are witnessing a giant eye opens behind them and they turn in time to see the self-proclaimed Lord of the Nothing Realm they are trapped in announce itself and he commands they burn as a bolt of energy emanates from the giant eye, which Strange barely manages to fend off with a hastily raised barrier.

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Doctor Strange states Shuma-Gorath should not even be part of the realm around them as he fends off the continued attack and he begs Bats to run even as Bats declares he will stay by his side until the end. All seems lost and another burning bolt of heat approaches just as a voice from nowhere shouts “MONSTER” and Thor enters and deflects the blow. Strange watches on stunned as another voice tells him he needs to hurry while Thor does battle. Strange is further shocked to see Jane Foster appear and Thor flippantly invites them to by all means chat some more while she holds back the threat. Even as Stephen attempts to get to grips with what this all means and Jane mentions they all fell for the same bait, more voices chime in and we find she isn’t alone. Hawkeye, Black Panther, Falcon and Captain Marvel have joined the party and Captain Marvel gives Strange an invitation he can’t refuse.

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As they form up and begin a renewed attack Strange tells them Gorath has Clea and it falls to Bats to again refute the claim. Carol asks what he means but all questions are stopped when Gorath commands silence and declares that they trapped him there and he is the God of the Realm now and makes ready to attack again. Just then a mass of energy blasts the eye and Gorath screams blinded and retreats. Strange watches helplessly as Gorath disappears, still apparently having hold of Clea. As Falcon wonders where the attack came from and Strange laments the loss of his one-time companion and love a new arrival announces that Strange should be thanking him. Another player has entered the game, surrounded by an army of Mindless Ones, much to the shock of Strange.

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What Just Happened?

Still some unanswered questions. Is it REALLY Clea? And now added to that…who trapped Gorath in the Necrotic Soul Prison? The suspense is killing me. Some great lines this issue and all the dialogue is on point, not least of which poor Thor chiding everyone for small talk while she does all the heavy lifting. Given current events in The Mighty Thor, any appearance of Jane/Thor is a welcome one especially with such dripping tones of sarcasm. Donny Cates does what Donny does best with the opening narration and catch up, which is a hard thing to voice and keep interesting when breaking into new action. And Bats takes over as narrator of all things Strange this issue. I love Bats dialogue, it’s refreshing to have him as a foil for Strange now we don’t have Zelma around. Bats giving Strange a dressing down in the nether realm for feeling so sorry for himself is something truly tragic and also funny at the same time.

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The art of Nico Henrichon again shines even as the two central characters stand in a blank white nether realm and making the stark images draw in the eye right to the expressions of the two friends as they discuss their personal traumas. As well as the vast hall of Bandits and people playing for their very lives. The sheer hopelessness of the lost souls was palpable and is helped by the understated colors of Laurent Grossat but which thankfully switches to eye-achingly graphic when we witness the revelation of the Necrotic realm and the introduction to Shuma-Gorath in all his splendor. The rallying of all the heroes who have been possessed since the start of this arc is a great sight too. It’s good to see everyone is as capable as Strange of holding their own when things get bad. And even though Strange had that ‘over the shoulder’ moment several times when a new arrival showed up it never got old even right up til the end when Dormammu appeared. And yet another mind-bending cover from Mike Del Mundo. The Vegas theme is beautifully represented in those neon bright covers and this one is a perfect eye-popping representation of the twisted world shown inside.

Rating: 9/10

Final Thought: Even in his darkest hour Strange can rely on his friends to rally round, whether it’s a dust-up in a Necrotic Realm or a much needed mental slap round the chops from Bats.


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