A terrifying new day dawns in the life of the Sorcerer Supreme. Shut off from the world of magic Strange must look outwards to get in touch with that which he has lost and find new ways to regain his sense of magic.
DOCTOR STRANGE #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Jesús Saiz
Colors: Jesús Saiz
Letters: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover: Jesús Saiz
Variant Covers: Chris Bachalo & Tim Townsend; Gabriele Dell’Otto
Publisher: Marvel Comics
What You Need to Know:
Strange has returned to his Sanctum Sanctorum in Bleecker Street, ready to resume his mantle as the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme…or so we thought.
What You’ll Find Out:
We find Strange literally in the grip of Elder God X’axal a master of his own realm, completely at his mercy. Or so it seems. With little more than an incantation, Strange escapes his grasp and slips past him through a hastily created rift between dimensions. As X’axal and his minions attempt to slither through into our world Strange deftly invokes mystical bindings to seal the rift as a surgeon would a scar. Hovering invisible to the daily throng of the city he revels in his success shouting in victory to those who might challenge his mystical prowess.
However, that was seven years ago and Stephen has awoken to a new and dark day. He is blind to the magic that usually is plain as day to him. At first it is in one eye, but in a matter of days, he can see nothing of the magical realm at all. His books of spells are tomes of meaningless words, the very air that used to vibrate around him with magic is silent and the tools of his trade are mere trinkets. Even his home has reverted to that of the normal four walls we all know, with mere echoes teasing him from the edge of his perceptions.
Though he has had issues in the past, this is new territory for him and he is at a loss as to how best to deal with it. Unsure who to turn to for advice, it takes him a month to consult other wizards, but to no avail, he resorts to the belief that he is forced to live a normal life and be done with magic. That is until the pain in his hands, that has been kept at bay for so many years, returns. Only then does he decide to speak to a friend who himself knows something about picking himself up from a great fall. Iron Man himself, who sees the issue in engineering terms and is convinced it is physical burnout. As there is no chance of him taking the usual route of travel to alternate dimensions to recharge, due to his lack of ability to access those realms, Tony tells him he is missing the obvious option that is the cosmos, which will surely harbor other Sorcerers Supreme. Strange asks how he can get there and Tony offers to lend him a jump ship. When Stephen scoffs at the idea Tony reminds him he may have no option.
After a brief training session, Stephen takes to the stars and gives just a little insight into the feelings of helplessness he has in this unfamiliar element. As he heads into the Shi’ar system, not taking into account the path of a rogue asteroid his fears take on a grim reality. Too far from his target destination he helplessly plummets towards an uncharted planet, but luckily as he heads for a built-up civilization he finds himself targetted by a band of small ships with energy tethers, that bring him in for a relatively controlled landing.
But at what cost? As he takes in the surrounding civilization he finds an awe-inspiring, technologically advanced city. A vast distance away from his home planet he realizes he is completely at their mercy. As he disembarks the craft to greet his saviors he finds an imposing group of armed and militarised aliens, clearly the dominant life on the planet he finds himself marooned on. Taking advantage of the universal translator, provided by Stark technology, he immediately thanks the lead alien and offers restitution in the form of a meeting with that worlds magical representative but receives a reply he never could have expected.
What Just Happened?
Characters: Whereas the previous installment has a strong cast of supporting characters, these have all been completely removed from the board in one bold, clean sweep and the spotlight is forced once again on Doctor Strange alone. The last arc also ended on a high, with Strange back in his abode and once again awarded full mantle of Sorcerer Supreme and all the magical abilities that were his to wield. Also, thanks to Loki, all the magic has returned to the world that was once taken by the Empirikul. Here we find Strange once again mysteriously stripped bare of that. Before we cry foul though we need to look at the fact that a totally new angle is being approached here. Stephen has been to many different dimensions before and sought aid from many magical practitioners throughout time, from the likes of Merlin to Sir Isaac Newton. So it is interesting to have another man of science point out to him that, when all else is said and done, even if he is the only Sorcerer Supreme in this world, he can’t be the only one in this universe. It’s time to look to the stars and see what other things are out there for him to explore.
Art: Truly impressive. Jesús has the polished cinematic style of the rounded, accomplished artist. Having already worked for Marvel on such titles as Falcon, Avengers Strandoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill, Captain America: Steve Rogers and Invincible Iron Man, as well as having run the gamut in DC, you can see he is comfortable with the trappings of the superhero universe. Not only taking control of art and colors he manages to deliver a strikingly memorable cover too, a rarity that comic fans often hanker for in order to not feel cheated by opening an issue to find the interior art so vastly different from what is promised at first glance. However, it is a stark (pardon the pun) change from the style we have seen of late and it does seem devoid of the dark corners and the mystical ambiance we have become used to. It has the look and feel of throwing open the curtains after a grim nightmare onto a bright new day. Given that the opener is all about Stephen’s struggle with being ‘magicblind’ it may be appropriate and especially as he is hurtling into space, the epic trappings of the saga will help to ease in this new era. All throughout the art is crisp, clean and clear and even with the spectral images that bleed in and tease Strange as he stumbles blinded to the magic that is still around him nothing is left hidden, at least to us. From the start, just the background scenery alone is just as stunning as both the foreground characters and the action. The scene where Strange ‘stitches up’ X’axal is in itself pure perfection and completely photorealistic.
Writing: Mark Waid has completely turned things around on us here. We have lost Strange’s connection to magic. It’s still there, he just can’t access it. We have also lost the backlog of familiar characters surrounding Strange, they have been wiped clear from the game board and we are focussed on Stephen alone. And as if this weren’t enough, we have lost the inner monologue Donny gave us in the previous run. Personally speaking, it has kind of disassociated me from Strange in a way that makes me look at him as just another hero. To simply watch on and not become involved in what’s happening to him. Even as he loses all sense of magic around him I felt no angst for him. Before we could see into his mind and the insecurity that dwelt there, which lent itself to the narrative perfectly and informed the ongoing dilemma of his problems with the effect his life had on those around him and the price magic had. We also had a great mix of supporting characters who gave us the interest in what was going on, even if Strange himself at times wasn’t even present. Here we are spectator only, to what is going on around him and him alone. This method has of course been used before, but as the previous series was so deeply rooted in personal monologue and much interplay with others this is a little distancing and jarring. The drama of the issue did a terrific job of replacing that however and makes him once more the central focus of the story. But only time will tell if Mark can successfully bring it back to the core and focus solely on Strange himself. If the action takes centre stage and the inner workings of Stephen the person take a back seat then I’m sure it can be enough. It all depends on the new supporting cast added to the mix. That is, if they will even be needed. Also an intriguing angle is used here showing his reluctance to being behind the controls of a vehicle again. I don’t think I’ve seen that addressed before as he’s never needed to pilot a vehicle of any sort for so many years. As well as that little insight there is also the hint of the huge discomfort at being out of his element in space and so cut off from the world he knows. Not that of the planet he calls home, but the spiritual and mystical in contrast to the vastness of the cosmos.
It’s a bold new direction both with regards the writing and artistic style. Altogether the art and narrative styles have both changed drastically and of course, this will take a little getting used to. It helps that the team are both accomplished and extremely well versed at this. The title is at the very least in safe hands and it will be interesting to see where this goes. An intriguing use of Kadavus in the postscript also. Strange possesses the Crystal of Kadavus, first seen in Marvel Team-Up #21 and it is also used in the Marvel Heroes MMO game. I wonder if he himself will show up or if this is just a quirky narration tool for the letters page? This narration in the back also reminds me of the good old days of the Mekon, the arch-enemy of Dan Dare, being the guide into the world of Brit comic 2,000 AD.
Final Thought: Taking us into space, a not too familiar ground for Doctor Strange, Mark and Jesús have cleverly wiped the slate clean ready to give us a totally different take on the world of magic. Let’s see where the journey takes us.
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