DOCTOR STRANGE #4
On a quest to reclaim the magic lost to him Stephen Strange set his sights on the stars. Crash landing on an alien world and becoming imprisoned he encountered an alien arcanologist Kanna and they escaped together. After a moment of mistrust, the two became thick as thieves, literally and Kanna helped him to reconnect with magic in ways he had never considered. Through a series of misadventures that would make Han Solo blush, she took him to see an old friend to help. But this brought them into conflict with the Super Skrull over an Infinity Stone. After intercepting the Time Stone in a way that risked both their lives, he went on to make her forget it even existed, compounding his arrogance with betrayal. Meanwhile back on Earth, Bats the Basset found a mysterious visitor to Strange’s home who he sensed was bringing bad news.
The opening dedication to Steve Ditko throughout all of this months issues was not only touching and informative but has special significance within the pages of Doctor Strange as co-creator of the character. With statements by a Who’s Who of movers and shakers within Marvel Comics, it goes to show how everyone has felt the impact and is a true testament to the talent that was lost to us all recently.
Characters: Until now I had a bit of a problem with Mark Waid’s interpretation of Strange as he was only being shown as a reflection of those around him and it was through their observations and explanations of his reasoning and behaviors that we got a sense of who he is and what his motivations are as well as what he is thinking. Donny Cates run made great use of getting into the head of the good Doctor and that avenue was cut off from us with the lack of internal narration and it seemed like either sheer luck or brilliance that the supporting cast was so well utilized in giving us their observations of what he is about. Issue #1 was Tony Stark, the previous two were Kanna and now this issue we learn everything we need to know from first Kanna, who points out his overconfidence and arrogance. She then has reason to be shocked again as Strange teleports them behind their pursuers and has the sheer arrogance to attack them when they easily could have escaped, a turn of events that clearly annoys Kanna. Another to give us insight into Strange’s ways is then his antagonist Roxnor, stating he is self-destructive and finally Eoffren who gets right to the heart of what is wrong with him. When Strange and Eoffren land unceremoniously on what is clearly a different world, as evidenced by too many suns in the sky and Strange is trying to tell him they need to get her back when he realizes Eoffren is storming off. Strange discovers Eoffren is scared of him and mistrusts him he believes Eoffren misunderstands his motives and protests he was only trying to help and what follows is a most uncomfortable first discussion between the two as Eoffren tells him that Kanna was right, he was a fool and no better than Roxnor. When he proceeds to give Strange some home truths about his lost connection to magic, including his motives for what he does and how they are intrinsically linked to his problems, saying the fury of someone stealing his toys radiates from him, Strange doesn’t take kindly to the wake up call and so Eoffren goes on to tell him he needs to get over himself if he is to save his friend, which finally gives Strange reason to stop and think.
So it seems now it IS brilliance and the insight into the insecurities is being more deftly explored here than was previously suspected. Cates dealt more with the power struggle of Loki and Strange, but Waid is dealing with the fallout as well as the blind arrogance of Strange all that time and though it looked as though the journey to the stars was skipping something and ignoring the past, it seems now as though that past plot is the stepping stone of this next saga.
Going forward I hope this will switch a little more to involve his own contemplation of the future discoveries, as it is a humanizing trait that will help get back into his mentality and not just show him as a cardboard cutout protagonist. Very intriguing that the villains of the piece are the race of aliens that are woven into the lore of The Runaways. Though their homeworld was destroyed by the Skrulls, it seems they are, like the Skrulls, eager to expand their base of operations. It will be interesting to see if Karolina Dean or Xavin show up in the saga. Also, Kanna finding that he has lost any trace of the memory of what has caused him to lose his connection to magic is disturbing and her asking Stephen who it was in the first place is also possibly a question that he should have asked himself at the very start. The star this issue, however, is Eoffren, who delivers a double shock to Strange, that not only is the source of all his problems obvious and the root of it is in his motivation, but he could simply make his own magical tools, instead of relying on borrowed magic. Eoffren is clearly baffled and as Strange expands to use the word tools, listing the few incantations he has. Eoffren asks why he doesn’t build his own. No more “of Shambata” he declares and Strange is dumbfounded to realize he’d never considered it before. To top it off, without uttering an incantation, Eoffren then effortlessly summons the Anomaly Rue, one of my personal favorite sigils within the Marvel universe, to take them to the Forge, which he proclaims as Strange’s new crib.
Art: Once again the cover is stupendous and shows the full cinematic drama as it unfolds. And the interior art matches perfectly, as always with Jesús Saiz. The depiction of the Majastanians is beautifully rendered and you almost feel the need to wear sunglasses looking at the solar-powered Light Brigade and feel the energy crackling off them. He also makes great use of the landscape and they are almost a character in and of themselves. From the action scenes of the escape and chase across the planet surface, the heart-stopping cliff dive with the adrenalin infused risk of death and heroic entrance of the Cloak of Levitation, right up to the breathtaking scenery of the workshop, where I was just as staggered by the majesty of the surrounding staging arena as Strange was.
Lettering: I love the opportunity to sing the praises of the letterer. It is so rare much can be said of their efforts and although their contribution is, of course, vital, it isn’t often they get a chance to shine. So it’s awesome to see the lettering used to visualize the drama in a way that has evolved so much since “POW and “BAM”. From the very start and Stephen shouting for his colleagues to get to the ship, Joe Sabino immediately gives the feeling that the drama is already in full swing and we get swept up in it without question. And the coup de grace is here in all its glory. Just in this one scene alone as Kanna screams Strange’s name we realize that the danger isn’t over as they fall to their imminent doom and their lives hang in the balance.
Writing: To say this issue begins in a very confusing way is an understatement. We open with Kanna and Stephen, inexplicably joined by the dwarf Eoffren of the Nidavellir, on the run from the Majastanians. Then just as suddenly we flashback to Kanna trying to glean from Strange why he has lost his connection to magic and who could be behind it, finding only that the memory of the incident is disturbingly gone, as if it never existed, then back again to the three runaways being cornered on a cliff edge. What follows is a confusing parallel telling of Strange getting his mojo back, despite there still being one old friend he can’t get in touch with, and the two breaking Eoffren out of his prison at the hands of Roxnor, the chief Majastanian Thaumaturge, who is using him to create a weapon to expand his peoples galactic reach. I almost feel as if someone was walking through the office at Marvel, dropped the finished script and shuffled it back together in a random way, hoping no one would notice it was all out of order. It is left to the spectacularly artful coloring palette to separate the various time settings in the narrative to help decipher which is leading up to the rescue, the event itself and the chase that follows after. The coloring is also perfect and was the saving grace in the confusing scene shifting and choppiness of the first half of the narrative, but would not help you differentiate if you were colorblind as they are shown in blue, green and red filters. Just as all seems lost with our heroes trapped literally at the cliffs edge and Kanna is cursing his arrogance she announces her equipment is done for.
The story only becomes linear again after Strange makes the leap of faith and Kanna sends the two boys off on a magical mystery tour, one we have been on for half the issue. After the first three issues, which tell a straightforward narrative, with logical motivation and characterization, this tale starts in the middle and chops back and forth for no apparent reason. Usually, this is a device reserved for a story that hides the end reveal in the ongoing plot, such as Memento. But here the end brings no surprise revelation that could not have been explored in the same linear way as the previous three installments. Just as it seems his adrenalin junkie stunt has gone horribly wrong the Cloak of Levitation swoops in from the ship, which is parked handily nearby and arrives to save the day, summoned by Strange. And suddenly the confusing narrative is finished and forgiven, the hiccup is done with and Strange gains the use of his cloak as it all begins to flow in an understandable fashion at last, with some great dialogue and insight into the plight Strange is facing. And even as Strange and Eoffren buddy up, the drama is heightened and a new wrinkle in the proceedings has revealed itself, as back in Castle Roxnor Kanna finds that to stop the Thaumaturge torturing his own subjects she must take the place of Eoffren to build the world-beating machine to take on not the Kree as she hopes, but a planet that has caused the Majastanian some problems of late. Earth.
COMING NEXT: Doctor Strange #5 Just as Stephen started making progress replenishing his armory with alien magic and arcane weapons, he discovers he is far out of his league. This realization means dire consequences, not just for Stephen, but for anyone who calls Strange “friend.”
On Sale 19th September 2018!
The only thing missing was Bats. With the end reveal of the last issue that he is still active in Bleecker Street and has possibly gained news of what could be behind Stephen’s dilemma this was an omission that was less frustrating than the chopping and changing of narrative this issue and I’m sure he will turn up with the answers we need. Similarly the cliffhanger of issue #2 and the mysterious individual aware of Strange’s goings on while goings-on off the Gryndan homeworld is also conspicuous by his absence, but I’m positive this is going to come to light soon and they are also keeping score.
Doctor Strange #4: How Stephen Got His Mojo Back
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 9/109/10
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