DOCTOR STRANGE ANNUAL #1
It’s Halloween and as Doctor Strange gathers his friends of the mystical persuasion to perform a ritual, he calls on his ex assistant Zelma Stanton to keep watch as they deal with various things that go bump in the night. Meanwhile another alumni of the House of Strange is also keeping himself busy. As guardian of the Hotel Inferno in Vegas Wong is forced to deal with a would be thief who is much more than he seems.
STORY: That Greenwich Village Townhouse really had a chequered past it seems. One that I haven’t seen played on before and now I can see why. As such the first story by Tini Howard was an entertaining riot of chaos, but just a little too pastiche Poltergeist for me. Less like the classic original and more like the cobbled together sequel. There were just too many conflicting ingredients crammed in together, making it a hodge podge of horror tropes that were all thrown into the pot to showcase the talents of the company of magicians. All performing an obscure ritual for no purpose, other than… you know….it’s Halloween. A child demon with ghostly nuns as guardians, furious Furies and Pumpkin Goddesses of Death, all topped off with various spirits and incantations. This had the effect of making it chaotic enough for the gathered heroes, but not very cohesive in terms of plotting. Also …Doctor Voodoo?
And Zelma seems to have reverted to complete wide eyed novice in terms of magical awareness, and yes I know that was all in the cause of advancing the plot….but really! There were however some perfectly utilised one liners, such as Talisman admonishing Strange about her ancestor and his rites to the land and Agatha Harkness reminding everyone she once babysat Franklin Richards and could handle a demonic child. In this it was at least a perfect welcome return for Agatha, rarely seen since her return in Wanda’s book. Also Aleister and Anton were a sight for sore eyes, being their usual sneaky selves, so what it lacked in cohesion it made up for in star quality. Pornsak Pichetshote however had a much more focussed tale to tell, bringing Wong back perfectly and allowing us to learn what’s been going on with him since the events of Damnation in the Hotel Inferno.
This tale was far more compelling to me in terms of characterisation and actually offered some deeper insight into the relationship between Strange and his butler. This not only underpins their deep respect for each other but also serves to remind us that if Strange ever went dark there is a contingency against him becoming a formidable threat. And it’s always great to see him in action. The underplayed pathos of the demise of Trevor and Connor was also well handled and served to remind us that Wong is as capable of making the hard decisions as any of the more well known Marvel heroes.
ART: For an annual the art of the first story was perfectly well suited throughout to the theme and also had all the hallmarks of Walta and Bachalo, two of the more memorable Strange artists over the last few years. This served it well as it gave the pervasive feeling of being in familiar surroundings and meant the background and locations were engaging and felt believable enough as settings within the story, from the various rooms in the house to the nether realms of demon children. Glad to see Strange’s new costume is still in play, as it is also seen now in places like Contagion and recently Agents of Wakanda. And here it doesn’t look out of place, even alongside the varied outfits of his cohorts.
Andy MacDonald also ensured the closed setting of Strange’s townhouse was interesting enough to keep us all enthralled, even while the plot stumbled from one haunted room to another. And Triona Farrell (two L’s not three as in the credits) kept the colours suitably ethereal, dark and foreboding. For the second story Lalit Kumar Sharma paired with inker Sean Parsons truly was a ‘TREAT’. And more of the colours of José Villarrubia please! The vibrancy of the palette utilised was eye catching as Wong brandishes the spell to banish the threat. And the cover by Ariel Olivetti was perfectly pitched to both stories, if a little misleading in terms of plot. The sight of Strange in possession of those all too recognisable trophies actually hinted at a lot of the flavour of the second story, but also informed the ritual being performed in the first.
Despite the huge cast of characters in the main story, it’s the secondary back up tale that is more intriguing . A rare occasion in an annual. As such it deserves the most kudos.
Doctor Strange Annual #1: Welcome to the House of Strange
Writing - 7.5/107.5/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 8/108/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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