In the finale of one of Strange’s more challenging years Spider-Man has a special request for the newly returned Sorcerer Supreme and we finally get some closure for Zelma and Stephen.
DOCTOR STRANGE #390
Author: Donny Cates
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: VC’s Cory Petit
Peter Talks To a Spider Interlude Art: Chip Zdarsky
Cover: Mike Del Mundo
Publisher: Marvel Comics
What You Need to Know:
Las Vegas is returned to its original pre-Secret Empire status and after a pitched battle with Loki, Strange has reclaimed his mantle as Sorcerer Supreme, along with the full might of the power he once called his own.
What You’ll Find Out:
Once again we find ourselves on the familiar front step of 177A Bleeker Street. Once again we are joined by Zelma Stanton and once again there are a couple of notable exceptions. Firstly the ‘under new management’ sign has been replaced by ‘temporarily closed for repair’ and secondly she is shocked to see it has a house guest in the form of the irrepressible Spider-Man.
Seeing his head poking out from an upstairs window as he tells her he isn’t home she asks where Strange is and he repeats unhelpfully that he isn’t home and she could leave a message but doesn’t even know if that’s possible. As he goes on to explain he is house-sitting as the protection spells aren’t active he realizes he may have said too much and belatedly asks if she is a supervillain. When she introduces herself he seems to stare at her as if seeing her for the first time, then disappears, prompting her to remark on his behavior in true Zelma fashion
As Strange packs up his belongings in the surgery where he has been previously playing at being a vet incognito, Bats watches on and comments how he will miss the place despite the instinctive hate it invokes in animals. Strange agrees but goes on to say he can no longer hide from his responsibilities. Bats points out the illegality also, while protectively guarding his Spider-Man chewy toy and asks if Strange has stopped dyeing his hair. Saved by the bell Strange opens the door to find Zelma and Spider-Man. who babbles awkwardly before he notices Bats and is in awe of the fact Strange has a ghost-dog. Bats is equally impressed and comments he’s never met a superhero before. Strange points out he’s met the Avengers, the Midnight Sons, not to mention the Sentry and the small matter of himself. Making his apologies he drags Spider-Man away.
Strange impatiently asks Peter what he’s doing there, while probably also shaken by the appearance of Zelma. Peter insists he just came to check on him after all the goings on with Loki and the incident in Vegas. Stephen looks suitably abashed and admits it doesn’t often happen that the hero community checks in on each other. He notices however that Peter looks a little distracted, who points out a spider and the penny drops. Stephen realises that Peter has, for some reason, brought a spider with him and asks if he’s always been carrying one around, to which Peter denies it, calling it gross, before thinking on it and coming to a conclusion it may not be such a bad idea after all before Stephen interrupts him and asks him to get to the point.
So after a brief interlude where Peter gets his wish granted and communicates with a real spider, he becomes completely disenfranchised by the experience, thanks to some hilarious life comparisons. He returns to continue to try to help Strange come to terms with recent events. Recounting how he himself once gave up his alter ego so many years ago by simply throwing his outfit in the trash. He points out that even though Stephen gave up the superhero life, he went “back” to what he did before, which he reasons says a lot about him, whilst completely misunderstanding the role Strange once had, before leaving, but not before Zelma asks incredulously how he could have let Spider-Man house sit.
Alone at last Zelma and Stephen go for a walk and she tells him that she watched him on TV in Vegas and comments that despite the beard he looked good. She goes on to say that they left many things unsaid when they last parted ways. She also admits that she has also been having crazy, vivid dreams about the adventures they shared and she has just come to the realization that she was unsure if they were her dreams or if he were bringing her into his dreams and that this was what she missed.
Strange asks if this means she is coming back and says no, but that maybe she will see him in her dreams and she hugs him before he watches her walk away. Smiling as he walks he returns home, he takes Zelma and Clea’s words to heart and shaves his beard off, removes the ‘temporarily closed’ sign from the door, walks past his array of capes and his sleeping ghost dog and goes to bed. And smiles as he begins to dream. Sleep well Stephen, you’ve earned it.
What Just Happened?
Characters: With all the drama of the last few arcs it is fitting for Donny to end things in such a fun, irreverent tale. Stephen has really been through the wringer with both Loki and then Mephisto, as well as having him torture himself so much over his decisions that have so deeply affected his friends and loved ones and the poignancy of the talk with Zelma here expertly avoided any risk of this seeming like a fill-in issue. This needed to be dealt with to clear the air between the two. The Spider-Man interlude was a nice break from the awkward meeting with Zelma and the finale here returns Stephen to his full glory as Sorcerer Supreme and also has him make peace with the ongoing price of magic and repercussions of his recent actions.
Writing: After his heart to heart discussions with both Wong, Bats and also Clea the last few issues and now the farewell to Zelma I got a strong sense of the fondness Donny has for the character as well as the fun he has had with the journey he has taken him on. From the outset, the imagery mirrors that of Donny’s very first issue in Doctor Strange #281 with the sign on the door and the comment “he’s not home” bringing it all full circle.
Last time it was Zelma telling someone else stood at the door looking for the good Doctor, this time she is on the receiving end. The cagey responses Zelma gets from Spider-Man are at once hilariously awkward and also typically him. Even the panels without dialogue are laden with humor, a balance between the awkward silences and the implied comedic timing of these scenes is everything.
Art: I have loved Frazer Irving’s style since his beginnings in 2000 AD. American readers will know him more through his work on Silent War and X-Men Timestorm 2009-2099 and here he brings the characters to life with an indie comic style which even made me like the return of the beardless Strange, something I didn’t think I’d like when Clea hinted the beard should go last issue.
I also loved the comedy that was rife in Spider-Man’s meeting with a talking spider and wonder if it answers questions many people have had about him over the years. The art of Chip Zdarsky showing him and the spider skimming stones while he wears a yellow sweater like a father and son is a brilliantly bizarre and surreal sight I will never forget.
Donny has made Strange totally approachable for new readers as well as staying true to the origins of the character and his world. The art has been exceptional the whole run, through the introduction to Legacy and the struggles he has had. And the finale is impeccable here and goes toward the perfect farewell to the last… has it really only been FIVE MONTHS? Normally I think a fortnightly series can come off rushed and half-hearted, but this has been a roller-coaster ride of fun, drama and human emotion from the outset. Goodbye Donny, we are really going to miss you. So long and thanks for giving us Zelma and Bats and I for one am grateful you kept him around for Mark Waid to take for a walk as well, even if we did say goodbye to Ms. Stanton. Though a character like her is far too strong to say goodbye to for long. And speaking of the company shared, also those who shared this trip with Donny. Artists Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Niko Henrichon and of course the stunning finale thanks to Frazer Irving, colorists Jordie Bellaire and Laurent Grossat have all given us so much entertainment the last few months, all with Mike Del Mundos stunning covers throughout the whole run. Followed by a goodbye letter from Donny himself and the image of things to come with Mark Waid, including Strange in a mystical space helm, with art by Jesús Saiz, we are surely in for an interesting change of pace. I almost wish I hadn’t given last issue 10/10….because this is so much better (though after last issue I didn’t think it possible) and deserves to be applauded.
Final Thought: Cates gives us an outstanding finale that returns Strange to his roots.
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