Magic, madness and moustaches
RELEASED OUT NOW! Publisher Marvel Writer Jason aaron Artist Chris Bachalo
issues 1-3 It’s funny what having a movie in the pipeline can do to your status in the Marvel Universe. Sorcerer Supreme Stephen Strange hasn’t had his own ongoing series since 1996, instead largely acting as a go-to magical expert in various crossover epics. Now, with Benedict Cumberbatch about to embody the character on-screen, Marvel have decided it’s time to give Doctor Strange another serious push, so he’s in the frontline of their latest “All-New, All-Different” relaunch.
With Jason Aaron on script and Chris Bachalo on art duties, there’s a strong creative team in place, and Doctor Strange’s first three issues are an efficient jumping-on point for new readers. As always, Stephen Strange is based in New York, where he battles any magical threats that endanger the world – but when a Bronx librarian named Zelma Stanton asks for help with an otherworldly illness, it’s actually the first step in the plans of the Empirikul, an alien race dedicated to hunting down and destroying magic across all realities…
Aaron is in a lighter mode here, playing closer to the freewheeling craziness of his early Wolverine and X-Men work than his more mythic storytelling on Thor. The pace is brisk, and there’s a playful sense of fun to many of the setpieces, which is enhanced by Bachalo’s zany approach to the art. Any Doctor Strange comic faces the uphill struggle of trying to match the surreal visuals of co-creator Steve Ditko in the character’s original ’60s run. Bachalo has a head start thanks to his naturally offbeat art style, but here he pushes his work even further, showcasing some spectacular double-page spreads alongside a wide selection of cartoony weirdness and gorgeously grotesque highlights.
There’s plenty here to enjoy, and the introduction of the Empirikul shows the series is already building towards an epic confrontation, but there are also some fundamental flaws. Strange himself is loosened up as a character, more prone to wisecracks and romance, and
It hasn’t achieved the right balance of drama and kookiness
while these moments are often fun, he now bears too much resemblance to Marvel’s current take on Tony Stark.
The series also hasn’t quite achieved the right balance between drama and kookiness, with the rising apocalyptic threat seeming odd sitting next to exclamations like “By the Vapors of Valtorr!”, and some of the background story detail (like Strange’s visit to a magical bar) feeling a little too random. This new incarnation of Doctor Strange is visually appealing and often entertaining, but it still feels like Aaron and Bachalo are missing out on that elusive ingredient that would make this latest Marvel relaunch feel truly essential. Saxon Bullock
Jason Aaron is the cousin of Gustav Hasford, who wrote the novel Kubrick used as the basis for Full Metal Jacket.
Strange knows one hell of a carpenter.