With Summer’s big events coming to an end, Marvel is ready to push some new titles. With the changes that have been made to classic characters like the Hulk, Thor and Captain America, fans of the older status quo may be able to find solace in Doctor Strange #1. Stephen Strange is still the Sorcerer Supreme and still defending Earth from all sorts of interdimensional mischief. While Strange certainly has a long and otherworldly history that can only be read to truly understand, newer fans to the title will be able to pick up this first issue with the assurance that everything you need to know will be there for you.
Jason Aaron does well to write in a brief but dense narration from Stephen himself that brings everyone up to speed. Strange’s internal witticisms maintain his trademark charm and arrogance lingering from his days as the world’s foremost surgeon turned magical Avenger. Aaron makes Strange intelligent enough that you may need to look up a word or two but you’ll always be able to follow along with the story. Appropriately, Strange’s sense of justice and benevolence can seem a bit…well, strange. On a single page, Stephen damns prisoners to having their souls eaten but also recommends a family buy a fish for their lonely neighbor. It’s these kinds of dramatic turns that make this kind of title an adventure.
The art by Chris Bachalo is quite an undertaking. The variety of locations, lifeforms and expressions both human and magic are carefully rendered with outlines that make characters pop out of busy panels and a bold use of color that adds a sense of wonder and perspective. While the animated facial expressions that keep some series grounded in character interactions aren’t very present here, Bachalo has several other ways to help tell the story through tone and action. It’s wonderful to see Aaron and Bachalo reveal the world of Marvel’s New York City as only Doctor Strange could see it, as well as how the average passerby might view him. This varied perspective helps the story jump between the ominously bleak and the humorously grounded. Stephen even blends in pretty well on the upper west side with his cape adorably wrapped around his neck like a scarf on his way to my new favorite bluntly-named Marvel locale, “The Bar with No Doors.”
One appeal that many caught onto from the previews of this first issue is the image of Doctor Strange, a user of unexplainable magical prowess, swinging an axe. While the weapons add a cool variety to the Doctor’s arsenal, one might still have to start asking the questions of “how could he be reduced to this option?” and more often “what limits do his powers actually have?” While defining these would detract from the air of mystery and wonder about the character, a million lazy stories are opened by the prospect of his boundless Deus Ex Machina’s. The weapons help Stephen feel more like a man and less like an all-powerful, forever-boring God amongst men.
Variety of locations/perspectives
Use of color
Authentic Strange charm
Weapons and magic
Undefinable limits of Stephen
Flat facial expressions
Not enough plot to hook uncertain readers
Final Judgement: 8