Doctor Strange: The Jason Aaron Run

Mitch Nissen Mitch Nissen
Expert Contributor
July 2nd, 2017

Grew up reading comic books in the 90's. Marvel fan at heart. Hulk, the Midnight Sons, and Marvel's cosmic universe are my favorites.

Doctor Strange: The Jason Aaron Run
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On July 2, 2017
Last modified:July 2, 2017

Summary:

Jason Aaron composes a Dr. Strange story accessible to new readers but potentially disappointing for previous fans of the character. The writer sets up a story that may or may not live up to the writer's vision or scope.

Price:
Indifferent

Reviewed by:
Rating:

3
On July 2, 2017
Last modified:July 2, 2017

Summary:

Jason Aaron composes a Dr. Strange story accessible to new readers but potentially disappointing for previous fans of the character. The writer sets up a story that may or may not live up to the writer's vision or scope.

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Writer Jason Aaron finished his twenty issue run on Doctor Strange this month. ComiConverse contributor Mitch Nissen takes a look back at Jason Aaron’s Doctor Strange saga and where it fits within the overall Doctor Strange universe.

Doctor Strange: The Jason Aaron Run

For the last year and a half writer Jason Aaron penned the first new ongoing series of Doctor Strange since 1996. During the intervening decades there were several Dr. Strange mini series and specials. Much of that time Strange was a supporting character in other books, most notably Brian Bendis’ New Avengers and Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers.

In 2015 readers finally saw the beginning of a new ongoing Dr. Strange book.

Jason Aaron’s run lasted twenty issues from October 2015 to June 2017. The story itself encompassed three major arcs, The Empirikul for ten issues, a gauntlet of Dr. Strange’s classic enemies for the following arc, and a final arc to wrap everything up.

Jason Aaron was tasked with reintroducing Stephen Strange post Secret Wars, establishing new readership, and making Dr. Strange relevant again. On top of that he had the task of helming the entirety of Marvel’s magical realm. Not an easy task.

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Taking all of this into account, how did Jason Aaron do?

Doctor Strange

Credit: Marvel Comics

Breakdown

As a previous fan of Dr. Strange I was excited for this book. I was a fan of Jason Aaron’s previous work on Ghost Rider, Wolverine Weapon X, and Thor: God of Thunder. What I found out as Aaron’s story unfolded was that the more you know about Dr. Strange the less Aaron’s story works within the overall continuity. Reading previous Dr. Strange books doesn’t help but rather detracts from the overall enjoyment of Aaron’s narrative.

If you’re new to Dr. Strange then this is a good story to start with.

The less you know about Dr. Strange the more enjoyable Aaron’s Dr. Strange is. In the Afterword of issue twenty Jason Aaron states that, “when magic has a plethora of rules attached to it, it ceases to be… well, magical.” Aaron threw out the old rules, but conversely added a plethora of new rules.

The Harry Potter series has a plethora of rules to its magic system. Is it less magical for these rules? If rules cease making magic magical then it is interesting that Aaron chose to have the backbone of his story an adherence to the rules. Ironic, yes?

But these are Aaron’s rules not the old rules. In this respect one doesn’t need to read any prior Dr. Strange story in order to fully understand Jason Aaron’s story. And the writer puts in the legwork to establish these rules. We spend many issues at the onset getting to know Aaron’s new world of magic.

By essentially rebooting the Dr. Strange world Jason Aaron made the book completely accessible to new readers, which is very important in today’s comic book market. But what if you were a fan of Dr. Strange prior to this?

Strange’s previous world of magic did have a lot of rules and not every writer acknowledged these rules.

I personally found these rules and narrative parameters to be what made Dr. Strange unique among the countless other magic worlds of literature. His world was distinctly his own and the rules of Marvel’s magic system are what separated it from everyone else. And magic based stories, more than others, need rules to keep the characters from doing anything and everything. There’s no consequence without rules.

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Obviously Jason Aaron realizes this as he replaced the old rules with new rules. At first I didn’t realize what Aaron was doing. I was under the impression that the writer was building upon the Dr. Strange mythos, not starting from scratch.

One of the problems with monthly comic books is that the reader receives only a small piece of the story each month. As such it’s difficult to gauge the quality of the story based off of a single or even a few issues. And when a writer enacts major changes to a story or disregards previous continuity, you often aren’t let in on the secret until you’ve invested a lot of money.

On the flipside,  tremendous pressure is placed upon comic writers to make every issue as potent and exciting as possible. With readers so quick to drop a book nowadays, and a book’s survival is dependent on sales, the demands on comic writers must be overwhelming.

As a reader, not knowing that this story was a reboot rather than a continuation, left me disappointed every time I noticed a classic rule was missing. I thought it was an oversight of either editor Nick Lowe or the writer. It appeared as if both editor and writer weren’t doing their homework. Only after finally reading the last issue did I learn that it was never their intent to work within Dr. Strange’s previous framework. Had I known this going in I may have been able to enjoy the story more. Or I may have saved my money, I’m not sure.

Maybe this book wasn't meant for prior fans of Dr. Strange.

Doctor Strange

Credit: Marvel Comics

In the case of Jason Aaron's Dr. Strange, the less you know about Dr. Strange the better.

During this time there was the buzz of Dr. Strange’s movie, the release of that film, and its critical and box office success. And Marvel began collecting and reprinting much of Dr. Strange’s backlog of stories in new trade paperbacks. The film, which was far more faithful to the classic Dr. Strange mythos, and the large number of trades coming out reprinting older stories all seemed to be working against what Jason Aaron was trying to do.

The Narrative Being Told

Magic comes at a cost. And Strange hasn't been paying his tab.

The Empirikul are presented as the greatest threat to Dr. Strange’s world and were set up beautifully. Aaron mentions a number of Marvel’s supernatural/magical characters being effected, emphasizing the widespread effects of the Empirikul. An event size scope of story was established that, for some unknown reason or another, was not met by the end result. Aaron names drops all these characters being effected by the Empirikul, none of which participate in the story.

And there’s the supporting cast of magic heroes. Hellstorm, Doctor Voodoo, Scarlet Witch, Talisman, and Shaman are all present but contribute little if anything to the plot. Also, these other magic users never appear to have to pay the price for using magic, the core concept of Aaron's story. But, it is Dr. Strange’s comic, not Hellstorm or Talisman's.

Dr. Strange is thoroughly defeated when he was at full power. After two issues of scavenging for magic objects the final battle takes place and is resolved in one issue. Dr. Strange wins while at the lowest power he’s ever been. The idea present is that the pain monster, Mister Misery, is simply filled with that much pain turned power to defeat the Empirikul. This works but poses problems later in the final story arc.

The first nine issues really are the strongest for both Aaron’s writing and Bachalo’s artwork. I can’t help noticing what seems like a gap between issues nine and ten where another arc of planning and battling against the Empirkul should’ve happened.

The first arc effectively set the current status quo for Dr. Strange across all books in the Marvel too: Depowered Dr. Strange.

It wasn’t long ago when Dr. Strange was depowered during Bendis’ New Avengers. And before that writer David Quinn depowered Strange in the aftermath of the Siege of Darkness story arc. Depowering heroes is a common trend with powerful characters and a familiar tactic of Aaron’s (Unworthy Thor). The Empirikul arc feels thematically similar to Aaron’s run on Thor: God of Thunder albeit severely truncated by comparison.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The next story arc felt the weakest and was the biggest disappointment for me.

Aaron brings back a quintet of villains from Strange’s past, arguably the doctor’s greatest enemies.

The Blood in the Aether arc traveled away from the core ideas of Jason Aaron’s first arc and Aaron deals with the arc rather quickly and blasé. The inclusion of Baron Mordo, Nightmare, and Dormammu comes across as obligatory and it’s easy to understand why. These old characters function on the previous magic system. Rather than explain how they exist within the new system Aaron just slips them in and out of the story quickly with Strange defeating them in one issue each.

Strange's greatest enemies bested in a single issue when Strange is at his lowest. One would think these enemies are incredibly inept or merely inside jokes to readers like the Armadillo or the Porcupine.

One highlight of this arc is the inclusion of the character, the Orb. Aaron began working on the Orb way back during his early days at Marvel writing Ghost Rider. The writer later evolved the Orb into a powerful character in the Marvel event Original Sin. Here in Doctor Strange we finally get a glimpse of the new Orb with all his power.

Satana and the Orb feel like the only characters in this arc that Aaron enjoys writing. But Satana’s story doesn’t mesh with previous continuity either, a common trend with this book. Traditionally she’s an ally of Strange’s. She even gave her life once to save his (Marvel Team-Up #80 and 81). Here, despite the design, she seems like Satana in name only.

I say this arc was the most disappointing because Dr. Strange’s rogues gallery is one of the finest aspects of the character. As a fan of Dr. Strange I daresay I enjoy a well written Dormammu and Nightmare more than the hero. The story also doesn’t contribute much of anything to the overall narrative save for a few scenes with Mister Misery.

The final arc returns to the core story Aaron is trying to tell. Issue seventeen finally delivers on the promise of Man-Thing from earlier and it is a highlight of the arc, funny, exciting, and pure entertainment. The overall plot of the entire run comes to a head when Strange saves his friend Wong by taking Mister Misery into himself and finally paying the price for using magic.

The Empirikul had enough power to kill a fully powered Dr. Strange and did kill several other sorcerer supremes from other dimensions. Yet there was enough pain and hatred inside Mister Misery to defeat the Empirikul. Therefore shouldn’t Strange have died taking Mister Misery into himself? Yet he seems to be functioning normally in issue twenty. It’s strange that the doctor isn’t any different after taking in Mister Misery than before.

Doctor Strange

Credit: Marvel Comics

If the core of the story is paying the price for your actions, shouldn’t there have been some consequence for taking Mister Misery back into himself? Given Marvel’s recent propensity for either killing or replacing the old guard with new characters, it would’ve been fitting for Stephen Strange to die at the end and for the character Zelma to become the new Sorcerer Supreme.

Also, no other writer or Dr. Strange book has featured the consequences of using magic or the repercussions of Strange having taken Mister Misery back into himself, despite Aaron having set the new status quo for Marvel's magic.

It is curious what Jason Aaron chose to change and what he kept the same. The old magic system was changed but Wong’s 1960’s racial stereotype remained. And rather than strengthening an existing character of diversity, like Clea, he focuses on a new character like Zelma in effect turning her into Wong’s replacement, a glorified housewife. But again Clea functioned on the old magic system and, even when the writer includes old characters, Aaron seems to go out of his way to avoid subjects from that era.

If Marvel decides to eventually merge the new magic system with the old in an effort to create seamless continuity Aaron has left that task for someone else. And if the next Dr. Strange film decides to tackle the classic magic system then it is likely the comics will follow suit.

Overall, Jason Aaron has crafted a Doctor Strange story nearly 100% from his own imagination. The theme of owning up to your actions is well developed and completed by the end. Aside from the middle arc, Blood in the Aether, the story stands up fairly strong on its own. It’s accessible. It’s weird and unique and undoubtedly the product of Aaron’s (sharks, burly bearded men, and all).

If you’re new to Dr. Strange then this book is quite a treat.

If you’re familiar and or partial to previous Dr. Strange canon, pre “All New All Different” Marvel, you might like it. You may not. Be prepared for no Clea (she does appear in the annual but Jason Aaron had no involvement with it), no Vishanti, and no acknowledgement of any previous story arcs.

Mitch Nissen is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @NinjaMitche

Doctor Strange: The Jason Aaron Run

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Jason Aaron composes a Dr. Strange story accessible to new readers but potentially disappointing for previous fans of the character. The writer sets up a story that may or may not live up to the writer's vision or scope.

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