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.
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The war on magic is over. Now Doctor Strange must pick up the pieces of his shattered world, a world the rest of us need whether we know it or not. ComiConverse contributor Mitch Nissen continues his coverage of this latest incarnation of Marvel’s sorcerer supreme.
Review: Doctor Strange #11
The threat of the Empirikul is over. The effort to rebuild magic has begun.
Marvel Comics Doctor Strange #11 recently dropped in comic shops everywhere. Written by Jason Aaron with guests artists Kevin Nowlan, Leonardo Romero, and Jordie Bellaire filling in for Chris Bachalo. Issue #11 is the first story after the Last Days of Magic finale and tells a far somber tale of Doctor Strange after his victory over the Empirikul. It’s rare nowadays to have an issue with any downtime for our heroes. This is an issue between story arcs where the doctor isn’t locked in a life or death battle saving the universe. It’s quite refreshing.
The war for magic is over. Magic won, but it was a pyrrhic victory. Magic is in shambles and only just emerging from hiding. The magics and mystical tools once readily at Doctor Strange’s disposal are gone. The mundane everyday tasks of Stephen’s have become nearly a life or death struggle. But the good doctor is managing.
With the help of his trusted friends, Wong and Zelma, Strange begins the arduous task of rebuilding magic from the ground up starting with the Sanctum Sanctorum. Piece by piece magic is coming together. But with magic in such a weakened state who will be able stop someone or something trying to take advantage of the situation? Someone like…
Kevin Nowlan and Leonardo Romero share the workload in this issue. Nowlan illustrates a flashback portion of the issue while Romero illustrates the present. Nowlan’s art is sharp and smooth. His characters and backgrounds are clear and realistically rendered utilizing a more classical style. On the flip side Romero employs a far rougher and undefined modern style. Romero’s art matches the battered state of Strange’s character and world of magic. Both artists present the story appropriately albeit in decidedly different approaches.
As for the story, this isn’t the first time Stephen Strange’s world has been shattered where he had to piece his life back together. Two tales are told within this issue, one exploring the current predicament Stephen now finds himself in and one retreading the past when Stephen’s hands were taken from him and he was willing to do anything to get them back (including taking an injection of Scott Summer’s mutant growth hormones?).
Jason Aaron presents this wonderful pair of paralleling stories reminding readers that this isn’t the first time Doctor Strange has had to rebuild his life from scratch. It gives us a measure of hope that Stephen will come back from this like he has in the past. This also serves to reintroduce essential characters from Strange’s past including an encounter with Baron Mordo and the Ancient One. The scene from the past with Mordo helps perfectly stage the final scene in the book…
Baron Mordo’s long awaited return.
A little Mordo 101 for those unaware, Baron Mordo’s last significant story in a Doctor Strange comic book was twenty years ago during the final issues of Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme. Written by J.M. DeMatteis, Baron Mordo succumbed to cancer and at the moment of his death it was revealed that Mordo had fulfilled the role of necessary evil in Stephen’s life. Mordo had tormented Strange since Stephen was a boy, sending him on a downward spiral, all for the eventual purpose of guiding Strange to the Ancient One. For without the presence of evil the doctor wouldn’t have achieved his ultimate destiny. Mordo asked for forgiveness before dying and Doctor Strange granted it.
Heady stuff for sure as any good DeMatteis story is. We’ll see if Jason Aaron addresses this seminal story of Mordo’s or merely disregards it outright. In any case, know that Mordo has been dead for a long time and his return is a big deal. Mordo being back also presents a curious question; where was he during the attack of the Empirikul? The Empirikul attacked magic in all its facets in all its locations. Mordo is one of Marvel’s preeminent magic users. Why didn’t the Empirikul attack him?
I eagerly await future issues in hopes that Jason Aaron will answer these questions.
This issue also presents more problematic questions within the entire context of the Doctor Strange continuum. First off the subject of creating new spells is broached in this issue along with the rewriting of Doctor Strange’s library. You can’t create something from nothing. Everything, including magic, comes from somewhere. Doctor Strange’s magic traditionally comes from the invocation of powerful extra-dimensional entities, the usual suspects being Agamotto, Hoggoth, and Oshtur: otherwise known as the Vishanti. Others include Cyttorak, Watoomb, Raggadorr, and even evil entities like Dormammu, Satannish, and Chthon. And in the past when Strange has been cut off from these entities’ magics he has called upon primal earthen magics (as was the case in David Quinn’s epic run).
Doctor Strange calls upon these powerful beings to lend him a portion of their ethereal power. That’s how magic is created and used in the classic Doctor Strange continuity. The Vishanti haven’t been mentioned once in this entire volume. Neither have the two most important magic texts in Doctor Strange’s library: The Book of Vishanti, the source of all white magic, and The Darkhold, the source of all black magic. Did the Vishanti and Darkhold get retconned and nobody told me?
Is it such an unreasonable request to ask that the writer of Doctor Strange know their Doctor Strange lore?
I’m not in the industry so I don’t know the writing/research extent Marvel requires of its authors. But there has to be a better way of executing continuity, if not within every current title on the stand then at least within the character’s canon.
As much as I’d love to write Doctor Strange or any long running super hero comic book, I don’t envy writers like Jason Aaron or his editor, Nick Lowe, who have to be subjected to a stuffy no-name nerd like myself every month. And if this current incarnation of the doctor is the version Marvel wishes to continue with, the publisher themselves undermines Jason Aaron’s storytelling every time they release trades of classic Doctor Strange stories. If one were to read the Doctor Strange paperback A Separate Reality and then read Jason Aaron’s The Way of the Weird it would seem as if you were reading two entirely different characters and worlds.
As for the story itself Jason Aaron weaves a wonderful and weird narrative. Aaron is a fantastic storyteller, one of the best in the industry. His Doctor Strange is a great example of his talent. These first eleven issues told an ambitious story and within the confines of these eleven issues the story works well. It is only when one looks at Doctor Strange as a whole from past to present that this story fails. The plot holes are immense and the characters don’t fit contextually. But to be fair Doctor Strange‘s continuity was screwed up by many other writers long before Jason Aaron touched him.
As it stands, this isn’t a story for Doctor Strange, but rather a story for the sake of the story the writer wants to tell. As of right now this is a Doctor Strange story for the new reader who’s unfamiliar with the character. The story functions well on its own but not so well as part of the whole.
But this is an ongoing title, right?
So as long as the book continues to be published Jason Aaron or another writer down the line has the space to fix any problems and plot holes of the present. Or maybe it’s time for readers who have read the back issues of Doctor Strange to say goodbye because knowing those stories will only be a hindrance to Jason Aaron’s story.
They shouldn’t be though.
For the moment I will wait and see. Satana and Dormammu are coming and they are just the temptation I need to stay another few issues. But how incongruous will these two be with previous continuity?
Mitch Nissen is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @NinjaMitche
Source: Marvel Comics
Jason Aaron and guest artists Kevin Nowland and Leonardo Romero begin repairing the damage wrought by the Empirikul. Doctor Strange begins rebuilding his life for a second time in this well written and wonderfully illustrated story.