Review: Doctor Strange: Damnation #1

Mitch Nissen Mitch Nissen
Expert Contributor
February 28th, 2018

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.

Review: Doctor Strange: Damnation #1
Comics
0
Price:
Slow Start

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On February 28, 2018
Last modified:February 28, 2018

Summary:

Doctor Strange: Damnation #1 gets the ball rolling albeit slowly. The stakes are exhaustively laid to bear, so much so that the action has yet to begin. Spencer and Cates write some great character interactions and display Mephisto the most charmingly you’ve ever seen. Rod Reis delivers some truly striking and emotional artwork rarely on display at Marvel. With only three issues left the following issues will have to deliver big to match the scope of story.

Price:
Slow Start

Reviewed by:
Rating:

4
On February 28, 2018
Last modified:February 28, 2018

Summary:

Doctor Strange: Damnation #1 gets the ball rolling albeit slowly. The stakes are exhaustively laid to bear, so much so that the action has yet to begin. Spencer and Cates write some great character interactions and display Mephisto the most charmingly you’ve ever seen. Rod Reis delivers some truly striking and emotional artwork rarely on display at Marvel. With only three issues left the following issues will have to deliver big to match the scope of story.

MORE NEWS FROM THE WEB

Doctor Strange: Damnation sets the stage for Marvel’s first Supernatural event series in over twenty years. Hell is literally on Earth and only Dr. Strange and the Midnight Sons have a prayer of sending it back down to the infernal pit. ComiConverse contributor Mitch Nissen takes a look.

Review: Doctor Strange – Damnation #1

Writer Donny Cates hasn’t been with Doctor Strange very long, yet he’s already displaying a grand scope of vision for the character. Doctor Strange: Damnation #1 is the beginning of Cates’ latest story arc for Stephen Strange stoking the fires of more of Marvel’s supernatural characters in the process.

The creative team from last year’s Marvel Comics event, Secret Empire returns as well. Nick Spencer receives top billing for the writing with Rod Reis on art detail. With Spencer and Reis reuniting, Damnation acts as a sequel or follow up to events from Secret Empire.

Synopsis

Dr. Strange is once more Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. In his first act of renewed power he resurrects the entire city of Las Vegas and all its inhabitants (having been destroyed in Secret Empire). An infernal tower not of this Earth rises out of the ground, a devilish casino run by Mephisto. Demonic influences spread across Vegas like wildfire and Dr. Strange enters into a deadly game of chance with the lord of lies for the souls of everyone on the planet.

Story continues below

The Breakdown

As “first” issues go Damnation #1 comes across as a fairly standard setup: Inciting incident, threat revelation, scope of threat, and defined goal. Like most first issues nowadays the book ends with the battle only just beginning. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the series were more than four issues long. As is, this opening issue squanders much of its time laying out the stakes of the story rather than actually propelling the story forward. To top off the perceived inefficient use of space seven of the advertised protagonists, the characters for which this series is meant to bolster, don’t even show save for cameos on the very last page. Four of these characters are even displayed on the cover.

Credit: Marvel Comics

While the narrative structure remains fairly straight forward, the character portrayals and interactions are where this book’s strength lies. Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Falcon, Thor, and Hawkeye engage in a dialog wherein each dredges up the questionable actions of the other during previous Marvel events such as Civil War II and Secret Empire.

It’s a rare occurrence of this current era of Marvel to call into question the story choices of late. The writers point the finger at themselves and others at Marvel, either calling out questionable writing choices or voicing the same criticisms of the readers. This little section of the book alone makes this issue worth it and provides plenty of content for analysis and discussion.

Of all the characters in this book Spencer and Cates’ take on Mephisto steals the show.

Marvel’s preeminent devil has never been more charming or charismatic. Rather than a blasphemous infernal figure on a throne of souls, Mephisto is presented as a soft spoken silver tongued businessman. While Dr. Strange comes across rather bland, the prince of lies is devilishly endearing.

However, Marvel’s malevolent malcontent soaks up a sizable chunk of the issue monologuing, taking great pains to prove that he’s not the one at fault. All merely to let us know what we already know, namely that Mephisto is evil and has to be stopped. It would be a drag to get through had Spencer and Cates not written him so enjoyably.

Then there’s the title character. Marvel’s most powerful magic user casts a spell so massive that it raises over 600,000 people from the dead including structures and landscapes. That’s a huge feat of magic even for the good Doctor. Yet he’s incapable of removing all demonic presence from the area? For the remainder of the book (which is all but three pages) Dr. Strange does nothing but follow Mephisto and listen. And yet somehow his only recourse is to play Mephisto’s game by Mephisto’s rules. What happened to that mojo Strange used at the onset?

Credit: Marvel Comics

Story continues below

Marvel is the home of the flawed hero and the world outside our window. This is why we are Marvel fans. But Doctor Strange’s current career is almost entirely typified by failure and blunder. From Jason Aaron’s run to now, Stephen Strange has done nothing but fail spectacularly. The Empirikul, Mr. Misery, the loss Wong and Zelma and Clea, and most recently failing against Loki. The writers even failed to render Nightmare or Dormammu or Shuma Gorath as little more than cheat tricks and butts of jokes.

It’s like Marvel’s going out of their way to make Dr. Strange the most inept hero of their universe. It was kind of novel at first, in a Jack Burton sorta way, but has grown quite stale. Donny Cates has been making moves in the right direction to redeem the Dr. Strange character and mythos after Jason Aaron’s management but has yet to rectify the hero himself.

Even Wong and Mephisto call out Strange on his ineptitude. Surely someone at Marvel sees this.

As for the artwork Rod Reis demonstrates excellent use of color. The real world landscapes and backgrounds look lifelike possessing high levels of realism. While at the same time the Hotel Inferno exteriors and interiors possess a dreamlike quality not of this earth. One can almost see the heat rising off the casino floor.

Reis goes to some truly dark place for this current Marvel era. In this book is a sex scene, a face melt, spontaneous combustions, a demon stripper, and more. Albeit the panels are very small, lacking certain details, and displaying judicious use of shadows and shading. Even so, this content was striking, lending the narrative more gravitas than the usual Marvel comic of late.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Mr. Reis’ artwork are the characters expressions. One look at the art and you know exactly what the characters are feeling. The emotions present are clear and expertly rendered. Rod Reis displays great talent and artistry in this book.

All in all, this first issue feels like it’s only getting its feet wet. With a mere three issues left and seven major characters yet to appear and be satisfyingly utilized (I’m looking at all of you, not just Man-Thing), we should be neck deep in demons and supernatural heroes.

Personally I’m in the bag for this event and all its tie-ins because I love Marvel’s supernatural heroes more than any others. But unless you’re an easy sell like myself it’ll be a hard sell on Marvel’s part for the subsequent issues.

So, how will this series shape up?

Credit: Marvel Comics

What did you think?

Drop us a comment below

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

Doctor Strange: Damnation #1

  • 4

Slow Start

Doctor Strange: Damnation #1 gets the ball rolling albeit slowly. The stakes are exhaustively laid to bear, so much so that the action has yet to begin. Spencer and Cates write some great character interactions and display Mephisto the most charmingly you’ve ever seen. Rod Reis delivers some truly striking and emotional artwork rarely on display at Marvel. With only three issues left the following issues will have to deliver big to match the scope of story.

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