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Doctor Strange #1

Writer – Jason Aaron

Pencils and Colors – Chris Bachalo

Inks – Tim Townsend, Al Vey and Mark Irwin

Letters – VC’s Cory Petit

Review by Joey Braccino

I SLEEP THREE HOURS A NIGHT. BECAUSE ANY MORE THAN THAT AND THE NIGHTMARES WOULD DRIVE ME CRAZY. IF THEY HAVEN’T ALREADY.

This issue: Dr. Strange battles demonic teddy bears! Pyscho-leeches! Bouts of egotistical pseudo-self-deprecation! Horrifying head lice! It’s the first wave of All-New All-Different Marvel, and somehow, some way, it seems as though Jason Aaron’s Doctor Strange is headlining alongside Brian Michael Bendis’ Invincible Iron Man and Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man!!!

That’s a big step up for Marvel’s resident deus ex machine Sorcerer Supreme. The last solo ongoing comic book for our merry master of the mystic arts ended in 1996. Since then, Dr. Strange has enjoyed a series of successful mini-series under acclaimed writers like Brian K. Vaughan, Mark Waid, and J. Michael Straczynski and integral roles in the myriad Avengers series under both Bendis and Jonathan Hickman. Heck, Stephen Strange was the freakin’ Sheriff of Battleworld in the universe-altering Secret Wars, which, despite spawning the new universe in which this new volume is set, still has not finished.

But alas, the complexities and frivolities of the publishing schedule aside, Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo bring us the first issue of a brand-new Doctor Strange ongoing series!

And it’s pretty rad, albeit a bit… strange.

We open with a brilliantly constructed recap of the iconic Dr. Strange origin story, told in our titular wizard’s own narration over a montage of panels from those early Strange Tales books. It’s a great brush-up for new readers, but it also serves as our first glimpse at the Stephen Strange of yesteryear—i.e. the Stephen Strange whose ego and bravado were at the fore, rather than the meditative, long-suffering Strange we’ve seen in those previously mentioned Avengers books from the last few years. Yes, Aaron’s Strange is more the pretentious-former-surgeon-turned-wielder-of-all-the-magic than he is the heady Illuminati alum, which is totally cool and reflective of the character’s history, but there is a part of me that was all “but this is Tony Stark now.”

On the one hand, Aaron’s Strange is a flirt, a braggadocio, a Mystical Artist convinced of his own importance in defending the universe. After the opening montage, we get a visceral, visually stunning multi-page brawl between our eponymous hero and what can only be described as a twisted phantasmagoria of nightmares from the collected minds of Tim Burton and whoever thought up Lotso from Toy Story 3. Strange cracks quips during this opening sequence (which, again, is just fantastically staged by Chris Bachalo) and flirts with a Soul-Eater.

When the battle is done, we get to the other hand, which is that all of the Teddy Bear magical fisticuffs actually took place in a little boy’s head. Doctor Strange is doing house calls. So Aaron gives us pompous Strange as well as principled Strange, but the endgame is tired and jaded Strange. The soul-eater promises a Coming Slaughter, which Strange discusses over drinks in a hilarious team-up of sorts. Can Strange muster the will to face what’s coming? Can he balance his ego and his pain and his fear?

Jason Aaron is clearly trying to revamp Dr. Strange after years of redundant, reductive storytelling—Strange as moral arbiter, Strange as magical solution, etc.—by incorporating a sense of humor and self-awareness not seen since those original Ditko issues. And yet, the real star of the book is Chris Bachalo and his team of inkers. Bachalo is a fairly divisive artist; his adamant experimentation and stylized aesthetic can be a “like it or not, there is no middle” reading experience. I mean, I’m a huge fan, so I’m totally down for the trip, man. And really, for a book entitled Dr. Strange, do you really want a classic 6- or 9-panel spread? Bachalo plays with overlapping gutter space, forced perspective, circular panels, and stark color swatches to create an evocative, psychedelic experience, which is perfect for the character and for the book. His monsters are astounding and terrifying, especially when illustrated in quiet, “average” settings like a city street or bedroom. If you’re not down for Strange quips, just look at this pictures; it’s worth the price of admission.

Verdict

BUY. It might seem strange to see a Dr. Strange book kickstarting a new universe alongside Iron Man and Spidey, but Marvel clearly banking on their Sorcerer Supreme. With an all-star creative team in Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo, Dr. Strange is bound to be an absolute trip! Check it!

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