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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 286: Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #15

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be showing pages that are either scary or are part of “scary” issues (as scary as a comic can be, of course), because it’s October! Today’s page is from Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #15, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 1990. Enjoy!

He shall become a bat!

I have no idea why I own “The Vampiric Verses,” the five-part story arc in Doctor Strange #14-18. This was back when I hadn’t been buying comics for too long, so I was trying out a lot of different stuff. I know the economies of scale come into play here a bit, but I could experiment a bit more with titles when they were priced at $1.50, as this was (it was even better when they were $.75, which is how much they were less than two years earlier when I started buying comics!). I didn’t like this enough to start getting Doctor Strange, but it’s okay, I guess. It has nice art.

This is the second issue in the arc, and it’s the “scariest” of the story. I haven’t read this arc in years and I don’t remember too much about it, so I’m not getting into it, but let’s consider this first page. Roy and Dann Thomas tell us who that bat is in the first word balloon, and I wonder if a new reader would understand that Victor Strange is somehow related to the title character (he’s his brother). That he’s a bat also lets us know that he’s a vampire, which is handy. A lot of the rest is kind of padding – the speaker, Marie Laveau, is kind of blathering – but it sets up Victor’s retort. What we learn from this page is that Victor is a vampire, and he’s speaking to Marie Laveau. Anyone who knows anything about popular culture knows that Marie Laveau is a famed voodoo practitioner in New Orleans, and she’s been used ad infinitum et nauseum by writers (especially comic book writers) for years. Oh, and Victor is pissed off at her.

Jackson Guice is a good artist, so this page looks quite good. The image of the bat dominates the left side of the page, and it’s obvious that he’s using a photo reference, but at this point in comics artwork, artists actually had to draw from a photo reference instead of dropping it in digitally, so it looks fine. The wing pushes us up to Panel 2, where Guice gives us a nice Gothic mansion in the gloaming. Then, in order to move our eye over the page, he shows Victor’s transformation as a stream of smoke moving from the top word balloon through Panel 3 and down to Panel 4, with the word balloons along the side of it. Notice that in Panel 3, the bat has been blurred so that we see the beginning of the transformation, and then Guice gives us Victor as a human. The silhouette is a dramatic shot, because it allows us to see the red eyes and the fangs, which is a scary image, but there’s a more practical concern: Victor is naked (plus, he has that great 1980s hair!). Heaven forfend we see some nekkidness! Guice puts him on that side of the panel, however, so that he leads us into the next page even though he’s facing the other way. How Victor is suddenly holding a book is something we just have to accept!

Ramirez’s coloring is quite nice. The purple of winter twilight dominates the page, so in the first panel, it’s completely purple in the background, which is a good color to contrast with the bat. In Panel 2, we get the purple mansion and the pink sky, which is a cool coloring image, as it adds to the nice mood of the page. Ramirez goes with green and yellow to contrast with the purple, so the blurry bat is purple while the stream that implies the transformation is green and yellow, which looks nice against the darker tone. The book Victor is holding is also purple, linking it to the rest of the page, even though we know the book itself is probably not purple. Again, this is a question of simply holding the page together thematically, and it works quite well. Purple is a spookier color than blue, so it’s a good idea for Ramirez to use it more than he uses the blue that appears in the final panel. The one thing that is slightly annoying about the coloring is the fact that Marie Laveau’s word balloons have different colored borders. I don’t know if the use of different colors for different characters was common back in 1990 (I doubt it, but I didn’t read every comic back then, did I?), but reading this after it’s become de rigueur, I actually thought for a second that it was two different people speaking. Even if the different colors weren’t used back then, why change the colors in the borders? I doesn’t make any sense.

This is a pretty good first page, even if the entire arc isn’t great. The Thomases do what they have to, and Guice draws a nice page, doesn’t he? So there’s that!

(By the way, this IS the issue that got Marvel in a bit of hot water, as a certain noted comic book muckraker detailed here. Guice might have drawn the bat in the issue, but he obviously wasn’t adverse to using images he didn’t draw on the cover!)

Next: A recent horror comic that freaked me right the hell out. Of course, the first pages aren’t too scary, but I’ll do my best! Find more soothing comics in the archives!

9 Comments

Oh Janice Chiang, you are one of the worst letterers in the biz, second only to that guy who did Web of Spider-Man in the 90s. I can’t remember his name, but he was the worst. Chiang, your letters are too flat and wide. They always look like a distorted photocopy image of somebody else’s letters.

Good old Roy Thomas could be as verbose as Claremont, but without the idiosyncrasies.

The book he is holding is the Darkhold, full of all sorts of evil magick, so it probably magickally transformed along with him in his bat form. (I assume it became something tiny that he held in his bat-feet. You just can’t see it in the picture.)

Never was a big fan of this run (Doctor strnge came back 1 year earlier , after 18 mounth in strange tales with cloak and dagger .. on stories written by peter gillis wich entertained me more… even now i find those better ,it had chris warner and rich case on art)

Everyone praised that title when it was announced that Thomas was coming back, and would close story arcs he begin in ’69 on the title… only stayed a while for Guice’s art…

@Greg, some og the first issues of the strange tales written by peter gillis had opening pages …really scry/nasty .. (Stephen Strange losing an eye, sacificing his friends, dark rituals, demon taking human forms … )

Well, I wouldn’t say that Victor Strange is completely naked just from this page (perhaps the next page makes a stronger point but not this one). Take a better look at that silhouette. Considering Mr Strange’s stance, either he’s wearing briefs or he’s got another very good reason to be pissed off–and not just at Laveau. As the Monty Python guys would say, he’s missing some “naughty bits” which should be dangling from the crotch.

It had long been a standard artistic practice that fully-clothed vampires would shift to bat-form, make their flight, then reshift back to “human” form, still fully-clothed. A fully-clothed Dracula was always shifting to bat-form (or even mist) and shifting back, still fully-clothed.

Yeah, that is weird with the change in word balloon borders. I thought maybe it had to do with contrasting with the bg color, but panel 1 has that purple, and the contrast is fine. I think the “different color word balloons for different speakers” thing is something from the 21st century, for the most part, so it wasn’t yet a “thing” by this point.

Not sure why matthew doesn’t like Chiang’s lettering. It’s quite readable to me, and is placed on the page just fine. Maybe she kicked his dog?

And hey, I haven’t seen Mary Warner here for a bit. Yay! She’s back!

matthew: Chiang isn’t my favorite, but she’s no Troy Peteri or Willie Schubert! :)

ollieno: Those sound like cool pages. Unfortunately, I don’t own the issues! :(

JosephW: I see your point, but this is, after all, a Marvel comic, so they wouldn’t show anything dangling even if it was in silhouette! Now I have to go look at the next page. When I was scanning this, I thought he was naked, and now I’m beginning to doubt it!!!!

Travis: I agree. It’s always nice to see Mary commenting!

Sorry. My computer got all messed up and it took a few months before I could afford a new one.

You’re back, though, Mary, so that’s cool. Yay!

As to what JosephW is talking about, I was just reading the just concluded Space:Punisher mini, and

*minor spoilery bit*
..
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
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there is a version of the Hulk, and I noticed in at least one image, he’s as smooth as an action figure down there. And there’s not the shadows like in this page where you could at least pretend there’s something there, just not quite visible. Perhaps that’s why Hulk smash?

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