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Review time! with Doctor Strange: Season One

Yet another one of these new origin stories from Marvel! Let’s check it out!

As I’ve mentioned before, I hope this OGNs do well for Marvel, because I like the idea of Marvel (and DC) doing graphic novels even more than I like the quality (or lack thereof) of some of these books. So far, this is the fourth one I’ve bought, and they’ve ranged from okay (Daredevil) to pretty good (X-Men) to very good (Hulk). This latest one is vying with the Hulk one for the best of the lot, although I have, to be fair, skipped some. This time around, it’s Greg Pak writing, Emma Ríos drawing, Álvaro López inking (“additionally,” so Ríos obviously inked some of it), Jordie Bellaire coloring, and Clayton Cowles lettering. And, as always, this is $24.99, with a reprint issue (this time, it’s Defenders #1) in the back.

One of the reasons these books haven’t been as superb as they could be is, as I’ve mentioned, because the writers really can’t deviate too much from the template. So in the X-Men book we get a Magneto story, in the Daredevil we get Matt figuring out a mystery, but with a lot of the old villains dropped in throughout the book, and in this one, we get Mordo and Dormammu. I think the Hulk one is the best so far, writing-wise, because van Lente created a new villain. He wasn’t the most original villain, true, but at least it wasn’t the Leader or the Abomination! So it’s hard to really love these books solely based on the writing – none of the writers have re-invented prose in these books, they’re just telling a story, but when the story dictates you have to use characters everyone has seen for years, it’s a bit more difficult to get into. Marvel, I guess, wants to make these new-reader-friendly, but that doesn’t mean you just have to recycle old villains in because new readers won’t know who they are. All it should mean is that these comics stand completely alone, without years of continuity to wade through in order to understand that. I can’t imagine the audience for these books is ONLY new readers, so why not make it “new” for old readers as well by inventing someone new for the good guys to fight?

Anyway, that’s getting off track a bit. One reason why this book is quite good is because Pak focuses on Stephen’s friendship with Wong, and while I’m in no way a Doctor Strange expert (I’ve read less than 20 comic books starring the good doctor as the title character, I would surmise), I don’t recall Wong ever getting such development, and it makes the origin a bit fresher. Strange is technically superb at being a sorceror – he would be, as he’s a surgeon and all – but he lacks a conscience, while Wong is pure of heart so the Vishanti respond to him, but his technical proficiency is terrible. Instead of Strange learning on his own how to be a great Sorcerer Supreme, Pak gives us two men who need to learn in different ways to be great sorcerers. It makes the book fresher than just a torturous journey through Strange’s soul!!!! The plot is perfectly fine – a woman from a museum in Rome (is she the curator? – I don’t think it ever tells us) says she found mention of three rings of great power that, if brought together, can command the Vishanti (and hey, Pak name-checks Simeon I of Bulgaria, who seemed pretty neat when I first read about him 20 years ago – everyone know Bulgaria had a Golden Age, right?). She thinks it’s imperative that they find these rings before someone evil – like Mordo – gets his evil hands on them and … I don’t know, takes over the world or something. So she (her name’s Sofia), Strange, and Wong go on a quest (humorously enough, she trekked to Tibet to find Wong, not Strange) to find the rings. It’s unclear how Mordo found out about the rings – he shows up at the Ancient One’s monastery after the others have left, so unless the Ancient One told him about the rings, how did he know? I suppose the Ancient One could have told him just to push Strange and Wong to fight Mordo and become better people, but that seems like a dick move – although I guess, if you’re so Ancient, you’ve probably pulled some dick moves in your life. It’s a nice story – the three people who possess the rings use them for different things, and Stephen Learns a Lesson™ from each one of them (well, mostly from the second one, but he still learns something from each of them). No, it’s not the most original story, but Pak tells it well, and that’s always appreciated.

Much like X-Men: Season One (Jamie McKelvie) and Hulk: Season One (Tom Fowler), a very big reason to buy this is the artwork of Ríos, ably abetted by Bellaire. Ríos’ frenetic style makes her a very good superhero artist, and her big battles in this book are a flurry of activity without being overwhelming (well, they’re overwhelming, but in a good way). It’s impressive how well she incorporates mystical stuff that seems to take the book right out of the realm of reality but manages to keep the storytelling clear. Her detail is amazing – the page with all the creepy creatures in the Cairo street is wonderful – and she’s able to pack a lot into each panel without making the reader go blind. On the other hand, she’s also a lot like Nathan Fox, with enough of an “indie” sensibility that she can easily do odder comics, and that blend of styles works very well on an oddball character like Doctor Strange. Bellaire, who continues to get better and better, does a fine job helping Ríos out – she uses greens and reds very well throughout the book, and her “special effects” – coloring the weird creatures a bit differently to show that they don’t exist per se; turning Wong into a negative image of himself – are imaginative and worked well into the book. Nothing looks like it was dropped in digitally – I’m sure the book was colored that way, but Bellaire makes it all seamless – and even the slightly out-of-sync creatures are part of the drawing rather than manipulated in afterward. The comic is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s very nice to see two young creators getting such wide exposure (Ríos was born in 1976, so she’s not a neophyte, but she’s new to American comics, and I have no idea how old Bellaire is, but she hasn’t been working in the industry too long).

As with all of these books, I wonder about the packaging. It’s a nice hardcover, but it would also be a five-issue mini-series costing 20 dollars total (at four dollars a pop), and I’m not sure if the reprint is worth the extra five bucks. I don’t even know if Marvel plans to release these in softcover! I think they’re neat, but I get that not everyone wants to spend the money. However, I’ll Recommend this whole-heartedly based on the actual story, because Pak does a nice job “re-imagining” Strange and his transformation into the Sorcerer Supreme (or at least someone who could be SS in the future) and Ríos and Bellaire do a marvelous job bringing it to vibrant life. Which is very keen!

16 Comments

Which Defenders #1 gets reprinted? There have been like 5 or 6 I can think of just off the top of my head.

Probably the newest one, with “sleeps with his students” Dr Strange. Because that douche is the guy you want to show off to the world.

Randy: Yeah, sorry – it’s the most recent one. I agree with Travis – not the best version of Strange to put in the book.

Good story or not, does Marvel have larger plans for Doctor Strange? To me, it IS enough to just tell a good story, but I assume these Season Ones are supposed to serve a larger purpose right? What I’m saying is that I want more Doctor Strange.

jjc: Yeah, I’m not sure if the “Season One” books are supposed to have a larger purpose. I think they’re just supposed to introduce people to the characters. Unless I missed a memo!

*cough* templates for the inevitable movies *cough cough*

That said, to not follow up on these is foolish.

But, I think they need to decide what they’re doing with these.

Are they doing new origins that carry over and are THE origins for the current characters as the Marvel Universe exists NOW! ?

Or are these weird, sorta kinda the origins, sorta kinda ignorable if the writers on the main books don’t like them?

Or is this a new “Ultimate” type universe?

If they aren’t a new universe, I don’t see where a new villain is needed/wanted. Remember all the great villains Busiek created for Spidey in Untold Tales? Remember how we see them all the time now? That’s right, you don’t. (And I say this despite UT being on my top 10 list for the Creator Run countdown. It’s a great book, but in many ways, it didn’t really “matter”.)

In other words, if the point is to create a new version of these characters, yes, there should be stories that use new villains. If it is “merely” a retelling/revamping of the origin of the character, I think the old villains are necessary to use.

I hope that Pak writes Doc as limited in some ways, because I miss the Ditko-style Doctor Strange who could stand up to vastly powerful demons but also be threatened by an ordinary man with a pistol. He had considerable, but distinctly limited abilities, and tended to use his wits and fists with creative applications of a few basic powers. Ditko’s Doc usually needed a scroll or a talisman to do much more than cast illusions, shields, and some bolts of magical power; his cloak let him fly, his astral form didn’t have all of his magical power, teleportation took preparation and effort or it left him weak as a kitten, and he needed to Eye of Agamotto to really read or control minds and to banish demons and such. The effect was to make him very talented, though not omnicompetent, at handling magical menaces, but distinctly vulnerable to more “realistic” threats.

Everyone after Ditko kept amping Doc up until his powers and limitations were both vast and arbitrary. As good as Steve Engelhart’s stories were, by the end of them we had a hero who literally could not die, who knew the deep secrets of the universe, and who could transmute matter and energy, skip through time and space for a holiday, and meddle with minds on Professor X’s level. They were good stories but they left the character in a rather hard-to-use place; Peter B. Gillis and Warren Ellis each briefly solved the problem by swapping out Doc’s powerset or playing up the possibility of his corruption, but those are by their nature limited-term solutions.

Bendis’s solution was to power him down, but he did so in a way that hasn’t fixed the underlying problem. Doc’s limits still come off as utterly arbitrary and plot-dependent, and so there’s still the sense that he can end the threat in the story by recalling just the right spell whenever the writer decides he can. He’s “weaker,” but in just as arbitrary and undefined a way as he was “powerful” until recently. As, er, odd as it may sound, I think Doctor Strange is a character who works best when he can be brought down to reality as often as he can take flight into fantasy.

Travis Pelkie: I dunno, Scorcher and Headsman were from Untold Tales: one of them became one of Bendis’s go-to henchvillains from Secret War through the end of the Hodd arc in New Avengers, and the other was a feature member of the Thunderbolts cast during Dark Reign. Sure, we haven’t seen much of Terrier, Sundown, or the Spacemen since, but neither do we see much of a Guy Named Joe, the Living Brain, or Hoods Incorporated either.

Omar: Well, it’s very early in his career, so Strange really doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s very good with spells, but the Vishanti don’t respond to him because he’s such a jerk. He figures things out as he goes along, so he gets better, but there’s not a lot of opportunities for him to screw up too much (because of the length of the book). Early on, Wong does start fighting the demons attacking Sofia (the first scan is from this moment), and Strange doesn’t want to. I’m not sure if it’s what you want, but Strange is definitely not a super-duper superhero.

“I’ve read less than 20 comic books starring the good doctor as the title character”

- As long as 12 of those were Strange Tales 130- 141, you’re totally okay. If you haven’t read this epic, lengthy arc by Lee/Ditko you need to get into your ectoplasmic form and essentially teleport to the comics shop like yesterday. Spider-Man may be more popular, but Dr. Strange was the team’s pinnacle. And this arc is the apex of the zenith of that pinnacle.

As Travis suggests, it is my belief that this (much like the JMS mini “STRANGE” from 2005) is an attempt at a movie-script-friendly origin update.

What it does, is make Doc origin take place some time within the past 5 years (hand-held tablet devices which can receive email are mentioned).
Thus does it destroy the 10-Year “Sliding Timescale” of Marvel, since the Fantastic Four have always been set at the far end of that 10-12 year history, and Doctor Strange’s origin has long been accepted as having occurred at least a decade before theirs (Doc was leaving Tibet as a young, freshly scarred Victor Von Doom was wandering the Himalayas, before meeting with the monks that would help him make his armor).

Anyway, Pak’s story, while a nice read – and an exciting one – turns Wong into something he never was, and shoehorns in one of Pak’s pet characters (Sofia de Cosimo – from his Hulk run [maybe he's looking to get her into the movie]).

It reads very much like an expensive issue of WHAT IF? (which was always professional fan-fic. Sometimes very COOL fan-fic, And Officially paid for and endorsed fan-fic, but fan-fic just the same.)

I hope it doesn’t step on toes to post a link, but if anyone wishes to read a VERY extensive review (which not only looks into THIS volume but also compares and contrasts with other versions of Strange’s origin tale) please feel free to check out my insanely detailed review, here:

http://sanctumsanctorumcomix.blogspot.com/2012/09/doctor-strange-season-one-in-depth.html

I do apologize for the link, and in no way am seeking to “hijack” any readers.

I’m not saying that Greg’s review is wrong.
It’s a very good review with many solid points!
There’s no such thing as a wrong review, as tastes vary and almost every viewpoint is valid (unless totally wrong, like for instance saying that Spider-Man is a “menace”).

I’m just offering a view point from a Doctor Strange “historian” who owns and has read EVERY single appearance of Doctor Strange (comics, novels, short stories, foreign press, unmade movie scripts… everything).

Thanks.
~P~
PTOR

OOps…

That should read:

“Doc was leaving Tibet TO RETURN TO AMERICA, HIS STUDIES WITH THE ANCIENT ONE COMPLETE, JUST as a young, freshly scarred Victor Von Doom was wandering the Himalayas, before meeting with the monks that would help him make his armor.”

Somehow I accidentally must have highlighted and deleted that part of the sentence, thus making it read a bit weird.

~P~

PTOR: I forgot that Pak is using Sofia from an earlier comic. Thanks!

Dang, I’ll have to read your review. That’s a long sucker!

I’m halfway through reading this Dr. Strange Season One book. And it’s okay. Good enough to finish reading it later tonight. But I’m really turned off by the art. There’s a lot of scratchy lines, as if the artist was unable to choose the right one. Most artists start off sketchy and then simplify and clean up their art by choosing the most essential lines. This artist just leaves the whole mess on the page, and in many panels it is impossible to tell what is happening.

The other thing that keeps pulling me out of the story is the goofy teenage dialog between Strange and the Ancient One. Gosh, if this book was intended for seventh graders, they should put a sticker on the cover so adults don’t waste their money.

And the reprint IS a total waste of my hard-earned money. That comic was too crappy for me to buy when it was originally published, and I don’t like it any more now when it’s forced down my throat in this expensive hardcover. Because of this reprint, I vow that I WILL BUY NO MORE OF MARVEL’S “SEASON ONE” BOOKS. This hardcover was sealed in plastic, and I was mis-led into believing I was spending my money on a book full of Dr. Strange. Instead I had Red She-Hulk, etc., forced upon me. Barf.

Dammit, Omar, don’t sully my ranting with “facts” and “examples”. :)

Ah, I knew I was probably wrong about the Untold Tales villains. I totally knew (but forgot at the moment) about Headsman in T-Bolts, but I wasn’t aware that Scorcher was being used. Good thing I didn’t actually name check him!

To rant again, with PTOR pointing out that this places Strange’s origin 5 years ago, boy, does it bug me that all these Marvel and DC books are trying to put the origins at that arbitrary and entirely too short ago time. I’ve always dug that some characters have been around for years while others are just popping up. But when EVERYONE started at the same time, it’s just dumb.

Maybe DC could get away with it by suggesting that the Meta-Gene bomb from Invasion went off 5 years ago (or so, the nuDC is still not sure how far back their stories are set), and maybe Marvel will make everyone a mutant, but that just destroys the unique characteristics of everyone’s powers and origins.

Oh, since PTOR brought up as well about Pak using Sofia from some other comic, I thought I’d mention something that I don’t think was brought up in the review of Hulk Season One — the one Monica character in that was used in more recent Hulk stories, around the time of House of M, I think. Plus she was in the Modok’s 11 Supervillain Team Up book, iirc.

Travis: See, this is why I don’t read a lot of superhero comics anymore. I can barely keep track of the main characters, and then writers keep dropping supporting characters into the books!

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