Strange Academy continues to peel back the layers and give deeper glimpses of its student body, for better and for worse, while still displaying the levels of heart and fun that make the book work overall. This series not only shows how teen books can work still in the comic book realms, but gives a solid glimpse at just how varied and deep the realm of magic can be at Marvel when one chooses to explore it more.
Compared to the distinguished competition and other fictional universes, the magical side of Marvel Comics hasn’t gotten as deep of attention as it should have over the decades. Until the recent decade, there weren’t even a ton of actual foundations or rules/laws to bind it all together.
Several Doctor Strange series, starting with the big one in 2015 from Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo, have worked to change that greatly alongside a lot of other more magic-focused books. Strange Academy has been one of those, and it’s continuing to bring a new view not only to the world of magic in Marvel but giving another outlet for fun teenage hero-focused stories.
Within this book, Skottie Young, Humberto Ramos, Edgar Delgado, and Clayton Cowles have created a very whimsical, fantastical and just overall delightful series that effectively tugs at the emotional heartstrings at times.
Following a rough few issues for the students, the young Calvin in particular, this issue gives the impression of some breathing room as the kids seek a fun night out but there is a lot more going on here. We get a background-origin reveal for Zoe and how she came to be zombified, are introduced to the new antagonistic character Gaslamp (through dialogue and a quick glimpse), and it’s at last revealed just who Emily is speaking within in Strange’s basement.
In regard to the aforementioned basement dweller, this is another area where the book is pulling directly from the 2015 Doctor Strange series mentioned at the start. The Imperator was a big threat in that book, seeking to destroy magic itself, so it’s interesting to see him return here. Especially since the trope of a young child talking to an imprisoned bad guy is given a different twist here. While there are still most assuredly issues to be raised with the idea of forever imprisoning someone in a basement dungeon (or any prison), the way Emily handles it and the ‘gift’ she gives the Imperator are a step in a better direction.
Also, it is worth noting that while Zoe’s background is fitting for the character as presented and definitely adds to her as a character in some ways, the questions raised about how it chooses to delve into Voodoo and New Orleans as a whole are sometimes a bit iffy.
What helps this book so much is just how full of heart it is, and that is clear on every page with the beautiful emotional work that Ramos is delivering. All that heart is mixed in with the ability to take these fantastical and magical concepts and make them look both outlandish but also just perfectly natural at the same time. It’s a magical school that one might actually want to attend, even if sometimes magical coats try to kill everyone.
Delgado’s colors take it all up another notch as the dazzling bright popping colors mix perfectly with the darker shadowed tones that hang heavy around many moments. This is a magic world full of bright but also dark and scary things, a tone that Delgado nails easily. There are plenty of places where the coloring work enhances things, but the easiest one to point to is moments surrounding our favorite flame-headed son of a dimensional villain, Doyle.
Those moments are the ones that come from his various emotions showing off through the changes to the colors of the flames around his head. Whether he’s angry, or confused, or feeling a variety of emotions that have to do with the presence of Emily. Another space is the flashbacks which start off with shades of green for Zoe’s living moments, quickly desaturating for the moments where she becomes the undead.
Another aspect of the personality of this book comes from Cowles lettering, which is full of bits of energy that make each young student’s voice and personality pop through their dialogue. From different colored bubbles to changes in font, like the Asgardian font for brothers Alvi and Iric, to the magical bits of SFX that dot some of the panels.
There is a lot of heart and fun within this book, which helps make it work on a variety of levels. There are still some cliches and areas where more exploration would help break some of the kids out of their moulds, but here is still time. Kicking off books with new characters and new worlds to build is never easy, we often take it for granted that books we love from the past made it but they often had rocky paths to tread as well.
Strange Academy #13 is now on sale in print and digitally from Marvel Comics.