The Dreaded Cost Of A Mother’s Love: Reviewing ‘Strange’ #4
by Scott Redmond
‘Strange’ continues to really explore not only more of the magical threats and realms of the Marvel Universe but gives Clea a space to really expand and grow in the universe in ways that we haven’t seen in quite some time. It’s a magical, dark, but also whimsical series full of great spectacle but also deep emotional heartfelt human moments that resonate beyond the pages.
Sometimes no matter how many things a person accomplishes in life, say becoming the Sorcerer Supreme of two entire realms, it’ll never be enough to fully please their parents. Especially if their parent is a powerful magical warlord from the Dark Dimension.
It’s been a great few years for the magical side of Marvel Comics, an area that has gone through spells (I’m not sorry) of underuse through the decades. This has continued in the fabulous work that Jed MacKay, Marcelo Ferreira, Roberto Poggi, Java Tartaglia, and Cory Petit are putting in with Strange.
With this being a MacKay-written series it is a given that there will not only be great moments of character development but there will be really great emotional moments between characters. We get that here between Clea and her mother Umar, a relationship that is not just strained but in many cases is non-existent outside of the biological connection that they share. Their interplay here is really good and while it centers around magic and warlords and other things it is still a relationship dynamic that many will find relatable as it resonates with their own family relations. Especially the sort of negging that Umar beings with followed by her revealing she’s proud of Clea, but for all the wrong reasons.
Also, I appreciate how the Blasphemy Cartel is a foe that wasn’t just introduced to pepper into the stories here or there over the life of the series/run. They’ve been a thorn in Clea’s side since the first issue, and after her attack on them in the last issue it makes sense that they would counter with their own brazen attack on her home.
One of the things about magic at Marvel over the years is that often there were very few defined rules or limitations which made it hard to follow, and perhaps why it wasn’t used as much by many writers. Ever since the revival of a Doctor Strange series by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo in 2015, there have been firmer rules about magic that other creators have added to and expanded. We get some of that here as MacKay very nicely delves into the reasons why we see so many magic users using the same spells or variations of the same spells: because creating new spells is dangerous and takes skill. Clea being a double sorcerer supreme with other skills being one that has a slightly ‘easier’ time creating spells makes perfect sense.
Capturing the energy for a series that is heavy on character/emotion but also needs a magical almost whimsical but also dangerous feeling is something that comes quite easily to Ferreira, Poggi, and Tartaglia. All the aforementioned emotions are not only clear to read upon the face/body of the characters, no matter whether they are human appearing or not or wearing masks, but are felt in all the elements in the panel. Every moment has a weight and a power to it as they flow across the pages, especially the action sequences.
There is one sequence where the Blasphemy Cartel shoots a rocket (with “Take that, Witch” written upon it) right at the Sanctum Sanctorum and as it flies through the air all in one big panel it falls apart to unleash a genie that explodes into the Sanctum. That’s some awesome stuff, and the paneling that is in use and the depth to the panel as well as the vivid colors make the whole thing come together with an impact. How artists arrange panels is something that I have become far more interested in over the years and Ferreira does it so masterfully.
There is a nice line between whimsical and dark/dangerous that Tartaglia balances each issue with the array of colors that are on display. We’re treated to lots of bright colors as backdrops or to do with the magical/superhero-like elements that come into play while the darkness and shadows are always nearby to make their presence felt. I love the choices at times for the close-up shots where we get deep looks at the emotions in play across a face that the backgrounds take on a more neutral or sometimes even fully white color so that all attention is straight onto the character and their moment. Whereas others will pull back and give us a full background and colorful elements to remind us what type of place/world they are in at that moment for wider shots.
To many, it’s probably a small thing at times, but when a comic book has moments through the coloring that makes sure that night scenes feel authentic and it’s something I appreciate. Now of course authentic nighttime is going to feel different depending on where the story takes place, but this feels real and weighty for nighttime in a neighborhood of a dense part of a city might feel. There is light but the darkness is still there and is cool looking and feeling.
In the same vein, Cory Petit is a letterer that makes sure that through that lettering, volume/tone is never unclear in a story. In these stories where character moments/development/emotion are super important, the reader knowing what the intent behind the words spoke is supposed to be helps so much. Just the simple act of having smaller font for a whisper or bigger for yelling next to the normal size for neutral volume makes it all flow and work better.
Another aspect that ties into the whimsical energy mentioned is all the color that is thrown around when spells are being used, for the caption boxes, and even for the SFX that are found all over the place. It brings more life to these things and plays into the fun magical world that these books are bringing to life. Comic books can and are a great many things, but at the end of the day achieving a level of fun in the process is something that makes them such a great medium.
Strange #4 is now available.