The Enemy Among Us: Reviewing ‘Strange’ #8
by Scott Redmond
It’s story time as ‘Strange’ turns back the clock as we learn about the very origins of the magically villainous Blasphemy Cartel. Another solid beautiful issue of this series that gives us tons of character moments and continues to build up the magical side of Marvel, giving new life to a forgotten organization and set of characters.
A deal has been struck, as the sorcerers supreme of life and death team up to take down the Blasphemy Cartel. If they fail, the consequences could be dire for the world & beyond. If they succeed they get what they want most: to be with one another.
Heroes die all the time but in the big ongoing comics, there is always a ticking clock surrounding it, because we know that it’s not if they come back but only a matter of when they’ll come back. Some it’s years, others it’s a handful of issues before they return to the land of the living. As is normal with anything Jed MacKay writes, he most definitely isn’t following the most walked path.
Stephen Strange is back, but he’s also not back. While he is the Harvestman, Sorcerer Supreme of Death, and is interacting with Clea and Wong and has a solid corporeal form, he’s still very much dead. Being a servant of Death and all still. It adds a new flavor to the whole situation because Clea in a way somewhat got what she wanted but at the same time did not, because right now they cannot be together. I love some angst, and I could and have devoured whole issues worth of angst before. There is no question that MacKay writes drama and angst just as spectacularly as everything else, but I really like how short-lived Clea’s longing and angst are before it’s pushed aside here.
Stephen’s happy reunions with Wong and former W.A.N.D. director Pandora Peters and Bats is so happy and then we see from Clea’s perspective how devastating it is because she cannot touch him lest there be dire consequences since they are opposing forces right now (life and death). Yet, like so many of us, she pushes past it to focus on what needs to be done because to focus on that pain would drown her but also would accomplish nothing. Success in the mission is all that matters at the moment because that success is pretty much one of the only things that can lead to the ceasing of this pain. Clea is not one to wallow in such things, and she’s going to succeed and get Stephen back full-time or will tear apart whatever she needs to in order to make it happen.
Speaking of W.A.N.D., this issue is mostly Pandora and Stephen telling a story from two years ago that led to the downfall of W.A.N.D. and the rise of the Blasphemy Cartel. I love how MacKay pulls up both long-forgotten or recently created and forgotten characters or concepts, dusts them off, and makes them relevant once more. People often refer to the wealth of characters/things at Marvel as toys in the toybox, and while we all would love to play with the Spider-Man or Wolverine or such toys, there are so many underutilized toys that are even more fun to play with.
One of my favorite uses of two artists in a story is when one is brought in to handle a portion of the issue that is separate from the main narrative (dream sequence, flashback, something happening elsewhere) which is what we get here. Regular artist Marcelo Ferreira and inker Roberto Poggi handle the present-day bookends while Stefano Landini comes in to take on the flashback that is the bulk of the issue with Java Tartaglia coloring both portions of the book.
Fresh off a few issues of Black Panther, Landini has a style that shares some energy and beats in common with Ferreira which makes the switch-off pretty seamless. While the work that Ferreira and Poggi are doing has a weightier and heavier feel to it, there is a bit of lightness to what Landini brings to the page which helps in keeping the two time periods distinct from one another. There is plenty of detail on the pages but also there are moments where some of that is pulled back on so that a particular item or space is maybe a bit out of focus because it draws the focus to the character or moment where our eyes should be, like the image of Strange floating while answering Peters call. Strange is in focus while the cape behind him is a bit more out of focus and parts of the background are just solid colors, keeping our eyes on where the action is happening.
Paneling is just such a huge thing that I appreciate more and more as I keep reading comics, as it just adds so much. Especially since both these artists have styles where we get panels of all sorts of shapes and sizes, instead of just squares or rectangles, where characters and items easily break the barriers of those panels to overlap with others. It just makes things feel bigger and wider but also at times smaller as a single panel can suddenly just focus on a face or part of a face (like a mouth or something) so that we are right there seeing and feeling the emotion. Also, the past pages using black negative space around the panels compared to the white space used in the present day is a fantastic touch.
Ferreira and Poggi bring the same level of energy, depth, and personality to the few pages they have this issue as they do in the other issues. Just like I mentioned above, Ferreira’s panel choices are just so cool as they go beyond the standard and overlap and rest upon each other in ways that draw the eye and make things feel even more connected. Our main storyline is a very heavy one, what with life and death and all that going on, and they always bring that heavy feeling while also making it feel magically light at the same time.
Bringing that lightness to both sides of the timeline is Tartaglia who makes some little tweaks with colors so that the two timelines are similar in their color choices but also feel very different. Overall the colors have a lighter smoother feeling to them in the past, much of the past story they are also brighter with bits of darkness/shadows popping in here or there. They get progressively darker and harder once we get to the point of learning about the rise of the Blasphemy Cartel and what they did. Oh, that panel with Director Peters standing over a fallen member of the Cartel with her shadow showing us the brick wall that is under a sea of just dark red and the foreground in black and white is the stuff I love. Such a striking visual, definitely something that sticks with you.
Those vivid colors are there in the present-day scenes, a bit more shadowed and with some roughness to them in various spaces. It gives each space its own feeling and allows us to instantly visually tell that something has changed before we even read the time change indicator.
Color is also something that pops up with the lettering, as we get a variety of different caption boxes here, popping with their own colorful energy. Cory Petit makes all the words just flow around the pages so easily, placing things in a way that circles the action and leads our eyes in ways that allow us to follow words through to art to words again smoothly. We feel the personality in the boxes and bubbles, as we get the pink of Clea’s boxes next to the striking golden words of Stephen’s boxes and the heavier blue of Peters’ boxes. It makes it so that we just right away hear it in the correct voice, never wondering who said what at any point even with three separate overall voices.
Strange #8 is now available from Marvel Comics.