A New Old Power Couple In Town: Reviewing ‘Strange’ #10

by Scott Redmond

Overview

The final issue of ‘Strange’ brings a powerful and satisfying close to this chapter in the Sorcerer Supreme saga, paving the way for a brand new beginning for the series that is to come. A truly gorgeous, bright, vivid, magical, powerful, character-rich series that has delighted and entertained and built deep connections for almost a year. Don’t be sad the journey is over, be happy we got to witness it and that there is more to come.

Overall
10/10
10/10

It might sound cliché, but while Strange #10 is very much an ending it is also very much just the beginning. Essentially Strange was a chapter in a much larger story being told, wrapping up with a happy ending just in time to launch the next chapter, the aptly named Doctor Strange series, in March.

 

There is a part of me that misses the days of not fully knowing what was coming next before a story was over, with solicits giving a lot away three months ahead, being able to wonder about endings and beginnings. Yet, at the same time, knowing there is more to this story very soon makes this series ending much easier. Rather than being worried that this series I’ve come to greatly enjoy and look forward to every month will be no more, I get to think about how much more things will be enjoyed with the next chapter that is born right out of this one. While also enjoying a pitch-perfect character-focused issue from one of the masters of character work, Jed MacKay, who never misses the mark.

In just barely over the span of a year, MacKay managed to tell two complete stories focused on the death of Doctor Strange while also still heavily featuring the dead but not quite dead Doctor himself and both of them were completely different! Fully different themes, character focuses, and types of stories but both chapters touched on the story of the Stranges and the rekindling of their love. This feat alone deserves a loud round of applause.

Why is that you might be wondering? Anyone that has been reading Marvel and DC Comics for a good amount of time is no doubt aware of the fact that death is basically a vacation spot with a revolving door. Characters are killed, shelved (or sometimes replaced with their other universe counterpart) for a period of time stretching from six months to two or three years before bursting back onto the scene in a new series. It happens like clockwork, with varying degrees of success or acceptance.

Now to get to the wondering why this story gets some applause. MacKay managed to kill Strange but also keep the character around in two forms (his time-locked magic copy and the dead Strange as the Sorcerer Supreme for Death) in a way that still had a powerful emotional impact around the loss and it didn’t feel like cheating. I loved Old Man Logan, there were some amazing stories told at that point, but it did feel like cheating of sorts to off Logan and just replace him with an older grumpier more tragic version until it was time to bring him back out of the limbo toybox.

Everything that MacKay does with characters from Clea to Stephen to all his time spent with Black Cat or even someone like Taskmaster in his miniseries, feels completely earned. That’s because in any of MacKay’s writing the character beats and emotional angles are given just as much (sometimes seemingly more) focus as the action or superhero/magical elements. Even with Stephen in this book (in disguise for a while though), we went on a truly emotional journey with Clea that gave her the most spotlight she’s had at Marvel in quite some time.

This was the final issue of this particular chapter, and I spent a lot of time gushing about the overall aspects of the series and the other chapters led by MacKay, but I should now point some at this particular issue. For all the reasons listed above, I absolutely adore this issue. The magical Revenants have been leveling up like mini-bosses and having the Sentry’s ghost-filled corpse as the big boss is perfect because it is exactly the type of body beings looking to have an Earthly form would want to take. Magic isn’t what saves the day though fully. No, it’s the love of the two Stranges as they literally merge into one being (taking the marriage makes you one thing to the extreme) in order to destroy Sentry and the Blasphemy Cartel.

Oh, Death actually keeps her word, and with the threat of the Revenants extinguished, Stephen Strange is back amongst the living. Look at that, just in time for his own series to return. What timing Death has.

For all the praise that was heaped upon MacKay above for the character work and overall story, all of that plus more will now be heaped upon the work that Marcelo Ferreira, Roberto Poggi, Java Tartaglia, and Cory Petit put in across these issues to create such a gorgeous, powerful, and magical series. Comic books are a true full collaboration exercise and what this team has created together is just beyond words in some respects, but since I’m a writer I’m gonna do my best to put some down here.

Yes, comics are drawn on a flat paper surface, truly a two-dimensional medium, but artists can do so much with that surface to make it something deeper that breaches the dimensions. Ferreira and Poggi not only are able to do that but the depth and detail on every page with so much weight, make every panel and space within these issues feel real. This is a living breathing world, and the characters that are within it take up actual space and feel inherently real.

As noted way above emotions and character beats are one of the big keys to this story, and that key can’t work if the characters are not displaying those emotions in a way that the audience can detect. Not a concern here at all because all that detail I mentioned includes spot-on facial expressions and body language that clearly spell out what characters are feeling and even thinking at times. Showing those emotions is just one step, making moves that can heighten and really home in the focus on them is the next. This is achieved by the way that Ferreira handles the paneling.

There are tons of panels that are full close-ups of the characters, putting us right there in the action beside and in front of them so that we can feel the tenseness and the reality of their situation. Not just that but the way that the panels are set up can really increase these feelings, helping our eyes dash across or down the page. I love when panels eschew the standard square or rectangle to do something different, like a few pages where they are slanted slashes like ramps that actually take our eyes across and then down the page in almost a zig-zag. Not only does it create a visual path to follow, but it’s also just really damn cool.

A visual story with magical elements is a playground for bright shiny and even darker shadowy colors, which Tartaglia seems to revel in playing within. Plenty of the magical elements are very vivid in their brightness, fitting into that superhero color realm as well, while at the same time, the overall color scheme is somewhat toned down in a way that allows the brighter elements to stand out even more. Buildings can have a more sedate type of color palate, fitting the reality of most buildings, so that the superhero costumes and magical spells and the like pop so much more. They are otherworldly in many senses so they should be standing apart from what our mind would point to as ‘normal’ in most senses.

Many of the backgrounds are lacking deeper detail and instead are a splash of color, or lack of color in a few spaces, which allows the character or moment in the panel to take all the focus. Those colors are also toned down, but with deeper shadow elements at play sometimes or lighter in others. We feel the shadows deeper during the moments of the fight where the heroes are struggling, defeat seemingly not far off, only for all that to fade away as the colors are cooler with the shadows retreating some as the couple merges together and becomes an unstoppable force. Little visual elements like this play an important role in storytelling, visually giving us cues to the turning around of the situation, and are just delightful.

Last but certainly far from least, because it’s all important in this collaboration, is the lettering. Petit is a veteran letterer who touches so many books and does masterful work across them all. Doing all the ‘little things’ right, such as placing the various bits of lettering (caption, dialogue, SFX, etc.) in spaces where they complement the artwork and flow in a way that is easy to follow and can actually guide the reader through a page properly. At the same time, there is so much more on display here that makes Petit one of the better letterers out there.

Emotions are seen on the faces of the characters and felt through some of the colorful cue changes in an issue, but we feel them even more because of the work that Petit does to make sure we can hear those emotions. Inflections and emphasis on words made through dropping in bold or changing the size or type of the font tell us the tone or volume or feeling behind any given set of words. Next to that are the color choices to set aside various types of dialogue or separate character’s caption boxes and do some of that awesome comic book stuff like massive calling out of names within bubbles. A major thing that helps the merging of the Stranges work is the choice to have their caption/dialogue font colors be different so that it stands out who is thinking/saying what during that moment.

What this creative team has done for these ten issues is phenomenal, a complete story from beginning to end that resonated emotionally, gave characters space to grow and be powerful in the universe and set up so much for the future of the characters and the Marvel Universe in one go. I would call that pretty darn successful.

Strange #10 is now available from Marvel Comics.

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