Physician, Do No Harm: Reviewing ‘Doctor Strange’ #1
by Scott Redmond
‘Doctor Strange’ #1 kicks off the third chapter of the new era for the sorcerers supreme as the married couple begins a new journey bringing aid to those that most need it in the Marvel Universe. A magical, fantastical, and wondrous beginning to this latest volume for the magical side of this universe.
Once upon a time, that time being almost two years ago, Doctor Stephen Strange died. That was not the end of the story. Turned into the Sorcerer Supreme for Death herself, he returned as the Harvestman while his wife Clea took up the mantle of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme in his stead (while remaining the Sorcerer Supreme of the Dark Dimension as well). Now he’s back amongst the living and the Stranges are together again, but the world is a much different place since Strange’s death.
Relaunches are a touchy topic for comic book fans. There are a ton of them in modern comics, books making it to basic double digits, let alone large double or even triple digits, aren’t as common as a thing in many cases. New creative teams mean a whole new volume of a title to the point where some long-running characters at Marvel and DC both have reached double digits in the number of series volumes they have (start adding their various different adjective-laden or adjective-less titles and it gets even bigger). I’m one of those that can be on the fence about relaunches because there is something about that large three-digit number on the front page that just gets me giddy as a fan, but I understand the industry reasons they do it.
That being said, I fully endorse the type of relaunch that we’re seeing here with the Jed MacKay-written Strange books. We’ve seen relaunches like this before as Marvel especially did quite a few of them in the late 2000s and into the 2010s and they were foundational for Valiant Comics when they made their big return in 2012. I’m talking about the type of relaunch where each new volume is another chapter in an ongoing story, whether through the same creative team or not, and it moves things forward but is still connected to what has already come before (whether fully connected or just built upon that) just like an ongoing series normally would be. That’s opposed to relaunches that are spiritually connected to what came before but fully 100% detached from the previous series to do their own thing.
MacKay started with the event that saw the death of Doctor Stephen Strange so naturally, the event had a name that was apt, The Death Of Doctor Strange is pretty straightforward. Its next chapter was not one about Doctor Strange as the lead character but about Clea Strange at first, therefore, Strange was a fitting title especially since once the reveal of the Harvestman as Stephen happened that meant the book was about the Stranges, so the title worked even better. Now Stephen is back so sliding into a new chapter with him as the title character but Clea is still a major part of his life and a main character in the book just works, chiefly because of how MacKay is leaning on Doctor Strange being the doctor you call to consult about magic stuff element.
That’s a long ass way to say that I really like this way of doing relaunches where the reason for the relaunch is baked into the story and premise itself and is born out of telling a new chapter. I, at this point in my comic fandom, don’t mind relaunches and reboots but when there is a thematic or plot or just overall character reason for it to happen that kicks my interest even further up.
That interest was already sky high because I’ve loved every moment of the past two chapters of the story that MacKay is telling and MacKay is one of those creators that I see their name and I’m going to read that series no matter what. That’s because any series that he writes is one that is chock full of deep nuanced character moments and development, a respect and love for the Marvel Universe that allows him to use various characters & past information to enhance a story rather than weigh it down, and awesome ideas that put a character or their chunk of the world into a new light. With MacKay, canon/continuity is not an anchor or a gatekeeping force but rather enhances the stories being told and creates a fleshed-out universe that allows a story to be accessible to readers new and old alike. Reading The Death of Doctor Strange and its follow-up Strange is something I would highly recommend, but they are not required reading for this story.
We’ve seen a variety of takes on Doctor Stephen Strange, the former surgeon born of ego who turned to magic after an injury, including him as the lone man standing against massive magical threats or often as a full to semi-member of various Avengers teams. Here though, we get a Strange that is reborn and has a new respect for life and death with a desire to help those who need help with magical issues while still holding down the responsibilities of the Sorcerer Supreme. Strange as the magical consultant to the heroes, whom he points out are well-intentioned and good people but are lacking when it comes to magic, is perfect.
It’s great to see both Strange and Wanda Maximoff taking similar but different paths of being helpful with magic, in a way to make up for their pasts. Strange is taking his new lease on life to do more for others and put more good into the world while Wanda is seeking to help those that no one else will help because for years she was someone that had no one to help her as she spiraled and broke. I love both characters and seeing them thrive and be heroic and doing this stuff brings a smile to my face.
Also, this is still a duo Strange book so that means we get to see how much Stephen and Clea love each other but also how extremely different their views on how to handle threats really is. Opposites attract and they are quite opposite, and that is already proving to be a good beat for the series to explore. Especially as they deal with all the warlords that are on Earth after so many magical realms fled to Earth as refugees during The Death of Doctor Strange.
This is a series that was tailor-made for the style of Pasqual Ferry. It’s a magical story that weaves through various magical realms with fantastical characters and spaces popping up all the time, which fits the fantastical and whimsical stylings that Ferry naturally brings out with his artwork. At the same time, there is a firmness and a sharpness even to what Ferry draws, giving that harder energy that is needed for the story that is hand here. It really nails the idea that these are real people & some real situations with depth and weight to them but also, they belong to a world that is so much different than our own with elements we can’t even begin to imagine.
All of the various characters, both the heroes and the various people from various realms, all feel unique and have a distinctive presence when they appear on the page. All the emotions that we’re meant to feel are clear on the page as they flow off the characters and swirl around them and around us as well. It’s amazing how Ferry can switch from a page that feels very tense and deep or one chock full of panels trying to recap things and flow right into pages that are far more serene or are just utter fun. Such as the one with Strange floating drinking coffee or tea reunited with his ghost dog Bats, or the sheer joy of the page where Black Cat gets to tag along one last time to feed the dragon of Central Park.
With Ferry’s artwork, the joy and amazing nature of comic books are on full display, and it pops even more with the pairing of Matt Hollingsworth’s colors. These colors are both vibrant and stunning but also airy and light at the same time. Various elements around the characters have a more toned down or natural look to them which helps the world feel more normal to us in a sense which then allows the other elements that feel out of place to pop even more as they are meant to do. Whether it’s the toned-down or the fantastical, there is a flood of color all over these pages that reminds us just how utterly colorful and alive the world can feel at times, and Hollingsworth nails that so easily in this book.
Anyone that reads most of my reviews knows that I love it when art is able to accurately depict changing lighting styles that feel natural, and we get that here. Dusk or morning or midday all feel like they should and we’re shown various periods of the day through the opening pages and it just works.
A holdover from the previous series just like MacKay is Cory Petit still bringing that lettering magic to the pages. Just like how others change up their style depending on the mood or tone needed, Petit does the same with the letter work here. The previous volume was much darker in tone with what Clea was going through and there was more of a sharpness to the tone. Things here are more light and fantastical with a hint of darkness and we see and feel that in how Petit chooses the font here as it feels way more magical with just some slight changes. At the same time, he still captures all the volume, personality, and energy of the various characters so easily allowing us to create their voices in our heads as we move through the story.
Another central character to the Strange mythos is not being left out, as while Wong is not present in the main story the backup story is all about him. It was recently announced that Wong is becoming the director and an agent of W.A.N.D. (Wizardry Alchemy Necromancy Department), which was a group that had gone rogue and become the villains in the last series. Now Wong and the previous director Pandora Peters are working to bring the organization back to the side of good.
This fun little story from MacKay, Andy MacDonald, and Ian Herring has the duo fighting the Freaky Doktor Zee and his Psycho-Zeppelin over the skies of Birmingham, United Kingdom before recruiting the Doktor to W.A.N.D. as their third member. Putting his skills and desire to raise up humanity to use for good rather than keeping him as a foe. It perfectly sets up how different Wong’s version of W.A.N.D. will be and showcases a whole new avenue for the character who has steadily grown in stature since his beginnings as a mere supporting character to Doctor Strange.
MacDonald and Herring have a solid style here that taps into that really weird fantastical element that these stories need, with lots of flowing action scenes and depth to this world but also not afraid to dip into the realm of the bizarre. Plenty of very solid dark colors but also out there vibrant bright colors that pop off the page and create some psychedelic visions, just as the Doktor wanted. It’s a perfect companion in style to what the main story presented, tackling the same but different type of tone in a unique way of their own.
Doctor Strange #1 is now available from Marvel Comics.