Posted in comic book review

Comic book review: Doctor Strange (2015) 1-10

Who do you call when things are coming out of your dreams and trying to kill you? Or when your daughter is cursing in Latin and walking like a spider? Or when your dog keeps screaming at you to strangle your neighbors? Doctor Strange, of course.

As an avid D&D player, I always, ALWAYS, go with spell-casters. I don’t think I’ve ever played anything but sorcerer or wizard, and I don’t think I ever will. It just sits the best with me. That’s why, when it comes to deciding the best superhero of all time (from the Marvel Universe, that is), Doctor Strange is a natural winner. All hail the Sorcerer Supreme!

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Fist appearance, 1963

Doctor Steven Vincent Strange was an arrogant neurosurgeon who cared only for the money he got from being such a good doctor. After a car accident leaves him with shattered hands, which never completely heal, his career is ruined, and, being too arrogant to accept a position of a consultant or assistant, he spends all of his money trying to find a cure for his ruined hands. After hearing some rumors of somebody called the Ancient One (the Sorcerer Supreme of that time), he uses the last of his money to travel to Tibet, hoping the Ancient One would heal him. This does not happen, however, because the Ancient One finds Strange too selfish and refuses to heal his wounds. Strange is annoyed, but after the Ancient One is attacked by his disciple Mordo, Strange shows the change of heart, and becomes the Ancient One’s apprentice and Mordo’s mortal enemy. Strange spends years learning the secrets of magical arts, and upon finishing his training returns to New York, where he takes residence in the Sanctum Sanctorum, together with his assistant Wong. From this base, he fights all kinds of different forces of evil, finally becoming the Sorcerer Supreme himself after the death of the Ancient One.

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Sanctum Sanctorum as represented in the ongoing Doctor Strange series

During the last two decades (well, almost – from 1997 to 2015) he appeared only as a supporting character in different Marvel comics, and it took 18 years for him to finally get a new series. Written by Jason Aaron and penciled and colored by Chris Bachalo, the new series starts off with a bunch of weird magical cases, setting up the stage for The Last Days of Magic story arc which covers the issues 6 through 10, although the first six could easily be considered a part of the arc, if only as filler issues to introduce the new and old characters and the setting for the rest of the story. These weird magical occurrences turn out to be the reaction of the magical world to the Empirikul, a force intent on destroying all magic and magic users from existence with the help of SCIENCE (I like that part very much, even though it kinda feels like a critique of modern science).

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Led by the Imperator, Empirikul is on a crusade across dimensions to avenge the death of Imperator’s parents by magic authorities of his home-world. It finally falls to Doctor Strange and his allies on Earth to put an end to this scourge, but this will prove to be a very hard and very costly endeavor, with several character deaths, as well as the very-near destruction off all magical items and resources in existence.

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There’s a new character introduced, one Zelma Stanton, a librarian who first comes to Doctor Strange for help, but decides to help him organize his books after he asks her to. This will lead to her being assaulted by sentient food from Strange’s refrigerator, the forces of Empirikul, and finally terrible pain she shares with Strange to help him defeat the Imperator, along with all the humans on the planet. I think she had a good time in the end. Sorta.

Anyway, issue number 10 marked the end of this story arc (kind of), and I find it really good! The story is interesting, quite original and refreshing, I think, and both easy to read and tense enough to make you crave for more. I like how well it shows Wong’s attachment to Doctor Strange and how far he is ready to go to save him from danger, even from himself. Strange is a really stubborn guy and I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to assist him along his path each and every day. I seriously do think Wong is the only person living that could do this job and not go crazy enough to murder Strange. I know I probably would. Well, I’d try anyway. Probably wouldn’t succeed. The story also shows the cost of using magic, which, apparently, is incredibly high (think bleeding out of your eyes, vomiting stuff that requires magic to clean up, and not being able to eat normal food because it turns to dust in your mouth – and these are the least of your worries!), and Strange’s reluctance to give up even if the price might be too high – his life. I had a slight problem with some of the Imperator’s thoughts on science, because it really feels (as I said before) like he is some kind of a caricature of modern scientists (“I grew up alone in a womb of science. All I ever cared about was finding the tools of technology that I needed to obliterate magic.” Sounds like and evil version of Neil deGrasse Tyson), but that might be just me being allergic to attacks on science. The art is fantastic, although it took me a while to make a switch from the 80’s Strange I’m used to.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series that came out so far (last issue is number 18), and I hope it will remain as awesome as it was so far. Don’t let me down, Aaron!

Verdict: 8/10

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Posted in comic book review

Comic book review: Marvel 1602

Marvel 1602 is an amazing 8-part graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman, penciled by Andy Kubert and painted by Richard Isanove. It was published in 2003 by Marvel Comics (obviously). The series was recommended to me by my cousin, and I can say with certainty this was his best recommendation so far (you know it was, cousin dear).

Marvel 1602 is set in 17th century Europe, where real history and fictitious Marvel universe merge into an incredibly intriguing story in which classic Marvel heroes such as Nick Fury, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four fight to save the Earth, as well as the universe (all of them, actually) from destruction by an unknown force that messes with the time-space continuum, which is never a good thing. Not only that, but there’s an ever-present danger that is Doctor Doom, and that pathetic crybaby which can’t deal with rejection, what was his name… oh yes, Magneto. Oh, and there’s even the Toad!

I will not write the full plot here, which I usually do, because, honestly, the story is so good that I do not wish to spoil it to anybody, not even all three of my occasional readers. I will say, though, that it has been a long time since a comic book amazed me so much. It’s not surprising – we’re talking Neil fucking Gaiman here, folks. His ingenuity shows in every aspect of the series, from simple jokes (Peter Parquagh, I’m thinking of your name here!) all the way to some quite profound insights by Reed Richards:

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I also like how perfectly he adapted the characters to the Elizabethan period. The Beast, for example, with his eloquent speech, or Carlos Javier serving the holy mass with his witchbreed (medieval version of mutants) pupils of the College for the Sons of Gentlefolk. Or Daredevil, portrayed here as a blind bard (yes, a bard – also, an adventurer for hire) Matthew Murdoch.

And not to forget the evil count that lives in a foreboding castle in the mountains, and calls himself “the Handsome”. Who might THAT man be, you ask?

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The art is also remarkable, if you haven’t noticed by now, so much so that I made so many screenshots to use as my smartphone background image that there is simply no way to decide which one is actually going to be my smartphone background image. It fits the story so perfectly, both in giving it that medieval feel that is absolutely necessary for a piece like this, and in providing the reader with some real eye-candy.

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Verdict: This is, without much thought, one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. The story and the art are so good that I will definitely re-read it at least a dozen times (I will re-read it more than a dozen times). 10/10