Today, Spencer and Taylor are discussing Doctor Strange 7 and Doctor Strange: Last Days of Magic 1, originally released April 27th, 2016.
Doctor Strange 7
Spencer: Science vs. magic, in one form or another, has been a debate since the beginning of time. Those fighting this battle defend their side vehemently, probably because the conflict taps into a number of elemental aspects of the human condition, such as the origin of life, the idea of a higher power, and perhaps most fundamentally, the balance between order and chaos. The thing most people lose sight of, though — especially the Imperator of the Empirikul, villain of Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s Doctor Strange 7 — is that it isn’t an either/or proposition. Science and magic can, and should, exist side-by-side.
It’s easy to see why the Imperator thinks otherwise, though. He comes from a world of magic that treated science as an abomination, and which sacrificed their young to Shuma-Gorath in a misguided bid for protection. The young Imperator barely survived, turning him against magic forever. The thing is, though, his world’s troubles were less about magic, and more about blind faith and intolerance, and those are qualities the Imperator displays in spades.
The essentially religious language the Empirikul use to describe science is practically identical to how the mages of the Imperator’s homeworld referred to magic, and their punishments just as severe. The Imperator’s crusade is just that: another misguided rampage, not a quest of justice.
In many ways, I blame the Empirikul Eyebots that raised the Imperator for this. Brought up in isolation, taught nothing but revenge and severe science-only rhetoric, he never had a chance of living a balanced life (I blame Imperator’s misogyny towards Magik on this too). I can’t help but be reminded of home-schooled fundamentalist here, only on a much grander scale.
In contrast to Empirikul’s narrow worldview, Aaron and Bachalo show how there’s a balance between science and magic in nature. Last month they portrayed magic as the equivalent to imagination, a necessary thing, and the root motif Bachalo snaked throughout the issue emphasized that magic is alive, and it connects people throughout the world. That root motif returns this month, but it’s joined by “scientific” roots as well.
This shows that science, that order and the laws that govern the planet, is just as intrinsic an aspect of the world as magic. Neither science nor magic are the problem — it’s when they get out of balance that issues arise. Imperator’s homeworld is a great example of this.
The Imperator’s father’s home is so obsessed with science that it’s antiseptic, devoid of almost all color. The arrival of magic brings with it color, but they’re hot and harsh reds, burning with zealotry. Both their viewpoints are too extreme on their own; they need balance to really thrive.
Needless to say, Taylor, I’m really enjoying this storyline so far. What are your thoughts on the balance of magic and science? And a more specific question for you: I can definitely see allusions to Batman and Superman’s origins in Imperator’s backstory. Just a coincidence, or do you think Aaron has a point to make?
Taylor: The entire time I was reading the Imperator’s backstory I was thinking of Superman actually! The parallel between it and arguably the most well-known superhero origin story surely isn’t a coincidence. I think Aaron clearly wants us to see the origin of the Imperator as being analogous to Superman, but the obvious questions is why? I think the answer hearkens back to what you were discussing, Spencer, concerning the issue of fundamentalism. As you aptly demonstrated, the theme of this issue is that radicalism in any form is dangerous. Superman is universally considered a force for good; he essentially embodies the idea of a “good guy” down to the bone. What this idea presupposes, however, is that there is ultimate good and an ultimate evil, with Superman fighting for good. However, in today’s world we know that this is not the case for rarely are things so easily divided. In this way, Superman as the embodiment of “good” is just like the Imperator. Both represent ideologies that believe in absolutes. I think Aaron, by drawing comparisons between the Imperator and Superman’s origin story, is showing us that absolutism, no matter what its cause, is ultimately a source of destruction.
Bachalo’s art reinforces Aaron’s theme of fundamentalism in the issue. I know Spencer already pointed out, but I think it’s worth noting again how the Imperator is drawn in only black and white. Not only does this show his lack of magic, but it also telegraphs how he sees the world. He sees the world as having good and evil, of being filled with only science and magic respectively. There are no grey areas to the Imperator and that’s reflected in his severe color scheme, as can be seen below.
While this panel shows the Imperator’s colors well, I also love it for the way Bachalo divides it into two distinct camera angles. You’ll notice that in the first panel the Imperator is talking and we are able to see his face. This is necessary because it establishes him as the one telling his origin story just witnessed in the book. It also serves to introduce the character the circumstances we find him in. Those circumstances happen to be holding Dr. Strange hostage tied to a tree, which is the centerpiece of the panel. Cleverly, Bachalo uses the tree Strange is tied to to divide this panel in two. It’s such a subtle divide that I almost didn’t notice it the first time I read this issue. In this second panel Bachalo flips the camera around over the Imperator’s shoulder and shows us exactly the dire straights our heroes are in. This panel, and the one before it, are two establishing shots that give all the information we need to understand what’s happening in this issue. That they are so well intertwined just adds to beauty of this spread.
Doctor Strange: Last Days of Magic 1
Taylor: The Last Days of Magic lives up to its name. Through the framing sequence of Zelma Stanton organizing Dr. Strange’s library, we see famous magic users hunted down by the Imperator’s army. Each of these short vignettes has a distinctive style and as such it’s a treat reading through this issue. What makes the use of different writers and artists so much fun is that each creative team clearly strives to imbue their story with a unique genre using their artwork and narrative devices. For example, Jason Aaron and Leonardo Romero create a story that is as flamboyant and rowdy as the character it follows.
This story of El Medico Mistico is a treat and I instantly fell in love with the zany action of the luchador inspired magic user. Like all stories in this collection, the story of El Medico Mistico begins with the Eye-Bots (Inquisitors) launching an attack on a sorcerer. As befitting a raucous wrestling match, El Medico Mistico confronts these attackers in an entertaining and wholly unexpected way.
The unexpected aerial shark attack is entertaining, yes, but what really gets me is how the Eye-Bots react. Instead of being horrified they’re curious. Having seldom encountered a thunderstorm, they assume sharks falling from the sky (and eating them) is natural. This is a great visual and narrative gag in an issue that is otherwise pretty grim and I can’t help but feel this lighter tone syncs up wonderfully with the protagonist in this story. It’s lively, a bit silly, and just plain fun.
By contrast the story of Doctor Voodoo, written by Gerry Duggan and drawn by Danilo Beyruth, is a bit weird and spooky. I first noticed this difference with the change of artwork best exemplified by this panel featuring Voodoo in his hideout.
Instantly I notice this difference of detail used by Beyruth here. Whereas Romero employs a more iconic style befitting the lighter tone of his story, Beyruth goes for a more realistic look that instantly tells me we are dealing with a darker tone. This detail isn’t just a tool to set the mood, however. I’m fascinated by the above panel because of all of Voodoo’s junk piled on his shelves. I know virtually nothing about Voodoo, but if popular culture has taught me anything about it, it’s that it places a premium on totems and charms. I love pouring over Voodoo’s shelves and guessing what the use of all these different charms may be.
The mood created by Beyruth’s style carries over to the battle between the inquisitors and Voodoo. From the beginning I get the sense that Voodoo doesn’t stand a chance but I love seeing the wily bastard try his damnedest to survive. He ultimately does, but by the end of the fight I feel like it’s all for a lost cause anyway. With his Earth magic gone he’s essentially powerless and whereas I felt triumphant at the conclusion of El Medico Mistico’s story, here I felt forlorn and spooked. I credit both creative teams in creating these different and distinct tones in a small page count and overall I think these stories make for a great issue.
Spencer, which stories in this collection did you like best? My favorite are probably the two I talked about, but the case can be made for any of them being the best in the issue. Your thoughts?
Spencer: I agree with you on just about everything you said, Taylor. Between Aaron’s zanier vignettes and Duggan and James Robinson’s darker tales, Last Days of Magic runs a gamut of tones, which makes for a fascinating read. I’m probably most fond of Aaron’s framing sequence myself, if only because it seems to capture the tongue-in-cheek spirit of Doctor Strange the closest (for obvious reasons, I suppose). Aaron plays each magical feat totally straight, which only emphasizes how completely ridiculous Strange’s life (and the lives of his magical allies) really are. It makes for some terrific humor.
Aaron’s approach to his new characters also fits the limits of this issue the best. He keeps the introduction of each character short and snappy — because we’re strapped for space here, even in a 40+ page issue — and emphasizes what it is that makes them unique from the get-go. These characters are all concept (except for perhaps Mahatma Doom, whose personality and concept overlap), but those concepts instantly stand-out. They’re memorable.
Since he’s a pre-established character — and one he’s already writing in Uncanny Avengers to boot — Duggan doesn’t do much to clue any unfamiliar readers into Doctor Voodoo’s personality or concept, but his story still succeeds largely due to stakes. Voodoo’s battle with the Empirikul sells how dangerous they really are better than any other story in this issue (and considering this book is called Last Days of Magic, that’s kinda important).
This is the moment that, at least to me, sells how scared, outmatched, and desperate our magicians have become — Doctor Voodoo has to resort to science of all things just to stay alive! Nothing says “magic has failed us” more than that.
Robinson and Mike Perkins’ “The Wu” doesn’t quite have the clarity of purpose of the issue’s other two tales, but there’s still much to like. The second half of the story is snappy and fun, featuring our star as a magic-wielding cop hiding her abilities from her superiors. That’s not quite as far out there as some of the other concepts thrown around in this issue, but Robinson proves its potential through execution.
The problem lies in the first half of the story, which meanders through a leaden-dialogued tale of Doctor Strange meeting the Wu’s parents. Strange’s presence is entirely superfluous (although if Strange knowing the Wu becomes important somewhere in the main book, I’ll take it back), and Wu and her family largely feel like stereotypes, like they’re just filling stock family roles in order to make the loss of the Wu’s mother feel more tragic (it just lands with a thud). I adore the idea of legacies (Wally West is my favorite character, ’nuff said), and the Wu finding a way to honor both her parents by becoming a magic-cop is awesome, but there just isn’t room in this issue for a tale of multiple generations to properly play out. If establishing the Wu as a character was the point of this story, than I’d love to have gotten to know her a bit better.
Still, I’m looking forward to seeing more of her (as well as the rest of the new characters introduced in the issue) as the “Last Days of Magic” storyline continues. I’d imagine that was the point of this issue, so in that sense, it’s a success; even if it wasn’t, though, it’s enough fun in its own right to be worth checking out.
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I like this, but…
Man, parts of this feel a real super duper lot like Godkiller.
I like it. I really do. I have some issues with some issues, but it’s entertaining. It just feels like a story I just read except with magic instead of gods. (gods aren’t magic? They certainly aren’t science..)
It’s cool, I’m on board.
OH MY GOD, THIS IS LIKE GODKILLER.
Good catch Kaif. The thing is, they’re both so good at fleshing out a wildly weird universe of either gods or magical people. It actually reminds me a little bit of Spider-Verse, where I was just excited to see what flavor of Spider-Nonsense we were going to get to see next. I also think it’s important that some non-Bacchalo artists are drawing these additional stories. I LOVE Bacchalo’s work — there’s no one else that gets that kind of energy on the page — but clarity is not his strongest suit. And when I learning about new crazy magic users I WANNA SEE!
This sort of story is a fantastic way of actually defining what Aaron is writing about, if you think about it. The first question you ask when a writer enters a run is ‘What is this authors Thor?’
So Aaron creates a villain who stands in explicit opposition of everything Aaron’s run stands for. The Godkiller and the Empikikul are an easy way for Aaron to make very clear what his Thor and Doctor Strange runs are
I think it’s a testament to how good of stories both are that I’m 100% invested here. And the idea of different artists for different magic was pretty cool (and something that Scarlet Witch is doing, which I know is being avoided here, and I understand why.)
I finally got round to catching up with Doctor Strange. Want a bit of time to think about it, before making any major essays. But there is one insight I want to discuss.
Aaron is obviously doing a science v art story. Many like to argue that if magic existed, it is just unexplained science, but that kills the magic of what magic is. Magic doesn’t make sense, except through symbolism and meaning. Magic is imagination, is art.
This same thing means that magic is of empathy and connection, because, as Ebert said, art is an Empathy Machine. Therefore, the Empirikul’s problem is that it has fetishized reason to the extreme, to the point where it hates anything that is not ‘the one true Reason’. You guys brought up the idea of the fundamentalist, but there is something else that comes to mind. This reflects perfectly Internet Atheism (please note, this is not all atheists. If I was to state my religious belief, it would probably be atheist). There is a notable subcommunity of atheists that have fetishized reason to such a degree that it has become justification of being horrible people – anything they do can be justified because they are the reasoned ones. In fact, that use that status of Champions of Reason to justify all of their opinions – of course their opinions are right, they are atheists are reasonable. Despite the fact that they preach Islamophobia and Sexism etc. No wonder the Empirikul have such hatred for Magik. Beautiful woman of magic/art is exactly what these sorts of people hate. It also explains how their reasoned processes lead them to destroying magic despite previous issues making clear the symbiotic relationship between magic and the real world. The Empirikul aren’t of science/reason. They are of those that fetishize science/reason. They are petty youtubers who swap between screaming about the evils of feminism and the evils of religion, as supervillains