Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Doctor Strange 11, originally released September 7th, 2016. As always, this article containers SPOILERS.
Taylor: To say that modern movie making has changed the course of comic books would be an understatement. Once wrongfully believed to be the bastion of solely nerds and misfits, the world of comics has now opened up to broader audiences with the wide appeal and easy entry point movies have offer. It’s easy to assume that the scripts for these movies are plundered from the rich depths of over a half a century of serial publication, but that assumption wouldn’t be entirely accurate. As the Civil War movie shows, movies frequently influence their panelled brethren. The Civil War II comic event, while totally independent from the movie, certainly has been influenced by the film, and that comes as no surprise. Marvel has money to make. And though it’s true that the Civil War movie was based on an earlier comic, it’s clear to see that movies, for better or worse, are influencing comics. There is no better example of this than Doctor Strange 11.
Doctor Strange and his magical cohort have successfully defeated the Empirikul, who waged a war of destruction upon all things magic. While Stange emered from this battle victorious, he is only a shell of his former self. There is little magic left in the world and Strange controls an even smaller portion of it. Despite this, he is trying to get back on his feet and back into the magic saddle once again.
In many ways this issue feels like a reboot. What with magic having been all but destroyed and Strange having to basically start over from scratch, it’s basically an origin story 2.0. Evidence abounds that all point to the reboot such as strange having to literally rebuild his house and having to fight monsters he once dismissed with ease. However, the most striking evidence comes during a conversation Stephen has at the Bar With No Doors with Chondu.
Seeing to Stephen lament about his lost magic, Chondu literally tells him to write a new book. Within in the comic, he’s of course talking about magic books, but it would be hard for anyone to miss the advice about starting things over from scratch. Even though this issue isn’t a reboot in the strictest sense, it is detailing a brand new beginning for Strange. To regain his place atop the magic food chain, Stephen is going to have to go through the same learning curves he did the first time he learned magic.
Speaking of which, I appreciate how writer Jason Aaron reminds us exactly what Stephen went through to get his powers the first time around. Within the issue, we learn about these events through flashbacks which show pivotal moments in Strange’s origin. These flashbacks mostly focus on the hardships Stephen endured to heal his hands and become first-class sorcerer. For someone who isn’t a die-hard Strange fan, these are welcome insights into who Stephen is and how he came to be.
What we learn about Stephen here is that he’s not prone to give up or accept the easy path. When tempted by Mordo to abandon the magic path in exchange for healed hands, Strange rejects the offer and takes hell for it. This virtue is reflected in the present day, as well. Just as before, Stephen is starting over and just as before the one thing that carries him through all the hard times is his willpower and his desire to become the best magic user in the world.
This soft-reboot makes sense in the larger context of Doctor Strange as a commercial entity. The movie, starting Benedict Cumberbatch, comes out in two months and it’s in Marvel’s interest to give first time Strange fans an easy entry point into the series. In this way, it’s clear that the movie industry is effecting the course of this comic in a significant way. However, I’m impressed with the way Aaron has crafted a story that is basically a reboot without actually pulling up the foundation on what he’s already established. Somehow, he’s pulled off the clever trick of writing an issue that might please both hardcore comic and movie fans alike.
Still, there are things taking place in this issue which I could never imagine happening in a Marvel movie. In particular, I love what Jordie Bellaire have done with the use of color in relation to magic. When Stephen ventures out onto the street to after his conversation with Chondu, he meets a world teeming with magic creatures only he can see.
The bold choice of black and white to depict non-magic people and things and brilliant color to depict the arcane is wondrous. It reminds me that magic is weird, unique, and ultimately a fun thing. Seeing this panel I instantly understand why Strange works so hard to exist in the world of magic. Compared to it, the real world is colorless and boring. That the magic creatures are depicted in bright, tropical colors only serves to underscore how exotic and compelling this world is.
Drew, I enjoyed this issue and think it has a lot to offer. What do you think? Do you see this issue as a reboot or a natural progression after the “Last Days of Magic”? Most importantly, as a pleb, would you rather have a magic starfish, octopus, or slug hanging from your shoulder? I think I’d go octopus — it’s just so cute!
Drew: Are those parasites, or pets? I agree that the octopus could make a fun companion, but if it’s just going to suck life force out of my body or something, I might prefer to just go it alone.
I think your reboot/natural progression question is fascinating, precisely because, as you say, it really works for both new and old readers alike. As a fallout of the “Last Days of Magic”, this issue establishes some lasting repercussions, giving the events of that arc some real weight. For new readers, pruning the magical world down to a smaller, simpler entity makes the series that much more approachable. I’ve always been happy to accept the references to magical books and spells and characters as esoteric color, not necessarily meant to be understood by the reader, but I can understand how they could daunt a newcomer who doesn’t share that attitude. Starting basically from scratch can assure newcomers that they’re not missing anything important.
Heck, even the significance of the return of Baron Mordo is broadcast in those flashbacks. Mordo has actually been a runner of sorts, referenced in many of the flashbacks throughout this series, but this issue communicates everything we need to know about him: his longstanding feud with the ancient one, his disregard for the disciplines Strange holds so dear, even his willingness to tempt Strange over to the dark side. I suspect these will all come up as Strange is now in a place of particular weakness.
And holy moly am I loving that weakness. Unlike countless de-powered superhero stories that came before, this is less about the “rules” of made up superpowers, but about knowledge. There’s little doubt that Strange will once again become a powerful sorcerer, but he needs to relearn the ropes in order to do so. In the meantime, he’s blundering around like a guy who’s just put on roller skates for the first time. Check out how he struggles to even get out of the bar with no doors:
Mordo may represent a more profound danger in being de-powered, but this issue mostly plays it as a humerous inconvenience: Stephen walks into walls, Wong gets tossed around by the Sanctum Sanctorum’s doors, Stephen gets beaten up by a lowly magical parasite. That last one basically brings Strange down to the level of a street brawler, which again makes him more approachable to newcomers. It may be hard to conceptualize the costs of elaborate spells, but it’s pretty simple to conceptualize a fight with a baseball bat.
Actually, I think the artist changes reflect that simplicity brilliantly. Kevin Nowlan’s elaborate feathering and hatching in the flashbacks represents how complex the world is at that time — even in moments where Stephen isn’t aware of the magical world. Leonardo Romero’s more line-smart approach communicates the bold simplicity of Strange’s present day magical world. Intriguingly, Romero adopts a bit of Nowlan’s hatching at the very end, as Mordo’s arrival decidedly complicates Strange’s world (though again, he may not know it yet).
It’s a subtle touch that elevates those artist shifts to a true narrative purpose.
Maybe changing Strange to a street brawler will displease longtime fans who prefer Strange as a kind of magical Sherlock Holmes, full of expertise we can’t even fathom, but this issue makes it very clear that this is a temporary inconvenience. Strange is re-writing his library, Chondu is rebuilding the bar with no doors, the magical garden is growing back. We’ll get back to the Sorcerer Supreme we know and love, but Aaron is going to build him up one piece at a time. Until then, I’m happy to have a slightly more relatable Doctor Strange.
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