Understanding Golden Age Tropes is an Asset in Doctor Strange 22

by Taylor Anderson

Doctor Strange 22

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

No matter how much success comic book movies have in crossing over into the mainstream or how dark and gritty Christopher Nolan, Alan Moore, or anyone else can make their comic book universe, monthlies will never be able to escape the shadow of the goofiness of the Golden Age. In some ways, the silliness of Golden Age comics have been celebrated by serious comic book fans and writers. They knowingly acknowledge that comics of the past weren’t great, but also pay homage to the stories that gave birth to some of today’s most beloved heroes. Doctor Strange is a product of the Golden Age, and in issue 22 Dennis Hopeless both celebrates and takes a dig at these roots.

Hopeless focuses the brunt of this adulation and scorn on the villains in the issue. When Stephen, Spider Woman, and Ben Urich team up with the Kingpin he takes them to a evil witch who he promises will give Steven some magic items. Unsurprisingly, this witch takes this opportunity to try and kill Steven.

As Steven notes, the witch speaks frequently in alliteration which makes her sound like comic villain of old. This is a clear throwback to Golden Age of comics when this sort of stuff happened regularly. Hopeless has taken that here and used it for comedic effect, and also something more.

Hearing the witch speak with such retro language instantly tells Stephen what type of villain he’s dealing with. Accurately, he sees that the witch will attack him with all she has because she’s hoping to be the one to bring down the Sorcerer Surpeme.

The witch’s actions all fall into Stephen’s plans and he is able to easily take her down. What makes this sequence so much fun, however, is that Stephen has taken on the role the audience in this scene, in a pseudo breakage of the fourth wall. Just like modern day comic book readers, Stephen knows the goofy ways that Golden Age villains act. When he meets one, like this witch, it’s easy for him to make short work of them given the predictable tropes they adhere to. Stephen’s ability to recognize this gives him an advantage that is usually only reserved for those reading comics, not participating in them.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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One comment on “Understanding Golden Age Tropes is an Asset in Doctor Strange 22

  1. Are you sure you mean golden age? Or do you mean Silver Age? The Golden Age, pre Comics Code, had actual horror and crime stuff. It was truly with the Silver Age that we get the sort of goofyness you describe. Golden Age could be goofy, but it wouldn’t be my first thought when I think Alliterative Villains.

    Got to say two things about this. It would be easy to accuse Hopeless of using Jessica and Ben solely because he loves the characters, meaning be damned. But this book is remarkably well cast. Hopeless is actually chosen characters really carefully. Urich is a great choice specifically because of his Daredevil roots – he knows Fisk’s evil and is the perfect counterpoint. Hell, even Matt Murdock himself wouldn’t be as valuable here. Urich’s experience with Fisk compared to his lack of experience with the situation is key here. Meanwhile, Jessica plays the role of the generic superhero, the counterpoint to Strange’s weirdness. Who expects things to be straight. And no one could be better than her in her role, because she is both able to fill the ordinary superhero role and has an existing relationship with Ben that makes the group dynamics stronger. And lastly, Fisk has always been a bit of a devil figure, especially with Secret Empire, and so is the perfect ‘ally for Strange, a man who is used to facing very different, more literal devils. Classic Strange trope, recontextualisied for DarkForce New York

    Secondly, I love how many of Strange’s spells are references to things like Pinocchio or Muhammad Ali. To our collective, cultural history. I’ve always loved the idea that magic is meta, that instead of strict rules, It is about weaving story to get the desired outcome. So the fact that Strange’s spells are not powered by ominous Latin, but by using our culture is amazing. The magic is powerful not because it came from the Angels of Infinite Omnipotence, but because Strange’s magic matters to us. Because Strange’s magic is powered by what we value

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