A Dog’s Day in Doctor Strange 382

By Taylor Anderson

Doctor Strange 382

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

A couple months ago, my wife and I fulfilled our destiny as newlyweds and took one step closer to actual adulthood by buying a dog. She’s an unholy mix between a labrador retriever and a dachshund, and perhaps the cutest dog on the planet. Even when she chews up favorite bookmarks I’ve had for years or drinks water so compulsively fast that she barfs it all back up one minute later forcing me to clean it up, I can’t help but love her. I blame the eyes. One sad puppy-dog look from her an all is forgiven. This is all to say I understand why people love dogs and why they seemingly go to the ends of the earth for them. As it turns out, that’s something I have in common with Stephen Strange, as well.

At the end of Doctor Strange 381, it was revealed that Stephen had abandoned magic and taken up veterinary medicine. Stephen handles this job with the same candor that he handles all things, which is to say: he doesn’t handle it well. Perhaps his biggest mistake — that’s actually amazing — is allowing a basset hound, Bats, the ability to talk. It lands Stephen in trouble, yet at the same time Bats is incredibly likable. Maybe it’s his sad basset hound eyes, or maybe it’s his brash attitude (OR MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE HE’S A LOVABLE DOG), but Bats is instantly the best part of this issue. And that is, perhaps, why it’s so sad when he dies at the end of it.

When Stephen confronts Loki (because he’s worried the latter will locate a spell that will give him awesome magical powers), Bats comes along to help. This courageous K-9 leaps to Stephen’s defense when he is manhandled by Loki, but his poor, little, unhealthy dog heart can’t take the excitement and he quickly expires.

Oh, dear Bats, we hardly knew ye, but this doesn’t lessen the blow of seeing you die. Now that I own a dog, I understand why Stephen is so upset at Bats’s death. Dogs are awful and wonderful and more often than not awfully wonderful, so it’s upsetting to see them die in real or even on the page of a comic book. Like most horrible, dog-loving people, I would rather see 1,000 humans die before a single dog so it’s clear to see why this event leads Stephen to take extreme measures.

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6 comments on “A Dog’s Day in Doctor Strange 382

  1. You missed the best part about the dead dog (only joking, there is no best in anything that involves a dead dog)

    Loki killed the dog by accident. One of the big ideas of this story so far is that Loki is casting magic while being highly dismissive of the costs. The story (or lie) that he is telling everyone, including himself, is that as a god, he is strong enough that the costs don’t matter to him. One of the big questions in this run is ‘What is the unintended cost of Loki’s overuse of magic?’.

    And that is what Bats’ death is, in miniature. Loki’s spell worked perfectly, but had an unintended side effect. There was a cost, and Loki greatly regrets the irresponsibility of his actions. Which perfectly signals where Loki’s arc is going.

    Also, there is so many great little touches in this comic.
    I love that Strange refuses to lie. Great little way to represent how unresolved his feelings are about losing the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme to the God of Lies is, despite beginning the comic is seemingly normal mundanity.
    I love how Loki uses Skurge’s guns from holding the bridge of Hel in Simonson’s run (cleverly phrased to make people think it is a Thor Ragnarok reference if they are unaware. Accessible continuity to all!). The idea of items having symbolic power like that is a favourite trope of mine, and reminds me of Vaughn’s Doctor Strange: The Cure, which is never a bad story to look for inspiration to.
    I love how the Exile of Singhsoon is bound to Zelma. Partly because I love such weird, metaphysical depictions of magic. And partly because of how well it fits the metaphor of the issue. Strange’s story is about losing everything he cares about, and what he will go to to get them back (there’s an interesting combination of heroic motivations of responsibility and baser motivation of jealousy I hope are explored). So how better to build the stakes than to make the McGuffin literally the life that Strange lost. The Exile of Singhsoon is not merely a mechanism to tell a story about reconnecting with Zelma, but a way to place Strange’s relationship with Zelma front and centre
    I love how Walta slightly adjusts the way that Strange looks throughout the issue, so that at the beginning he looks square and pathetic, but as he gets more and more involved with the world of magic, he starts looking more heroic until the end where he looks more adventurous, like a small spark of what he once was has returned. Can’t way to see how Walta depicts Strange by the end of this story.
    And this ins’t a great little touch, but worth saying. The first page is just a bad example of flashforwards, and great proof of why it is an overused trope these days, and the comic would be so much better without it

  2. 1) I agree with Matt. Any views I had about this comic were stated by him. He was even concise!

    2) Was I the only one surprised by the final page reveal? I’m a dummy when it comes to hints and clues in stories, I get wrapped up in the characters and the story and miss all the clues, but this was very, very effective for me.

    3) I’m slowly reading less Marvel, as I have the Unlimited app and I feel like a dummy for buying comics that are only ok when they’re going to be practically free for me in a few months. I’m reading Slott’s Silver Surfer run (which I did not care for as it came out, but like it more now), but this is one that I want to read month to month.

    • Just did a quick re-reading

      A) Why did Strange bring Bats? There seems to be little reason to need the little guy there. All it did was put Bats in harms way as he knew he’d likely be dealing with a god of mischief that was looking for trouble as the Sorcerer Supreme. The only reason Bats needed to be there was to propel Strange to climb the snowy mountain. I’m less of a fan of that than I originally was.

      B) On rereading, I’m not sure I am bothered by the fastforward like Matt was. I’m not sure how the story would have read without it (if it were linearly told it would have been fine also I guess, and the open of Bats talking to Strange in front of the customers would have been a fine enough opening too), but I don’t think I’m bothered by it.

      • I don’t think the Sentry reveal is supposed to be guessable. It is not the sort of reveal that pays off established elements, but the sort of reveal that introduces a completely new element that recontextualises what came before. The point is that it surprises us, and that surprise makes us understand the stakes. THings are that bad that Strange went to the Sentry?

        And I don’t think it is that much of a problem that he took Bats, especially as I don’t think he was originally planning on confronting Loki, just scouting. In which case, a second pair of eyes would help. Especially one that has first hand experience with the previous expedition. Yeah, from a story level he exists solely to be exposited to until he dies to motivate Strange, but I don’t think his presence in the scene is a problem.

        On the flash forward, I was more drawing attention to it because it is a recurring problem in comics at the moment, than because it is a grievous issue. There are many worse problems in certain comics, but this is an industry wide one that is ultimately an easy crutch that ends up detracting from the experience. One that should be highlighted so that we can move past it, even as we discuss more fundamental features.

        The problem with such flash forwards is they are often used to have a more ‘dramatic’ beginning (though generally through flashy openings like climbing a cliff than engaging in actual drama) that end up poorly serving the narrative. The only advantage they have is they let you start the issue with a bang, that could also be achieved by redrafting your beginning to be more exciting. The problems, meanwhile, are many

        Firstly, they rarely add to the events of the narrative. Knowledge that Strange climbs a cliff because of a bad day does very little to inform our understanding of events. Before the Loki scene, there is more than enough in the book to see that confronting Loki is going to be a ‘bad day’, and so having a flashforward to tell us that it was a bad day does not tell us anything different. Strange ‘not being overly fond of liars’ and freaking out about Loki seeking the Exile of Singhsoon tells us everything we need to know about what is about to happen. THe flashforward tells us very little.

        Stories don’t actually use the flashforward to any kind of effect. If a story was to take advantage of the flashforward to use dramatic irony, that would be effective storytelling. For example, imagine if a book like Infamous Iron Man begun with a flash forward to Doom as a supervillain fighting the Avengers. The fact that every issue saw Doom trying to redeem himself and be a hero would be rendered tragic by the dramatic irony that the reader already knows that he will fail. That example works because there is a clear contradiction between what the main narrative is about and what we know will happen (Kill or be Killed, with its weirder structure, also works as an example of this going right. Dylan’s belief that he doesn’t have to kill any more is ironic because we, the audience, know that despite his hope, it will end tragically. Because we know we haven’t reached the fight from the flashforward yet). However, there is no interplay between future and present here. The present suggests this is a big moment that is going to go wrong, and the future told us that the present is exactly what we expect.

        And lastly, and this is where the flashforward is actively bad instead of just purposeless, it limits options. This flashforward, in Doctor Strange and countless other books, generally provides no benefit to the main narrative. And because of that, it distracts us from the main narrative. Because it isn’t informing the main narrative, we are instead asking questions like ‘Why is Strange climbing a cliff’ and ‘Who is Strange meeting?’, questions that divert our attention away from the confrontation with Loki. When our attention should be singularly focused on the main events, the flashforward creates reasons to distract us.

        And most importantly, it kills the tension by closing off paths. Suspense works by not knowing what will happen next. Flashforwards hurt that by telling us what is not going to happen. For example, one legitimate possibility is that Strange recklessly attacks Loki, leading Loki to banishing and trapping Strange in a scary dimension. Or any other outcome which ends with Loki attacking and hurting Strange in a serious way that he will have to recover from. Except, since we know that he is well enough to climb a cliff, those options are closed. In what should be a suspenseful scene, we can cross off a wide range of outcomes of what could happen to Strange. We know that nothing that bad will happen to him.

        And that’s the problem. There a million worse ways to fail. Mixed up themes, lack of stakes, nonsensical or empty characterisation. All these things create major problems that create bad issues.
        Crappy flashforwards aren’t anywhere near that bad. But they are a problem technique that detracts from the experience. And it is important to call them out and draw attention to those issues, especially in good comics like this whose biggest point of improvement is addressing problems like this.

        • I agree that the flashforwards are overused and don’t always enhance the story. I think the effect of, “Wow, the story of how he got here is going to be amazing!” is not usually achieved.

          I think this one was better than most because there still was a surprise reveal at the end in that the mountain wasn’t literal and it was to Sentry, not a magical power.

          But, point taken on the problems with flashforwards.

        • Except that ending reveal would have happened regardless of whether there was the flashforward or not.

          Which is the problem. Often, when we reach the points of these flashforwards, they are quite good. But it doesn’t change the fact that the flashforward itself it is purposeless and just detracts for the story

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