Life After the Title in Doctor Strange 383

by Patrick Ehlers

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

Patrick: Doctor Stephen Strange was the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. It’s a baller title, and it comes with some insane responsibilities and nearly unimpeachable authority. Like, when Doctor Strange shows up on the scene, the other heroes know that he’s there because he knows what he’s doing. But when you strip the title away, what changes in Stephen’s life? Doctor Strange 383 continues Donny Cates’ saga of Loki’s tenure as the Sorcerer Supreme, but keeps Stephen under the microscope to determine what the remains of the main without the mantle.

What we’re left with is an amazingly grounded character, with considerably more relatable foibles than we’re used to seeing. My favorite detail is that he’s been texting and emailing and calling Wong incessantly about his plans to invade Asgard. He’s robbed of the de facto authority the title gives him, so he has to win his friend over by actually selling him on the idea. There’s an adorable eagerness to this version of the character, and even when he’s packing Heimdall-confounding spells and vanishing out of Fear God’s hands, he is hilariously human. Artist Gabriel Walta takes two separate opportunities to emphasize just how small Stephen is against the powers he seeks to traverse or control — first as he crosses the Bifrost and again when trying to tap the World Tree.

Even Stephen’s more modest appearance plays into this vanilla persona. He’s not wearing robes or amulets or anything like that. He wears a black jacket and dark jeans, and both his hair and his beard are trimmed short. The flamboyant man of extravagance is gone and what we’re left with disarmingly modest. Hell, the dufflebag he carries around with him makes him feel like a vagabond, or a drifter — with no real home to return to. It’s even sadder to realize that he’s carrying Bats’ stubby corpse around with him. He’s a man of real weakness, who needs his dogs, and needs his friends, and who needs a fucking plan. It’s maybe the most exciting version of Doctor Strange I’ve ever seen, and the only thing that’s changed is his title.

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

9 comments on “Life After the Title in Doctor Strange 383

  1. “He’s a man of real weakness, who needs his dogs, and needs his friends, and who needs a fucking plan.” – I think this is a great job by Gates in showing all of this without revealing what his plan is. But he was CARRYING AROUND HIS DEAD DOG TO OFFER TO THE WORLD TREE IN EXCHANGE FOR POWER!!!

    That, as you say, is a fucking plan!

    (btw, last issue I sort of argued that Cates wrote Bats only to have his death be impetus for Strange. It turns out Bats’ death served a bigger purpose in the story.)

    • That’s a plan, but it’s a plan born out of totally desperation. Like, that’s not a sacrifice he chose to make, and it means so much to him.

      (I wonder if we’ll see Bats again. He’s such a good boy!)

      • It’s a testament to Cates (whose work I don’t really know that well) that I’m this involved in the story and have no idea what’s going to happen next.

        And yeah, we’re all talking about Bats. Strange unleashed the Sentry. He’s telling him that the Void is under control, it won’t be bad, but… he’s lying about that, right? He just is going to trust the Asgardians to handle the out of control Sentry while he handles Loki.

  2. I think the key foible here is hubris. Depowered, it has come to the forefront. Strange must deal with challenges he has never had to before, having new weaknesses that he must struggle with. But ultimately, his great weakness is the one that he had from even before Loki took power. Hubris. In fact, a key part of Strange’s problem is that he can’t accept that Loki may be better suited to the threats to come than Strange, despite Loki’s advantages and the fact that Strange has a long history of messing up and is at his weakest.

    And hubris is the flaw that the events of this issue are trying to warn Strange about. He tries to avoid the warnings of his allies, but he is a little man facing gods. Strange survives this issue only by throwing aside hubris and accepting a greater power (if Bats’ death last issue is Loki’s death in miniature, kneeling before the World Tree is Strange’s). But Strange has also got power much greater than ever before. Become a god of magic. That will only fuel Strange’s hubris. Even though a full power Strange was a still the man who failed to stop the Empirikul until it was too late. That is the flaw that Strange is really going to have to fight.

    Also, I was a bit disappointed with the World Tree scene. It works well from Strange’s standpoint, but I feel like I want a little more from the World Tree. WHy it is making these decisions, why it is empowering Strange. THe problem with a silent character like the World Tree is that it made the transaction feel a bit one sided. Strange wanted power, but why did the World Tree offer it? Did it approve, or would it do that for anyone?

    • There’s gotta be more to that World Tree scene, right? Strange obviously knows something else, about the Tree, or about Bats, or possibly about how hard of a loss Bats actually is for him. Magic costs something – we’re told this over and over – and maybe Strange recognizes that he has already made this enormous sacrifice and is finally cashing in.

      Or something else entirely. Greg is right to point out how incredible it is that we see the dufflebag for the whole issue and it’s only at the end that we see why. There might be something else awesome here hiding in plain sight.

      • I was definitely thinking that there has to be something about the World Tree next time, but I’m also not well versed in World Tree lore. Is this common? Do lots of people bring their recently deceased pets to the World Tree to get to be God of Accounting or God of Fly Fishing until their crisis has passed?

        It might be kind of awesome if they don’t mention it again. Just 100% hand-wave, God of Magic.

        • Usually, the World Tree is merely the way that the Nine/Ten Realms are linked together. It has been a source of power, but this sort of thing is new. I don’t think there has been anything before that connected the World Tree to Asgardian Gods specifically, as opposed to the Realms together

          The idea of a petitioner giving an offering to a deity or deityesque figure is as old as time (though usually that offering was killed for the deity, not killed for unrelated reasons to the offering). From Strange’s standpoint, it certainly works as a continuation of the idea that Magic has a price. But yeah, there really is a sense that there may be something more to it. That the World Tree has its own reasons to make Strange the God of Magic.

          Honestly, Cates has suddenly appeared to impressive effect, writing a book that constantly surprises and always has a trick up its sleeve that we don’t expect. I wouldn’t be surprised if something interesting comes out of the World Tree scene

        • Yeah, I’m also not aware of there being an specific precedent for asking something of the World Tree specifically. I absolutely adore the cover of this issue, making reference to The Giving Tree, so I wonder if that’s meant to be a nod to something that Strange understands that we don’t. Like, maybe he’s able to tap into the latent magic of things that aren’t traditionally sources of magic (but are inherently magical). Cates is wielding enough emotionally authority over Strange right now that I’m totally comfortable with him taking the wheel on mythology now too. Very exciting stuff.

  3. I think it is less of a question of whether I’m comfortable with Cates taking the wheel on the mythology – as a general rule, I’m always comfortable with the current writer taking the wheel on the mythology. The questioning with the World Tree is more on trying to
    work out what exactly this change means and what it means.

    But Cates is doing such a fantastic job with the emotional storytelling here that I am willing to cut him slack on the less important mythology changes. He hasn’t fully explained himself yet, but I am more than willing to wait

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