by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: Damnation is an appropriate title for this event in several ways. The entire city of Las Vegas was damned to Hell when it was destroyed during Secret Empire, and its revival has damned the soul of anyone who dares get near the city. Perhaps most significant, though — especially in the Doctor Strange tie-in issues — is the damnation the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Stephen Strange, faces. There’s the literal damnation courtesy of Mephisto, of course, but Donny Cates and Niko Henrichon seem much more interested in the self-damnation Strange has put himself through, the way he’s driven away his friends and allies, and the increasingly desperate and toxic ways he’s attempting to cope with this fact.
Actually, if this run of issues has a flaw it may be that they’re leaning too hard into Stephen’s complete loss of confidence. Doctor Strange 387 finds Strange falling hook, line, and sinker for an illusion of Mephisto, for the idea that his love, Clea (along with Scarlet Witch and Loki) have arrived to rescue him. Cates and Henrichon do everything they can to sell this illusion, including packing every panel full of hilarious contempt between Strange and Loki, but the warning Mephisto gave last issue that he “had Strange’s girl” (a warning Strange reminds us all of this issue) makes it fairly obvious that this is all a ruse from the start.
What sells it all, though, is the fact that, on some level, Strange himself seems to know that it’s all a ruse as well. He just doesn’t care.
Stephen (rightly) doesn’t believe what he’s seeing at first, but he makes a choice to accept the illusion almost solely because it’s what he wants. “This is better than I ever expected dead to be,” he thinks, admitting that he’s apparently either dead or hallucinating, but that what he’s seeing is so good that he’ll just roll with it anyway. Strange’s life has become so hopeless — his situation so dire — that he’ll accept what’s obviously an illusion because it’s the one idea that makes him feel better about himself. Hell, the fact that Loki of all people coming to Strange’s rescue is such an appealing lie to him says a lot about how desperate for friends Strange has become.
That self-defeating desperation actually makes Strange more compelling to me as a character than he’s ever been before, one whose power is matched only by his neurosis, but I do hope to see some more shades to Strange soon. I don’t want to see Strange become a Superman-level boy scout overnight (or at all), but revealing some different facets of his issues (or helping him appreciate the friends he does still have, such as Wong and Bats) would help these tie-ins feel a tad more substantial, and less like the creative team is just torturing Strange until it’s time for him to step back into Damnation proper — even if that is almost exactly what Mephisto himself is doing to him.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?