by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Doctor Strange is not an honest dude. Whatever other virtues he possesses, Stephen will keep a secret, or distort the truth, without hesitation. Some lies are lies of opportunity: the lie gets him something. But then there’s the much more human lie, the kind that reveals what’s really wrong by highlighting an obvious omission. Issue 389 of Doctor Strange is all about tap dancing about the one hardship Strange refused to address directly: his loneliness.
Of course, that’s not how Strange tells it. The story he is telling is a transdimensional necro-epic. Niko Henrichon’s first couple pages of D&D-esque art set a tone that’s clearly meant to make Strange’s actions more important that his state of mind. It’s high fantasy — a spinning vortex in the sky, hell-wizard-kings battling each other amid a sea of… goblins or something?
That’s what Strange wants his audience — which is both Clea and the reader — to focus on. Writer Donny Cates is showing us Strange’s own self-mythologizing here, and the only one smart enough to see through the bullshit is Clea herself. Though, that’s not for lack on trying on Cates’ part: he more or less tells us to be wary of storytellers pretty early in the issue. An off-panel Clea offers the compliment “Quite a story” to Strange, and his immediate answer is “who knows really how much of it is true […] consider the source.”
Strange is already engaging in some distance from the story. Maybe he’s not suggesting that Dormammu made it all up, but that the narrative is probably seeing some fabrication or exaggeration or omission. Which means we should probably be looking for the same thing in Strange’s story. After all, if we can’t trust one character relaying the events of their own story, why should we trust another?
Cates very quietly and very subtly tells the story of the friendships Strange spends the majority of the issue ignoring. Hawkeye pulls him aside to have “an Avengers only” meeting. Or Bats standing his ground guarding Dormammu because his buddy Stephen asked him to. They’re all little moments that add up to the rich full life Strange himself refuses to acknowledge. Of course, Clea gets him to realize that he’s missing something by the end of the issue, but I’ll admit that it’s a little bit of a bummer the thing he’s missing is Zelma. At least, that’s what we’re lead to believe. I see a depressed man. Maybe he’ll get back with Zelma and realize that’s not filling the whole in his heart either. But that’s a lie for another time.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?