Today’s Super Comic — Doctor Strange #1 (1974)

doctor-strange-1Doctor Strange the movie was excellent, but admittedly I haven’t read much of his solo comic book adventures. Thanks to the magic of Marvel Unlimited, I can rectify that.

Marvel has attempted a Doctor Strange series multiple times since the character debuted in the ‘60s, and perhaps the longest-running series was the one that began in 1974. Steve Englehart wrote the earliest issues, and his presence is always a good sign—he was one of the strongest comic writers in the ‘70s, and his work on Doctor Strange #1 is every bit as solid as I expected. I’m less familiar with artist Frank Brunner, but his fluid style, with lots a wispy lines and dark undercurrents, captures exactly the right feel for Marvel’s premier sorcerer.

Englehart wisely avoids rehashing the origin story that’s already been told. Instead, the series kicks off with an assassination attempt on Doctor Strange in his own home, the capture of his apprentice/girlfriend Clea, and his absorption into a mystical orb, where he meets a twisted version of literature’s most famous caterpillar.

It’s all an intriguing start, and I might need to keep reading.

Writer: Steve Englehart

Artist: Frank Brunner

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Essential Doctor Strange vol. 3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Incredible Hulk #371 (1990)

incredible_hulk_vol_1_371It’s a Defenders reunion special in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. Doctor Strange and Namor the Sub-Mariner work together to defeat a possessed Hulk, and Bruce Banner assists from the inside.

The action combines magic, psychology, and good old-fashioned fisticuffs, and the book never forgets its sense of humor (writer Peter David gets bonus points for working in both a Doctor Who and a Star Trek reference early in the issue). And it advances the Hulk’s ongoing storylines, leading to an unexpected cliffhanger that sets up a rather unconventional romantic obstacle for a comic book character.

A fun time all around.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Dale Keown

Inker: Bob McLeod

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Incredible Hulk Visionaries – Peter David, vol. 5 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Doctor Strange: The Oath #1-5 (2006-07)

doctor_strange_the_oath_vol_1_1If you’ve never read a Doctor Strange comic, the best place to start is the miniseries The Oath by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin.

Doctor Strange’s origins inform the story, and the titular oath is not of the magical variety. His selfish, arrogant past haunts him, both externally and internally, as he discovers an elixir that could cure cancer worldwide. It’s a perfect premise for the character, and the execution is spot-on.

The Night Nurse co-stars, and as a fellow medical professional, she’s a natural fit and a good viewpoint character to introduce us to Doctor Strange’s world. (By the way, the Night Nurse is the inspiration for Rosario Dawson’s Claire, who appears in every Marvel Netflix series. And kind of funny in hindsight—Strange and the Night Nurse keep referring to each other as “Sherlock” and “Watson.”)

The third leg of our team of protagonists is Strange’s manservant, Wong, and the tremendous respect between him and Strange guides much of the story.

So if you watch the new movie next weekend and want to dive into the comics, I recommend beginning here.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Marcos Martin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Doctor Strange: The Oath (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Defenders #1-5 (2005)

Defenders indefensibleOkay, one more funny book…

The same creative team that brought humor to the Justice League (see yesterday’s review) performed an encore of sorts with Marvel’s Defenders.

The Defenders debuted back in the 1970s, teaming up powerful loners Doctor Strange, Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Hulk, and later the Silver Surfer. It ran for a respectable length but didn’t last. Might have fared better if anyone had realized the group’s tremendous comedic potential.

Doctor Strange is absurdly melodramatic. Namor is impossibly arrogant. The Silver Surfer is ridiculously philosophical. And the Hulk is the Hulk. Why did this take decades to figure out?

Anyway, Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire have loads of fun letting these characters be the most cartoonish versions of themselves and letting them bicker accordingly, but they don’t neglect the important rule they followed during their Justice League International tenure—we can have our fun, but the threats still need to be serious. In this case, the dreaded Dormammu and his sister, Umar, attain god-like power and rewrite reality. So just a little something for the fellas to sort out.

Well, not the Silver Surfer. He declines Doctor Strange’s invitation so that he may commune with others who “ride the board.”

The Silver Surfer hangs out with surfer dudes. Defenders nailed it.

Writers: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis

Penciler: Kevin Maguire

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; collected in Defenders: Indefensible (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Doctor Strange #4 (2016)

Doctor Strange 4Something is killing Sorcerer Supremes…and books. Books are also dying from mystical causes—Doctor Strange’s books, at least.

Issue #4 continues the compelling first storyline of the latest series to chronicle the adventures of Stephen Strange. Problems mount in Doctor Strange’s weird world, and this time the threat isn’t just to the regular world…it’s to magic itself.

Another excellent issue by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo. Bachalo in particular is perfectly cast as the artist here. I’ve always enjoyed his distinctive, fluid style, and it especially suits the world of magic. He makes great use of each page’s limited space.

I’m ready for the next issue to hit Marvel Unlimited.

Writer: Jason Aaron

Penciler: Chris Bachalo

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Doctor Strange vol. 1: The Way of the Weird (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Invincible Iron Man #5 (2016)

Invincible_Iron_Man_5I hereby continue my ringing endorsement of Bendis’s Iron Man series.

Issue #5 wraps up the first storyline. It maintains the same balance of character, action, and humor that made the first four issues so enjoyable—and David Marquez’s great art brings it all to life. Mary Jane Watson officially joins the cast, which is an excellent decision, though it’s a toss-up as to whether she or Doctor Strange gets the issue’s best moment.

I briefly wondered why Mary Jane and Tony Stark didn’t seem to know each other. I could’ve sworn they met in the early issues of New Avengers when Spider-Man joined that team … but of course Spidey and MJ were married at that point, and a deal with the devil has since erased their marriage from continuity (rest assured, I will not be including that particular storyline in this series of all-positive reviews). So Tony and MJ are meeting as strangers. On the bright side, a fresh start enhances the book’s accessibility to casual readers.

In any case…more, please. When does the collection of the second volume come out?

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: David Marquez

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Invincible Iron Man vol. 1: Reboot (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Doctor Strange #3 (2015)

Doctor Strange 3Writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo continue to have fun with Doctor Strange. Looks like they’re getting the character in good shape for this year’s movie.

The visuals take the lead in the current series’ third issue, the latest available on Marvel Unlimited (not really “unlimited” then, is it?), as monsters chase Doctor Strange’s astral form across New York. It’s a great way to showcase Strange’s resourceful and knowledge while letting Bachalo cut loose with imaginative pages.01

And it continues to set up a larger plot involving some not-nice people wanting to kill all magic, so that should be fun, too.

This creative team is the first to get me interested in an ongoing Doctor Strange series. Well done.

Writer: Jason Aaron

Penciler: Chris Bachalo

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Doctor Strange: The Way of the Weird (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic: Doctor Strange #2 (2015)

DoctorStrange2I’ve never been much of a Doctor Strange fan. I’ve liked him as an occasional guest star throughout the Marvel Universe, but I’ve never gotten into his solo series.

But this latest attempt at series has me interested so far. (And by “so far,” I mean the two issues that are available on Marvel Unlimited as of this writing.)

The second issue takes us on a tour through Doctor Strange’s highly dangerous home/headquarters, the Sanctum Sanctorum, which allows artist Chris Bachalo a chance to shine. Bachalo has always specialized in unconventional layouts, in which the panels seamlessly bleed into each other and strange creatures run amok wherever they please, so he’s a natural fit for the Sorcerer Supreme’s weird magical world. Here, he gives each surreal room in the Sanctum Sanctorum its own brand of crazy, resulting in a comic that never lacks for visual appeal.

Writer Jason Aaron’s take on the character seems to be that Doctor Strange is New York’s weirdest doctor, in that he’s the guy who treats supernatural maladies that afflict ordinary people. (How this compares to previous writers’ takes on the character, I haven’t read enough to say.) His “patient” in this issue is a librarian from the Bronx who has creepy mouths growing on the top of her head. Not the sort of thing a conventional hospital can treat.

This issue is mostly just laying a foundation for future stories, but I’m curious to read more. And that’s a sign of a successfully executed comic.

Writer: Jason Aaron

Penciler: Chris Bachalo

Inker: Tim Townsend, Al Vey, and Mark Irwin

Publisher: Marvel

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in Doctor Strange Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up