Thursday, 11 February 2016

Doctor Strange, Volume 1: The Way of the Weird Review (Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo)

The Sorcerer Supremes (magic love, oh magic love) in every dimension are being hunted down and killed by the technological inquisitors, the Empirikul and their lethal witchfinder wolves, who want to destroy all magic everywhere. Their next target? The Sorcerer Supreme of Earth: Doctor Stephen Strange. The Doctor used magic to protect the world - now he must protect the magic itself! 

Marvel relaunch their titles every other year which can be tiresome (this latest one was brought about by Secret Wars though you’d be forgiven for not noticing - there are no lingering effects of that non-event here); but so long as there are gems like Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s Doctor Strange amidst the mediocre new #1s of Avengers/X-Men/Spider-Mans, it makes it all worthwhile. 

This is the first ongoing Doctor Strange book in years and, though many Volume 1s nowadays don’t really bother with origins, etc., I think it’s great that Aaron explains the character a bit in this book as well as launching him into a new madcap adventure. There is a movie on the way after all and more than a few Cumberbitches are bound to wonder who their beloved Benny is playing – The Way of the Weird is a great jumping on point for them! 

That opening sequence is pure quality. I loved the way Aaron superimposed his lean and laconic writing atop of Stan Lee’s on that first page, intentionally or not showing up Lee as the hack he is by highlighting his turgid, overwritten prose. It’s Aaron giving a masterclass in comics writing – what took Lee page after page after page of exposition, Aaron nails in just one and then BOOM! we’re into the story. Aaron instantly hands over the reins to Chris Bachalo who starts throwing action-packed splash pages our way and from then on the two are beautifully in sync throughout - modern superhero comics storytelling at its finest, son! 

Along the way Aaron introduces the reader to the important aspects of Strange’s world through a new character, Zelma the librarian, aka the reader’s proxy: the Sanctum Sanctorum (his magical house) which is full of amazing stuff, his Kung Fu manservant Wong, his peculiar dietary needs, and his local watering hole, The Bar with No Doors (magicians only). The reader is learning about Strange’s world without feeling like they’re being lectured or wading through arduous info dumps - it’s (a kind of magic) such effortless storytelling and Aaron makes it look so easy. 

The tone is very appealing too. Like Aaron and Bachalo’s last collaboration, Wolverine and the X-Men, they blend comedy, adventure, and boundless imagination into absolutely joyful comics. They outdo themselves on Doctor Strange with Bachalo selling the jokes with playful panels and the action scenes with big bombastic art. 

The book is bursting with creativity in the same way the books in Strange’s library are crammed with magic. From little things to Strange’s cape transforming into a raffish scarf when he’s “off-duty” to the varied magical creatures Bachalo brings to life with his art, the Beetlejuice-like interiors of the Sanctum (my favourite part of the comic), and the flashback to Strange’s days with the Ancient One as he (and, by extension, the readers) learn about the true cost of using magic – this creative team unlocks the vast potential of this character and make you care about Strange and his world in a way nobody else has ever done before.

Though it’s a small field, Aaron and Bachalo’s take on Doctor Strange is easily the best the character’s ever had. Whether you’re a long-time fan or totally new, or just someone who appreciates quality comics, Doctor Strange is a must-read. It’s the jewel in the All-New, All-Different Marvel line-up and already a strong contender for one of the year’s best comics. Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo show themselves once again to be literary and artistic magicians with this bewitching book!

Doctor Strange, Volume 1: The Way of the Weird

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