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'Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets' review: a team-up done (mostly) right

Comic Books

‘Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets’ review: a team-up done (mostly) right

Can the team-up meet its potential? How well are the “Infinite” aspects translated?

It’s a shame you don’t hear more about Marvel’s Infinite Comics. While others were panicking that the onset of the digital revolution would annihilate physical books (it hasn’t), the House of Ideas decided to get ahead of the curve and hired French comic artist Yves Bigerel to help them create a new kind of comic that was meant to be read digitally.

Infinite Comics take advantage of shifting images to create motion and panel transitions that traditional comics would have trouble with. While superficially like a PowerPoint slide show, Infinite Comics can add a level of immersion beyond normal, and unlike “motion comics,” the pace at which the story unfolds is still under the control of the reader.

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Of course, with Marvel being a business, the company never passes up the chance to sell the same thing twice. So every Infinite Comic, once it’s sat on the Marvel Comics app for a while, gets what it was never meant to have — a trade paperback collected edition.

It’s hard enough to make a good, standard comic when that’s what you’re trying to do. Shoehorning a still experimental format onto a limiting piece of paper? Let’s just say, the result can be subpar. One of Marvel’s latest such efforts is Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets. Can it pass as a regular, enjoyable graphic novel? Is it good?

Sure, it’s good …

If you’re like me, an alternate universe Dr. Strange possessing his world’s Punisher to help fight off bounty hunters in Secret Wars: Battleworld #1 was one of your favorite moments from 2015’s Marvel mega-crossover. If not, then you might be wondering just how the hell this team-up might work.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous myself, because as badly as I wanted to see more of these two together, it’s easy to imagine how wrong it could go if not handled properly. But then, through angelic reincarnations and Frankenstein-style makeovers, the Punisher really isn’t a stranger to the supernatural and horrific, is he?

It’s a fact writer John Barber is right to reiterate throughout Magic Bullets. They fit even better together now that Doctor Strange has been hindered by the drying up of most magic, a status quo that Barber equally reinforces. Strange must now squeeze every drop of usefulness he can from various magical artifacts, and one in particular that may have a connection to Frank Castle’s plight is highlighted here.

'Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets' review: a team-up done (mostly) right

Yes, you’ll be reminded of Punisher’s origin in Magic Bullets, and the standard tropes of his team-ups are in full effect. Strange insists that he not kill, but in his weakened state, can he make the same promise himself? And what happens when the demon army flooding New York is shown to be made up mostly of otherworldly civilians, flung into this conflict against their will? Could it be THE PUNISHER that institutes a no-kill clause?

Barber does a very good job of setting up a typical superhero story, and then tweaking it enough to make it different and special. He goes the extra mile on character portrayals, too, as even the villains are three-dimensional with believable motivations, ones that even differ from each other. Throughout Magic Bullets you’ll be questioning who are the worst of the bad guys, are some of them not so bad, and is this one guy good enough to be let off the hook. It’s a level of complexity not normally seen in a silly team-up book like this.

… for the most part.

Buuuut then it all falls into a rut in the latter half of the volume, as the final two of the four issues are really just an extended, final battle that often feels repetitive and dragged out. It’s unfortunate, as the first two issues were paced incredibly well, with a slower scene following a big fight, raising anticipation for the next throwdown. Maybe this is where the difficulty in translating Infinite to traditional (an adaptation credited here to “Mast”) finally breaks down.

'Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets' review: a team-up done (mostly) right

Because it’s remarkably well done, early on. The panels are arranged much the way you’d normally expect, without a lot of the extraneous black space you often see in these Infinite Comic paperbacks. The art by Andrea Broccardo and Dominike Stanton fits the story fairly well, and carries the action even without fancy transitions. They make great use of something we’ve seen in recent Strange stories — the idea that “normal” people can’t see magical beings — with great precision, and often to funny effect, thanks to Barber’s direction. Andres Mossa’s colors stand out well against the black and white backgrounds.

Barber’s dialogue is also humorous when it needs to be, but curious at other times, as when one of the villains reveals his strange racism, as if being plain evil wasn’t enough. The final fate of one of the more endearing characters is another head-scratcher, as it’s unclear who exactly we’re so supposed to sympathize with, a philosophic dilemma that might be a bit too high-minded for a story centering on ghost planes and bat-winged mafiosos.

Overall, Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets is way better than it has any right to be, largely due to Barber’s attention to detail, as well as the artists’ tireless cohesion throughout the entirety of the mayhem. It’s also a triumph of translation by Mast, though it still feels unfair to judge an Infinite Comic on its paper presentation. Where are the reviews of original product? Now that would be truly revolutionary.

'Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets' review: a team-up done (mostly) right
Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets
Is it good?
It's surprisingly good, but drags toward the end. Still one of the better Infinite-to-paper translations out there.
Usual Punisher tropes are there (good), but subverted for effect later (even better)
Cohesive art that takes advantage of Strange's status quo and the ridiculous situation
Fully realized characters
Second half is one big climax that gets repetitive
Panels in the climax are harder to follow; maybe an artifact of translating to paper
Ultimate lessons aren't clear. Who are the good guys, again?

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