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'Doctor Strange Epic Collection: Afterlife' review: Creative casting in catastrophe magic

Comic Books

‘Doctor Strange Epic Collection: Afterlife’ review: Creative casting in catastrophe magic

The mid ’90s were rough on Doctor Strange, but this collection has some gems from Warren Ellis and J.M. DeMatteis to name a few.

Doctor Strange is one of those characters that has been hit or miss for me. Either the world is too weird or Doctor Strange is too weird. Or both! The recent Marvel film was pretty damn good and it has the comics to thank as screenwriters can take from the storied history of the character and fit it into a single two hours. That makes reading collections like this one extra interesting because you never know what idea or monster could appear in the next Doctor Strange film.

So what’s it about?

The official summary reads:

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A new look for Strange – but will it be his last? The Sorcerer Supreme has a youthful appearance, yet he’s still taking care of business – including Nightmare’s hunt for an heir! But long hair and dark glasses don’t suit a man as urbane as Stephen Strange. It’s time for a dapper new wardrobe and a new source of power: catastrophe magic! Which is fitting, given what arch-foe Baron Mordo has in store. Mordo has had a profound impact on Strange’s life – and now the villain is plotting his death! Plus: In an award-winning classic, discover what disturbs Stephen! And a particularly Strange Tale unites the Sorcerer Supreme with the Thing and Human Torch!

Why does this matter?

This “Epic Collection” contains comics featuring Doctor Strange (Like Strange Tales #1) and his own series Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #70 to #90 taking place between 1994 and 1996. This is the mid ’90s take on the character so don’t be alarmed when you find long hair, cool sunglasses and an attitude on this suckah!

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

'Doctor Strange Epic Collection: Afterlife' review: Creative casting in catastrophe magic
Sweet vest. Also, interesting idea told by the villain there.

There’s a treasure trove of cool ideas, storylines, and concepts within this collection that I could easily see used in a film and audiences would eat up. The problem is, it’s within a ’90s package of heavy captioning and sometimes obnoxiously obvious dialogue dictating what the characters are feeling. Peer through that and you’ll enjoy the Kurt Busiek-written Strange Tales story that has a fun story within a story approach with a much more traditional Doctor Strange. Warren Ellis writes a mean three part story with wickedly grotesque monsters and an interesting look at catastrophe magic, and an enjoyable Mordo storyline by J.M. DeMatteis.

These stories show off a Doctor Strange that’s more in line with today’s comics in his look and feel (though he’s not quite as funny as he is today). The idea of catastrophe magic is an interesting one that Ellis in particular highlights well, and there always seems to be a nice mix of the visceral with the literal when Doctor Strange is working his…magic. I’m unaware of what was going on with the character in this decade, but it’s safe to assume a rejiggering of his character was attempted (right here in this book) and abandoned rather quickly.

The tether that holds much of this volume together is his relationship with Wong. At the start he’s bitter and angry at Doctor Strange and later a mending is in order after Doctor Strange let his girl Imei die. This leads to a rather neat visit to a place similar to heaven and a shocking result of Doctor Strange’s taking him there afterward. This section is a nice reminder Doctor Strange can do anything and stretch the imagination far further than most superheroes.

'Doctor Strange Epic Collection: Afterlife' review: Creative casting in catastrophe magic
Beautiful pages by Craig Russell.

To wrap things up, this epic collection also contains Marc Andreyko and P. Craig Russell’s Eisner award-winning “Doctor Strange: What Is It That Disturbs You, Stephen?” story. It’s visually arresting and has some of the best landscape illustrations you’ll find in a Doctor Strange comic.

The art throughout this volume has its ups and downs. Warren Ellis’s section has a clean and sometimes cartoony look by Mark Buckingham and Kev F. Sutherland. It’s hard to sum up the art as a whole since so many artists were involved, but know that a single page flip can transition a boring page in the rain to a demon that’s quite impressive. Again, Doctor Strange always seems to be a title rife with surprises.

There’s also a surprisingly good amount of back matter and additional covers throughout the volume. Tucking some variant covers and additional materials between issues gives the volume a completist sort of feel. At the end of the book there is also an Ashcan edition detailing Doctor Strange’s past.

It can’t be perfect can it?

The long-haired Doctor Strange sporting sunglasses, a youthful look, and an attitude is not the most enjoyable version of the character. It seems he was given a new look to attract new readers and it does not work. There’s some kind of Tony Stark or James Bond thing going on as he’s self-entitled and a bit pompous, which further alienates him from Wong and makes him an annoying sort of character. You know something is off with Doctor Strange when he takes out a bunch of bad guys and brags he could have just stopped time but he needed to do it for PR reasons. Just ugh. Fortunately, this version of Strange only lasts the first 10 issues and the remaining pages are free of the twerp.

The only other gripe I have is with the art, which can at times seems to be pushing the dark and edgy vibe too hard. Doctor Strange was originally created to imbue a sense of wonderment, but it’s hard to get that when he’s wallowing in the rain at night. The mid ’90s was certainly not as ripe with fantastic artists as it is today and it shows for much of this collection.

Is It Good?

The mid ’90s were an interesting time for the Sorcerer Supreme and with it came wild new stories tying into a new catastrophe magic. Much of this collection is in an older style with heavy use of captions, but it’s still fun and there are tons of cool surprises throughout. I’d recommend this to those interested in Doctor Strange and the movies, but even those who are not fans might discover a surprise or two.

'Doctor Strange Epic Collection: Afterlife' review: Creative casting in catastrophe magic
Doctor Strange Epic Collection: Afterlife
Is it good?
Almost a third of this collection is pretty bad, but the rest is good to stellar.
Some stellar stories within and there's always a surprise or two in every issue collected here
Busiek, Ellis, and J.M. DeMatteis write stellar stories
Fun to read a character's portrayal from the mid '90s
Long haired Doctor Strange is not cool. NOT COOL!
The art quality can vary wildly

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