Doctor Strange isn’t the most approachable character for casual comic book fans. When a hero regularly incants obscure spells steeped in alliteration (the Winds of Watoomb for example), who can blame them? Writer Mark Waid taps into Doctor Strange’s rich history while taking the character in bold new directions. Pressures of all kinds, both external and internal, create conflict for the one man who is the world’s best line of defense against the supernatural. The volume consists of three story arcs (two multi-issue and a one-shot) that approach Strange from different perspectives, making the character more relatable and exciting than ever. Despite the varied tales, a similar thread underlies the series, “Magic always comes at a cost.” Doctor Strange benefits from Waid’s writing, making Doctor Strange Vol. 2 a great entryway into the series for consistent fans and newcomers alike.
Writer Mark Waid presents an assortment of stories that scrutinize the very essence of Stephen Strange. The issue that often arises is finding the proper challenge for a hero with limitations that remain ambiguous. To this very day, it would prove difficult for fans to clearly define the spell-count Strange has at his disposal, his power levels, or any apparent weaknesses the magician has. It is that very lack of clear understanding that staggers a writer; after all, doesn’t a hero need to overcome overwhelming odds?
Despite the narrative confines, Waid manages to put Strange through the wringer. The threats may be an extremely powerful antagonist, or Strange’s very own personality preventing his success. Adept readers will notice something peculiar; each story is presented through a different lens. For example, readers are accustomed to narrative boxes to provide insight into the account at hand, it can provide further details from an outside source building on the story presented, or it can take the place of classic thought bubbles. Each narrative accurately captures the necessary form of information.
The Two Doctors
Doctor Strange returns to earth after restoring his connection to magic in space. With a new forge to create his mystic objects Strange is deadlier than ever, but some threats can’t be defeated with brute force. Part of Stephen’s memory is missing. As he soon comes to know, the loss is of his own making. Stephen succumbed to his grief. He blames himself for losing the very soul of his former protégé, Casey. The brilliance here is that Strange’s diligence was his very downfall; he neglects his responsibilities to defending the worlds, losing sleep in his unending quest, and is now in shambles with the heartache that has consumed him, tying into the notion of conflict from varied sources. There is an external threat, the rabbit hole goes deeper, tying into Strange’s past, but the internal struggle is the most interesting aspect here.
On the outset, the lack of narrative consistency may appear troublesome, but instead, Mark Waid accurately uses the tool necessary for the story at hand. In “The Two Doctors” there are no narrative boxes whatsoever, the action and sequences are presented as is. The audience learns the necessary information vicariously through Kanna. Kanna is alien to our world, both literally and figuratively. Her inquisitive nature and barrage of questions serve as the reader’s mouthpiece by proxy. As she learns, so do we. Narrative boxes would seem redundant, and the story plays out as such.
“Bleecker” is a standout in the collection of work. The Falston corporation tries buying up Bleecker Street properties from its occupants to build a shopping mall, and Strange becomes its most prominent opposer. The corporation resorts to fiendish means to turn the families of the neighborhood against Strange, labeling him as an “Evil Satanist.” With loyalties divided Strange digs deeper to discover the illegal nature of the Falston Nature, even going so far as to enlist a demonic lawyer for intimidation. The reader is led to assume that Strange is holding out to protect the Sanctum Sanctorum, but in the end, the reason is simple: Strange likes it on Bleecker Street, he likes his neighbors, and won’t leave the placed he calls home, revealing a softer side of Strange.
Waid tells a tale that is equal parts dark and wholesome. Once again, the story provides no narratives but implements cutaway scenes that reveal the nature of Strange’s inner thoughts. For example, when a Falston Corporation representative questions Strange on what kind of Doctor he is, the next panel cuts away to Strange ripping the heart from a demon. A single comic book panel conveys the coy nature of Strange’s thoughts, speaking volumes. A picture is worth a thousand words indeed. The story also flashes back to 10 years ago, interweaving flashbacks that come ever closer to meeting with the present. Within 22 short pages, Waid weaves a tight story that perfectly captures the tone of Doctor Strange.
Closing out Volume 2 is “Remittance.” “Remittance” comes full circle, tying the opening issues of the series when Strange lost his connection to magic. “Magic comes at a cost,” the words have been uttered from the beginning of the series, but finally come to roost. Every spell, magic enchantment, or tool of power draws from a god, demon, or higher being. It’s time for Strange to pay his debts. The idea is novel and adds a new layer to Doctor Strange’s universe. The world of magic grows exponentially in “Remittance.” Underneath the surface, beneath the known, there is a group of demons managing the books of magic, taking into account every spell that is cast, the caster, and the source the spell pulls from.
Waid finally puts narrative boxes to use to provide insight into Strange’s every thought: his relationship with the chosen one, navigating strategies in battle, or as a guide through a clever montage. At no point did the introduction of “written voice-overs” feel out of place, but the change is noticeable and welcome.
Strange’s other abilities also come to fore — and no, not magic. At one point the accountant, a being neither completely good nor evil, strips Strange of his ability to manipulate magic. How can Strange battle this powerfully ambiguous entity? It’s nothing martial arts and a knee to the face can’t resolve.
Doctor Strange has been a part of the Marvel Universe for decades. It is always welcome when a writer can bring new a fresh perspective on a character. Everything seems to work and never feels out of place. Strange’s new outfit, his ability to forge enchanted items, and a look behind the curtain into the belly of magic are benefitting the stories of Doctor Strange. With any luck, most of the new additions will stick. Doctor Strange by Mark Waid Vol. 2: Remittance has enough variety in its three tales to provide something to appeal to readers of every breed.