Doctor Strange is dead. Or at least, this collection begins with the heroes of Earth believing him dead. Strange has faked his death during events preceding this collection, and attempts to resume his duties as the Sorcerer Supreme. Doctor Strange: Triumph and Torment is a Marvel Epic Collection collecting Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #1-13 and Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment. These first 4 issues of Sorcerer Supreme are written by Peter Gillis and drawn by the fantastic Richard Case (who also did art for Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol). The first two issues are a two-part story featuring Dormammu taking over Strange’s body. Strange is then stuck in his astral form and has to find a way to stop Dormammu and return to his body within 24 hours, otherwise he will never be able to return. It’s a fun clash between Doctor Strange and his arch nemesis and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The other two issues feature a team-up with Doctor Strange and the new Defenders. This is not the classic incarnation of the Defenders, nor the modern street-level version. They’re some strange other version featuring Valkyrie, an eternal named “The Interloper”, and two other characters named Manslaughter and Andromeda. This team-up involves King Arthur and a great evil known only as “the Dragon”. It honestly becomes somewhat nonsensical as it goes on and lacks the clarity of the first two-parter. Case does the art for all four issues and he is just out of this world. His abstract, otherworldly style is a perfect fit for Doctor Strange. Every spell and cosmic ray are beautifully depicted, and all the creatures and other interdimensional structures look delightfully mind-bending. While not reaching “must read” levels, these stories are fun, if sometimes disorienting, and absolutely beautiful to look at.
Beginning with issue #5, Roy Thomas and Jackson Guice take over the book. Their first story is the four issue arc “The Faust Gambit” featuring the return of Baron Mordo. Mordo manages to use his own soul as a contested claim between Mephisto and Satannish, but his scheme goes out of control and the entire Earth is threatened by the duel between evil cosmic entities. Thomas’ voice for Strange is a little off, and the actual plot itself is nothing to write home about. That said, there are a few moments that get a laugh. Strange’s reunion with an otherworldly caterpillar is a particularly memorable moment. The remaining five issues of the main book are fairly loose in plot. With the world believing Doctor Strange to be dead, his ex Morgana writes a tell all biography describing many secrets of the Sorcerer Supreme. These issues are devoted to solving this issue, while also leading into Acts of Vengeance.
Acts of Vengeance was a Marvel event where heroes would fight the villains of other heroes. In this case, Strange goes up against the Hobgoblin, Enchantress, and Arkon. In the background, another plot about vampires is slowly being built up. Morbius the Living Vampire makes a brief appearance, and Strange’s dead younger brother returns as a vampire. Each issue also has a “Book of the Vishanti” backup story describing the history of vampirism in the Marvel universe, as well as the Montesi family that fought them. Ultimately, these issues are also forgettable aside from maybe the Acts of Vengeance fights. Jackson Guice’s art isn’t as incredible as Case on the first four issues, but he still delivers solid cosmic visuals. His fight scenes are kinetic and have a major “cool” factor, and he gives Strange’s cloak such motion and presence.
Ultimately, Thomas’ stories are not worth seeking aside from the most dedicated of Doctor Strange fans. These stories make up issues #1-13 of the 1988 volume of Doctor Strange (subtitled Sorcerer Supreme). Despite starting with a #1, this really is not accessible for newer readers. The reader is dropped into a very messy situation for Strange, and by issue #5 the creative team switches. Many supporting characters are tossed at the reader, whose development is clearly dependent on previous volumes. The lack of clear forward motion gives the reader little incentive to hang in there and piece together character histories. Aside from the first two issues, which make up a fun two-parter, the rest of the ongoing Strange comics in this collection are mediocre and not worth reading.
The last piece of this collection is the book that gave it its title, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment. This is a classic Marvel graphic novel written by Roger Stern with art by Mike Mignola. After a contest of sorcery where Doom earns a boon from Doctor Strange, the two confront Mephisto for the soul of Doom’s mother. This story is very approachable for new readers, both Doom and Strange’s origins are retold in beautifully drawn sequences. While the plot isn’t exactly groundbreaking, Stern has solid voices for Strange and Doom. Where the book truly shines is Mignola’s art. His depiction of magic, demons, castles, and sorcerers are a sight to behold. His iconic heavy shadows give the book a wonderful gothic feel as well. This is a great, beautifully drawn, standalone story for anyone interested in either Doctor Strange or Doctor Doom.
While Triumph and Torment is a classic graphic novel, its value does not justify the price of this collection. This Epic Collection retails for $39.99, and considering how much of it is actually enjoyable, this isn’t worth getting. The Roy Thomas and Jackson Guice stories are largely forgettable, and only half of Peter Gillis and Richard Case’s four issues are enjoyable. Triumph and Torment is the only real value here, and that has been collected on its own in an older trade. This Epic Collection is really a solid standalone graphic novel packed in with 13 mediocre issues. Unless you’re a Doctor Strange superfan, this simply is not worth the price of entry.
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