Doctor Strange, the movie, seemed to a lot of Marvel neophytes like a rehash of Iron Man’s origin. They’re not wrong. Not only were they both brilliant paragons of their fields, but the severe injury that Tony Stark suffered overseas also led to his foray into the nascent field of superheroing.
One critical difference in the comics is that for a long time (some might say too long), Stark also continued the business that laid him low in the first place, that of weapons production. Whereas when Stephen Strange’s hands were badly damaged, he immediately lost the surgical career that had brought him to prominence, and arrogance.
And just as Tony Stark continued being Iron Man once the arc reactor was removed from his chest, Dr. Strange, Surgeon Supreme Vol. 1: Under the Knife examines what happens when the ultimate sorcerer is healed himself. Now, I’m not saying tech CEO isn’t a full-time job, but neurosurgeon is pretty much a double-time job, even if you’re not the best one in the world.
McCarthy Medical Institute Administrator Regina Hagen has her doubts, too, so, she only calls on Strange for the procedures that no one else would attempt. And while he never performs magic in the operating theater, as you might imagine, his other life has a way of catching up to him.
Which is depicted beautifully in Under the Knife‘s opening pages, where grotesque, colorful creatures from the demented mind of artist Kev Walker torment sickly, grayscale patients. It’s metaphorical at first — the book isn’t claiming that ethereal agents, rather than germs, are the cause of disease — but it becomes real soon enough when Strange discovers that a heavily-tattooed man is having his life-force sucked away by a two-dimensional demon.
That and other kinds of craziness, like the magical explosive device planted in a patient’s brain, pervade Under the Knife. It hearkens back to the original Steve Ditko bizarreness of Dr. Strange, so it’s a good thing Walker is there to handle it. His monsters and creatures up the creep factor from the work of most artists, even if the backgrounds aren’t the trippy dreamscapes of the Silver Age. His “human” faces have become less stylized though, in contrast to what he’s done in books like Thunderbolts and Avengers Arena. The colors of Java Tartaglia and Antonio Fabela highlight the best parts, like the Wrecking Crew’s glowing weapons.
Yes, because what’s a modern first arc of a Marvel series without the hero(es) trouncing the Wrecking Crew! It has more meaning in Under the Knife, though, because all their hardware has been upgraded, and Strange knows where it happened — in his own forge, the Sanctum Machina. Thus begins Mark Waid’s throughplot, which is neat, but the doctor’s ultimate solution is something that would have scuttled the whole scheme if he’d thought of it when he set the damn place up to begin with.
Regardless, Waid is still a master of his craft and the whole of Under the Knife is satisfying. He even goes the extra mile and brings Dr. Druid back in a legitimately unpredictable will-he-won’t-he-villain role. Waid leans a little heavily on Strange’s thought-narration for exposition, but it’s also kind of hard to see how all that would come out in the dialogue without covering up Walker’s crazy creations.
Don’t sleep on Dr. Strange, Surgeon Supreme Vol. 1: Under the Knife. The premise might not have been communicated well in the original solicits, because this is not a boring medical drama with a mustache tacked on. Our multi-faceted hero actually shows his strength in juggling threats both in and outside the hospital.
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