Review – Doctor Strange #381 (Marvel Comics)

Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Donny Cates
Artwork: Gabriel H Walta, Jordie Bellaire (colours)
Release Date: 15th November 2017

Full disclosure before we begin: I’m not really a Marvel guy.  Not recently, anyway.  Aside from occasionally dipping into Jason Aaron’s Thor run, and obviously Tom King and Gabriel H. Walta’s Vision, it has been at least a couple of years since I last picked up a Marvel book.  But wherever Donny Cates goes, I go, a simple rule which led me to this, the first part of he and Walta’s eagerly-anticipated run with the Sorcerer Supreme.

And, rather than simply picking up where things left off in the existing Doctor Strange continuity, Cates throws in a major continuity shake-up right from the get-go.  Yes folks, we have a new Sorcerer Supreme, and yes, his name is Loki.

It’s an exposition-focused issue for the most part, with Cates and Walta working together efficiently to establish their new status quo and introducing us to the somewhat unconventional philosophies of the new Sorcerer Supreme.  For what it’s worth, Loki is probably the Marvel Universe character who’s most suited for Cates’ trademark dry, humorous dialogue, and he delivers some absolute gems here in the opening chapter of this arc.

We get to see Loki being Loki, but are also treated to a little of the additional depth that the character has given in recent years, with what appears – on the surface, at least – to be a genuine desire to actually help people.  It’s all intriguing stuff, but for me, the most interesting part of the issue happens in the final few pages, where we check in with Stephen Strange and his new, “un-supreme” life.  It’s a brief scene with more than a passing resemblance to King and Walta’s Vision series, and it’s a situation I instantly find myself wanting to find out more about.

Speaking of Walta, the Spanish artist has long since cemented his reputation as one of the finest visual storytellers in the business today, a trend that continues here in what is admittedly a fairly restrained opening issue.  His layouts flow smoothly, and he manages to deliver the humorous beats of Cates’ script with consummate ease.  It’s a great looking book, and the brief flourishes of magic are brought to life with a creative flair, with colourist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire delivering a striking visual contrast once the spells start flying.

As a side note, It’s also kinda neat to see that Walta has, in an amusing twist, seemingly modeled the new ‘civilian’ Stephen Strange on Cates himself.  It’s an uncanny resemblance,  and adds a quirky touch of meta humour to the proceedings without feeling too ‘on the nose’.  Equally, it could just be based on a generic guy with a beard and I’m possibly reading too much into it, but hey…

The lettering also plays a significant role in the issue, from the italicised Asgardian speech to the subtle way Loki’s narration takes over from Stephen’s early in the book.  There’s one odd instance where a character drops out of the italicised style for a single speech bubble, but for the most part, Cory Petit adds an impressive extra layer to the story that Cates, Walta and Bellaire are telling.

Ultimately, this is pretty much a perfect jumping-on point with an exciting new creative team and a bold new direction for this iconic character.  Cates, Walta and Bellaire are working in perfect harmony here, and the mixture of humour, drama and sorcerous shenanigans make this an easy series to recommended.

Rating: 4.5/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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