Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Donny Cates, Nick Spencer
Artwork: Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Nico Henrichon, Frazer Irving, Rod Reis, Szymon Kudranski
Colours: Jordie Bellaire, Laurent Grossat, Rod Reis, Dan Brown
Lettering: VC’s Cory Petit
Release Date: 17th April 2019
With all the buzz surrounding Donny Cates’ stellar run with Ryan Stegman on Venom, the work he did alongside Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Nico Henrichon, Frazer Irving and others on Doctor Strange back in late 2017 and early 2018 may just have slipped under some people’s radar.
Cards on the table, I’m not really a massive Doctor Strange fan, but I am a massive Donny Cates fan, and this hefty hardcover collection certainly ticks all the right boxes, delivering a mixture of humour, magic tomfoolery and high-stakes drama throughout the course of its 341(!) pages.
One of the things that impresses me most about Cates is how quickly he manages to adapt to new characters. In fact, after only a couple of issues of this collection, it already feels like he has been writing Doctor Strange for decades. What’s more, he manages to adapt his existing style to this incredibly well-established character, and does so without it ever feeling jarring or uncomfortable.
Fans of Cates’ previous work should probably know exactly what to expect by now; humour, drama and big, punchy cliffhangers and reveals. Aficionados of slow-burning storytelling might end up with a dash of motion sickness, but for the rest of us, this is the kind of enthusiastic, rapid-fire writing that quite possible caused us to fall in love with comics in the first place.
The first part of the volume is dedicated to the “God of Lies” arc, which sees Loki taking the mantle (literally and figuratively) of the Sorcerer Supreme. It’s a cracking idea, and Loki is clearly a character who is tailor made for Cates’ distinctive wit. He and Stephen Strange share the focus as their rivalry gradually develops, and with a well-utilised cast of supporting characters, several exciting twists and turns, a trip to Asgard and a completely unnecessary kick in the feels, this is a fantastic opening to the collection and a great introduction to the character as a whole.
Gabriel Walta handles the art duties for this part of the story, and does a stellar job of nailing both the humorous and epic beats of Cates’ script. Walta’s pedigree has already been well and truly cemented with his run on Vision, and he brings the same measured approach to the proceedings here, favouring layout and expression over any unnecessary detail. It’s a great looking arc, and Jordie Bellaire packs the pages with her rich-but-restrained colours, breathing extra necessary life into this wildly creative story.
The remainder of the volume is filled by the epic “Damnation” storyline in its entirety, which sees Strange’s attempts to restore Las Vegas (following its destruction during “Secret Empire”) inadvertently allowing an opening for Mephisto to gain a foothold on Earth. Obviously Mephisto and Vegas go hand-in-hand, and he starts reaping souls like they’re going out of fashion, with every sin, no matter now minor (lying, jaywalking, etc.) being enough to consign its host to eternal damnation. And with the Avengers succumbing to their own minor sins, and Doctor Strange struggling to tackle Mephisto head-on, it’s up to Wong to put together a rebooted version of the Midnight Sons to help save the day.
In all honesty, things do get a tiny bit bloated at times as a result of the expansive cast of characters, but Strange’s struggles keep things anchored. It feels a little less ‘Donny Cates’ than the Loki arc (although he does a fantastic job with Moon Knight, and the talking ghost dog sidekick is a work of pure genius), but still provides an enjoyable, entertaining and pleasingly self-contained story that allows Stephen Strange ample opportunity to flex his magic (and character) muscles.
Niko Henrichon and Frazer Irving split artistic duties here for the most part, which manages to be a really good thing (both men’s styles are perfectly suited to the magical weirdness of Doctor Strange) and a slightly jarring one (their styles are also like chalk and cheese, which makes for some rough transitions from issue to issue). That said, both men definitely bring their A-game to the proceedings, managing to capture the mystical and character-focused aspects of the story rather well.
The end of the volume sees the door being left wide open for the future, but also comes with a sense of finality as Cates hands wraps up his own story before handing the reins over to Mark Waid. And while Waid would go on to have quite an impressive run with the Sorcerer Supreme himself, this volume delivers an accessible, energetic and strikingly illustrated take on the character that is, for my money, one of the best Marvel runs in recent years. Highly, highly recommended.