One of the strangest things, besides the good doctor himself, is that for such a highly regarded character, one with a Cumberbatch bothering feature film hitting the big screen next year is how long Marvel’s premier physician has been absent from the spotlight. Created by Lee and Ditko around the same time as other founding characters of the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man, The Hulk and the Fantastic Four he’s never quite managed to capture readers imagination on quite the same level. Sure he’s still figured heavily as a major player in the Marvel Universe, playing a huge part in Hickman’s Avengers, as a member of the Illuminati group and more recently this year as Doctor Doom’s reluctant right hand man on Battleworld. Yet, despite this it’s been around twenty years, barring the odd mini series or two, since the mystical surgeon was the star of his own ongoing solo series. Having flipped the idea of Wolverine on it’s head with their run on school based Wolverine and the X-men Marvel are clearly confident that the genius creative pairing of Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo can give an all new all different spin on the sorcerer supreme.
Given his long absence, this issue uses the ‘All New All Different’ banner to bring new readers up to speed. Cleverly opening with a single page collage of classic Strange art giving us the broad strokes of the Doctor’s past adventures and tragic back story before leaping back to the present with Steven in full scale battle on the ectoplasmic plane, fighting insurmountable cosmic forces for the sake of a single soul. After the initial nods to his past the majority of this low key first issue rightly serves as an engaging but slow build set-up for the series, only hinting here and there at the chaos to follow. While the essential elements and character traits remain, he shows a willingness to tweak other details to give a fresh view on a classic character. His script is peppered with clever character beats that set out how he views Strange.
In case the addition of an impressive looking battleaxe wasn’t enough, throwaway jokes about being the only doctor in New York who still makes house calls whilst funny, gently reinforce the idea of a more proactive, hands on sorcerer supreme. From the outset writer Jason Aaron establishes his looser, thrill seeking take on Strange with the Doctor declaring “I’d be lying like Hell if I said I didn’t love this” while he locks horns with the horror and the madness lurking all around him. Missing his trademark silver temples the slightly more youthful practitioner of the dark arts has more in common in this issue with DC’s charismatic mage, Constantine, Aaron giving us a more carefree, but not uncaring take on the character.
Bachalo’s dynamic art was the highlight of Wolverine and the X-men were among some of the best of the run. Here his skills are on show to better effect as he conjures up the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit Doctor Strange’s mystical world. soul eaters, pyche-leeches and Spurrgog tentacles spread across the pages over his adventurous layouts. With the inter dimensional creatures likened to microbes, Bachalo offers a visually stunning two page spread giving us a sorcerer’s eye view of the streets of Manhattan and the magical corners of the Marvel Universe. With the decidedly retro looking nasties stuck onto the citizens like parasites the streets and buildings are rendered in black and white with pops of colour on the creatures as they adorn their unwitting hosts like funky spectral fashion statements.
With the action happening on the spectral plane it offers a fascinating spin on Doctor Strange’s life and a change from the usual mayhem and destruction in urban areas. Costume changes are a tricky balancing act in comics, and Bachalo pulls it off here by offering the best of both worlds. With small tweaks to his usual arcane attire, the changes are instead channelled into some fashionable yet unassuming street-wear. Blending in on the streets, the powerful physician now strikes a more rugged and roguish appearance without loosing his refined appeal. His more ostentatious billowing cape of levitation at times reduced to a tasteful scarf is a humorous visual touch.
Aaron and Bachalo’s Doctor Strange series is off to an extremely strong start, with the first issue working as both a fresh start and jumping on point for new readers and a reintroduction of a a supporting character into a more central role in anticipation of his move to the big screen next year.