Doctor Strange’s life is about to get a lot weirder, as he’s returning to the Himalayas where he learned the mystic arts to help some old friends with new ideas about magic. It all happens in June with the one-shot New Avengers Annual #1 by writer Frank Barbiere and artist Marco Rudy, telling an oversized solo story of the mystic Avenger and an enclave of techno-monks who have summoned something beyond their powers to control.
Barbiere comes to Marvel hot of the success of his creator-owned series Five Ghosts, and Rudy has been doing a string of stand-out, creative work on Swamp Thing, Avengers and the recent Marvel Knights: Spider-Man series. Rudy has said Doctor Strange is a character he’s been wanting to tackle for years, and for this oversized one-shot the Toronto artist is doing the entire book in watercolors. Newsarama spoke with Barbiere about the story that draws Strange back to his birth as a sorcerer, the threats he faces, and working with Rudy.
Newsarama: Frank, what can you tell us about the story of New Avengers Annual #1?
Frank Barbiere: The story sees Dr. Strange coming out of the pages of New Avengers, having just sold his soul in a gambit for more power. I really love the building tension of Jonathan Hickman's approach to Strange, and with this annual we're able to show just what has changed with the good Doctor and get a little bit of insight to some moments from his past that have brought him to this point. Also, we get to see Dr. Strange unleashed and in a full-on battle which I feel readers haven't seen in quite some time.
Nrama: From what little I know of you from your creator-owned work like Five Ghosts, I wasn’t surprised to learn your first Marvel work was with a Doctor Strange-centric story. Did you pitch for him, or was the idea of using him brought up to you by Marvel?
Barbiere: I was asked to pitch a story for the annual involving one of the Illuminati, and Strange is the one that really jumped out at me. As I said, I love where he is in the universe of New Avengers and had a really fun idea that tied into a lot of the current Avengers lore that Jonathan has done such a wonderful job of building. I personally have always found Strange to be a great character; he's of that wonderful Marvel stable where he is a heavily conflicted individual full of hubris. I think where he is right now really echoes so much of his character's roots, and that made him all the more fun to write.
Nrama: The Avengers team have a somewhat fluid roster from title to title and story to story; who’s with Strange here?
Barbiere: This is a totally Strange focused issue!
Nrama: Strange Tales indeed!
Barbiere: I'm very glad to have Stephen all to myself for this and think it's a story that really gives you some insight into his character at this point in time.
Nrama: So Strange is on his own here with no Avengers for back-up, but the solicits say something about Himalayan techno-monks. Tell us about them, and their connection with Strange… and most importantly: friend or foe?
Barbiere: When I was planning out the issue I wanted a really fun backdrop for the story. With all that's been going on in New Avengers, I really wanted to carry over the tone and aesthetic so I thought why not twist the conventions of classic Strange (where he would confer with a lot of monks and arcana types) with a group of monks who have evolved with the times--who have modified themselves and their teachings to be very 21st century. They are old allies of Strange who have changed (as has he!) and they have been fooling around with dark sciences well outside their control.
Nrama: If they aren’t the threat, who exactly is Strange and these Avengers facing?
Barbiere: As I mentioned, the techno monks have been tooling around in the same realms as the Avengers (as well as A.I.M.) and quickly have bit off more than they can chew. They've called in Strange as they know he has experience dealing with such problems…problems with impossible solutions!
Nrama: This will be your debut at Marvel – how’d you hook up with the House of Ideas?
Barbiere: Marvel editorial had seen my work on Five Ghosts and dropped me a line about pitching some ideas. It's immensely flattering, as I adore Marvel and am a huge fan of their current line. I was lucky enough that my New Avengers pitch got them excited and we were off to the races.
Nrama: Working with you on this story is comics veteran Marco Rudy – what’s it like being paired up with him on this story?
Barbiere: Marco is an immense talent. I was floored when my editor, Jake Thomas, told me he was going to be handling art. From what I've already seen, this is going to be an issue comics fans are going to love. Marco is watercoloring the whole thing himself, and Strange is a personal favorite of his, so we've got something very special on our hands. I can't wait for fans to see it--it's jaw-dropping, and quite an honor to be involved with such an amazing talent on my part!