Doctor Strange #2
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Al Vey and Mark Irwin
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
There's a whimsicality to Jason Aaron's Doctor Strange that might be off-putting to those who like their superhero comic books played serious and down-to-earth, but those who like a chuckle to their entertainment might find a lot to enjoy here. Like Strange himself says, the Sanctum Sanctorum is "the last truly weird place in New York City," and Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo seem to be having a blast giving readers the grand tour of the estate.
Given how dark the character of Doctor Strange has been - whether you're looking at the psycho-satanic ages of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko or the most somber, Batman Begins-esque photos of the upcoming Benedict Cumberbatch film - it's a little surprising to see how little Aaron and Bachalo actually channel that feeling of black magic here. Instead, Aaron reminds me a lot of Doctor Who, or even old Piers Antony novels, as Doctor Strange is called upon for a house call - namely, for librarian Zelma Stanton, who not only is panicked about all the weirdness Strange surrounds himself with, but also with the mouths growing out of her head thanks to a case of mystical mind maggots.
Ultimately, though, the maggots are just a Macguffin, as Aaron really uses this opportunity to paint a picture of just how nutty and weird and gross Doctor Strange's life is, and how perhaps he needs a touch of normalcy to balance it all out. (Granted, Doctor Strange has had plenty of "normal" apprentices over the years - and as we saw in Mark Waid's Strange series a few years back with Casey Kinmont, that doesn't typically end well for them.) But Zelma is really just a surrogate for the reader, as she stumbles through the Sanctum, which has a jungle living room, a demon-infested bathhouse ("Of course you have a bathhouse," Zelma says. "Look at your mustache."), doors that lead to zombie apocalypse worlds or a refrigerator that holds multi-eyed, tentacled creatures that Wong loves to fricassee.
With all these crazy details in mind, this issue is less about the story and more about the spectacle - and Chris Bachalo definitely provides here. While sometimes his panel-to-panel storytelling can be a bit jarring - one example is a scene in Strange's library that cuts to the aforementioned apocalypse door with very little signalling what caused this transition - but Bachalo's little details are what make this book seem alternately creepy and hilarious. Bachalo's demons can feel either ridiculous or profoundly dangerous based on his use of shadow, while seeing Zelma wrapped up in "ectoplasmic mucous strands" is a chilling but wonderful use of black-and-white with strategic splashes of color. Unfortunately, Strange himself actually seems to get second billing here, as we spend a bit of time without him, but when he's around, Bachalo has him down pat, with the aloof way he floats in his study, reading a half-dozen books and scrolls all at once.
What might hold some people back is that, similiar to Aaron's Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine series from some years back, there's a lot of weirdness for weirdness' sake, and while there are a few lines of dialogue that imply the effects the worlds of black magic have had on Stephen Strange, Aaron doesn't quite have the most solid characterization of his lead character - and given how this character has failed to hold his own title for years, we need that foundation to keep readers interested. There's some comedy here and some high concept, but ultimately, I want to know what Aaron really thinks of Strange as a character, rather than a weirdness magnet.
But that said, we're only two issues in, and Aaron and Bachalo are still setting the stage - similar to their first arc on Wolverine and the X-Men, you have to establish the breadth of Stephen Strange's world before you can start bringing him to places he's never been before. With this two-part introduction establishing the quirky tone of Doctor Strange, now we just have to wait and see what kind of rabbits this creative team will pull out of their hats.
Green Lantern #46
Written by Robert Vendetti
Art by Billy Tan, Mark Irwin and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
Hal Jordan wields the most powerful weapon in the universe, able to create anything within the bounds of his imagination. His purview spans the entirety of the DC Universe, with his rogues gallery possessing not just the powers of the emotional spectrum, but literally over life and death itself.
So why isn't Green Lantern a more interesting book?
Tying together the latest permutation to the Black Hand saga, Robert Vendetti's latest issue of Green Lantern feels anemic, and the reason why is because ultimately there isn't really a story happening here. There's no tension, little conflict, and ultimately is about as dramatic as dropping off your clothes at the laundromat. While there's nothing offensive about this latest issue, it's missing some fundamental narrative ingredients to make this story worth your time.
From the beginning, you can't help but feel like Vendetti is stalling for time, as we get two extraneous pages of Virgo and Trapper literally stopping to smell the flowers (or in this case, the atmosphere) of an alien world, one that Vendetti doesn't actually stop to name. Unfortunately, the momentum doesn't build from there, as Vendetti brings Hal face-to-face with the behemoth known as Relic... and then nothing really happens. Hal and Relic just posture at one another, giving off exposition - Black Hand has been affected by the Source Wall, and they need to ship him back. Vendetti barely brings in any tension before Black Hand inevitably escapes - Hal says that reaching out to Relic will "probably get me killed," but we have zero indication in this issue that that would actually happen.
Indeed, it takes a third of the book for Black Hand to actually put up a fight against Hal and Relic, but unfortunately, he barely even does that. Artist Billy Tan doesn't really have a ton of focus with the fight choreography here, and part of that is just due to his distant panel compositions, which makes Black Hand's Source Wall detritus (not to mention Hal himself) look tiny and impotent. (And given how this comic is set entirely in deep space, we're already taking shortcuts here with no backgrounds - having the visuals look this weak is pretty damning.) Indeed, there's a splash page featuring Hal's ship, Darlene, which is supposed to be a big calvary moment in the issue, and it just totally misses the mark.
Considering that Vendetti is writing a story about Hal being caught between two of his most powerful enemies, it's disappointing there aren't any big twists or moments to make this issue feel memorable. This story isn't about anything deeper in Hal's mind, now that he's a renegade from the Corps, nor does this really say anything new about Relic or Black Hand - indeed, Black Hand gets knocked into the Source Wall with barely any resistance, and to make matters worse, Vendetti stretches it out by four pages with a not-quite fake-out of whether or not Black Hand will escape (spoiler alert: he doesn't). The whole comic is Hal wanting to drop off Black Hand at the Source Wall, and then he does, with a minimum of complications or fuss. Not only are there no human touchstones to make this feel deeper, but there aren't even any bumps in the road to give us the illusion of stakes or tension.
Given that Green Lantern has been one of DC's most successful franchises in decades - over the past 10 years, he's probably second only to Batman and maybe Justice League's track records - it's a shame to see it looking this rough now. Perhaps most surprising is that this issue doesn't fail because of any wrong-headed choices, but because of the fact that it barely seems to be making any choices at all. There is so much potential to a character like Green Lantern, but, much like Krona's power gauntlet, the limits to the character are only that of the wielder's imagination. Here's hoping that a new location will do this series some good.
Written by Sean Ryan
Art by Cory Smith and David Curiel
Lettering by Albert Deschesne
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Sam Alexander's run as the all-new Nova was a series punctuated by loss, with Sam constantly striving not just to find his missing father, Jesse Alexander, but to fill his boots as both a superhero and as a young man in his own right. But with Jesse found alive and well, writer Sean Ryan has a new dynamic to play with in this new #1 - a two-man, father-and-son Nova Corps. Of course, there's still some bugs to work out before Ryan can take this series full-throttle, but there's an enthusiasm here that could give Nova the boost it needs.
In many ways, Ryan's take on Sam Alexander is almost like a brand-new character - while previous writers evoked the spirit of Peter Parker as Sam stumbled through superherodom and a single-parent household, Ryan has a character whose main dramatic purpose has already been fulfilled. With that in mind, the focus of Nova #1 is split, as Sam and Jesse now share the load of patrolling the spaceways.
Ryan takes care not to have Sam be overshadowed by his father - he's sidelined quickly by a malfunctioning Nova helmet - but at the same time, sometimes Sam's plucky enthusiasm can be a little too much. Some of this might just be because Ryan is getting a handle on Sam as a character, but he comes off as a total goody two-shoes, particularly as he tells a classmate, "Education is a gift that I get to unwrap every day." In his previous iterations, Sam has been a little bit of a problem child, given his father's disappearance - and ultimately, I hope some of these rougher edges return, before classmates and readers alike want to give Sam a swirly after class.
But this book's greatest strength is when Sam is in action, as Ryan and artist Cory Smith revel in the speed and excitement of flight. A set piece featuring Sam and Jesse diving into a pair of flaming houses looks nice and dramatic, particularly when Jesse is trapped without a working Nova helmet. Smith also does a great job at portraying speed and motion - when we see Sam circling into space with a huge grin on his face, it's difficult not to want to grin along with him. That said, Smith might be too good at his job, sometimes, because once the action ramps down, the energy for the talkier scenes drops dramatically - some of it might be due to Ryan's characterization as well, but an over-long scene with Sam and Jesse returning home doesn't do a lot to make us connect with or root for this family.
Ultimately, it's too soon to say whether or not this iteration of Nova is going to achieve the liftoff that its previous volumes could not. Reminding me a bit of the "New 52"'s take on Firestorm: The Nuclear Men, there's a lot of narrative potential between two men with the same power set but two radically different perspectives on how to use it. But in order to make that premise work, Ryan is going to have to work overtime to make Sam a fully-realized and likeable character. If he can give Sam and Jesse some flaws, some edge, and a stronger perspective gained from their time apart, this could go from an average series to a great one.