Doctor Strange #10
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Jesus Saiz, Kevin Nowlan, Butch Guice, Tom Palmer, Jim Campbell, Carlos Lopez and Daniel Acuna
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
“I’m in no mood for cute.”
Mark Waid, Jesus Saiz, and a squad of talented artists assemble to celebrate Doctor Strange’s 400th issue, but the ingredients involved never really come together properly to make for a satisfying anniversary meal. While this issue starts off heartfelt, there’s a surreal swerve that Waid takes that unfortunately isn’t supported by Saiz’s artwork or the previous nine issues of storyline. That said, the backup stories wind up being the highlight of this milestone issue, in part because the visuals go places the main story seemingly cannot.
For the past nine issues, Doctor Stephen Strange has been attacked from the shadows, with an unseen force removing his magical abilities and attacking those closest to him. And there is a world where Waid’s out-of-left-field solution would have still felt somewhat organic - but unfortunately, given the square-jawed superheroic art style Saiz has been working with, the magic of Waid’s crazy resolution only lasts for a moment, before bringing readers painfully back down to Earth. Without giving too much away, Waid’s narrative arc feels a lot like his meta-riff on Ben Grimm’s resurrection in the pages of Fantastic Four - but unlike that series, which had enough whimsy to sell the concept of Jack Kirby in Heaven, Doctor Strange was working within a deeper strain of realism, making a departure from that all the more jarring.
Which is a bit of a shame, given that there are plenty of good elements elsewhere in the book. Strange’s reunion with a long-absent cast member is the best part of the book, channeling some of same heartbreaking emotions as Donny Cates’ Venom, as Strange tries to help a friend grapple with an all-too-real ailment. Unlike the big twist of the issue, which gears us up for a big climactic battle but at the cost of the narrative framework that had come before, Waid’s opening pages feel like a palate cleanser, a way of bringing Doctor Strange back amongst us mere mortals in a way that feels not just human, but something that Stan and Steve might have done back in the ‘60s and ‘70s in the Merry Marvel Manner.
But where this anniversary issue shines best is not in its main story, but with its backups - particularly Tom Palmer and Daniel Acuna, who draw a trippy, atmospheric backup story featuring Nightmare that feels more like classic Doctor Strange. It’s an art style in which anything can happen (and gives Waid all the runway he could ever need to deliver a truly unpredictable story). Diehard fans will also cheer at the return of Kevin Nowlan, whose Mignola-like inks create a moody rendition of Doctor Strange’s origin story from 1963. Waid’s backup with Butch Guice is perhaps the least engaging of the three, as the most traditional and least in-depth story of the bunch, but Guice still brings an edge to his art that is appealing.
Now 400 issues after his debut, you can sense how far Doctor Strange has come from his initial origins - and perhaps it’s that anniversary that makes this issue in particular stand out in stark contrast. While the idea of bringing Stephen Strange to space has made sense given his role in the Avengers: Infinity War film, this series has leaned a bit too traditional for a character as iconoclastic as the Master of the Mystic Arts - and while Waid tries (perhaps a little too abruptly) to thrust Stephen back into the outre and the bizarre, Jesus Saiz’s style as an artist means readers are unfortunately going to get hit with a case of narrative whiplash.