Of all the times for magic to be on the fritz, of course it’s when Captain Fascist has dropped a darkforce dome over New York! Yes, Doctor Strange #21 is a Secret Empire tie-in, and it’s penned by new series writer Dennis Hopeless. Is it good?
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artist: Niko Henrichon
Publisher: Marvel Comics
No Eye of Agamotto. No Cloak of Levitation. No Marvel Studios-familiar accoutrements at all! Dr. Stephen Strange is forced to fight a giant, spectral tooth-monster with just his wits, a hatchet and the memory of bathtubs past. That should go well.
But he’s doing a better job than Spider-Woman! She and her faithful assistant-no-longer-reporter, Ben Urich, have joined up with Daredevil to breach the magic encasing Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. Unsurprisingly, if you read her own recently-concluded series, she starts off hurting more than she helps.
Look, no one enjoyed Spider-Woman more than I did (except maybe Nick), but Hopeless seems to have an even harder time letting go, as she and Ben kind of steal the show in Doctor Strange #21, Hopeless’ first issue on the book after taking over from the prodigious Jason Aaron. At a time when he should be showing how bad-ass a mystical maven he can write, it’s no exaggeration to say that Hopeless gives Jessica Drew just as much (if not more) panel time as the Doctor, and some of the better lines. It’s a nice fix for us Spider-Woman withdrawal sufferers, but it’s a mistake.
But hey, when Hopeless does focus on Doctor Strange, it’s done well. We see a more desperate, conniving sorcerer than we’ve known in the past, aligning well with where Aaron left the character. Strange scrapes together some ridiculous ingredients for a half-assed spell, rather than twiddling his fingers and solving everything in a jiff. And even then, it’s a very unlikely surprise character who actually keeps the beasts at bay.
The art by Niko Henrichon is Bachalo-esque enough that it should appeal to followers of the previous creative team, without being a direct tribute act. His anatomy is more standard, though, which might be good or bad depending on your perspective. The monsters in the book’s beginning are still cool and funky. Henrichon colors his own work here, to moderate success, although the hues do look somewhat faded in spots, and other places could use some slightly heavier inks.
Doctor Strange #21 is a good look at what Dennis Hopeless can do with the character in the future but, unfortunately, it’s a better look at what he did with Spider-Woman in the past. Henrichon’s art is consistent enough with what’s come before on the title that the transition shouldn’t be too jarring for regular readers, and given the unexpected cameo at book’s end, there should be enough here to hold the interest of newcomers, as well.