If you haven’t seen Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange, I highly recommend it. Seeing the spells and magical worlds on the big screen is a delight. It’s a facet of the Marvel Universal that has begged for a visual representation since the very beginning. That movie also got the character very right. Well, at least the arrogant traditional version. In recent years Jason Aaron has formed a more comical and humbled version of the character and this week Dennis Hopeless and John Barber continue to do great things with this character in Doctor Strange Vol. 5: Secret Empire.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
The Sorcerer Supreme suffers Secret Empire! New York City is under attack by dark forces, and only Doctor Strange has a shot at saving it – but it’s quite a long shot! And to have any hope, Strange must ally himself with some unsavory people. No, not Spider-Woman – though the Doctor is recruiting her, too. We’re talking about Wilson Fisk, A.K.A. the Kingpin. Together, they’ll take the fight to the person running New York City…Baron Mordo! But even if they win, are they ready for the Hydra-occupied America waiting outside of the dark-domed Manhattan?
Can I jump in easily?
Surprisingly yes. This may be a tie-in with the “Secret Empire” event, but it’s rather self-contained since it takes place under the black dome Captain America dropped on New York City. Much of what happens under the dome didn’t affect the main event and vice versa. It also mostly focuses on Doctor Strange’s mission to break the dome and only utilizes a few supporting characters to get the meat of the story going.
An unlikely paring.
Reason 1: He’s humble and more focused on what matters.
One of the coolest aspects of this modern take on Doctor Strange is how he may know more than most, but he doesn’t rub it in anyone’s face. He’s been depowered with much of the magic removed from the world so in most instances he’s barely getting a spell off or vanquishing a monster anyway. He doesn’t have time to rub it in anyone’s face. He’s also exhausted half the time and, like in this collection, a bath is more on his mind than being a prick.
In a stroke of genius, the second to last chapter has the Doctor Strange of today interacting with an entity he faced years ago. In those flashbacks, writer John Barber and artists Juan Frigeri and Java Tartaglia depict a classic style Doctor Strange with the opulent costume. He’s arrogant and it helps prove that he’s made mistakes because of it. It’s nice to see how Barber shows he’s grown out of that and become a better character for it.
Reason 2: Being depowered means thinking on the fly.
Hopeless builds your anticipation for a big spell early on in this collection only to have it go poof. Doctor Strange is annoyed, but much like magic, nothing is certain. Throughout this collection, you get the impression Strange isn’t surprised by anything because he’s seen so much and that means rolling with what you got. Since he’s been depowered he has way more limits and that makes action scenes and the book as a whole more unpredictable.
It also means teaming up with unlikely characters. This collection has him teaming up with Kingpin, Spider-Woman, and Ben Urich (and he comes in handy too!). At first, he just wants these characters out of his way so they don’t get hurt, but quickly Hopeless has them serving a purpose on their mini army. As they face Baron Mordo and an army of monsters, Doctor Strange is just happy to be alive fighting the good fight.
Reason 3: The stakes are huge.
Movies need big stakes, which is probably why we keep seeing hordes of aliens coming out of portals to kill all of humanity. The stakes in this story are big as all of New York City is in danger. It’s not the entire world, but the stakes are even larger because Doctor Strange is the only magic wielding hero under that black magic dome. Add in the fact that he is limited in his powers and magical items are rare and he’s facing his longtime rival Baron Mordo and you have some dire stakes indeed.
The two follow up chapters written by John Barber continue that trend. The first involves an entity of incredible power that even the old school arrogant Doctor Strange is afraid of. The second has Doctor Strange and his super green apprentice face off against undead spirit monsters in close quarters. In both cases, Doctor Strange must think fast or his head will be lopped off.
I think he just popped out of a butt…
Reasons to be wary?
The only unfortunate thing is Doctor Strange doesn’t actually save New York City! I suspect that was saved for the “Secret Empire” finale (or one of the chapters) so it couldn’t be wrapped up here. That said, it makes the climax of the main story fall a bit short. A villain is defeated, sure, but the day is yet to be won. You could argue that falls in line with Doctor Strange’s inability to catch a break though.
Is there a rationale to the reasons?
This is an exciting trade paperback well worth a look for fans of the character. Reading “Secret Empire” is not required and if you’ve enjoyed the recent and more humble take on Doctor Strange you’re going to love this. Now, after a movie or two, can they get Cumberbatch to do the character in this way?