Fantastic art, great character development and future possibilities for two characters, but nothing else.
“Damnation” comes to an inevitable end, the games wind down, and all the chess pieces are put back in boxes. The only question is whether the pieces end up in the right boxes and what implications these supernatural shake-ups have going forward.
So what’s it about?
Read the preview.
Why does this matter?
There are over ten anti-hero types involved in this story, many of whom have their books cross over with this event. This is also a direct follow-up to Secret Empire. More importantly to Doctor Strange, the impasse between him and Wong that has lasted for almost a year finally comes to a head.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This issue is mostly driven by the art, which appears to be painted and perfectly captures the eerie and surreal nature of the fight that is going on between the Midnight Sons and Avengers. Reis and Kudranski each put in a bit of time in previous issues in this series, but I think for the conclusion going with Reis’ style for the main story was a great fit. The series of pages where Strange gets the powers of the Avengers is almost surreal, in particular when he harnesses T’Challa’s abilities. It also becomes more effective and stands out further when a backup story is added as an epilogue of sorts that goes back to Kudranski’s more “conventional” art style.
Wong also got to gloat quite a bit in this story. After setting the stage for this whole operation against Mephisto and the odds seemingly stacked against him, he not only manages to save his friend but also gets to show how much he has evolved and stepped out of Strange’s shadow through his ingenuity and stoic, calm fearlessness. There’s one sequence where a fully restored Strange tries to save Wong from a fiery pit, and in a move symbolic of how much he’s finally been able to step out of Strange’s shadow, Wong just lets himself fall into Hell as he has other business there. While he probably needs to be fleshed out a bit more, I think the time has never been better for Wong to get his own series.
Lastly, seeing Ghost Rider running Hell and that last shot of him facing down Mephisto with his own army is epic and invites numerous possibilities. Cates is actually launching a brand new Ghost Rider book, but sadly it’s not going to star Johnny Blaze. I can only hope there may be a tie-in given he’s got his hands in both stories.
It can’t be perfect can it?
Unfortunately, it’s far from it.
The main plot point was quickly wrapped up in the first few pages, and then the rest of the issue was dedicated to Mephisto getting his just desserts. In hindsight, judging from how lame and generally unthreatening Mephisto came across in the entire series, I can’t say I’m too surprised as he hasn’t really been portrayed as a major manipulator in over ten years, since his most notorious role in Spider-Man’s One More Day storyline. Otherwise, in other storylines ranging from X-Factor to Thunderbolts, he’s actually been the one getting manipulated or played for a fool. I was really hoping this story would restore him to the grand threat that he once was, but this is probably the worst he’s been treated in terms of showing how ineffectual he is. Needless to say, this issue goes a long way in ensuring I won’t ever take him seriously again (on a side note Marvel, can we just undo One More Day already now that Mephisto’s basically off the table? Conspiracy theory time: look who’s on the cover for Doctor Strange #390 which follows this event, and oh yeah, that guy is getting a new writer as well, who also happens to be the co-writer of this event…hmm…)
Also, given that there was so much focus on Strange, Wong, Ghost Rider and Mephisto in this issue, not only did we not get to see the reaction of everyday people and how the city rebuilt itself after Mephisto’s presence and influence wore off (we just got a few sentences referring to what happened), but all the other characters that were pulled into this story were made into afterthoughts. It’s almost inconceivable that this story used the hottest comic book character in the world right now in Black Panther for four issues, and all you have him do (beyond having Strange get to use his and other Avengers’ powers, which I will admit was pretty cool) in the end is utter the phrase “What happened?”
The other problem I had was that for all the hype built up for this event, at the end of the day there were no real overarching status quo changes beyond a new ruler of Hell. We all knew that there wouldn’t be major changes happening anyway, since solicits for future issues starring almost all of these heroes had already come out and didn’t indicate anything about any of them residing in hell (well, other than one guy). But other than that, while each hero/vigilante/character had their own side struggles that seemed to intersect with this event, in the end Las Vegas was saved, the Avengers and Strange were restored, and life went on. So, we went through all this for what exactly? In hindsight, I wonder if the main series of this event was even necessary. Having had a chance to read all the “tie-in” books for this event (all of which were decent to amazing), I don’t see why the pages from Damnation couldn’t have just been incorporated into the other books (and in some cases, they already were!). I think the $4.99 premium price tag is probably why. Sorry Marvel, but when you’re just doing a shameless money grab here I’m going to call you out.
Is it good?
No. The art is fantastic, you get some great character development and future possibilities for two characters, but the ball is dropped for everyone and everything else involved in this story. Doctor Strange #389, the conclusion of this event, is a far superior take on how this battle ended (and it’s hard to believe it’s written by one of the co-authors of this issue given the stark contrast in quality). Pick that up instead (and you can’t go wrong picking up any of the tie-ins, honestly) but there’s no need to spend your money on the main series here (more expensive price tag notwithstanding).