Essential Doctor Strange Volume 2 TPB Paperback – 26 Dec 2007
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The Nekron and Sons of Satannish tale is a standout as Strange allies himself with the Black Knight in an Avengers cross-over as they fight Satannish as well as two Norse Gods Ymir and Surtur.
There's another great 3-parter with Eternity surprisingly held captive by Nightmare and the clever re-appearance of Juggernaut with some quite superb Colan artwork.
Then the Nameless Ones cross-over tales with the Sub-Mariner and The Hulk that opened the gates for the later Defenders series, but at this time it ended with him walking off into the sunset to ponder his future.
Strange's appearances stopped for a few years before he returned in Marvel Premiere to confront Mordo who had taken over his identity. He gets his first battle against Nightmare who is working on behalf of Shuma-Gorath. These tales do suffer slightly from the lack of a regular artist and despite some Ok showings it is the introduction of Frank Brunner that brings the necessary continuity.
The Gardner Fox penned Shuma-Gorath story IS long and confusing and although concept credit is given to Robert E. Howard for the ideas any fan of H P Lovecraft will recognise in this 7 issue arc parts from the Shadow Over Innsmouth and Dagon tales,and many others,including the Innsmouth look and the New England settings. The Creatures are,however,man sized and not as Lovecraft portrayed them.Read more ›
Well, as it turns out, the answer is 'plenty'. Dormammu and Nightmare are back, and the unoriginality of their returns is more than compensated for the fact that they are now being drawn by Gene Colan, doing some of the best work of his career. He might lack the high wierdness of Ditko's run, but his drawings are stunning: Dormammu has never looked so threatening, Clea so beautiful, or Nightmare so insane. Best of all are his radical experiments with layouts, eschewing the standard comic-book grid in favour of fragmented pages that look like broken mirrors, with images stabbing into one another, overlapping, or lurching off at angles. Never has the sheer, mind-overloading craziness of Dr Strange's world been better conveyed.
After Colan's departure, things inevitably go downhill. There's a functional crossover storyline guest-starring Namor and Hulk, in which Strange battles the mad cult and demonic minions of The Nameless One, an ancient god attempting to return to Earth after eons of imprisonment. Then there's a storyline in which Strange battles the mad cult and demonic minions of Shuma-Gorath, an ancient god attempting to return to Earth after eons of imprisonment. (No, seriously: they used exactly the same story twice in a row.) For a while things really go to pieces, with poor artwork and an incoherent plot, but it pulls itself together at the end for a decent conclusion.Read more ›
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It turns out that Doc's entry into the world of 20-page long headliners in the late 60's was a lukewarm affair at best. Although the first of Strange's new mag gives a great expanded retelling of our hero's origin, it settles into some merely OK rematches with Nightmare, Tiboro and Dormammu. The only new menaces introduced here were the Sons of Satannish, whose subsequent story arc ended with one of the most forced twist endings I had ever seen. After that little bit of loveliness, Doc decides to start hiding his face behind a mask when out on patrol. You know, his interdimesional adventures have never been public knowledge and he had always been bragging about the many mystic wards that protect his Sanctum Sanctorum (not to mention Dr. Strange IS his real name) so, really, why the mask? I think he did give a reason why he wanted to look more superhero-ey (besides a theoretical boost in sales, I mean), but for the life of me I can't remember it. He would later go on to help the Avengers corrale two Norse gods (there we go!) and then he went toe-to-toe with the Juggernaut (awesome!).
Sadly, it wasn't enough to save him from one of the most graceless series cancellations in the history of comic books. It would take me too long to explain it myself, so I'll leave it to Dr. Strange himself to tell you, with some paraphrasing.
(In #183, before he leaves to investigate the threat of the Undying Ones): Clea, my love. I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life in your arms. But as the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, I must never rest my vigil for there are myriad mystical menaces that wish to steal the life from our conscious world.
(In Incredible Hulk #126, several months since the cancellation and after the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner were called in to smooth out that cliffhanger as best they could): Now that that one race of evil extradimensional demons won't be bothering us for a while, I think it's a good time to hang up my cloak, break all contact with my girlfriend, my ancient mentor, and my faithful manservant, and live out my days as a medical consultant. See you around, Dr. Banner.
Stinks, doesn't it?
Fortunately, after a three-year absence, the good doctor was given a second chance (without the ugly mask) as both the leader of the Defenders (see my review of the Essential Defenders) and with a new solo series in the springboard title Marvel Premiere, and he took advantage of both. A rather large stable of writers and artists sent Strange on one continual globetrotting quest from New England to Tibet that reads like one part Lovecraft, one part Indiana Jones, and one part good ol' Silver Age Marvel magic. Strange fights several new arcane monsters, from shambling undersea demigods to the one-and-only Shuma Gorath. You may have played him in one of the Marvel/Capcom arcade games. He's the one-eyed octopus thing. In the final tale in this collection, Strange and Mordo both try to exert their influence on an extremely powerful sorcerer who is prepared to journey back to the dawn of time and remake the universe. It's good stuff and why Dr. Strange is here to stay.
I liked the Marvel Premiere tales very much, but I wished the writers hadn't used so many real-world religious icons as props. Stonehedge was said to be a gateway to a hell-like realm and 5000-year old demonic cults used an inverted cross as their symbol (Huh, talk about creative anachronism!). The Ancient One was even held hostage by the Living Buddha. Man, basing comic book characters on current spiritual figures just isn't cool. They should just stick to ancient Norse or Greek mythology (See my review of the Essential Thor #2 for more on how well that works. I review a lot of these, don't I?).
The missteps of Doc's first solo series were absolutely tragic, but the Marvel Premiere stories make this Essential collection, starring the archmage of the Marvel Universe, worth owning by any classic comic fan. Go ahead and summon up a copy today.
This volume begins with the start of Strange's first (short-lived) series. While one would expect this to be an exciting time to be reading the adventures of the good doctor, the stories are only pale imitations of what Steve Ditko already did best in the first volume. The cosmic battles are neither as exciting, well-executed, nor visually interesting, and yet Roy Thomas keeps conjuring up cosmic villains, new and old, in an attempt to repeat the success found when Strange faced off against Dormammu and encountered the likes of Eternity and the Living Tribunal. The fact is that Ditko had already taken the cosmic theme as far as he could. Strange had already encountered the most impossibly powerful forces in the most impossibly abstract dimensions. To attempt to repeat this was futile. And while Thomas's tenure on Doctor Strange was not completely devoid of entertainment (I found the New Year's Eve story quite touching in some respects), it was a delay in the necessary development of the Doctor Strange premise. Clearly, a new conceptual direction was needed, but all Thomas could provide was a new (quickly discarded) costume.
Fortunately, the Marvel Premiere stories waste no time in taking Doctor Strange in new directions. In Marvel Premiere #4, Archie Goodwyn takes Doctor Strange out of his Sanctum Sanctorum and out on the road, trotting the globe in search of the occult and taking on human companions when necessary. Sure it's a bit corny and reminiscent of Scooby-Doo, but it allows Goodwyn and later writers to expand the scope of the traditional Doctor Strange story. No longer just abstract battles between the Doctor and some evil cosmic entity, Doctor Strange stories were now free to introduce carefully laid plots and make better use of supporting cast and setting, all grounded in reality but free to ascend into astral occult as need be. Unfortunately, after only one issue, Goodwyn turns the reigns over to Gardner Fox, a legend of the Silver Age, but a man out of place in a bronze age title. His continuation of the same sweeping story arc feels a bit more campy and non-senseical, frequently contradicting itself and misunderstanding aspects of the Doctor Strange mythos. Still, it's far better reading than much of what came after Ditko and before this.
Finally, in Marvel Premiere #9, on the tenth anniversary of Doctor Strange's first appearance, the reigns are turned over to writer Steve Englehart and penciller/co-plotter Frank Brunner. With Roy Thomas using his past experience on the character to guide them as editor, Englehart and Brunner transformed Strange, bringing back Ditko's cosmic struggles, but with a far wiser, more introspective, and surprisingly spiritual Stephen Strange serving as protagonist. Under their guidance, Doctor Strange stories no longer needed to depend solely upon how easily a cosmic opponent can destroy the Earth. Instead, it's Doctor Strange's reactions that make the adventure worth experiencing. How does the good doctor react to having to kill his mentor in order to save the world? How does he react when confronting a time-traveling god that can reshape the very history of mankind? You'll just have to read volume 2 in order to find out.
Though some of the earlier stories in this volume will feel tiresome, The last few stories are the ones that truly make this volume worthwhile. Read Essential Doctor Strange volume 2 to experience the beginning of a new, bolder, and more character-intensive era for Stephen Strange. Essential Volume 1 may have shown you the beginning, but this is where the modern day Doctor Strange truly begins.
To help everybody along the first story in this collection happens to retell the origin of Doctor Strange. Roy Thomas writes everything that the "Marvel Premiere" stories, with most of the artwork being drawn by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer (issue #171 is interesting because Palmer did the pencils with Dan Adkins, who drew the previous two issues, providing the delineative inking). The Master of the Mystic Arts has a couple of encounters with Nightmare, another big battle with the dread Dormammu, gets betrayed by Clea, and then suddenly looks like a superhero with a mask and big gloves. That was the point where I figured the comic book was in trouble, although the team of Colan and Palmer was providing the same great artwork they would on "Tomb of Dracula." At that point Doctor Strange was kicked around the Marvel universe as a guest star until he was given another shot in "Marvel Premiere."
As a result of what happened in these twelve issues Doctor Strange would get his own comic book again. There was an immediate shot in the arm because in "Marvel Premiere" #3 the story came from Stan Lee and the artwork was by Barry Smith, in one of his rare stints for Marvel after his epic run on "Conan the Barbarian." By the next issue Frank Brunner was sharing the artistic duties and after quest stints by Craig Russell and Jim Starlin, in "Marvel Premiere" #9 Brunner took over as the strip's artist with Steve Englehart as writer. This was the 10th anniversary of when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko first created Dr. Strange and they started off with a great story line.
Now known as the "Separate Reality" story-line, Dr. Strange gets cosmic as the Ancient One dies and passes on the mantle of the Sorcerer Supreme to his disciple. Then he is battling a powerful magician who is traveling back in time so that he can absorb all of the magic in the universe and become all-powerful (which leads to an inevitable conclusion). But Strange is not already dealing with the threat of this magician, he also has to do his own trip through the mystical looking glass. This was certainly an ambitious storyline, and rather controversial given its conclusion. If this is not the best Dr. Strange (notice that "Doctor" becomes "Dr." at this point) storyline of all-time it is definitely in the running. It certain had people talking about it at the time.
Final Notes: My cover of this tradepaperback is not Brunner's cover for the next issues, "Dr. Strange" #1 but Barry Smith's cover for "Marvel Premiere" #3. Also, "Marvel Premier" #11 was basically a reprint issue, consists of a pair of Lee & Dikto tales ("The origin of Dr. Strange" from "Strange Tales" # 115 and "The Many Traps of Baron Mordo" from #117) with a few pages by Englehart & Brunner added. The reprinted stories are not included here, but, of course, you will find them at the start of "The Essential Doctor Strange, Volume 1," which should already be sitting on your shelf waiting for this companion volume. Just do not hold you breath, even using mystical means, for Volume 3.
Of course I was always more of an art-freak and these mags had the best run of cool visuals. Ditko's work is amazing (I still find his stuff better in new ways each time I go back & look at it) but #s 169-183 kick butt.
The two DAN ADKINS pencilled tales have Dan's awesome composition and superb use of black areas (two of his greatest strong points along with his excellent facial representations).In 171 excellent inker TOM PALMER turns in one of his serviceable pencilling jobs.
... and then there is GENE COLANs 11 ish run. I'm a Colan fan for sure, probably my favorite MARVEL artist ever and his unusual layouts, dramatic angle and lighting choices, and electrifying visualizations of battles between mystic energies are pretty spectacular.
BARRY SMITH also turns in some nice work during the reboot but is followed by some seriously awful stuff (Irv Wesley??? Craig Russell---yeeesh!)
Is it amazing to ANYONE else how DON HECK managed to work on virtually every MARVEL title during these silverage years? His stiff,vague, poorly composed flat-awful art takes me "out" of every story he ever drew.
Yeah, Roy Thomas was actually my favorite writer from this period, even turning in better work than Stan at times. But the costume-change was a pretty obvious attempt to superheroize the Doc to try and boost sales. And since Colan had a tendency to ramble about working in the "Marvel Method" the stories are not nearly as tight as they were when Ditko's beautifully paced and economic storytelling ran the show.
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