Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Movie/TV Tie-Ins, Part XVIII: Marvel Super Heroes #5 (featuring Doctor Strange)

The All-Ages introduction to the Doctor

"A Very Strange Day"
Writer – Paul Tobin
Penciller – Jacopo Camagni
Inker – Norman Lee
Colorist – Guru eFx
Cover – Cruz & Quintana
Production – Anthony Dial
Consulting – Mark Paniccia & Ralph Macchio
Editor – Nathan Cosby
Editor-in-Chief – Joe Quesada
Publisher – Dan Buckley
January 2009
We only have five days to go until Doctor Strange drops so we need to make good time. I'm of the mind that most folks don't know who Doctor Strange is nor what he means to the Marvel Universe. I've taken it upon myself to pull five carefully selected tales from the Crapbox that give you a good idea of the mage. Not just anyone could become the Sorcerer Supreme of an entire dimension. These five articles will give you insight into the man who wears that mantle.

Part 1: Wisdom

The Makings of a Sorcerer Supreme: Confidence and Wonder

In 2003, Marvel introduced an all ages imprint. Dubbed Marvel Age, these books were aimed at telling stand-alone stores about existing characters. Issues were quickly collected into manga style digests after printing. The stories were take offs on the classic Marvel history, in a way further muddying the waters of what Marvel's chronology. The idea was to introduce young children to the Marvel pantheon at an early age, creating the next generation of comic book buyers.

By 2005, Darwyn Cooke was brought in to develop a new imprint along the same line which lead to the development of Marvel Adventures. It was the same concept under a different banner. The story idea was changed, no longer being a retelling of Marvel mythology but now focusing on new stories. None of the tales take place in Marvel continuity, or really in any continuity at all. They just ARE and in a single issue format that's fine.

Originally there were four titles: The Avengers, Spider-Man, Super Heroes and Fantastic Four. Two other titles were added shortly after launch for Iron Man and The Hulk, but both were canceled quickly. The Fantastic Four imprint made it to 48 issues but in 2009 both it and the line were scrapped.

The next year the line was rebooted with only two titles being sold: Spider-Man and Super Heroes. They made it to 2012 before being replaced when Disney XD stepped in and started pushing comics tied to the current cartoon block of Marvel shows, namely Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Ultimate Spider-Man.

This issue is from the first volume of the Super Heroes series introduces the all-ages incarnation of Doctor Strange and goes so far as to literally state that confidence is his defining attribute. Additionally it presents Doctor Strange's sense of wonder at the marvels the universe contains. He doesn't treat things as threats to subdue, but as if each has a place in the cosmic balance.

Doctor Strange deals with the defense of our dimension from otherworldly forces on a daily basis. Imagine the vastness of that statement before you continue. All the lives not just in our city or state or planet or even galaxy, but everyone on our plane of existence itself, depend on him to protect them.

We will see in other issues what such a mantle does to Stephen Strange the man and how that is separate from the public persona of someone cool and in control. But yes, Doctor Strange deals will all matters of menace both understandable and not, and stares them down with the same degree of egoless will.

In this tale, however, writer Peter Tobin goes so far as making Doc Strange not only rely on confidence, but to take it to the extreme of making the good doctor into a con-man.

We being with our Sorcerer performing what he would term a routine morning checklist.

Note how this doesn't faze the good Doctor at all. Any ONE of these menaces have caused him no end of trouble in the past. Umar herself is the brother of Dormammu, what of Doc Strange's longest-standing challengers and has threatened all life on Earth several times. Yet he treats this like you or I would our morning commute.

It wouldn't be much of a story if he didn't find something amiss, however.

That looks like something deeply wrong with the all the dimensions. Doc seems to think he will need a little help, and since this is an all-ages Marvel book, they go with the standard trope of pulling in their most well-known character. Cue Spiderman-villain fight!

We encounter our favorite wall-crawler on patrol when suddenly his old foe The Vulture is seen bursting from a window carrying a giant multicolored ball. A woman yells out for him to bring back the Gnarian Orb that he stole and Spidey hops to taking down the winged felon. Things go a bit rough for our webhead.

Which is about the time that Doc Strange steps in to stop Vulture and make introductions. While we are doing that, let's talk about the art chores in this. Jacopo Camagni is on pencils and Norman Lee is on Inks and both do a decent enough job. There are a few scenes that are done in a "cutesy" kind of style. such as the facial expressions here on spidey's mask and the Vulture, but for the most part it is the most generic non-offensive art I've seen in a comic book. It has a feel of reading an extended Target ad, and by that I mean the characters look like something you'd see on a sign board attached to a Walmart end-cap. 

It isn't bad or good. It's uncomplicated. I don't see it take risks or do anything to offend. If you want the definition of straight-forward design, look here at Spider-Man and Doc Strange introducing themselves to each other.

There should be emotional weight to that scene and there is just none.

Where we go next is to recount the good Doctor's origin for Spider-Man. For those of you who don't know, realize much of this will be movie-spoilery but might give you a deeper appreciation for the character.

First off we meet Doctor Strange when he was a brilliant surgeon.

Make that brilliant surgeon and jerkwad, as Spider-Man points out. However there is a part of this that is important: Stephen was confident in his abilities even before he became master of the mystic arts. He was always sure of himself, his diagnoses and his ability to handle any medical situation. He didn't necessarily use those powers for good however.

And in a karmic sense of justice, the universe took away his ability to use his hands without them shaking. After so many failed attempts at finding someone who could repair the damage caused by the car accident, he sought the healing powers of a mystic in the far east with his friend James Wong.

What he found profoundly changed his life.

No doubt part of his "natural ability" as a student had to do with his confidence in being able to adapt and master these new skills. Take this part, for example.

It sounds like magic is an every-changing and evolving situation that would be unmanageable to anyone who didn't feel they could flow with it and adapt to it.

After a brief, one panel shot of Wong and the Ancient One playing X-Box, Doc Strange shows Spider-Man who they are up against: these nasty reality eaters with a poisonous bite.

Spider-Man dispatches them with ease, which should mean our tale is over, except…

These are just baby Zakimiya, and what they really need to catch is there "Mother/Father" who is spawning them.

Note here is where Doctor Strange reminds me of another Doctor who also deals in things that seem almost magical. Yes, I'm invoking a certain time-lord for comparison's sake here. Doc Strange travels all around the dimensional multiverse yet doesn't pick fights, he looks for peaceful solutions where he can. It makes him a unique Marvel hero.

Here is the big reveal: Doc admits that without confidence in his own abilities his magic wouldn't work.

Spider-Man understands how that might be and with a few magical augments to his own Spidey powers, they get to work. Strange gives Spider-Man's webbing the ability to close the reality holes created by the newborn Zakimiya and his Spidey-sense to tell when they are close. As soon as he tests these powers, off they go on a wild dimension-hopping spree.

It has some odd twists and turns, like that 68 cent part.

Kind of funny and it leads into the part that might be terrifying: finding the adult Zakimiya.

We sure this is an all-ages book? That thing is fairly terrifying. What's worse is that Doctor Strange freely admits that he is powerless against it. And also in awe of it, so it would seem.

But he does have a plan. A crazy, mad scheme with all of reality in the balance if it doesn't work. He starts by loaning Spider-Man some power and tasking him to continue capturing the young Zakimiya. Then he goes for a chat with the adult version, admonishing Spider-Man to 'ham it up a bit. Which, given this is Spider-Man, means that amount of ham is equal to a pig the size of New Jersey.
Strange then bounces a few high level spells off the adult Zakimiya, who appears less than amused.

Yes, Strange is going to flim-flam an entity that can devour all of reality. That takes a supremely high degree of confidence to pull off. Not to mention acting lessons. How does he do?


And with nary a hint of fear, Dr. Strange strikes a bargain that saves all of reality. He even has a little token for Spider-Man.

With that, we give props to the good Doctor for his faith in his own abilities, a confidence that allows him to always be cool under pressure. Even when all reality is at stake.

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