Sins of the Elder: a “Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #1” (Review)

Oct 26, 2016

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57aa41f63a0e5Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #1

Writer: Robbie Thompson
Penciler: Javier Rodriguez
Inker: Alvaro Lopez
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire

WARNING: Major spoilers – article meant only for those who have completed reading this issue!

In case you didn’t notice, heck, in case you couldn’t have predicted, there is a big Doctor Strange push from Marvel this month as the movie preps to release two 184430_1014490_2weekends from now. So there’s a ton of Doctor Strange titles all out at the same time. About three or four dropped this week, and while I am not normally one to get caught up in the wake of all the marketing drivel, I was curious about the premise of Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme. Merlin has come to New York to kidnap Stephen Strange. Taking a brief trip through the Backroads of Time, Merlin “explains”, in his typically cryptic manner, that a threat has arisen that requires an assembly of the greatest Sorcerer Supremes of all time. I just could not resist reading this book, built on the premise of getting the greatest magic band of all time back together.

Bellaire’s colors literally sing themselves off the page. The best artwork in this issue is in the darker panels, where Bellaire is able to show off her mastery of lighting and shadows. The first pages of the issue are in a darkened dungeon where Merlin appears to be imprisoning a collection of golems that he has created. The shadow-work on the characters faces, the lighting from torches and crackling from magic effects; they immediately enthrall you and hooked me into the story right off the bat. The color work in open fields is pretty good, too, although there is not as much to play with.

doctor-strange-and-the-sorcerers-supreme-1-9-600x910Thompson’s facial work is not quite as on point. There are a few panels where Strange’s visage looks a tad different from panel-to-panel. Markedly, there is a portrait of him on the wall that looks way different than his face in real-time panels. I was not able to tell if this was supposed to deliberately look like Ditko Dr Strange as a callback. But what was really up and down for me was the panel work. On the ups, there is a big battle scene where the Sorcerers are fighting a bunch of hornless Minotaurs, I guess. Now, if you want to talk about someone showing a complete mastery of fight choreography in the comic book art format, this is it right here. Maintaining control and synchronization in a big battle when dealing with over a half-dozen mages, who are all engaged in various degrees of both magical and melee combat…I ate that stuff up like pancakes. The one panel choice that I did not care for is that Merlin is killed in this issue. But it happens in the lower right corner panel of a page. It seems like a super-huge major turning point in the issue, but in terms of storytelling, it feels highly marginalized by its placement on the page. I had to linger there for a minute before I turned the page, asking myself “Did they really just kill him in this dinky little panel?”. Now, the counter to that is to question whether it is a bold choice, to go off-script from the cliché norm of killing major characters in huge splash pages with the other heroes standing around mouth agape. But…this is MERLIN, man! It was disjointed for me and had the effect of abruptly carrying me out of the story and taking me a bit of time to settle back into it. I also was not crazy about the back-page preview of the issue #2, which shows Merlin on that cover, leaving me with confusion over whether this high-power being really got offed or not.

The story here is a good one. As always, the sometimes psychedelic material that is inherently invoked when one tells a Dr. Strange tale can be tough to get a hold of. One of the better approaches is to not overemphasize the multi-dimensionality of those stories and handle them in a more serial and linear manner. Thompson does just that and keeps the lines clear. Yes, there is time travel here, but even when one version of Merlin is warping out of the current on-panel time-line, Thompson has him return at just the right time so that the two versions are only on-screen simultaneously for a brief moment. Strange’s surprise when he encounters a younger version of the Ancient One is appropriately sprinkled with a light bit of humor. Better yet is the scripting in Strange’s dialog with the Wiccan, the mage who succeeds Strange as Sorcerer Supreme in the future. Strange asks him how he became the new Supreme, as it must have meant that something happened to Stephen. At that point the Wiccan starts going on about how awesome Strange’s cloak is. It gave me a good chuckle because the bit landed well, not going too over the top.

This is shaping up to be a good mini-series. Thompson gets things moving right off the bat with a healthy bit of action, and throws a magically weakened Dr Strange into arm’s length of danger, 5414292-3drsss2016001008forcing him to fight with his axe as much as the small amount of magic that he has left. Thompson could have easily opened this tale with a talking heads issue and I was glad to see him not make that creative choice. Thompson does not have a lot of writing under his belt at Marvel. But this limited series looks to be in good hands. And with the added splash of Bellaire’s colors, this oughtta be a good ride.