Review: Dr. Strange: The Oath trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Monday, November 12, 2007

[The following review comes from Collected Editions reader Simon Finger:]

The magical world and the material world usually run in parallel, professes Doctor Strange, "but every so often, the two intersect." Such a declaration could just about serve as the character's statement of purpose: exploring those bizarre intersections of the mundane and the otherworldly. Indeed, one of the great hooks for the concept has always been the eye-meltingly weird psychedelic realms that are the source of the Sorceror Supreme's power, as well as the home of his deadliest foes.

How strange indeed, then, that Doctor Strange: The Oath is a story largely unconcerned with supernatural threats and other-dimensional oddities. Writer Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways) and artist Marcos Martin (Captain America) are interested in bodies. From start to finish, The Oath is about flesh, bone, and blood. But the dangers are no less fearsome for being earthbound. The opening scene plays out in a clinic operated by the long-neglected Marvel property Night Nurse (as a caregiver to injured superheores, and who now has a recurring role in New Avengers ), only to flash back to a setup involving Strange searching, in avenues both magical and mundane, for a cure for the brain tumors afflicting his servant, Wong. When the mystical potion he finds turns out to be more potent than he ever imagined, it sets in motion a battle for control of the panacea, and a long-simmering revenge plot from Strange's past.

The art, by Marcos Martin, conveys an appropriate sense of physicality to the story. Avoiding the vivid psychedelia that Steve Ditko made into the trademark style of the character, he emphasizes instead Stephen Strange's essential frailty, and by extension, the mortality that everyone must eventually face. While Night Nurse ventures forth still in the abstracted bloom of youth, the hero's wizened visage and the disgraced surgeon's crippled hands are rendered in loving, expressive detail. Even the villain of the piece is depicted with sympathy in this regard, because he, like Strange, is ultimately mortal. It is no surprise that their climactic battle must ultimately be resolved by fists rather than wizardry.

Vaughan brings his usual wit and clever plotting to the story, using each issue to explain how Strange moves between the eldritch and the everyday. While elements of the central mystery occassionally come off as contrived, the author keeps most everything under control and moving forward at a steady clip. He is more successful integrating his sly humor into the piece, from the Ditko-homage potion "Otkid's Elixir," to an amusingly awkward encounter between Arana and Iron Fist in Night Nurse's waiting room, to a fist-pumping turnabout in the final battle, in which Doctor Strange reveals his lesser-known talents.

The trade collects the five issues of the limited series, as well as a short "teaser" story, some promotional material, and few character design sketches. All of it makes for a nice package of bonuses, but probably not enough to make it a worthy purchase if you already have the issues. The main attraction here is the story, and if you have any interest in Doctor Strange, it's pretty hard not to recommend it.
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1 comment:

  1. The main attraction here is the story, and if you have any interest in Doctor Strange, it's pretty hard not to recommend it.

    And even if you don't, I'd still recommend it. I'm not a big fan of the Doctor but I found this trade to be an enjoyable read. I put the credit on the BKV for writing an exciting and accessible story.

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