This week sees the first “Doctor Strange” annual in a good long while. Normally reserved for telling off-kilter, special one off stories about our favourite characters, recently annuals have become away for publishers to set up future story lines for their titles as they have become more and more entrenched in the general running order. Divided into two tales, we take a look at exactly what the team behind this annual have delivered us.
Written by Kathryn Immonen & Robbie Thompson
Illustrated by Leonardo Romero & Johnathan Marks Barravecchia
Clea comes back into Doctor Strange’s life as he’s picking up the pieces from the worst beating he’s ever taken. Clea’s going to make that battle look like a walk in the park. Also in this issue? WHO ARE THE SORCERERS SUPREME?!
The majority of the annual is made up of a pretty low-key story, which sees Mistress Clea paying Doctor Strange a house visit of his own, in an attempt to to put their marital affairs in order. This is Clea’s first appearance in the A-ll New All-Different Marvel Universe, in fact, it seems like a long while since we last saw her at all, which is a shame because she is such a strangely enigmatic character. To me she’s a contradictory character; a golden age throw back who simultaneously seemed ahead of her time. It was a stroke of genius to give her debut to the brilliant Kathryn Immonen, as a writer Immonen has always excelled in taking overlooked, obscure characters and doing something genuinely interesting and smart with them. If you read her run on “Journey into Mystery” when she took on Lady Sif, you’ll know what I mean. However, this time it doesn’t feel like Immonen has done anything particularly interesting with Clea, yes she is just as mysterious as ever, but it feels as if there is something missing. There is no ambiguity, no strangeness, nothing of the ‘Dark Dimension’ about her. This may be down to the fact that the whole story serves as a primer for Jason Aaron’s next story arc. By the end of the story, it is clear that Clea isn’t going anywhere soon and there is a lengthy flashback scene that reveals she had a lot more involvement with the Epirikul than her absence suggested. But, most importantly, I think Clea and Stephen’s fragile relationship is going to play a big part going forward. Unfortunately, with so much for Immonen to set up here, her ability as a storyteller has been stifled.
Though there are still plenty of moments that shine through, for instance the relationship between Stephen and Clea is developed very well and their interactions reminded me of early, screwball comedies. In fact, there is a wonderfully absurd vein of humour that runs throughout the entire plot, especially during the scenes between Wong and the multi-dimensional contractor he’s hired to rebuild the Sanctum Sanctorum. However, not every joke lands and at one point Immonen introduces a conceptual, time-travelling joke that is soon forgotten, as we need to return to the plot in hand. If Immonen wasn’t given so much to establish for Aaron’s “Doctor Strange”, she could have taken her time, paced her jokes and smoothed out her dialogue, which is far too disconnected for my liking. There were times when I had to go back and make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I understood what was happening, but at moments it felt as if characters were missing out there lines. Overall I just found it disappointing, all the elements are there and you can sense the story’s potential, it is however obscured because of what it has been made to do.
Leonardo Romero’s art does help out, especially when it comes to that screwball comedy vibe I mentioned earlier. He has a very traditional style when it comes to designing his characters, Stephen and Clea look like they’ve come straight from a Silver Age comic. Stephen has that old school, square cut jaw line while Clea sports a very 60’s inspired, futuristic hairdo; it almost feels like I reading an early Archie comic or watching an episode of The Jetsons. At times Romero’s art can look over-simplified, with characters appearing like paper dolls, and there is a distinct lack of dynamism, especially during fight scenes. However, you can forgive Romero at times because there is just so much charm and style that it is just lovely to look at, I really appreciate his bold line-work and direction. I would say Romero is an artist who excels when up close and focused, but then loses it when he needs to scale back and widen the scene for action.Continued below
The second story in the annual is a shorter affair and works like a prequel to the upcoming “Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme”. It is written by Robbie Thompson who will be heading up the book itself and sees a young, roguish magician trying to steal a map a long time ago in what appears to be Feudal Japan or maybe ancient China, it isn’t very clear. Thompson does a good job in setting up the tone he’s going for as well as showing off his imagination, which bodes well for those interested in picking up his book. I would just have liked a little more to go off, I know this is just a teaser to get us interested, and I don’t need him to reveal anything about his plot, but the characters and setting is left vague. The art in this story can be just at vague at times. Johnathan Marks Barravecchia is a competent artist, and many of his pages are spectacular to look at. Unfortunately, he loses the flow of action often, to the point where even by the end you’re left scratching your head. When our young protagonist is rescued from his captives after getting caught stealing the map, I legit thought there had been a huge mistake and Barravecchia had accidentally killed his main character.
The entire annual does well to set up future story lines for Doctor Strange and if you are a completest then you’ll want to know what happens here. There are even moments where it appears to stand on its own merits however, as a single reading experience, it fails to remain consistent and coherent. The annual has an unfortunate trait of when one aspect is excelling, another is falling behind. For me, the biggest crime, is that it doesn’t do anything spectacular, I want an annual to break from the current story line and do something big and bold. This is the first Doctor Strange annual in forever and there is nothing remotely strange about it.
Final Verdict: 6.5 – Sets up the future for the good Doctor efficiently, but leaves me unsatisfied and bored.