Mark Waid – Writer
Jesus Saiz – Artist/Cover Artist
Kevin Nowlan – Artist/Variant Cover Artist
Jim Campbell – Artist
Butch Guice – Artist
Carlos Lopez – Artist
Tom Palmer – Artist
Daniel Acuna – Artist
VC’s Cory Petit – Letterer
Frank Miller – Variant Cover
It may not look it, but issue 10 of Marvel’s relaunch of Dr. Strange is the 400th issue of Dr. Strange put out by Marvel. In celebration, there are in fact multiple stories present in this epic comic. It would be a disservice to highlight one over the rest, so, bare with me here…let’s cover each individual story.
When a mysterious “Magical Accountant” emerges to draw the Stephen Strange’s former-teacher the Ancient One from the Astral Plane and strip him of his magical knowledge, it’s up to Stephen to keep his teacher from passing away and to uncover the nature of the enigmatic “Magical Accountant” checking the costs of magic.
The story consists of two very distinct segments. The first half of the story features Dr. Strange trying to keep his old mentor alive, while the second deals with the confrontation with the absurd magical accounting firm regulating magic in the multiverse. Neither half is particularly long. The first half depicts the struggle of a child parenting their parent, with Stephen trying to teach the Ancient One how to keep himself alive in his advanced years. It’s heart-breaking if you are familiar with Dr. Strange’s story up until this point. However, due to its short length, this segment never manages to make you feel Strange’s struggle. Rather, the story presents the pain. It shows us something sad, rather than allow us to feel fully immersed in the sadness.
This may be a good thing, though, because the second half is so incredibly absurd that readers might feel whiplash if the first half of the story were particularly depressing. Indeed, this moment is so completely ludicrous that it overshadows the story’s final reveal at the end — which you’ll just have to read to see.
The art is consistently good, but a particular highlight are the moments featuring The Ancient One in the Astral Plane, which looks almost like a watercolor painting, and the first introduction to the magical accounting world, which feels like Cthulhu crossed with Office Space.
Overall, this is a good but not great Dr. Strange story, marred only by how little time is spent on each segment, but also made, in a surreal sense, more charming because of its short length.
This short story tells the simple story of a boy who tried to show off a magical artifact to a bully so everyone thinks he looks cool. This ends up being a terrible idea, because the jewel consumes one of the bullies, and Dr. Strange has to enter a bizarre dark world to retrieve the child.
This idea is reminiscent of a lot of sci-fi and horror stories. It’s predictable and simple as a story. It is a nice, miniature adventure. It’s over before you know it. Dr. Strange never grows as a character nor are the kids much more than kids. There’s nothing offensively bad in this tale, but it isn’t particularly good, either.
The art, however, is not bad. It utilizes heavy shadows and dark lines, which really works well in the dark world of the jewel, giving everything a dour appearance. However, it does not work as well in the real world, since it just makes everything look undefined and hard to grasp onto. Faces and expressions are hard to read, which, in the dark world, works. In the real world? It’s too much detail in the wrong spots and too little in the spots that need it. It is the weakest link of the comic.
This retelling of Dr. Strange’s origin is told primarily from the perspective of The Ancient One and Karl Mordo, both of whom have to endure Strange’s arrogant prattling on and on. Mordo is plotting on feeding the Ancient One’s spirit to Dormammu, but the Ancient One, already aware, believes Dr. Strange may prove to be the lever he needs…
The story is just a retelling of a familiar one. What makes it effective is not the plot but the framing. The highlight here is the sheer irritation on Mordo’s face every time he has to listen to Strange complain. Every complaint just makes him look like he wants to explode from frustration. This alone is worth the price of admission here.
In that sense, the art tells more of the story than the writing itself. Much of the story’s character comes in the art. Character positions. Posture. All of that.
It is an effective recap of an old story.
The final story in Dr. Strange #10 is the real highlight of the issue. “Perchance” features a confrontation between Strange and his nemesis, Nightmare. Only Dr. Strange appears to have Nightmare on the ropes.
This plot is simple. It’s a dreamlike chase scene, barely only a few pages in length. It feels almost like an afterthought for Mark Waid…
Which makes this issue entirely prove that visuals can sometimes tell an entire story. The surreal nightmarish imagery at play here — nothing is logical. Nothing is tangible. Everything flows and changes like mist. It is a chaotic, surreal treat for the eyes.
The ending, depending on how you look at it, will either dilute the story of tension or offer a very interesting insight into Nightmare as a character rather than just as a threat to Strange. It’s perhaps the best part of the story.
On the whole, this comic is not superb. It isn’t perfect. It is a competent anniversary issue that never manages to transcend the limits. If you aren’t a fan of Dr. Strange, this isn’t the comic that will convert you. For stories that deal with such radical ideas, it never feels large. All of it feels very contained and small.
But the humanity of the whole issue is what stands out. This isn’t the high imagination one might hope from Dr. Strange, but it is an effective perspective into Dr. Strange’s humanity. At least, for two of the four stories. One is just lame while the other is surreal horror almost completely removed from Strange.
Where it fails is as a 400th issue. The 400th issue of Amazing Spider-Man featured the death of Aunt May. The 400th issue of Detective Comics introduced Man-Bat. The 400th issue of Superman featured a gigantic array of stories celebrating the history of Kal-El. But this? Will it stand the test of time like these issues? Probably not.
On top of that, it’s selling for almost six dollars! Six! You could buy a collection of Dr. Strange stories on Comixology for that price — and they’d probably be better.
Dr. Strange #10 is a good story with a few uneven bonus tales, but it isn’t a particularly memorable 400th issue. It is a good comic, but the asking price may be more than its worth.