We still have another three issues left of Secret Wars and yet it seems that Marvel are far too eager to move on and launch all of their new titles before they’ve even had a chance to wind up their big summer blockbuster. This month has already seen the release of a mass of new titles from Invincible Iron Man to a relaunched Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. It’s a shame really, since Secret Wars has been solidly one of the best mainstream comics of the year, and is up there with the best in term of event books. Spoiling (to a degree) the ending of that book, the brand new Marvel universe is, well, much the same as the old one. In fact, it seems that Jonathan Hickman’s magnum opus (stretching from his Dark Reign Fantastic Four book all the way through Secret Warriors, FF, and Avengers) will likely have a rather definitive ending unto itself come December when the final issue hits. That’s by no means a bad thing, event comics all too often try and claim “this will change everything” and very, very rarely commit to that. However, a fresh start means that Marvel can try out some new concepts, freshen up a few dusty characters, and lay out their lot. So it’s with that in mind that we take a look at two of the first issues that hit the stands this month.
First up, Doctor Strange from Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo. With the forthcoming Benedict Cumberbatch starring film starting shooting very soon, it’s nigh time that Marvel’s resident sorcerer supreme got a new solo title. Marvel have put some weight behind it, both Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo are top talents, and both have the right style for a book like this. Aaron’s take on Strange as a book is to make it accessible. From the opening recap (using original panels from Dr Strange’s origin with updated captions), to smart doses of humour, he presents the character as a man having fun with saving the world. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love this,” he remarks by way of an introduction.
The first issue feels almost like the pilot for a TV show, setting out its stall, showing our lead in action (performing an exorcism inside the mind of a young boy, complete with giant teddy bears, and demonic sunflowers), before introducing some of the supporting cast (including Scarlet Witch and the still slightly troublingly named Brother Voodoo), and then finally landing on the big plot for the remaining issues of the arc. It’s succinct and well written, satisfying whilst also whetting your appetite for more. In fact, its closest companion would be Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil series, which managed to bring that breezy done-in-one feel to each issue whilst also setting up subplots for a larger series wide story. If Aaron can balance those, then he’s got another hit on his hands.
Another thing that the issue has going for it? Chris Bachalo. His art is absolutely perfect for a title like Dr Strange, a little offbeat and sketchy, with a ton of weirdness, his panels are off-centre, skewed and gorgeous to look at. His use of colour is also a highlight, just check out the way he uses black and white to highlight a demon in the middle of the street in this issue.
This is how to relaunch a comic series.
One way you don’t want to do it is the way Avengers #0 does it. Attempting to introduce people to six brand new comics, this story by James Robinson, Al Ewing, Mark Waid, G Willow Wilson, and Gerry Duggan is all over the place, with not a single element lasting long enough to impress, nor stick in the memory. Ostensibly, the comic is about a new Squadron Supreme analysing the various Avengers teams in the build up to a forthcoming fight. The book’s story is a marketing strategy disguised as plot, and you get the feeling that all involved gave about as much of a crap writing it as you will reading it. Take for example G Willow Wilson’s A Force section. A Force looks like it will be a great book, Wilson has absolutely knocked Ms Marvel out of the park time and time again (seriously, it’s the best superhero title on the stands right now), but here she chucks out about 8 pages of banal action that makes very little sense. The only writer to come out at least slightly unscathed is Mark Waid, who brings an interesting Vision story into the mix.
Everything about this issue feels rushed, from the writing to the muddy, unengaging art from Leonard Kirk (clearly slumming it here), Gerardo Sandoval, Mahumud Asaaa, Victor Ibanez, Ryan Stegman and Kenneth Rocafort. Of them all, at least Rocafort makes an effort to put some style into his panels, and his use of negative space is interesting, but by the time he shows up it’s much too little, too late.
If Avengers #0 doesn’t whet your appetite for the six new Avengers books, then you most likely read Avengers #0, but we’ll always have Doctor Strange.
We’ll always have Doctor Strange.