Tag Archives: Comics (Graphic works)

The Doctor Is Out

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Strange: The Doctor Is Out [Amazon, Hoopla, Local Library] by Mark Waid, Emma Rios, & al.

Waid Rios Doctor Strange The Doctor is Out

Although I came to it without high expectations, Mark Waid has provided the best Doctor Strange story I’ve read in many, many years. He has opened up room to reinterpret the character by centering the story on Casey, his new apprentice. Things have not been going well for Strange since he is no longer Sorcerer Supreme, and his broody attitude seems more justified than it has been in the past. He doesn’t have the use of much of his accustomed magical ability; the damage to his hands has returned as a kind of stigma.

While a previous Strange title (based on the unrealized movie script) reconstructed Doctor Strange’s origin story along the lines of The Matrix, the narrative device of the new apprentice’s perspective makes this one feel quite a bit like an occult version of Doctor Who.

The art by Emma Rios is really excellent. Although I was not seized by it at first — mostly because of the overpowering floral colors (never have I seen so much fuschia in an occult comic!) — a few pages of reading showed me that she could really tell a visual story. Her Doctor Strange is more worn and expressive facially, and he largely keeps to street clothes rather than the ceremonial/superhero getup. Rios noticeably incorporates some of the stylistic traits of Ditko and Colan’s classic Strange art, and she acknowledges their influence in a brief interview appended to the comics. In fact, the off-putting element for me (other than the palette) may have been a sort of extreme “looseness” of composition that I also associate with Colan’s work.

Most importantly, Rios draws the magic well! While keeping some continuity with the Ditko and Colan representations of sorcery, she develops her own graphic idiom for the purpose to good effect — entirely distinct from, but comparable to P. Craig Russell’s past turns on Doctor Strange. This book is also full of nonhuman spirits (yeah, demons), and Rios offers persuasively outre and varied forms for these.

This volume, despite collecting four individual comlcs, reads like an integral graphic novel because they were a “limited series.” It does provide a very conspicuous opening for a sequel, and I would certainly be interested if the creators of this one were to fulfill that.

The Mad Scientist and A Dusting of Mummies

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Vol. 2: The Mad Scientist and A Dusting of Mummies [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Jacques Tardi. (In some places the title of the second story is given as Mummies on Parade, so in this intro blurb I’ve opted for the story title on the cover.) (The film adaptation includes material from the second story in this volume.)

Tardi The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec The Mad Scientist and A Dusting of Mummies

This second Fantagraphics reprint volume collects the third and fourth numbers of Jacques Tardi’s Adele Blanc-Sec stories: “The Mad Scientist” and “Mummies on Parade.” “The Mad Scientist” is very much in line with the earlier numbers with its modest pacing, bewildering plot, and droll character interactions. It focuses on the reanimation of a Pithecanthropus and his surprising behavior, and culminates in some spectacular violence on the streets of 1912 Paris. In “Mummies on Parade” Tardi really pulls out the stops, bringing together plot threads from almost all of the earlier stories, adding a mass revivification of Egyptian mummies, connecting Adele’s troubles with the wreck of the Titanic, and providing a downbeat ending after a somewhat hilarious cascade of mayhem. The art in “Mummies” is especially fine: there were several panels that I would be happy to enlarge and hang on my wall — though my tastes are rather outré!

Tardi The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele  Blanc-Sec The Mad Scientist and A Dusting of Mummies two panels from Mummies on Parade

A.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Douglas Rushkoff with Goran Sudzuka and José Marzán Jr.

Rushkoff Sudzuka Marzan ADD Adolescent Demo Division

Rushkoff’s A.D.D. is apparently set in a parallel universe where those initials applied to kids have never meant attention deficit disorder, or in which the entire society suffers from sufficient mental myopia to disregard the fact. Other than that, it’s an all-too-credible story of psychological experimentation on humans that could be read as either a near-future scenario about media manipulation, or as a parable about a larger-scale set of events that have already been going on for decades. 

Blurber Grant Morrison compares this graphic novel to the X-Men, but I thought it was essentially a cyberpunk version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The benevolence of Professor Xavier or even Willy Wonka is in short supply here, though. Sudzuka’s art fits the story of this digital-candy-oubliette quite nicely. There is a lot of violence and sex of the sort that realistically applies to hothoused adolescents. It’s a fast read: two solid sittings should be sufficient.

The Sandman: Overture

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sandman: Overture [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Neil Gaiman, J H Williams III, and Dave Stewart, with Todd Klein and Dave McKean.

Gaiman Williams et al The Sandman Overture

The six-issue Sandman: Overture comics series was the last to be created for the title character. It was published more than fifteen years after the seventy-fifth and last number of the original Sandman title, which had in its day been fantasy writer Neil Gaiman’s largest and highest-profile comics work. As “Overture” suggests, this later sequence supplies a story set immediately prior to the main series, anticipating its themes and forms.

Although I was an active comics reader during the heyday of the lauded former serial, and it certainly fit my general tastes, for whatever reason, I haven’t read it–even though it has remained in print in trade paperback collections ever since. It has new currency now with the release of the big-money-small-screen version from Netflix. So when I considered reading some of the comics this summer, I decided to start with Overture. After reading the copious creators’ notes and interviews in this volume, I realize that the intended audience for Overture were really longtime fans and knowledgeable readers of Sandman. Oh, well. I didn’t find it difficult to follow, although I suppose it would have been a richer read if I had been familiar with the other work.

The art in this book is outstanding, with the lines and shades by J.H. Williams III (of Promethea fame) and amazing colors by Dave Stewart. Another key contributor, who doesn’t appear on the cover but still features among the creative personnel interviewed in the end matter, is letterer Todd Klein. Perennial Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean also provided cover art for the series.

Among comics, I was most reminded of the Eternity story arc from 1970s Doctor Strange, although Williams and Gaiman in their remarks refer to Jim Steranko rather than Gene Colan as a visual comics influence. In literature generally, Gaiman’s “Endless” characters reminded me most of Tanith Lee’s “Lords of Darkness” in her Tales from the Flat Earth books. They are not mere personifications of abstract concepts. It might be more accurate to call them hypostases of cosmic principles–but ones that somehow elicit the reader’s human sympathy.