Tag Archives: Superheroes

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.

Klaws of the Panther

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Klaws of the Panther [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Jonathan Maberry, Mike Del Mundo, and Gianluca Gugliotta.

Maberry Del Mundo Gugliotta Klaws of the Panther

This graphic novel anthologizes Age of Heroes #4 with the Klaws of the Panther four-issue comic series. I’ve been out of touch with the Black Panther comic since the first twenty or so issues of the Huldin-written series with T’Challa as the Panther. I knew that his half-sister Wakandan Princess Suri had succeeded to the office of Black Panther, but these are the first comics I’ve read in which she is actually in the role. Consequently, I found the little hero dossier written by Ken Lashley and printed here as an appendix quite useful, although the inset with its quantifying “Power Grid” was somewhat off-putting. I’m here to read a story, not to do tabletop roleplaying, okay?

Mayberry continues the story in the geopolitical vein that has been the metier of the Panther since Huldin breathed new life into the series, but it pretty much entirely takes place among the superpowered elite, with little relation to ordinary people other than the prospect of the enslavement of all humanity by good old Panther bete noire Ulysses Klaw. As far as that goes–and admitting myself to be generically nonplussed by “crossover” action–the supplementary heroes Shanna, Wolverine, Spiderman, and Black Widow all come off quite well. And they have to, because Shuri herself is still a maladjusted novice superhero. The closing chapter of Klaws of the Panther promises an end to that phase, happily. A little too much of this volume consisted of ethical reflections–usually simultaneous with superheroic ass-kicking–for me to find it entirely credible or palatable.

Gugliotta’s art is very distinctive, and I give it points for being dynamic. Still, I never fully warmed to it on the level of sheer aesthetic pleasure. I actually preferred the Moll/Wong art in the Age of Heroes preamble, even while noting its relative lack of artistic virtuosity. Del Mundo’s cover art is first-rate, although it shows a composite scene that doesn’t reflect any single moment in the book’s narrative.

Eternals

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Eternals [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by John Romita, Jr.

Gaiman Romita Eternals

So, here’s Neil Gaiman’s take on Jack Kirby’s Eternals, in which alien space gods have created humanoid super-custodians for terrestrial life, themselves understood as deities by traditional polytheistic cultures. Readers could be forgiven for assuming that American Gods author Gaiman would focus on the characters’ altar-egos (that’s a pun, not a misspelling) as the gods of Olympus, Valhalla, etc., but that’s exactly what he doesn’t do. Instead, he creates a “reboot” scenario in which the Eternals have been deceived into thinking that they are human, and have forgotten what they knew about the Celestials and the deep history of Earth; and then he uses their process of anamnesia to portray a spectrum of attitudes from the conflicted human to the puissant and impeccable Eternal.

Gaiman cleverly works in a fair amount of Lovecraftian lore, in a hybrid with Kirby’s von Daniken plot-basis, and he gives the Deviants some self-respect as the “Changing People.” The plot integration with Marvel’s Civil War cross-title “event” was a little annoying to me, but part of Gaiman’s challenge was to integrate the outlier Eternals with the “Marvel Universe,” and he seems to have succeeded, at least as far as he took it.

The art by John Romita Jr. (JRJR) is often anatomically obtuse–a good example comes in a page-top panel toward the end of the book, in which Thena’s right foot looks like she’s wearing a clown shoe. But that’s actually in keeping with the Kirby spirit. As Gaiman observes of Kirby in an appended interview: “My little ten-year-old brain would go, ‘Fire doesn’t look like that!” and then you look at his women and go, ‘Women don’t look like that!'” So, like what Gaiman calls the “Kirbyverse,” JRJR manages to offer a coherent visual idiom with its own power. His panoramic images of prehistoric epic are especially fine.

The production values for this edition are positively splendid: a nearly folio-sized hardcover with a sturdy dustjacket, full-process color on glossy paper, and a set of appendices including the aforementioned interview, alternate cover illustrations, preliminary character sketches, Gaiman’s proposal for the series, and an essay about the original Eternals title.