Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be showing pages that are either scary or are part of “scary” issues (as scary as a comic can be, of course), because it’s October! Today’s page is from Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #15, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 1990. Enjoy!
I have no idea why I own “The Vampiric Verses,” the five-part story arc in Doctor Strange #14-18. This was back when I hadn’t been buying comics for too long, so I was trying out a lot of different stuff. I know the economies of scale come into play here a bit, but I could experiment a bit more with titles when they were priced at $1.50, as this was (it was even better when they were $.75, which is how much they were less than two years earlier when I started buying comics!). I didn’t like this enough to start getting Doctor Strange, but it’s okay, I guess. It has nice art.
This is the second issue in the arc, and it’s the “scariest” of the story. I haven’t read this arc in years and I don’t remember too much about it, so I’m not getting into it, but let’s consider this first page. Roy and Dann Thomas tell us who that bat is in the first word balloon, and I wonder if a new reader would understand that Victor Strange is somehow related to the title character (he’s his brother). That he’s a bat also lets us know that he’s a vampire, which is handy. A lot of the rest is kind of padding – the speaker, Marie Laveau, is kind of blathering – but it sets up Victor’s retort. What we learn from this page is that Victor is a vampire, and he’s speaking to Marie Laveau. Anyone who knows anything about popular culture knows that Marie Laveau is a famed voodoo practitioner in New Orleans, and she’s been used ad infinitum et nauseum by writers (especially comic book writers) for years. Oh, and Victor is pissed off at her.
Jackson Guice is a good artist, so this page looks quite good. The image of the bat dominates the left side of the page, and it’s obvious that he’s using a photo reference, but at this point in comics artwork, artists actually had to draw from a photo reference instead of dropping it in digitally, so it looks fine. The wing pushes us up to Panel 2, where Guice gives us a nice Gothic mansion in the gloaming. Then, in order to move our eye over the page, he shows Victor’s transformation as a stream of smoke moving from the top word balloon through Panel 3 and down to Panel 4, with the word balloons along the side of it. Notice that in Panel 3, the bat has been blurred so that we see the beginning of the transformation, and then Guice gives us Victor as a human. The silhouette is a dramatic shot, because it allows us to see the red eyes and the fangs, which is a scary image, but there’s a more practical concern: Victor is naked (plus, he has that great 1980s hair!). Heaven forfend we see some nekkidness! Guice puts him on that side of the panel, however, so that he leads us into the next page even though he’s facing the other way. How Victor is suddenly holding a book is something we just have to accept!
Ramirez’s coloring is quite nice. The purple of winter twilight dominates the page, so in the first panel, it’s completely purple in the background, which is a good color to contrast with the bat. In Panel 2, we get the purple mansion and the pink sky, which is a cool coloring image, as it adds to the nice mood of the page. Ramirez goes with green and yellow to contrast with the purple, so the blurry bat is purple while the stream that implies the transformation is green and yellow, which looks nice against the darker tone. The book Victor is holding is also purple, linking it to the rest of the page, even though we know the book itself is probably not purple. Again, this is a question of simply holding the page together thematically, and it works quite well. Purple is a spookier color than blue, so it’s a good idea for Ramirez to use it more than he uses the blue that appears in the final panel. The one thing that is slightly annoying about the coloring is the fact that Marie Laveau’s word balloons have different colored borders. I don’t know if the use of different colors for different characters was common back in 1990 (I doubt it, but I didn’t read every comic back then, did I?), but reading this after it’s become de rigueur, I actually thought for a second that it was two different people speaking. Even if the different colors weren’t used back then, why change the colors in the borders? I doesn’t make any sense.
This is a pretty good first page, even if the entire arc isn’t great. The Thomases do what they have to, and Guice draws a nice page, doesn’t he? So there’s that!
(By the way, this IS the issue that got Marvel in a bit of hot water, as a certain noted comic book muckraker detailed here. Guice might have drawn the bat in the issue, but he obviously wasn’t adverse to using images he didn’t draw on the cover!)
Next: A recent horror comic that freaked me right the hell out. Of course, the first pages aren’t too scary, but I’ll do my best! Find more soothing comics in the archives!