“Doctor Strange” #1 offers a glimpse into the past of Doctor Strange before writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo unfurl a new mystical world filled with unexpected (and borderline indescribable) imagery. Strange himself describes his mission in a manner that more-or-less summarizes the issue: “They’ve just been given their first glimpse of the unseen things that live in the shadows, of a whole spectrum of unimaginable existence.” With this one line, Aaron blankets everything contained in this issue and offers a promise of things to come, like Stephen Strange’s incorrigibleness or use of conventional weaponry to change the tide of battle. Aaron provides background for these choices but never really lets readers into the thoughts, dreams and fears of Stephen Strange. The characterization is just enough to tantalize, even as it safely remains removed but not aloof.
Some liberal degree of forgetfulness is applied to Strange’s pre-“Secret Wars” arrangements (at least for now), although one of the supporting characters does reference Strange’s alliance with the Avengers. That conversation occurs in The Bar With No Doors, mostly because it can. Aaron doesn’t simply magic things away for a McGuffin’s sake and gives Strange the sense of being human despite referring to himself as the Sorcerer Supreme.
In this new series, Marvel has once more found the perfect creator/assignment match in Aaron and Bachalo. Though Bachalo’s energetic style, clean storytelling and dynamic page construction homages Steve Ditko and Gene Colan’s work with the character, it remains completely entrenched in the present. Bachalo never breaks style to retread, preferring to forge new ground and craft new visual surprises, like carnivorous sunflowers and malebranchian psyche-leeches. The variety of inking styles applied throughout the issue manages to avoid distraction, though there are noticeable differences in weight and line quality between Bachalo and his trio of inkers, Tim Townsend, Al Vey and Mark Irwin.
Bachalo has reached deep for this redesign, beyond simply giving Stephen Strange steel-toed boots for kicking mystical mushrooms. Much of the redesign seems practical or simple, but the Cloak of Levitation as a scarf is sheer visual genius.
Bachalo’s colors are bold and bright, maybe a shade more luminous than befits a mystical comic, but “Doctor Strange” #1 chips away at all of the preconceived notions of magical comics and sets a new level. Forest green, brick red, magenta and indigo shade the set pieces throughout this comic, with Bachalo favoring colors that rely on their own character rather than filters or effects. He does still add depth through burns, dodges and gradients, but those never overpower the boldness of the colors on the page.
In addition to the twenty-five-page lead, “Doctor Strange” #1 gives readers a five page backup adventure. Set across the dimensional gulf, this epilogue introduces the Imperator and the Empirikul, who seem determined to sniff out and snuff out traces of magic. The backup tale provides a substantial subplot that could just as easily be the lead of this tale, save for its length. It’s a strong addition, and another wink and nod to longtime Strange fans.
This isn’t your daddy’s Doctor Strange; this is an all-new, all-different Doctor Strange, and you’d do well to hop onboard and brace for the coming storm. Stephen Strange will certainly guide you through it as Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo, Kevin Nowlan and an unseen, scarily-powerful menace make “Doctor Strange” #1 a perfect launching point for a bold new era.