As a character that's nearly 60 years old, Doctor Strange has an incredibly storied history within the Marvel Universe, one more magically-tinged and visually psychedelic than his superhero counterparts. The latest issue of Marvel's Doctor Strange comic finds the Sorcerer Supreme take a rare low-key moment to reflect on his own trials and tribulations as the Master of the Mystic Arts before being dragged off to another reality-threatening adventure. And it's in these quiet, introspective moments that this particular issue of Doctor Strange works best, through effectively personal meditation rather than the usual bombastic action.
Written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Barry Kitson and Scott Koblish, Doctor Strange #12 has its eponymous superhero return to the Sanctum Sanctorum after his recent showdown with Dormammu. Taking advantage of the infrequent, seemingly tranquil interlude, Stephen Strange undergoes an intensive moment of self-reevaluation, pondering the cyclical nature of his life as the Sorcerer Supreme and the immense sense of isolation and solitude the responsibility places on him, including a whole host of loves lost along the way. Strange's introspective trip down memory lane, however, is abruptly interrupted by a rude visitor who whisks him across the cosmos to bring him face-to-face with none other than the Devourer of Worlds, Galactus.
One of Waid's biggest strengths as a comic writer is his exhaustive knowledge of the characters that he pens new adventures for; the recent announcement of his upcoming History of the Marvel Universe miniseries is something of a no-brainer because of this. As such, when the story leans more into Strange's personal history, the issue is firing on all cylinders, with a sense of self-awareness rarely seen in modern superhero comics as Strange ponders the quasi-permanent nature of his status quo from his semi-regular confrontations with Dormammu and Baron Mordo to how often he has lost his powers temporarily to little overall consequence. Fortunately, this self-exploration is more than just a comic book history lesson, as Waid's script examines the neverending loneliness of Stephen Strange in one of the most heartbreakingly frank moments of his run on the character so far.
Similarly, Kitson and Koblish's art has a retro, Silver Age feel without coming across as particularly dated. The pair's work evokes co-creator Steve Ditko's art as they render moments from Strange's personal history, and a mix of Ditko and Jack Kirby when Strange faces down Galactus, and yet they make the artwork all their own. There are a couple action beats that come off a bit visually stiff, but never overly distracting, and those moments are few and far between. Kitson and Waid had developed a good, collaborative rhythm working together on Avengers and DC Comics' pre-Infinite Crisis Legion of Superheroes relaunch, and this issue does not break that trend.
Interestingly, the moment of the issue that works the least well is when Strange's self-reflection is suddenly interrupted by an uninvited guest. The awkwardly brusque request for help from the Master of the Mystic Arts comes off as a little ham-fisted from the new character, though Waid continues to nail Strange's voice in the face of such an oddly obtrusive moment. And, of course, any opportunity for Doctor Strange to stare down Galactus is a moment of pure, fan-driven delight; this is one comic book cover that does not try to pull a fast one over on the reader.
The latest issue of Doctor Strange is one that works best when the creative team leans more into the personal, quiet moments and less when it serves up the obligatory mission to save all of reality. The issue wears its influences on its sleeve, both narratively and visually, and really does work as a sort of deconstructive look at the character while serving as a love letter to his history. Waid's work always shines best when he finds the emotional core of each character he's writing and pairs it with their history; the best issues of his celebrated Daredevil run as well as Captain America were always the most devastatingly personal ones. However, as with any superhero, the quiet moments are always fleeting and with Galactus in a new, unknown space, the stakes for this particular adventure have just been raised immeasurably.