There's probably a doctoral dissertation out there on how difficult it's been to make a "Doctor Strange" comic a success. It's a little crazy when you think about it; this is a character who under Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's careful hands captured everyone's imaginations. And as soon as they left? No one's managed to keep the character viable.
Sure, he's had numerous mini-series, ongoing series, and even graphic novels. But there's never been any huge movement around the character that showed that the latest take was catching on. So as a result we've had Doctor Strange as a super-hero (complete with mask), as a Defender and a New Avenger, even as the star of a horror comic under the hands of writers like David Quinn and Warren Ellis. Now, Mark Waid and Emma Rios are planting him firmly in a role that he's only been on the periphery before, that of a teacher. And quite frankly? I think they're onto something.
I think it helps that Waid hasn't lost sight of the original idea behind Doctor Strange, where he was a surgeon whose hands could no longer perform the operations. So what would he do when he could no longer perform most of his spells? After all, he still understands how they're created, he just can't physically craft them into existence. So the idea of him teamed up with a student who has a knack for magic and can benefit from his advice? It works. Strange has had apprentices in the past, but they've been in conjunction to what he was already capable of. Now, everything is in the apprentice's hands.
Of course, even the best set-up requires a good execution, and that's what we're seeing here. I like how Waid writes Casey, the slightly spoiled girl who is being rapidly thrust into a world she didn't understand. And unlike the infamous issue of "Civil War: Front Line" where Sally Floyd idiotically berates Captain America over MySpace, this is a comic which uses modern technology and the web in a smart, integrated way. Casey acts like a real person, one who gets frustrated at times and makes mistakes; she's likable too, though, and you want to see her succeed. It helps that Waid adds in the right mixture of humor to the drama of "Strange" and it ends up being a fun comic.
I liked Emma Rios' art on "Hexed," and she's gotten better since then. It's a smooth, clean style that is able to capture the naÃ¯ve nature of Casey's world, even as it comes crashing into Doctor Strange's. What gives it that special punch, though, is how she's able to draw the fantastic so perfectly. The monsters that show up in "Strange" look grotesque and unreal and imaginative, and that's exactly what "Strange" needs. I also appreciated that colorist Christina Strain understood this and tackled the book in the same manner; whenever the magical appears, Strain's colors suddenly kick into high gear, using deep hues that explode off the page and set those moments apart from everything else in the comic.
I'm giving Waid, Rios, and Strain full credit where it's due; for the first time in a long while, I'm finding myself interested in reading about the good Doctor. Who knew a good hook for a Doctor Strange comic was staring all of us in the face? I'd love to see all three creators come back for an ongoing "Strange" comic, because at the halfway point of this mini-series, it's a blast and a half. Definitely check it out.