Doctor Fate, Magicman, Zatanna, and even Mandrake the Magician pale in comparison to one of my favorite Marvel characters of all time: Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. One thing I've realized through reading Marvel's various Essentials is how many of their Silver Age titles started off very strongly, only to burn out by the time the Bronze Age rolled around. Reading through those titles 25 issues at a time really makes it apparent, but with Doctor Strange, I find it's a more even read. He may not have been as exciting or popular as Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four, but while those titles were stagnating in the '70s, Doc's title was still charging ahead with dark stories that didn't rely on tedious slam-bang fisticuffs in order to solve a dilemma. Instead, he uses his knowledge of sorcery to foil various plans for domination of our Earth, universe, or even the whole dimension. Interestingly, with all of this responsibility, he still makes plenty of time to flirt with the ladies.
ESSENTIAL DOCTOR STRANGE VOLUME 4 collects Doctor Strange #30-56, Chamber of Chills #4, and Man-Thing #4, primarily from the period 1978-1982. This is my favorite of the Doctor Strange Essentials so far, featuring The Dweller in the Dark, Nightmare, D'Spayre, the Black Knight, Baron Mordo, the Shadow Queen, Brother Voodoo, and Dormammu. The book features an impressive roster of talent for what many consider a second-tier character. Writing chores are primarily handled by Chris Claremont, JM Dematteis, Ralph Macchio, David Michelinie, and Roger Stern, and while some of the stories may be somewhat standard, they are rarely boring. In particular, Claremont creates some intricate, multilayered plots, and Stern's "Morganna Blessing" arc near the end of the collection is exceptional. The only real problem I could see was the clumsy integration of Chamber of Chills #4 into the storyline - seriously, with all the confounding plot exposition and narrative miscues required in order to make this happen, I feel like I missed out on an entire year of stories.
A wide variety of artistic styles are on display here, from the sturdy, straightforward pencils of Tom Sutton, Frank Brunner, and Kerry Gammill to the beautifully distinctive work of Gene Colan, Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, and Paul Smith. One more group I have to recognize is the inkers: contained herein are the skills of P. Craig Russell, Dan Green, Terry Austin, and the great Rudy Nebres - all A+ talents who can work wonders over even the most lifeless pencils.
So, to Marvel: thanks for giving the good Doctor the attention he deserves. Here's hoping I won't have long to wait until volume 5.