Essential Doctor Strange Volume 4 TPB Paperback – Jul 8 2009
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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.
The second part chronicles Chris Claremont of X-Men fame taking over Dr. Strange and we're treated to a gripping battle with Baron Mordo. That said, I found Claremont's take on Strange far too moody and whiny. Claremont builds upon a sub-plot from Stern's run as to Clea falling out of love with Dr. Strange, while Strange begins to run into some old girlfriends. At times, the drama brings the histrionics down to earth but it also undermines his status as a wise individual. The character is a far cry from his more heroic days under Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Steve Englehart. The reader could consider this change a product of the Dweller's victory over Strange; his goal was to undermine Strange's confidence after all.
Gene Colan returns to art duties in this volume but it lacks his usual style. Astute readers will notice these comics force Colan to adhere to a more structured panel arrangement. And inker Dan Green, who does much of the inking, is no Tom Palmer who did a fabulous job on Colan's previous Strange run. The end result is a lackluster Colan and I just felt it made the stories harder to read. I in fact stopped reading the Claremont and Colan run after a few issues because it was such a slough.
The third part is a masterful six-story arc by Roger Stern and Marshall Rodgers that nearly redeems everything preceding it. Strange battles his three major adversaries - Baron Mordo (in a beautiful, malevolent performance), Nightmare and Dormamuu - travels back in time to meet Nick Fury and Rama-Tut, has a run in with the Spanish Inquisition and encounters Brother Voodoo. Plus, we have a satisfying if sad end to the Clea - Strange relationship. It is thrilling, engaging and mysterious, a welcome return to the Lee and Ditko days.
The volume ends with Roger Stern working with a variety of great artists including Michael Golden and Paul Smith. These stories act as a denouement to the six-issue epic and ably serve their purpose. Golden's art is a tour-de-force and elevates a perfectly okay story into a great one. Paul Smith may lack Golden's virtuosity but he makes up for it with clean design and some of the strongest comic storytelling in the business.
Overall, I was disappointed in this volume but the last third is a gripping read worthy of purpose. It would be nice if Marvel reprinted the Marshall Rodgers stories in one collection as they read elegantly on their own.