First Published: July 2009
Contents: Doctor Strange #30 (August 1978) to #56 (December 1982); Man-Thing #4 (May 1980); and back-up story from Chamber of Chills #4 (May 1973)
Key Creator Credits: Roger Stern, Ralph Macchio, Tom Sutton, Chris Claremont, Gene Colan, Marshall Rogers, and others
Key First Appearances: Sara Wolfe, Madeleine Saint-Germaine, Morgana Blessing
Story Continues From: Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3
Overview: You’ll have to pardon me here. I’ve read a lot of Doctor Strange issues over the last couple of years, and I think I am getting the feel for some of these spells. Let me practice a few of them as we go through this review for Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 4.
“By the Ruby Rings of Raggadorr!” OK, in terms of content, this book gives us a nice, uninterrupted run of full-length stories from the pages of Doctor Strange. The majority of this book is helmed by either Roger Stern or Chris Claremont, with art by a rotating crew of legendary and upcoming artists, such as Gene Colan, tom Sutton, Marshall Rogers, Brent Anderson, Michael Golden, and Paul Smith. While most stories remain one-and-done, we do get a couple of multi-issue story arcs, including one by Claremont that crossed over with another title he was writing, Man-Thing.
“By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!” While a lot of random threats pop up from time to time to challenge the good Doctor, we do get a lot of Baron Mordo, Nightmare, and Dormammu throughout the collection. We get a fun time-travel story – consider that Strange usuals travels between dimensions, not time – that sends Strange back to World War II (where he encounters Sgt. Nick Fury and the Howling Commandoes) and ancient Egypt (where he inadvertently gets involved in one of the earliest adventures of the Fantastic Four.)
“By the Vapors of the Vishanti!” For many years, Doctor Strange has had a tight circle of friends. For some characters like Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four, I could fill up a blog post just listing their friends, family, and close associates. For Doctor Strange, you have Wong, Clea, and Victoria Bentley. That’s the list. However, in this volume, we see three new women enter the picture.
First up is Sara Wolfe, a Greenwich Village neighbor who starts working for Strange as an office manager of sorts, to handle the bills and accounts for the household. Then there is Madeleine Saint-Germaine, a former paramour of Stephen’s youth, who re-enters his life during a consultation that leads into a multi-issue arc traveling from England to the Florida Evergreens.
Finally, there came a point where Stephen realizes his relationship with Clea is not working. He can’t serve as a mentor to Clea, while being in a romantic relationship with her. So he puts that relationship on hold, so they can focus on her training. That opens the door for Morgana Blessing to come into the picture. She seems to be mystically-inclined, able to see through Strange’s spells. She also becomes a pawn for Baron Mordo, who disguises himself as Morgana’s missing cat in order to attack Strange when his defenses are down. Seriously! Going to go out on a limb here and just say that Mordo doesn’t win this battle!
What makes this Essential?: Want to know the sign that this was a good Essential? As soon as I finished this volume, I started searching for Doctor Strange #57 and subsequent issues to keep the story going. I’ve never been a big fan of Doctor Strange, as I have noted in these previous reviews, and generally, it has only been the art by the likes of Colan to keep me with the book. But this volume, written primarily by Stern, was a dramatic turn for me. Stern made this character his own, and a much more intriguing one at that. While a lot of the stories still remain one-and-done, there is an ongoing narrative that develops, as we see more and more about Stephen’s life when he is not being called to defend the Earth.
In some ways, Doctor Strange has become very much like DC’s Superman, in that as the strongest and best at what he does, the threats it takes to overcome him become greater and greater, and generally more and more absurd. To get away from that, a good writer has to reverse the direction and keep that title character more human with definite limitations. You create situations where the character has to not use their skill sets, but rather go in the opposite direction. For Superman, that means using his head more than his fists. For Doctor Strange, it would be the exact opposite, making him more physically involved in the action, versus standing safely in the background and recanting spells. Stern does a good job of getting Strange into the action, and showing that despite all of his talents, he is still a man with flaws and issues. Issues which I now want to keep reading about.
Footnotes: Man-Thing #4 and Doctor Strange #41 are also reprinted in Essential Man-Thing Vol. 2.
If you like this volume, try: the 2009 story arc from New Avengers, Search for the Sorcerer Supreme, from Brian Michael Bendis, Billy Tan, and Chris Bachalo. Within this volume, we saw Dr. Strange and the mysterious Brother Voodoo cross paths in issue #48, and given the nature of their line of work, it would not be their only encounter. Following the events of World War Hulk, where Dr. Strange was forced to use dark magic to stop his ally from the days of the Defenders, Stephen renounces his title as Sorcerer Supreme and protector of the dimension. The Eye of Agamotto leads the “new” Avengers on a search for a suitable replacement throughout the world, before leading them to New Orleans and giving the title to Brother Voodoo. Of course, what is not known at this time is that there really was a character by the name of Agamotto, and not only does he want his eye back, but he wants to take over our dimension. Dr. Voodoo and the other Avengers are able to keep that from happening. I know a lot of people have mixed reactions to Bendis’ run with the Avengers, but I found stories like this one to be fun “What If”-type stories actually occurring in ongoing big picture narrative of the Marvel Universe.