Monday, October 31, 2016

Doctor Strange: Mystic Apprentice #1 Review and **SPOILERS**

I Believe I Can Fly

Writer: Will Corona Pilgrim 
Artist: Andrea Di Vito 
Colorist: Laura Villari 
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham 
Cover Artists: Michael Ryan & Javier Mena 
Cover Price: $3.99 
On Sale Date: October 26, 2016


What’s this? Some kind of new Doctor Strange book? Smells like a movie tie-in to me, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing…though it does sort of “readjust” his origin story to include more characters that prove important in the new title that I do know to be an ongoing, Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme. Maybe there are going to be three Doctor Strange books happening simultaneously? Works for me! Though I have been a little down on the main series, this is a character on which I’ll always roll the dice. So let’s throw the bones and see if we roll a seven…or snake eyes!

Explain It!

So here’s a comic book I didn’t know was coming, and it appears to be a one-off because it contains “The Origin of Doctor Strange” from Strange Tales #115 (December, 1963) and “Doctor Strange Master of Black Magic!” from Strange Tales #110 (July, 1963) in the back. I assume this is some kind of tie-in for the Doctor Strange film starring Benedict Cumberbatch, but I can tell you that without even looking at the new story, four bucks for these two classic Stan Lee-penned and Steve Ditko-drawn masterpieces is a great deal for the uninitiated. As for the new material, it seems to be a rejiggering of Doctor Strange’s origin—odd, since the actual origin story is included in this issue—that provides a little more background for the new series Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme. So is this tied in to that? I just don’t know. Anyway, this story takes place before Doctor Strange became Sorcerer Supreme, when he was studying magic under the Ancient One at Kamar-Taj. The car accident that robbed his hands of their surgical skill still fresh in his mind, Doctor Strange is unsure if he can even become the super-wizard the Ancient One is training him to be…and presumably Baron Mordo is lurking somewhere around here? We do have Grem, one of Doctor Strange’s trainers, which is not how it worked in the original story. Grem is a bad-ass with a bow staff, and he humiliates Stephen Strange repeatedly while telling him that his mind is not ready. Is there any other way to learn kung-fu or the spiritual arts without being denigrated by your master?
Later, Strange retreats to the library, because that’s usually what nerds do when they are bullied. Strange is studying up on projecting his astral form, a basic Sorcerer Supreme move that he cannot yet master. He tries meditating in the library, but regresses into bad memories of a lost love and his crippled hands instead. So he goes outside and projects a brilliant Mandala, as if to say “See? I can too magic! Just watch!” Grem strolls over, because who can sleep with that Mandala lit up outside, and gives Strange more cryptic advice that is the hallmark of astral projection tutorial. Strange applies himself ever harder, but still cannot release his inner haint, so he goes to hang out with B’sso, another Master of the Mystic Arts and also not part of the initial origin story. B’sso looks a lot like the Western ideal of Jesus Christ, and the advice his gives Strange is even more useless. Strange still can’t give up the ghost, so he hits the books even harder, and while studying falls asleep at the library table. And then he can astrally project! So what your teachers told you about taking tests is true: the best preparation is a good night’s rest! And remembering to bring your number two pencil.
So that was cute enough, I suppose. I’m still wondering what this comic is in aid of, precisely. Should I remember Grem and B’sso for future Doctor Strange stories, or are these just characters from the movie? Does this have anything to do with Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme? This might be a matter of unfocused marketing, but it’s not a bad story, in all. The art is pretty weak, but not terrible, and the inclusion of two Ditko stories in this issue more than make up for any artistic deficiencies in this one. I dunno, I guess if you are looking to get into Doctor Strange, this might be a good place to start. But those of us already following the main series and its new spin-off could end up confused.

Bits and Pieces:
This comic book sort of came out of nowhere, but it's not a bad read. Without critiquing the classic Lee/Ditko stories included in the issue (it wouldn't be fair), the new story is enjoyable enough, introduces some new characters, and is reasonably well-plotted. I'm just not sure if we'll be seeing more issues of this series, or if this ties into one of the other Doctor Strange properties floating around at the moment. I guess we'll find out soon enough!


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