Sunday, October 30, 2016

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1 by Stan Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange contains the Doctor Strange stories from Strange Tales #110-111, 114-141 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Since there's a Doctor Strange movie in the works starring Benedict Cumberbatch, I decided it was time to read the original Doctor Strange stories, since most of my previous Doctor Strange exposure was from the 1990s Doctor Strange series and the various times he guest starred in other titles.

For those of us who don't know, Doctor Strange was an uncaring, egotistical surgeon until a car accident damaged the nerves in his hands, leaving him unable to perform further operations. A distraught Doctor Strange makes his way to the Himalayas and meets the Ancient One, his first step toward redemption and his role of Sorcerer Supreme.

Most of these stories are only 8-10 pages long and, by the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, are they formulaic. The template goes as follows: A foe of Doctor Strange's, usually Baron Mordo, hatches a scheme. Doctor Strange assumes his ectoplasmic form and uses his amulet to save the day. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The book really shines once Strange is given more pages and Ditko settles into his rhythm. It's very interesting to see Ditko's art evolve as the series progresses. The stories become more and more complex, spanning over a year of issues. The story that beings with the The Defeat of Doctor Strange and evolves into the quest for Eternity must have been something to read as the monthly installments trickled out.

A lot of key elements of the Doctor Strange mythos are introduced, namely Doctor Stephen Strange, Baron Mordo, The Ancient One, Dormammu, and Clea, although she doesn't yet have a name in this volume. This is a 50 year old comic so I'm unable to judge it by today's standards. Stan Lee's writing is pretty hokey, though I love his repeated mentions of Hoggoth, Raggador, Cyttorak, and Dormammu. The Dread Dormammu, in particular, because he eventually becomes Doctor Strange's main foe.

The art pretty sweet, though. Steve Ditko depicts the various realms is blazing, psychedelic form. I can totally see why these stories are so well-regarded art wise. The Mindless Ones and the Dread Dormammu are very cool and the otherworldly landscapes are truly something to behold, a crazy panorama of vivid colors and bizarre shapes.

For its place in comics history, the crazy concepts, and the psychedelic Ditko art, I'm giving this four out of five stars. The Stan Lee writing isn't without its charms in a Silver Age kind of way but has definitely not stood the test of time and I'd grade the collection much harder if I took that under consideration.

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Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Edition

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe EditionLegion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Edition by Paul Levitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Legion of Super-Heroes suffers a series of setbacks, leaving them vulnerable. When a mysterious manipulator sends his powerful servants to retrieve magical artifacts, the Legion heads for the fight of their lives...

Confession time: When I was in the second grade, one of my favorite comics was Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes. What kid wouldn't like a team of 50(!) super-powered teenagers from various planets in the 30th century. The Great Darkness Saga has been on my radar for years, as it is cited as one of the greatest super-hero comics of the 1980's. Did it live up to the hype?

First, some caveats. This is very much a 1980s comic. There is an over-abundance of cluttered word balloons, the writing is simplistic, and the characters are a bit on the thin side. Much like an X-Men trade I read a few years ago, the cover of this one spoils who the villain is, which I would have liked to have pieced together alongside Brainiac 5. Way to ruin the surprise, DC!

However, this is a pretty epic tale, especially for the time period. The mystery villain is gathering his strength after a thousand year sleep and has some big plans in the works. The Legion is in disarray after a series of setbacks, involving the return of Computo, Khunds, Legionnaires retiring, and a lot of other stuff and the when the apocalyptic scheme goes into place, it's a wonder anyone survives.

Since DC has gone to the "dark side" in recent years, I'm surprised they haven't scavenged the main villain's plot for one of their company-wide, momentum-killing crossovers yet. A planet full of pissed off Superman-level people under the thrall of an all-powerful menace threatening damn near everything seems like money in the bank to me.

All gripes aside, The Great Darkness Saga was a trip down memory lane, a reminder of innocent times and what made me like the Legion in the first place. All of my old favorites were in attendance: Wildfire, Mon-El, UltraBoy, Braniac 5, even Matter Eater Lad, whose super powers I appreciate much more as I approach 40. Did my brain conveniently forget UltraBoy always announcing which of his powers he was using? Note to those unfamiliar to the Legion: UltraBoy had all the powers of Superman but he could only use one at a time.

While it wasn't my favorite 1980s comic storyline and seems a little hokey by today's standards, it was damn good for its time. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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