Friday, May 28, 2010

GIRL COMICS issue 2 - an INTENSE Review of
DR. STRANGE -vs- ADRIA in: "Rondeau"

Girl Comics # 2 (of 3)
An anthology comic
cover art by Jill Thompson.
Interior stories written and illustrated by many talented "girls".
Marvel. 48 pages. $4.99
---

One might not think to look for a Doctor Strange appearance in a comic with the title; "GIRL COMICS", and yet, if you look inside issue # 2 - past the richly colored cover by Jill Thompson - you will be gladdened to find an excellent "Strange Tale" inside.


Serendipitously enough, it was the cover that first attracted my attention, as it incidentally features CLEA, Dr. Strange's former, long-time love.

I had originally suspected that perhaps inside, a Colleen Coover illustrated piece would feature Clea and possibly have a cameo by Strange. However, while I was disappointed that such a tale was not within, I was most appreciative to find, among an issue filled with delightful works, the Dr. Strange story "RONDEAU" written by Christine Boylan, with art by Cynthia Martin, Colors by June Chung and letters by Kathleen Marinaccio.

In an issue filled with whimsical humorous short stories, this most serious tale wraps up the issue and feels like the substantial meal you enjoy after you've first picked at sugary snacks.


What is to follow is a very detailed (far-too-much-thought-for-the-source-material-and-for-that-I-apologize-to-the-creative-team) review of just that one story. Normally, I wouldn't review such a "minor" piece, and yet this 6-page story deals with so many of the current situations facing Dr. Strange that it is elevated to a work of major importance and relevance by that very nature.
I will present the first 3 pages of the story here.

But it is up to you to go out and get the issue - aside from this entertaining and exciting story, but also for the other wonderful works to be found therein (there's truly something for everyone - although the price point of $4.99 U.S. is hard to justify - despite the 48 page count).

*All images can be enlarged by clicking on them *



Before the events of this story, Strange has been "laying low" since he abdicated his mantle as the Sorcerer Supreme. While some of his time has been in the company of the Avengers, (the "New" and the "Newly New",) other time has been spent within the walls of his now-hidden-from-sight Sanctum.

"Rondeau" opens with Stephen Strange, in plain-clothes attire; black slacks, white shirt, black tie and dress shoes, at a grand piano which is now located in his old study at the top floor of his Sanctum Sanctorum.

Here, the interior of the Sanctum is lavishly rendered - but I will get to the artwork of Cynthia Martin and coloring of June Chung a little later - I just wanted to state something truly positive before I got too involved with the various negative aspects of the tale. (Which is not to say that I didn't find the story to be a positive one, just that there are faults and flaws.)




While practicing a piece at the keys of his piano, Strange is ruminating upon some pseudo-intellectual, quasi-philosophical conundrum of the nature of magic, matter and thought.

Honestly, I don't wish to open the review with a negative (since I have a genuinely positive feel for the work) but it is with these words that the story begins.

I have to state that - to me - that sequence is totally out-of-place here since it is just a casually tossed-in bit of fluffery having nothing to do with the nature of the story.

It seems more about a writer trying to give a mystic and learned character something "enlightened" to say, without it much making sense for that character in the story with which it is placed.


I'll repeat it here, just so you can read what it is that irks me about it:

"What I know: That matter is created by thought, not the other way
around.
That is the physics of magic.

What I fear: If all thought ceases... will matter also weaken and
disappear?"



It is a flawed argument as Boylan contradicts her point by the end of his musings, because she has Strange end with:

"How do I get my thoughts back?"

Not to belabor the point, bashing what is intrinsically a good story, with (among some other problems) a misguided (or merely erroneous) opening line, but while, as someone who understands that matter is indeed created by thought, it is wrong to think that matter can not at least inspire thought (if not actually create it). Inspiration works both ways, as an inspired thought can help to create a work of matter and that matter can then in turn inspire more thoughts - which may in turn create more matter...

And the end line of his opening thought, begs us why would he lose his thoughts if the matter disappears, since the author states that matter does not create thought. By her own words, the fact that there is no matter... shouldn't matter - at least inasmuch as the creation (and therefore retaining) of thought.

Yes. I understand that her point was that "if all thought ceases"... then would all matter go away, but what would it take for all thought to cease?

In what regard would Strange then even think as to why he would require thoughts if everything ceased to be? - Unless he were turned (alongside the rest of all life on Earth if not the dimension) into a mindless lump, but then, he would still - by the original supposition, not exist to regain his thoughts. It's a poor argument and the puzzle which is at its heart, circles back upon itself like a Möbius-strip.


It's a very minor bit of writing that should have either been edited out, or expanded (and expounded) upon in the tale.

Luckily, while it is not the only questionable point in the story, it is not enough to dour my enjoyment overmuch, since the total of the tale is greater than the sum of its (sometimes faulty) parts.


"Rondeau" features a Stephen Strange who is no longer the "Sorcerer Supreme", and who is caught while at that crossroads by an old foe.

As we see, the foeman in the tale is not a man at all... as teased by the fact that the comic title is "Girl Comics". Besides it being a comic completely created by "girls", it also heavily features female characters - and the villain of this piece is one of Stephen Strange's oldest foes (and one of his few female adversaries); ADRIA.


As I am one of (if not the) most intensely (insanely) dedicated Doctor Strange fan with the most reference-heavy site on the web (with possible exception to Neilalien), I present:

--- A brief aside to some background on ADRIA for readers unfamiliar with that character ---

Adria originally appeared back in the early 1960's issues of the "Strange Tales" anthology title (which by then Dr. Strange shared with Nick Fury and at least one prose piece). In her history, she has only appeared in 2 stories (3 including this one):

  • She first appeared in a three-part story in Strange Tales 141 - 143 (1966)

Plot and art by by Steve Ditko, words by Stan Lee

In those classic issues, written by both Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, with art by Ditko, Adria was but one of three mystics (with Kaecilius, and Demonicus) who did the bidding of Strange's oldest foe; Baron Mordo.

Side Note: In my humble opinion, this story arc is one of the all-time BEST of Doctor Strange's history. He is trapped and (seemingly) totally helpless as a captive (bound and blinded) by the three minor mystics. His adventure and escape is a masterwork of story and art.

At the end of that earlier tale, Doc wiped her mind (along with those of her helpmates) of the ways of magic (although, in her next appearance, we find that his mind-eraser spell was seemingly meant to be a temporary one - thus allowing a brief respite from magic, so that they might perhaps learn the error of their ways).
  • Her next appearance was in Doctor Strange v2 # 56 (in 1982).

Doctor Strange v2 # 56
Story by Roger Stern, Art by Paul Smith
A CLASSIC!


In that oft-touted "best of" tale by Roger Stern and Paul Smith, Adria - along with her two fellow "Mordo's Minions" attempted to beard Strange in his own lair - the Sanctum Sanctorum - only to befall the dire fate of being sucked into the dreaded "Purple Dimension" - seemingly, with no way out.

Strange himself, had managed to escape from that dimension, but not easily (although, it was way back in one of his earliest recorded adventures).

Adria (nor her compatriots) has not been seen or mentioned since then - until now.

However, since she was always shown to be the most adept of her little group, it would not be surprising that she would have been able to find a way out - somehow.

(btw, for more info on "Mordo's Minions", check out their listing on the Marvel Un-Official Appendix - [
HERE])

What is niggling, in a purely, "turn-over-all-your-cards-so-we-can-see-how-the-trick-is-done" type of way is that we don't see how she ever escaped from that fate.

--- END of ADRIA background info ---


What is curious, and I don't know if it is a clue as to how Adria escaped her prior fate, or merely a poor choice on the part of letterer Kathleen Marinaccio, but Adria's speech-bubbles (aka word balloons) are in "reverse". White text on a black background. That is a style usually reserved for demons and other-worldly "entities". Here, I think it is just utilized to mean that she is "evil" - unless writer Martin was unsure of the origins of the character - OR - perhaps was adding her own twist to them (but with no real info other than the style of visual speech - it is impossible to say). I daresay, that perhaps the ordeal of escaping from the "purple dimension" may have had an extra side-effect... or price - which, since it is not mentioned, even in passing within this story, is merely my own conjecture - to fill-in-the-blanks.


I will, at this time, take a moment to write of the artwork.

The coloring here, by June Chung, as opposed to that of every other story in the issue, is dark and deep, with rich, warm earth tones counterbalanced by cool greens and purples with some selective usage of deep lustrous reds.
The coloring lets you know, in no uncertain terms that this story is serious. No fluff piece, this.

The pencils and inks by Cynthia Martin are dare I say it... "masculine". Meaning no disrespect or gender bias, this work is precisely what readers have come to expect in an "adult" comic book. The artwork - if I might draw comparisons to a few contemporary illustrators (which I am reluctant to do, since Martin's work looks like... Martin's - but for the benefit of those who may require some further evaluation) is a blend of the best of Richard Case and Tim Sale. Again, using the rest of the issue as a comparison, this is serious artwork, wherein the rest of the book, while energetic and delightful, is more light and cartoony. Here, her figures are real and not overly romanticized. Strange is rugged while Adria (and the other female characters shown) are softer - and unlike the women drawn by many male artists, don't all share the same face and body - with just different hairstyles.

These 6 pages are filled with such intricate detail that it is worth re-reading the story again just to look deeply into each corner and crevice - nook and cranny, since (with the exception of one glaring omission) absolutely nothing is left out of the backgrounds. The interior of the Sanctum is meticulously rendered. Rarely, in all the 40+ years of any artist's visual representation of Strange's home, has it been furnished so lavishly, or filled, so replete with believable (and actually placeable) real-world knick-knacks, talismans, art, statuary and eclectica.

In that, it is a job well done. However, the art does not get a totally positive grade.

That praise of Cynthia Martin does not get her out of falling prey to something that causes the art to fail miserably, at least in the genre of consecutive visual narrative (aka panel-by-panel continuity).

The primary job of a comic book artist is not to just draw pretty pictures. The artist's primary task is to be able to tell the story - as if no words were to be used in conjunction with the illustrations, and still have that story be readily evident just by the drawn pages themselves.
Unfortunately, the artwork fails in a few different instances to covey the necessary information clearly.

There are several occasions where either the story /script was lacking or the artwork was not crafted to properly portray the events. In some instances - it is the fault of both, story and art.

It seems that one of the most important aspects of the story is that Adria has invaded Strange's Sanctum armed with some sort of mystic cuff (it looks like an ornamental bracelet). This item seemingly binds Strange's hands - mystically and remotely - without its ever being in contact with him, so that he is unable to cast any magical gestures of his own. It is never mentioned by any text or dialogue in the piece, but shown as something Adria is casually holding.

However, in the vital panel where we need to see it activated (and how it is activated), Martin chooses to show that event in a mid-ground image - allowing for only those who pay close attention to the body language - and note a simple glowing coloring effect, to guess what has transpired. Otherwise, the moment is lost.

Usually, such an action would be given a more up close viewpoint to give it "weight".

Another "error" (although, I don't know who is more at fault, the writer or the artist) is that Strange only escapes his predicament by fooling Adria into thinking that a fake electronic fireplace that he has clicked on with his toe is indeed real enough - and dangerous enough - to startle her into dropping the mystic cuff, thus releasing him.

Really?

A powerful sorceress has no idea if a fake, electronic fireplace is not real fire?

...Really??


It is this which leads me to believe that the writer; Christine Boylan, believes Adria to be an otherworld entity - unfamiliar with the workings of home furnishings.

(She might also fall prey to the sorcerous conundrums of the "I've-got-your-nose" thumb-trick, or the hiding-his-face-behind-his-hands "you can't see me" vanishing act.)


The sequence is also difficult to understand, because nowhere in the artwork (even in the panels where the "fire" is shown), is any actual fireplace or even device revealed. It merely seems that the "fire" (which is pretty realistic looking - for a simulated "fire") just spouts flames from the middle of the floor.

The activation of the phony pyrotechnic is one of a curiously over-complicated nature. The power button being on a surge-protector strip that is hidden under a throw rug - or is it an overly long curtain? It's hard to tell, as there are draperies everywhere. Either way, can we say "fire hazard?" But Strange seems to need to remove his shoe and sock in order to push the single button with his naked toe.

Is this supposed to be some sort of "fail-safe" that Strange has set up in case his home is invaded by stupid people - or those from the distant past - to whom this would seem like powerful magic?

(If so, then Stephen Strange is the most prepared-for-any-contingency comic book character since Batman pulled out a can of "Bat-Shark-Repellent" from his utility belt.)


At first, I thought that his activation of an obvious electrical fire hazard was to intentionally start a real fire. One that would force Adria to move and hopefully lose control of her weapon.
But when she questions him in that it was "not even a real fire?" - I simply lost all sense of suspension of disbelief.

In any event, with Adria being caught by surprise and her dropping of the mystic cuff, it is only with the deactivation of the item that the reader truly sees how it was used in the first place - or even that it was used - all after the fact. But, Strange is only encumbered by the baneful bangle for but a single page, and as such, is merely the first of Adria's trip-ups in the story.


Before I continue with Adria's (and the creative team's) misteps, I want to address... a dress.


Adria's garment is a red gown - heavily detailed with mystic rune-like symbols, and yet, unlike her usual mystic garb, is a garment that could be worn out in public.

With a wide and deep plunging neckline (showcasing her body from breasts down to her navel) and seemingly held-together by a one-button-in-front design, it is a strange mix of "what a male comic artist would think a dress would look like" and "high-fashion" model-wear.

Curiously, it is exactly the type of revealing garment that garner most male comic artists accusations of "overly sexualizing" their female characters. Yet here, in the hands of a female artist, it is to be understood as "haute couture". Is it "demeaning" if drawn by a man, and yet "empowering" if drawn by a woman? I don't feel qualified or compelled to make that call.

Don't get me wrong. It is lovely to look at. I found it to be an interesting new look for Adria, although I must confess I missed her purple and white sorcerer's gown with the high collar. Yet, this new gown, while being fashionable, at the same time addresses a particular dilemma when dealing with this point of Dr. Strange's low-ebb mystic career.

Since his loss of the position as Sorcerer Supreme, he has been shown, most often, in plain-clothes.

This is not a problem (especially if Marvel/Disney is going to try to produce a film since his traditional costume is dreaded among all film-makers who have ever been attached to the long-overdue project).

You see, how do you have Strange wearing normal street wear and his adversaries running around in high-collared cloaks with pointy eyeball designs everywhere? You can't.

Adria's previous sorcerous apparel fit alongside the over-the-top couture of the Lee/Ditko mystic set. Her current gown matches the current "downplayed" nature of Marvel magic.

Still, count this fan as hoping for a return of the flamboyant gear of the Mystics of yesteryear. Certainly, a plain-clothed mystic is perfectly fine, (and John Constantine is his name) but when Doc eventually resumes his mantle, he also best don his ceremonial garb as well.

Back to the story-


After Adria is distracted by some sleight of hand (or toe, as the case might be) and having the rug literally pulled from under her, she counters with a spell that she says Strange doesn't know, and is to be so debilitating to him that he will be powerless and hover on the brink of oblivion all the while being kept in a glass display case for Adria to admire at her leisure.

No spell is actually portrayed - unless you count the fact that the artwork becomes so busy that a visual cacophony is presented. That may very well be the effect that Cynthia Martin was going for. Less flash and more frenzy. The background becomes awash with superimposed musical scales while a flurry of small vignetted images of Strange's former loves and apprentices (Night Nurse, Clea and the most recent, Casey Kinmont) taunt him at the periphery of sensation. It seems to be that the effect of the spell is to have Strange so overwhelmed that he is unable to defend himself - totally supplicant to his captor's will.

In that... the artwork and lack of a flashy spell works.

The only problem for Adria? Strange totally knows of the spell and can easily counter it.


* EDIT / UPDATE *

Artist Cynthia Martin graced this humble blog with her presence and she was gracious enough to leave a comment -I'll link to it - [HERE] (that -surprisingly- did not call for my head on a pike) where she even lets on to another slip-up in the art:

She mentioned that nearing the end of the story she forgot to draw Adria's many bracelets that bejeweled her arms for much of the story.

One panel they are on both arms, another panel they are only on one, and yet at the end she has none.

Honestly, even I didn't see that, and truthfully, it's not a big deal (although, to an artist - it is maddening. Such a thing would leap out at her every time she sees these pages from now on).

If it helps, I'll even help out with a "no no-prize winning" explanation - here goes:

Those many bejeweled bangles were, in fact objects of power! Adria was using them as energy resources to aid in her escape FROM the Purple Dimension - where she is still imprisoned!

The bracelets merely helped her to send out a mystical doppleganger with which to retrieve more power from Strange's edifice.

As she was forced to use more and more energies to combat against Strange, she used up their power and the bracelets would fluctuate - or vanish altogether!

When their power was used up, her pseudo-form would also wither away.


By the way, the fact that her real body was still in another dimension, and that she was speaking "through" her double, would ALSO explain the whole "reverse text" nature of Adria's word balloons!

How's about THAT?

If anyone from Marvel wishes to send me a No-Prize - I'll accept it gladly!

In the meanwhile, that's just my own "made-up" ending explanation.


I'd like to thank "Cyn" for bravely venturing here into the forums of nerd-commentary. I appreciate it and am gladdened that she found my review to have merit.

* END EDIT / UPDATE *

I won't give the (real) end away, for it is up to you to go and read it. Which I wholeheartedly endorse you doing so.

The point of ALL of this seems to be that Adria wishes to collect whatever "power" Strange has hidden in the house. He tells her that he is "powerless" but she knows he must have hidden it somewhere in various objects, and she will not stop until she collects it all for herself.

It is this point that so many writers fail to understand... and I can't emphasize it enough:

Being a sorcerer.. Strange doesn't HAVE any "power" or "powers".
He never has!

What he can do is manipulate latent energies that exist in the universe, and certainly some mystical objects do come with some power (although, it is more accurately a latent spell worked into the object - or a direct linkage to an entity and their power source), but the only thing that a mystic is empowered by is KNOWLEDGE! And THAT can not be lost (unless his memory is lost in some way - or his faculties are lessened).

To this end, Strange should theoretically be just as "powerful" as he was as Sorcerer Supreme, except with whatever abilities or "energies" that are bequeathed him by objects bearing to that mantle (the Eye of Agamotto and perhaps the Cloak of Levitation -along with some of the other talismans and tomes in his former collection). As far as abilities, he should not be any less that what he once was. Perhaps, otherworldly entities might no longer favor him to empower his spells. That could certainly be a possibility. But, if one looks into the "big picture", it would not do an entity any good to deny him - since he will most likely be in a better position to "owe" them should they acquiesce. The only deities who might deny his entreaty now would be those who are gladdened to see him rendered low. It is less likely that Strange would be calling upon such entities anyway, as any of them who wish to see him humbled would most likely be "less than good" anyway.

(Of course, gods and other-dimensional entities are fickle and childlike creatures, so who can say what their motivations might be?)

However, it has long been the erroneous point of Marvel magic that it is treated like a "point and shoot power" and less of an art form (which it is - hence the term Mystic Arts), so I have to be somewhat gladdened that in this story, Christine Boylan uses an object of art - of music - to be the place wherein Strange houses the last of his stored "power". Even as Stephen uses some of his stored power, the piano seems to lose its place among the laws of reality of the Earth, keys conforming to their own laws of perspective and foregoing the reality of Euclidean geometry. Boylan's story and Martin's art at least try to place a link between art and magic - if even this small instance.

This is also the first time that I have ever noted where Strange has been shown to have any musical aptitude or inclinations whatsoever. (His naming of his mid 1990's business tower/Sanctum the "Tempo" building notwithstanding.) It makes sense, as stated in the story, surgeons (Boylan specifies neurosurgeons, thankfully) often play the piano as it is good dexterity practice for their hands.

Strange, of all such (former) surgeons, need to do this, especially as it is the damage in his hands (first from his original origin-inducing car crash and then in the fairly-recent "World War Hulk" mayhem that led to his losing control of magic) that he might need to reverse and thus regain some of his control to reclaim his abdicated title (and thus his "power").

One might argue how I leave the story with a positive appreciation for it, if I have so many negative comments or reservations about every aspect of it.

Well, I'm a complicated man.

Truthfully, the real reason is that this is only a 6-page story. Shorter than most of the earliest "Strange Tales" by Doc's creators; Steve Ditko and Stan Lee.

The title of this story; "RONDEAU" is a musical style, which the author states as meaning; "Return to the beginning". Much like the direction that Strange is being taken in the tale, the story itself - in style and content, is also a "return to the beginning", bringing we readers back to the manner of story from those early 1960's issues of Doctor Strange's original anthology title.
Even the manner of Strange tricking his adversary into losing, is a throwback to those earliest adventures.

Like those stories of old, this one has to fit a lot of information and ideas into a scant few pages. It is, by its very nature already starting off behind the "magic" 8-ball. And unless the work is completed by people who are working very closely with one another, from start to finish - or better yet - by one individual, all the while having a firm grip on the subject matter and characters involved, such discrepancies, omissions and errors are to be expected.

For instance, I honestly can not place the reason why Strange clicks the surge protector again at the very end of the story. There doesn't seem to be any need and the "click" is distracting in the absence of any visual effect.


Still, I'm evolved enough to see what this story was meant to be, what it could have been and appreciate the creative team for their efforts (and there is quite evidently plenty of effort shown) to make this piece a reality.

The tale, to use its musical framework, is an "interlude" - a point between what Strange was and who he is to be. It is the "song" that bridges those two separate works, especially if one thinks of one's self as a work of art --- in progress.

It is that "reworking" of ones self that is a very important aspect of this story.
I stated at the beginning of this "review" that I felt that this seemingly minor work bore major importance, and I do believe that could honestly be the case.

Aside from a return of one of Strange's long-lost rogues' gallery, it also steadfastly espouses a position that Strange is on the road to recovery.
His practicing of the piano piece and his words at the end of the story give rise to hope that Strange has begun the upward climb to greatness.

Perhaps the methods will change (as Brian Bendis is seemingly in charge of that - more so the pity), and sure, this could just be a small short story that happens to have a meaningful direction for the main character, but when that character has been dragged through the proverbial mud, losing nearly all greatness and direction over the past 5 years (or more), perhaps this hidden tale could be the first step on the path to redemption.

And if there is anything every true Doctor Strange fan must agree on, it is the power of...

redemption.

---

Don't forget - go out and get this issue!
I might have picked it apart, but I can not undermine the fact that this is a serious "jump on" moment in the life and path of Doctor Strange.

---


For those who are curious about the very TITLE of this story and the musical piece that Strange was working on I present this information - which sadly may also points out a possible flaw in the story.

It is that one last point that I feel I should explore - purely in the name of art...
Writer Cynthia Boylan has Strange state that he is practicing a piece composed by Bach (presumably Johann Sebastian Bach) and that piece is a "rondeau".
She has Strange state that the title of the piece is an instruction... "return to the beginning".

However, the artwork clearly shows the sheet music bearing the title of Bach's "Inventio(n) 4".

"Inventio(n) 4" is an appropriate piece for Strange to be practicing as the "Inventions" were pieces that Bach composed as educational practice exercises for his students.
Since Stephen Strange is trying to regain some finger dexterity, it is exactly a piece like this that he would attempt.

I could be wrong, but I do not believe that Inventio(n) 4" is a rondeau.
It might more likely be a "ritornello" which is derived from the Italian word ritornare meaning "to return". Although, in the progression of musical forms and histories, the "rondo" (which was also and earlier called rondeau and was a descendant of the even earlier Boroque "ritornello") doesn't truly stipulate a "return to the beginning".

And truthfully, "rondeau" doesn't quite mean "return to the beginning".
A rondeau is a term that calls for repetition of verses and refrain, but not a specific return to the beginning.
Typically the styles of repeating verses and refrains of Rondo/Rondeau are in the form of ABA, ABACA, or ABACADA or even ABaAabAB.

And, to add to the confusion, Boylan writes that it is the musical piece's TITLE, and not its STYLE, that is the instruction. The title which can be translated as "return to the beginning".
Neither "Rondeau" nor "Inventio(n)" mean such a thing.

While Bach did indeed pen some pieces with the word "Rondeau" in the title, "Instructio(n) 4" is not one of them.

A musical term that does indeed mean "return to the beginning", AND one that is used in the title of a work is "Da Capo" - which literally means "from the head". My original thought (before I saw the sheet music presented in the story) was that Strange could have been playing Bach's "Aria Da Capo" (sometimes called; "Da Capo Aria").

However, I am also unaware if "Aria Da Capo" is classified as a "rondeau".
(While I do possess some musical aptitude and retain some knowledge of my prior years in music study, I have never been a scholar of musical styles, forms and histories.
My knowledge of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach are relegated to merely those of an aware appreciation and ability to play - somewhat poorly - a few.

One fleeting thought in the "oh, I hope they won't go with the cliche' " vein, was that - again, before noting the actual sheet music's title in the work, that the piece Strange may be practicing was Bach's "Toccata and Fugue - in D-minor" (most commonly known as being the piece most used in "Haunted houses", Halloween soundtracks and the "Phantom of the Opera"). The term "Fugue" doesn't mean "return to the beginning" either, but a fugue does indeed feature a recapitulation (a "return") to a tonal key or motif that started the piece. So, in that, it does feature a "return to the beginning", in that off-hand way.

However, I leave it to those who are my musical superiors to inform us all if the term "rondeau" fits any of these musical works - but specifically, "Inventio 4" as it is the piece actually shown in the story.

What I also leave to the musicians in the audience to determine is... looking at the actual notes in the sheet music which is represented in the story... aside from the title of the work, I can find no similarity with it and the actual sheet music for "Inventio(n) 4". Admittedly, it can be transcribed for numerous instruments, and I have only the piano score with which to compare it.

I won't bother everyone (any more than I already have), but I have placed the image of the first stanza within the video below.


To thank you - and mostly to reward you for making it to the end of this overly critical "review", I present you with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Inventio(n) 4".

Enjoy! *

*(you MAY need to click on the audio/video player controls a few times. For some reason they get stuck.
But the music "video" IS there.)






video

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oh, HELL...

Mephisto is my weatherman...
From the awesome original graphic novel:
Doctor Strange / Dr. Doom : Triumph and Torment
by Roger Stern, Mike Mignola and Mark Badger




Mephisto reserves a very special circle of hell for certain unusual trespassers...
It would seem that I fit that description.

Ladies and Gents...

My most humble apologies, but it has been a SCORCHER the past few days and, as such, I have yet to be able to work on my review posts.
With more 90 degrees Fahrenheit days forecast for the rest of the week, the reviews that I promised will post, but not as frequently as I had originally planned.

My workroom is unfortunately located in the upstairs south-west of the house and as such, bakes like the deepest pits of Hades preventing my being able to work for long (also, I fear for the life of my computer if it is left running for long in that temperature level).

We're also expecting some serious thunderstorms - again, and since I don't have a proper battery back-up... I don't wish to run the risk of frying out my HD each time it gets shorted out.

I might be able to type out the blog posts on my wife's computer, which is in a cooler part of the house. Hers is an old sucky machine (which she uses JUST for typing and a little web-based researching), but my software (Photoshop and such) are on this one, and that's how I process my pics.

With luck, I'll be able to cobble together something for tomorrow.

I wouldn't lie about that.
As it IS, blogging about (not) blogging is a SIN!
If I added lying about blogging to that, then Mephisto would use me as his own personal thermometer.

Rectal, needless to say!

"Tamam Shud!"
~P~

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In The Absence of Druidic Tomes...
Book and Comic Reviews!

Due to computer "situations", real-life intrusions and packing up the old Sanctum for a move, I haven't had much time for any "real" posts as of late (or any of my other "projects") but I have been able to get in some reading these past nights... so...

There will be book and comic reviews in the following days!

(Sadly, it's the only thing I can blog about that doesn't really require much time on the computer or away from packing and such, while still job-hunting.)

Reviews will be for the following:
(not necessarily in the following order)

*NOTE:
As the reviews are completed, I will come back here and activate links to each in the titles below.


- as well as the following paperback novels (all of which feature Dr Strange or a member of his supporting cast / villains):

* BTW, Check out the right sidebar in the "WHAT I'M READING" section, or take a look at these Amazon links to order your own.

Spider-Man : Darkest Hours
by Jim Butcher

Doctor Strange and Wong aid Spider-Man in an epic battle with totemic power eaters.
Black Cat and Rhino co-star



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Fantastic Four: The Baxter Effect
by Dave Stern

Ben Grimm gets lost with the Mad Thinker in an alternate universe.
Doctor Strange gets several mentions.
Agatha Harkess is featured.



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Fantastic Four: What Lies Between
by Peter David
Dormammu teams with the Psycho-Man to destroy the Earth dimension.
Doctor Strange gets several mentions.



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Fantastic Four: Doomgate
by Jeffrey Lang

Someone tinkers with Victor Von Doom's college experiment to pierce dimensional barriers.
Dr. Strange garners mentions.
Maybe more... just started this one.




And maybe... this (non-Doc) novel of English Magic.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
- by Susanna Clarke


A tale of two magicians and the return of ancient, fairy-based English Magic.

- hardcover-


-paperback-

I'll do my best to complete one every few days.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

DITKO... oh DITKO... Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?
-or-
Why is Bendis being allowed to MAIM Doctor Strange?!?

---

OK, Steve Ditko hasn't had anything to do with Doctor Strange - or Marvel - in decades.
But, he is Doc's creator and as such, it should be to him that Doc entreats for mercy when he is being unduly massacred.
And as far as the signs and portents have shown, Brian Michael Bendis HAS and IS INDEED maiming Stephen Strange.

Continuing from my last post - which can be found [HERE] (dealing with the upcoming "ravamping, and re-writing" of all the magical rules in the Marvel Universe in the pages of New -new- Avengers # 2), a new insult has been added to the injuries with the release of solicit text for the newest issue: New Avengers # 3.

Here's the COVER art and solicit text for the issue:

Just make Wolverine the ultimate martial and mystical warrior and get it over with.
And WHY is IRON FIST making spell gestures now?!?

---
NEW AVENGERS #3
Written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
Pencils & Cover by STUART IMMONEN

Who is the true master of the mystic arts?
Well, it ain't Doctor Strange and it ain't Doctor Voodoo.
The bad news is he’s here and he is in charge. And he is gleefully ripping this dimension apart, piece by piece, in his search for relics of power.

How are the legacies of Iron Fist, Doctor Strange and Wolverine connected?
Find out here in this brand new eye-popper from Bendis and Immonen!



---

Good Heavens!!! Words... fail...
However, in the comments section of my previous post, one commenter (DigiCom) posted his brief thoughts (as well as the solicit text) for NEW (new) AVENGERS # 3...

Fort your convenience, I'll paste them here:
---
DigiCom said...

"It's worse than we thought:


So, we not only downplay Stephen's abilities, but also the current Sorceror Supreme (bets on that being undone in this arc), not to mention tying the title to an extradimensional city (instead of Earth) and a completely non-magical mutant.

Can anyone actually see how this will end up working out for the better?"

---

Well, to be perfectly honest, I predicted the linking of Doctor Strange to Iron Fist as far back as New Avengers (the first "New" Avengers, not THIS New, NEW Avengers) # 34

Back when it became obvious that Strange's tenure was soon to end.
This scene from New Avengers # 34 laid it all out quite clearly.

Dr. Strange : Foreshadower Supreme
New Avengers # 34 (Brian Michael Bendis - words / Leinil Francis Yu - images)

So, at that moment, I saw the fall of Strange's run as Sorcerer Supreme as well as the eventual linking of his and Iron Fist's lineage.

Unlike commenter, DigiCom, I don't know if the mythical, mystical city of K'un L'un, homeland of the powers of the Iron Fist are what is being linked, BUT it most likely WILL involve the folding together of mystical places into one big landscape.

Sort of like the "9 Worlds" that Thor's Asgard encompasses.

What Wolverine has to do with any of it, is a bit baffling.
The text mentions the "legacies" of these characters, so perhaps it is that Wolvie had recently been linked to an immortal line of "Wolverine-guys" (starting with some immortal guy ROMULAS, and leading all the way to Wolverine's son; Daken).
Maybe that is a mystical thing, along with how Wolverine has to fight the Angel of Death every time he needs to "come back to life" from a major injury.

Sadly, it may just be that Marvel's powers-that-be determined that in order for anyone to give a crap about this magic overhaul would be if they included one of their cash-cows into the mix.
(And they didn't want it to be Spider-Man since he already had a poorly-received attempt at a magical-based origin during JMS' "Spider-Totem" storyline).

Heh... maybe there are clues somewhere in John Byrne's old NAMOR series from the 1990's.
There was an arc (mostly issues # 20 - 25) that dealt with Namor asking Doctor Strange to send him to K'un-L'un, where he would find the real Iron Fist (thus proving that the previously thought deceased Iron Fist was really a plant-man disguised as Danny Rand), and Doctor Strange then magically rescued them from being eaten by a race of angry plants, before Namor next headed off to further investigate the mystery - until he had to battle a plant-controlled Wolverine and the evil sorcerer; Master Kahn...

Hey. Don't laugh. That was the storyline.
It couldn't be any worse than what Bendis could be planning.

Honestly though, I'm still trying to reserve any real judgment until the issues actually come out, but while I do think that Doctor Strange WILL emerge at the other end as the ultimate mystic, the damage that may be being wreaked to the realms of magic is hard to ignore.

Luckily, this is fiction, and a good writer * can revert it all should this be a blunder.

---

*(Y'know...basically anyone who ISN'T Brian Michael Bendis)

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"Tamam Shud!"
~P~

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Pick a card, ANY card... No. Not that one.
-or-
Marvel's Magic Makeover

---
Any readers of this blog, or any Marvel news-releases (primarily ones dealing with the Magical side of the MU) know that for long years, the current heads of the Marvel think-tank ( with Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada most notably among them) have espoused a philosophy that Doctor Strange is not a viable character because the rules of magic are too "undefined".

By that, they mean - there seemingly ARE no rules, so how can Strange ever be in any real peril when all he needs to do is say "Bibbity-Bobbety-Boo!" and he's out of danger.

To that end, Marvel has just announced that in NEW AVENGERS v2 # 2, the rules of Magic in the M.U. are being overhauled.

I'm not sure what that means, really - as there is not much word about the storyline.
I do know that it has been in the works for several years. and is one of two possible mystic storylines that have been in the works for half a decade. *

Here is the cover and solicitation text for the issue:

Art by Stuart Immonen
(Luke Cage holding the Eye of Agamotto...
damn, Bendis has a man-crush on Cage.)


NEW AVENGERS #2
Written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
Pencils & Cover by STUART IMMONEN

All new Marvel magic by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen! The Avengers don't even get a chance to move in to their new digs when a dimensional invasion tears right into the heart of the team. This is a story that will completely reinvent the rules of magic in the Marvel Universe and have long- lasting effects on a handful of your favorite Marvel characters. Plus: an Avenger disappears! Backup feature: Another brand new oral history of the Avengers chapter by Bendis!

---


While Marvel stepping up to rectify an area of concern (for them) is admirable, I have to say that it really seems odd on two accounts.

First of all, if you insist on doing a huge story where a major facet of your "universe" is being overhauled, why wouldn't it be its own "event" - a mini-series or something.
Although, perhaps that is itself the answer to the question; in the hopes of attracting readers it probably makes more sense to fold this story within the pages of one of the top selling titles - and one which has already dealt with the "decline" of many mystic situations in the past few years (although that story seemed oddly placed in the title at that time, as well).

Perhaps, not unlike past mystic "events" (the "Marvel Tarot" primary among them) a mini-series and individual one-shots might not attract your base customers as well as a flagship title like "New Avengers" would.

OK. So, I'll concede that point.

Still, If you're like me, you feel that their belief of magic being "undefined" is a bit...shortsighted.

Basically, magic in the M.U. does have some basic rules, (although, not any that are structured for easy reference for writers to access) and more are constantly being added all the time - especially in recent years in direct response to the current editorial viewpoint.

  • It was always known that magic has costs. You can't expect to just whip something up from nowhere and not have some future situation reveal itself - sort of the "butterfly effect" in magical terms.
  • A spell cast here could mean the weakening of dimensional barriers - which could allow an enemy to invade.
  • Magic weakens a user physically and mentally (requiring rest).
  • Teleportation spells will weaken you to the point of exhaustion - or worse. Traveling across physical space is difficult and taxing. Traveling into other dimensions is even harder - and more dangerous.
  • Each spell you cast - if it invokes a deity or cosmic entity - is empowered by that entity and may or may not be bequeathed. AND, you now OWE that entity in return, never knowing when and if they may wish to collect. Or HOW.
  • Magic requires knowledge and focus (unfortunately, too many times in recent stories have "average" heroes been able to replicate what a sorcerer like Strange had studies long years to learn).
  • Use of certain artifacts or spells requires purity of mind and body (meditation, fasting and self-sacrifice are often prerequisites).
  • One sorcerer - if adept enough - can tell how powerful his foe is (although, that one isn't used all that much, as it removes possible stratagem of feints and bluffs).
  • You can not resurrect someone from the dead - unless black magic is used, and that is NOT an option to guys like Strange. And even for black magic users - a heavy cost is required!
  • Also, now another new rule is that magic can't recreate what science already has made. (which, personally is a pretty lame rule.)
There are other rules, certainly, and I don't disagree that there should be some more, or at least some consistent rules... but the problem is that nowhere are they laid out like the basic "rules" that surround more "realistic" characters like Spider-man or Captain America.

All that notwithstanding, the other, BEST way to make a magical character have a sense of danger is to WRITE bigger and better dangers into that character's narrative.
Constantly create bigger and better dangers. Yes, I understand that eventually you may run out of room for "bigger and better" dangers.
But, not every danger has to be a powerful entity or foe - some times, a quest or puzzle is the key.
A sorcerer is a thinking man's hero, studious and wizened. Challenge him to use intellect and knowledge to survive - not just power or "random" magic.

Some of the best Dr. Strange tales involved his defeating overpowering foes by out-thinking them.

Other times, a good tale just requires more imagination than the average "super hero" story.
It is said that every writer has a few Dr. Strange pitches.
The hard thing is finding someone who can write it consistently for a long period of time.
The internet is filled with such fantastic takes on how to handle Strange (sure some of them aren't so good, but I've read many truly inspired pitches in my time).
Heck, even I have a few good Dr Strange yarns in me - as well as a "Magic Overhaul" story - in answer to Joe Q's wishes.

And if you don't want a random magic to win the day (as Editor in Chief, Joe Quesada keeps hawking) then as a writer - simply don't. allow. it. to. work.

If a writer can't be trusted to self-edit, then make it an editorial policy: "In order for a magical way out to succeed it must make sense and have either; some basis in published canon - or some significant cost."

Former editor Mark Gruenwald had, in the 1980's, enforced a similar policy with regards to Time-Travel, as it was being misused by writers.
He had a simple system of checks and balances of the methods that time travel could be utilized.

The reason Dr. Strange is a "Deus Ex Machina" is because writers are either lazy or not really "into" magic and as such, write themselves into corners that only a quick fix can help them escape.

Some times, however, a "rabbit out of the hat" solution must NOT be allowed.
And the best way to do that - is to write better stories.


It's not as though Strange's use of magic is alone in that "easy fix" solution... Tech-based heroes like Iron-Man and Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards have been doing that for 40 years!
A problem arises that they can't overcome? No problem, Reed will just "McGuyver" a contraption that looks like an over-sized cosmic toaster to rectify the situation.
The science involved? All completely made up with no basis in physical laws or possibility.

Comic book "science" is the same thing as "magic" but it is given a free pass because some object or "technology" was created. Not just a mystic pass and a muttered incantation (rhyming, if the writer puts some modicum of effort into it - otherwise guys like Bendis just toss in faux-latin jibberish).

But, while Science gets the pass, Dr. Strange has been de-powered more times than I care recollect, because, for the most part, he becomes too "big" for most writers to wrap a story around, and they also feel that once he gets too powerful - he becomes "unrelatable" to readers.
(Right, like many "super hero" character's are relatable, anyway.)

I'm not a Harry Potter reader, but as I understand it, he casts nonsensical spells in pseudo-latin and stuff just happens. I'm sure that there may be some basic rules to the use of magic there, and even if there aren't, fans seem to have no problems easily relating to all the powerful wizards therein.

What the problem truly is, is that like many cosmic heroes, a magic-user's adventures should not be reigned in or given "Earthly" boundaries or parameters.

Simply put - Doctor Strange is NOT a "super hero" and should not be handled as such.

However, and this is why I am posting this today - Marvel has FINALLY announced that they are changing the rules of Marvel Magic.

What I have a hard time understanding is why it is needed at all.
Especially the "total reinvention" of rules, as the solicit text states.

Over at DC comics, their universe is VERY magic oriented.
Possibly to the direct opposite of Marvel's more "science"-based universe.

DC has so many magical characters and their worlds are multi-layered and rich in depth and "history". **

And, to be honest, their magical workings are a total mish-mash of whys and wherefores.
But, they all work well together.

DC has had many magic-oriented "events" - which encompassed the entire universe of titles.
And in all of their universe-altering events, magic has played a large part.

And, as opposed to Marvel, who have been treating their cosmic-level, mystical entities; like ETERNITY and the LIVING TRIBUNAL as little more than giant-sized "comic book characters", DC still retains a respectful air of mystery and grandeur about its cosmic entities.

Certainly, Marvel could use with a bit of a magical revamp, but just inasmuch as to return the magic to its magical characters and a to distance them from the "normal" characters (even the cosmic ones - Eternity should not be treated the same as Thanos or even Galactus - who himself had suffered for over a decade under the yoke of poor writer treatment before John Byrne brought him back to a level of greatness in the 1980's).

So, if an all-out revamp of the magical corners of the Marvel U. is to be attempted... do it right.
Do it BIG.

One thing DC has learned is:
Just get George Perez to illustrate it and it will instantly be a huge sales hit!

Not that Stuart Immonen, the artist who will be handling this story arc is any slouch, but he is not a cosmic-level artist as Perez has proven himself to be.

Personally, I hope that the new "rules" aren't too restrictive.
Brian Michael Bendis is not a good "magic" writer.
Thus far there have been scant few "good" bits of magical usage in his recent comics' work.

That being said; despite all that I have against his handling of Strange and his eldritch company, I do enjoy reading Bendis' Avengers comics - but that enjoyment revolves around his usage and the written interaction of ground-based characters like Spider-Man, Spider-Woman and Luke Cage. I worry when he deals with magic. But, perhaps it is for writers such as he, for whom these new rules are required.


"Tamam Shud!"
~P~


---------

*
footnote 1:

The other magical storyline was a long alluded to "Magic War" that was boiling up in the underworld. Comics like "Nightcrawler", "Spectacular Spider-Man", "Marvel Knights '4'" and others (pretty much anything written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) featured assorted glimpses into that dark underworld threat. Mephisto, Nicholas Scratch, Madam Web, Salem's Seven and even Shuma Gorath all were attributed with foretelling of the coming demonic doom.

I do hope that Dr. Strange can be "fixed" in time to be a major player in that event.

---

**
footnote 2:

If DC have some more hard-core magic-oriented characters that they don't want to have inside of the "regular" universe, they have the VERTIGO imprint reality to let them play within.

Marvel has tried Vertigo-like offshoots before, but never with any real gusto.
Each time it was half-hearted and tentative.

That is not the way to boldly go into a brave new world (or dimension).
Sadly, in each attempt, a more "Comic Code Approved" style of publishing remained attached.
That had always been the death-knell of the enterprise.
Comic titles were planned, pitched and even in some instances - started (and even released) but all came to quick (pre)cancellation or drastically heavily-edited rewrites.

I can understand their reluctance to dive in, however.
It has nothing to do with publishing and everything to do with marketing.

Once you remove a character from the "primary" reality of the rest of your properties, and place them in a more "adult" arena, you instantly remove any chance of having that character on a lunch-box.

How many Swamp-Thing, Sandman or Hellblazer lunch-boxes or bed-sheets do you think DC has on the market?
Nada.

They do however have actual feature films (just... not very good ones).
They also have a their own "adult" merchandise (statues, books and whatnot) and that is where the marketplace is right now. Adults, not kids, reading comics and buying the high-priced merchandise.

Marvel's last "adult" line attempt was close to a decade ago, long before the new shift in high-priced marketable wares really set in.

However, is that the healthiest place for the market to remain?
No.
Comics need new readers. Kids need to be enticed to jump in.
More often than not, kids have no interest in the comics themselves, but a lot of interest in the toys and ancillary products that may spin out of a ... feature film or animated series - all avenues that Marvel is showing strength.

So, marketing their properties to a wider gamut of customers is the smart way to go.

Marvel's aborted attempts at "Vertigo-ness" was also before Marvel was bought by Disney, who has the ability to market stuff to kids like no one else.
Disney, who also have a rich history of magic and mysticism in their stories and films (both kiddie stuff as well as the adult mainstream releases).

Perhaps, now is the perfect time for Marvel magic to be let loose - and the worst time to try to reign it in.
Or perhaps there is a white, three-fingered gloved hand in this process.
I doubt it, but who knows... it could prove to be the magic touch.



* Note: *
My apologies if ANY part of this is garbled. Local weather conditions with high gusting winds have been causing my power to cut out -
multiple times. As I typed this, despite my saving it into drafts, parts may have been erased and missed or forgotten as I rebooted it back up to complete. Again. And Again. Now, I'm just going to "Post" this - as is - before my hard-drive needs a techno-necromancer to revive it.
*End Note*


*UPDATE *
I was reminded of an old post - one from February of 2009 that dealt with - and hopefully answers - much of the problems that have come to pass with the "modern" era of Marvel comics, as far as Doctor Strange and magic is concerned.

Feel free to go and re-read (or if you haven't seen it yet, to delve in, uninitiated into) the post I called:

"WITHIN YOU - WITHOUT YOU"

"Tamam Shud!"
~P~

Thursday, May 6, 2010

MYSTIC GARB : DR. STRANGE APPAREL
- Supplemental Entry #1

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Welcome again, as we go back to the very roots of this blog's purpose and showcase some more swag.

This time we are revisiting - and ADDING to - a series of posts from October of 2009, wherein I catalogued my extensive collection of Doctor Strange (and related 6-Dimensions characters) apparel!
(HATS! T-SHIRTS! TIES! SKIVVIES!...yes, really... I showed you my "underwear". Don't get excited. I wasn't wearing them) .

Today, I've 2 new T-shirts to add to the series.

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Today's installment adds these two new garments to the - part 3 : TEAM-UP APPEARANCE T-SHIRTS installment (and they will be added to that page as well as being featured here).

Both of these new shirts are from 2010, from MAD ENGINE, and feature mass groupings of Marvel comics' Super-Heroes.

The first is a reproduction of the "famous" cover to the first issue of the very first Marvel mini-series crossover "event" ; Contest Of Champions".

Doctor Strange is seen on the right side
(our right side, not the shirt's right side)
above Hulk and below Human Torch.


And- here's mine - still in baggie.



For the sake of context, this is the cover to the issue from 1982.(drawn by John Romita Jr)

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The second is a mash-up of recent comic covers all featuring groupings of teams.


Doctor Strange is seen on the left side
above Iron Man.


And- here's mine - still in baggie.


Doctor Strange is a part of the clandestine "Illuminati" team, and is taken from the cover to
New Avengers : Illuminati # 1 (2007)

(as drawn by Jim Cheung & Mark Morales)

I want to thank my Mother-in-Law for sending me a birthday gift which she wanted me to spend on something "for myself".

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If these two shirts interested you, then don't forget to check out the IMMENSE collection of many more which I featured in this series:

- part 5 : "THE END" of GARMENTS

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"Tamam Shud!"
~P~