Saturday, December 31, 2011


To Celebrate the END of the OLD YEAR - and to ring in the NEW, let's all drink a toast * and sing a chorus of Auld Lang Syne... like the Marvel Superheroes!
(* If need be, it can be a drink of Non-Alcoholic cider. No one will judge you here.)

 From Avengers v1 # 60.

Yes. This scene originally depicted a gathering to celebrate an Avengers' wedding, with all of superherodom in attendance, but so what? Taken out of context, this could be a New Year's Celebration! And thus it is!

In this coming New Year, let's all make a resolution to be as heroic and awesome as we know we all can be!

At least to be as awesome as Doctor Stephen Strange...

 Doctor Stephen Strange - the Most Interesting Man in the World!

Stay Magical, My Friends!


Friday, December 23, 2011


I just want to take this time to wish everyone all the Happiness of this
Holiday Season!

And to help celebrate your 

...I present to you this scene of

(click to make FESTIVE-SIZED)

This YULTIDE TABLEAU featuring; Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Luke "Power Man" Cage, Nick Fury and the Hulk, is my own re-staging of the CLASSIC cover to the 1975 MARVEL TREASURY EDITION; GIANT SUPERHERO HOLIDAY GRAB-BAG!

It was bigger than most kids, and only $1.50! (sigh)

I wasn't going to use any photoshop re-touches, but I didnt have a Santa-Suit small enough for Hulk.
I didn't even have a "classic" Hulk figure, but had to substitute my "Professor Hulk" as a stand in. Nor did I have any dolls, er... action figures of a young, tow-headed lad. If I did, that would be weird. So, I had to draft a holiday elf as a stand-in. Then, I figured, what-the-heck, and tossed in a little colorful glow for Doctor Strange's mystic zaps - which otherwise is just a red twisty-tie thingee from a bread bag.
With the exception of Hulk and Kilkeel Elf, these are all MARVEL LEGENDS Action Figures (which, aside from the old MEGO figures, are the very best Marvel action figures - ever).

I was originally going to make it an animated gif with glowing and blinking lights on the tree, like on my "Sanctum Window" graphic, but then one might wonder why no one else was moving... so I nixed it. Sorry.

However, to keep up with modern trends of VARIANT EDITIONS of cover images, I present to you this alternate take, with the MAN-THING in the place of the Christmas Tree.

(click to make Giant-Size Man-Thing sized)

Dr. Strange, Man-Thing, Spider-Man, Luke "Sweet Christmas" Cage, Nick Fury, Hulk and Irish 'Kilkeel' Elf
- all balanced by hidden props and MAGIC!

Let's all sing a chorus of "O Man-Thing Tree"...
"O Manny-Thing, O Manny-Thing, Thy leaves are always burning..."

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men-Things.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Writer: Matt Fraction, Penciler: Terry Dodson,Inker: Rachel Dodson 
Colorist: Sonia Oback, Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99


“And there came a day, a day like no other…” Oh wait. That’s the other “Avenging” guys.
So, what’s the Defenders’ raison d'être? Traditionally, since the team was first formed in 1971 within the pages of MARVEL FEATURE # 1, it has been to gather together and to DEFEND the world from the forces of darkness, most usually those of mystical origins, which are so great that they threaten to overcome the world, if not all of creation.

A new # 1 Issue of a new volume of DEFENDERS hit spinner-racks in December 2011 and its new tagline is “Protecting Humanity From The Impossible”. While that might sound somewhat like the métier of the Fantastic Four, writer/co-plotter Matt Fraction and penciller/co-plotter Terry Dodson feel that it would better suit these Defenders.

Of course, if one wants to nitpick, “Protecting Humanity from the Impossible” – while not a bad line, kind of makes it seem like they’re not really doing ANYTHING. I mean, if it’s IMPOSSIBLE, that means it CAN’T happen, so why the need to defend against it? It just smacks as the inception for the line is that it “sounded cool”. But again, that’s just nitpicking to the degree of my being a jerk. While I still feel a better tagline is out there, I will gladly accept this mission statement, because, hey… I want to see some “impossible” stuff.

Just as a head’s up; this review might at times veer into “jerk” territory, but hopefully I should be able to explain my way of thinking satisfactorily. But also, fair warning, it is a FULL REVIEW – so, even though absolutely NOTHING really happens in the issue until the last 2 pages, I should nevertheless state:


-----------JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER----------

So, let’s start at the beginning. The cover being the logical place to start, and thus the first real item for me to critique... or criticize, especially as I should say covers (plural) since there are 6 (SIX!!!) COVERS for this issue. One standard cover and 5 (FIVE!) VARIANTS! To make matters worse, only one of the covers is really any good (or maybe two, since the standard cover by Terry and Rachael Dodson isn’t half bad). No offense to the legendary Neal Adams (who provides two variants – well, really one variant illustration, as one variant cover is in color and the other is just the line-art)…but his artwork here is horrendous. Well, ok... maybe not as bad as that, because he obviously still has the chops. Still, it's not that good.
Yes, it’s cool that he is paying homage to his own 40-year-old cover to Marvel Feature # 1 (the first appearance of the Defenders), but it’s much more "wonky" than his older work. Also, if you look carefully, he basically swipes the poses for Iron Fist and Doctor Strange from The Dodsons standard cover. The other bit of bad artwork is that here, Adams draws a giant-body for the Hulk with a pea-sized head. No, he’s not the only one guilty of such a thing, but I thought that style of anatomical aberration ended after the 1990’s. I’d expect better from an illustrator of Neal Adams’ ability.

Neal Adams' new homage variant covers.
 Adams' 1971 classic.

The best cover (in my opinion, anyway) is the Doctor Strange solo cover by Stuart Immonen. Immonen is a phenomenal illustrator and once again has delivered nothing less than greatness.

 Awesome! And yes, I WANT it.

The other covers are; a BLANK cover – ostensibly so one could bring it to a convention and have an artist illustrate the character of their choice, and an “I Am A Defender” cover, which showcases the teaser artwork that were used to hype the project (as can be read about in this prior post [HERE]). The first issue uses the image of Iron Fist from that series. It is expected that each of the next 3 or 4 issues will utilize the other similar images; each showing a silhouetted image of the character from a classic pose and within the outline is multitudes of words, definitions and clues about the character.

Do I want all the covers? Well, yes. As a die-hard collector of all-things Doctor Strange, I do. But I fully expect to have to wait a few YEARS to be able to get them, well after the mania and high-prices have subsided to lower, more manageable levels.

Next, we can look at the logo. Personally - and I feel bad continuing on a negative streak here - I think it sucks. It does nothing for me. The letter style isn’t dynamic or eye-catching, so it fails in its task of drawing in a buyer’s eye, and there is some inexplicable zig-zag line above it that just sort of ends at the letters. The line would work better as a sort of border, encasing the logo, instead of it just being this half-finished bit of design. I know that famed letter and logo-designer; Todd Klein has often stated that comic publishers love pointy logos, but this one, while filled with all pointy angles, just falls flat. I don’t know who designed it (no idea if it was Klein or any of the other multitudes of designers out there), or if an editor passed over a potentially better logo for this one, but I’d have loved for them to have taken another crack at it.

As for the title itself, with the nature of their mission (not fully disclosed in the issue, but more than done so in interviews online, as being a threat that they are unable to speak of) as well as with Marvel’s infatuation with the appellation, the title should be “Secret Defenders”. Just sayin’.

The last thing of note, which can be seen first on the cover, is that this team’s costumes seem to almost have a theme; and that theme is “SASHES”. Red She-Hulk wears a black bodysuit whose sole ornamentation is a red flowing sash at her hips. Doctor Strange’s new costume, much like his original, has a belt sash, although this one is red as opposed to his original orange. Iron Fist has two – one on his waist and the other trailing from his headdress. Only the Surfer, (who is, for all intents and purposes, naked), and Namor fail to have a sash adorn themselves, and I don’t think Namor’s costume would be hurt by one. Perhaps he can have one across his chest, to join with another at his waist, like a buccaneer.

-----------ISSUE REVIEW----------

The issue starts with pre-amble scenes the world over as madness, mayhem and molestation (!) memories via Motorola are made manifest. These things are shown and it is suggested that they occur now that Nul: the World-Breaker - and one-time Hulk-invading evil entity - walks the Earth.

Unfortunately, this entity is one who had possessed the Hulk during the Fear Itself “event”, and was only mentioned a few times in some spin-off comic or other, until the last issue of ‘Fear Itself’ (# 7), where it is shown that Hulk has split from the invading spirit. As such, Nul is a new, unknown foe – and one who is given no real description in this issue. All we are told is that weird stuff is happening, and it seems to be because NUL is on Earth. A very poor intro for the “big-bad” of a new series.

The story quickly brings Doctor Strange into the equation, as he is shown in a post-coital scene of shared regret. I have already discussed the awful missteps of this “Doc diddles debutante” debacle – and it can be read [HERE]. (If you haven’t yet read that recent post, it might make sense to go there first and then come back here.)

I won't get into it all again now. Seriously, go read my post on this scene [HERE].

Although, a new thing to add to my critique of that scene is the notation at the bottom of the page;
“Who loves Doctor Strange? Defenders # 4!”

That, and the other, similar notations on bottom margins of other pages, is a sweet touchstone to a halcyon time, now long gone by, when every Marvel comic would tease its other publications in exactly the same way. Let me tell you, as a young lad, reading copies of 1960’s and 1970’s comics, those little blurbs always filled me with eager anticipation and made me want to hunt down the other issues being hawked. To see them return, if even in such a minor way, is a nice touch.
It also fills me with an interest in actually sticking with the book to issue # 4 to see WHO loves Dr. Strange. (For those of you who haven’t yet read it, I have an old post that lists EVERY romantic involvement that Stephen Strange has ever had. It can be found [HERE]. Feel free to check it out. It always gets updated whenever a new love is introduced.)

However, I have a bad sense of what these page margin notations can also mean.*
* But since it is too early in my review to touch upon that theory, as it does come up again later, I’d be best to make it footnote # 1 at the end of this post.

Doctor Strange’s diner scene – as I wrote in my review of the preview pages [HERE] - makes use of minor, ‘practical magic’ and is a welcome display of non-nigh-godlike sorcery. Not everything has to be the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak, or the “Gooey Kablooey of Calvin the Angry”.

Sadly, whether by a slip of art or story, one character nuance of Stephen Strange was missed here.**
** Since it is a perceived slip of no great importance, but merely one of interest to fans (new or old) of Dr. Strange, I’ll toss it at the end of this post as footnote # 2.

Next we see Doctor Strange in his Sanctum Sanctorum proper. Studying and trying to resolve the mystery of the vision he saw in the POINT ONE issue (review of same [HERE]). Here Matt Fraction sets a good tone for Stephen Strange, as one who “seek(s) refuge behind the ramparts of knowledge”. A positive touchstone for Dr. Strange is that he gains his ability through study. Knowledge is ever his weapon. And it is one he will need, as the Hulk comes, pushing past Wong, seeking aid.

Here, Wong is portrayed as a typical Manservant, calling Strange ‘master’. But that is slightly problematic to the character - unless the reset button has been hit for Wong, casting him back to a former mode of behavior and comportment. ***
*** See the final footnote #3 (“Collect ‘em all!”) at end of post for more info.

Fraction slips up on Strange’s characterization again, soon after, when he addresses King Namor (by the way, I prefer KING Namor to PRINCE Namor. It has a much better ring to it). Fraction tries to play up the familial bickering banter between these two long-time allies, but drops the ball by Doc saying; “’Tis Doctor Strange”, and then having Namor retort; “I know… You’re the only man alive that still says ‘ ’tis.’”
Except, that NOWHERE in my memory do I think I have EVER read Doctor Strange use the word; ‘tis.
I’m nearly 100% sure. (And just for sureness’ sake, I just checked out the one issue that I thought – perhaps – Doc may have uttered the word (Strange Tales v1 # 139), but no. He always states “It is....” and never ‘tis.)

This is a small nit to pick, for certain, (maybe somewhere, some-when Doc might have said ‘tis,) but when making such a definitive statement as he has Namor speak, Matt Fraction must know that will just draw attention to it.

King Namor is seen in the Aegean Sea, threatening corporal punishment to a bunch of surface men who are in the process of slaughtering some form of fin-backed sea-mammals (what could be sharks or dolphins. - I’m thinking Sharks since shark hunts are prevalent these days.) Namor, dressed in a variation of his X-Men uniform - itself a variation of the old black, scaled, ‘sharkskin’ outfit he wore in the 1970’s, makes me wonder why they just don’t return him to that great old outfit good and proper, instead of ‘watered-down’ (sorry for the pun) versions of it. Either way, anything is better than the green Speedo.

One of the fishermen has a red colored circle on the back of his glove. This reddish circle design is seen again later in the story, as a part of Danny Rand’s new plane’s interior, although there, it is more of an orange circle. Matt Fraction has hinted that there will be any number of repeated patterns, numbers and phrases within the issue(s). Coincidences that are really patterns of the universe on display. However, with the exception of one phrase repeated by the Captains of two different doomed aircraft, I have seen no other coincidental patterns, and as with the case of the red circle, have begun actively searching for some. Fraction stated in interviews that two people say the phrase; “I hate myself and want to die”, but with the exception of the title of the issue (as that is the title) only one person (Hulk) says that phrase. In this issue anyway. It’s a bit weak if we have to wait for more issues to see the re-utterance of the phrase(s). If that is the case, this is being “written for the trade”.

Another character being used in (slightly) new ways is the Silver Surfer. Since he is a being of energy (I guess) – previously shown to be able to transmutate his personal form and that of his board, the Surfer has begun to experiment further. In this issue, he appears to have taken the form of a snowfall on the Cantabrian Mountains, where the Defenders have gone to find him. Having recently been shown to be seeking a reconnect with his lost humanity (as in recent issues of THOR), the Surfer is now a child-like, wide-eyed, wonder-filled being of exploration and delight.
One slight problem with this scene is that since the events in THOR, the Silver Surfer has begun a new (mortal) life in Broxton, Oklahoma.

The scene also contains a problematic utterance by the Hulk. He states the aforementioned; …I Hate Myself And Want To Die…” (the title of the issue) but the Hulk has ever only been the embodiment of the spirit of survival. I find it odd that he (and not Bruce Banner, of whom he is now separate) would espouse such a sentiment. So, is this a new, more penitent, Hulk? Or is it an example of a writer missing the point of a character?

Next we are brought to Pamplona, Spain and the running of the bulls… and the bullish, to find Red She-Hulk. There’s not all that much to her introduction with the exception that she asks if she can bring her “big-ass sword”. The sword in question is the one that she was given by Tony Stark, as forged by the Asgardian dwarves and blessed by Odin. Hers is the only such weapon that wasn’t re-melted to ore when the “Fear Itself” battle was over. I can’t bring myself to decide whether the usage of the term “big-ass” is a sign that comics are now more interested in being “cool” than being good, or not. It just struck me when reading it and tore me out of the story for a moment.

But, Wait... They needed a strong woman with a "big-ass" sword to be a DEFENDER?
Uh... VALKYRIE, who has been a Defender more consistently than ANY other character (even Doctor Strange) would have been the perfect choice. *Sigh* Oh well, she is currently busy gathering the "Worthy" Hammers over in the 12 issue maxi-series; 'Fear Itself: The Fearless'.

The Red-Shulk scene continues, with Strange relating to her how they arrived thence. The fact that all travel methods were via conventional contrivance shows us a severely sorcery-poor Master of the Mystic Arts, unable to transport the team via the means of magic. The subsequent scenes of travelling also present a few character slip-ups (which I say “slip-ups” instead of “F#@k-ups” just to be nice).
First off, there is a panel showing Doctor Strange in a railway car, levitating in the lotus-position in plain sight of the other passengers – something that he would never do. So often, in times past, Strange would go out of his way to obscure his abilities from other ‘mere mortals’, and would most likely have either cast a spell of illusion about himself, to make it appear as if he were sitting normally, or would have let loose his astral form, so that it might perform any mystic searching while his corporeal form would sit dormant, as if asleep. This just seems like again, either writer or artist is just trying something cool, despite how a character would normally behave.

Secondly, as Strange is explaining his theories to Red-Shulk, Namor accuses Strange of acting like a “spooky old conjurer” as a means of trying to sleep with her. What-the-what?  Never mind the continued, questionable sexual references, which I find myself wondering if they serve the story or just the adolescent whims of the writer, but, this is poor characterization for BOTH; Namor and Strange. It is wrong for Namor, because, as a known philanderer, he truly would not care if Strange got it on with Red-Shulk or not – unless he had desires for her himself. It is damaging to Strange, because since when (aside from Fraction’s own poor portrayal of Strange a few pages earlier) would Strange have ever done such a thing? What would give Namor the slightest idea that Strange would even attempt to “impress” a woman in such a manner? Is this comment, reflective of Strange's earlier sexual misconduct supposed to be one of Fraction's "coincidences"? Either way and even so, Matt Fraction is so off-base here it makes me wince.

Next up we are given the intro to Danny Rand; A.K.A. Iron Fist, as he is on an experimental airplane prototype for performing zero-G tests. His appearance, while – to me – seeming out of character, has him express a sentiment that I all-too-often also echo;

“The older I get, the more life seems to be the stupid, frustrating stuff that gets in the way of you and reading comics…”

Amen, brother. Amen to that.

Iron Fist’s “Zero-G Kung Fu” is fine and an interesting idea, but the artwork is far too static to do the concept any justice. Dynamism was called for and not delivered, thus, the opportunity was lost.

In an example of clunky storytelling, however, as I felt that my copy of the comic must be missing a page, the next page jumped to a scene of Rand in bed (with the issue’s 2nd example of a regretted sexual hook-up, and the 4th sexual reference). He is being awakened by the Astral Form of Doctor Strange who is requesting to use Rand’s new plane. (Here, Strange is shown for the first time in the issue in his new costume – which nowhere in the issue is explained in any way: ie; WHY a new look? What is the significance of it? What do the gauntlets do? These are all things that a Stan Lee joint of old would have addressed).

 But wait again... They needed a RICH superhero with a plane? Was Kyle (NIGHTHAWK) Richmond too busy running his "Last Defenders" team (in the 6-issue limited series; 'Vengeance') to join the REAL Defenders?  *sigh* (again). Actually, I like Iron Fist, and with his recent linkage to Doctor Strange's mythos and Agamotto, I look forward to his inclusion on this team.

Finally, the team assembled and aboard the experimental aircraft, Dr. Strange is asked to explain the mission at hand, as well as the destination of Wundagore Mountain, as newbie Red-SHulk has no idea of it. Strange makes a few curious word choices, as he says that the mountain is “a place of WEIRD SCIENCE and ASTONISHING TALES brought to life.” Again, the subtext of comics is alluded to since both; WEIRD SCIENCE and ASTONISHING TALES are the names of old comic series.

The fervent comic-book reading of Danny Rand is also revisited again here (as he is reading a comic seemingly titled “Marvelman”), and as such, it must be a clue as to the story at large. Of course, if the “secret of the Marvel Universe” is that it is all a “breaking-the-fourth-wall” comic book within a comic book universe, I will officially give up reading Marvel comics. 
(And even the "Red Circle" design from the fisherman's gloves and now on Rand's plane could allude to the old "Red Circle Comics", as Weird Science alludes to EC Comics of old.) 
I would hope that Matt Fraction would be aware of the fact that such plot devices were started as far back as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the Fantastic Four work, and later expanded and expounded upon by John Byrne in his She-Hulk series. There’s nothing original there, so let’s pray that doesn’t factor into the series.

Strange also states that it is a mystery place, a strange place filled with secrets and impossible things. “It is our job to protect the world from the impossible.” To that I say; Wait. Since when? I thought the job of this team, as laid down in the first few pages, was to defend the world from the NUL-HULK. To destroy it and stop the damage that it causes by being manifest on Earth. Or, even as Strange has seen in his prophetic vision from POINT ONE # 1, to find and confront the mysterious cosmic machine. So, when did the job title get changed to “protect the world from the impossible” (as is obviously the header of the comic title)?

While Iron Fist is reading old comics, Strange has been researching within an ancient tome; “something very old and rather FRIGHTENING…”  This would grab my curiosity if my faith in the writer hadn’t been subjected to numerous disappointments already.

Of course, the plane is soon in trouble,  with its captain repeating the same phrase as the Captain from the first page (one of Fraction’s “coincidences”) and then their plane explodes around them - a first for the Defenders (of any incarnation).

As is the norm for such situations, flying characters must hurriedly rescue non-flyers, as the Surfer aids Iron Fist and Namor carries Dr. Strange, whom without benefit of his old Cloak of Levitation might be able to do some minor levitation on his own, but is most definitely unable to fly outright unaided. The Red-She-Hulk however, like any strong-guy type is left to plummet earthward to thus prove to the reader that she is nigh-invulnerable.

Once again, sadly, a vital piece of characterization is mauled by Matt Fraction. He has the Silver Surfer, who is currently trying to reconnect with his own humanity, enjoying the experience of the plane burning around him as he thinks; “This is New.” Since when would explosions be new to the Surfer? In his first appearance in the book, the very first thing he states is that the team only gets together when things are exploding. How would the Surfer not have been privy to the experience of a vessel being blasted apart (even with him aboard) as I am sure that such a thing must have happened to him while either in the service of Galactus or else on his own adventures. So I am left wondering just what the heck here is “new” to the Surfer?

The issue ends with the shooting of Iron Fist, and the apparent surrender of the team to Prester John and the Evil Eye (something that will come as a treat for all really old-school Defenders fans- as it was this artifact that led to the Defenders attempt to rescue the Black Knight and thus the impetus for the Avengers / Defenders Clash [War]).

Thus are we left with this cliff-hanger for the next issue. 

-----------WRAP-UP OPINIONS----------

My overall opinion of this issue is a mixed one to say the least. It doesn’t suck outright, but neither is it truly any good. The writing contains SO many character flaws while it attempts to come across as writing “cooler” than it is. The artwork, that at times seems neat and beautiful, at other instances seems to be a rushed mess of weird anatomy and spilled ink. Colors, by Sonia Oback, that enhance the art and story nicely, but the colorist can’t seem to make up her mind about how to handle blacks on reflective surfaces, as some are left on uppermost photoshop layers (to let the black stand out) and other times to have the black layer lie below a color effect layer, to thus mute the black) - oddly, sometimes both on the same page or even same panel or figure! The lettering, by Clayton Cowles, is very good, and utilizes a computer font that looks like a handwritten style.

One nice touch is that each of the characters’ “voices” are given their own color shade, so that you always know who is speaking. Except for one “voice”; the unknown, omniscient narrator, whose text boxes are in yellow. This narration is yet another possible clue as to the nature of the Defenders’ overall mission. Perhaps, this entity is watching their actions from afar? Or, perhaps, as I made mention of my fear, it is the narration of a comic book writer.

Still, the story hums along and gets the team together (mostly, as teasers show Nick Fury and Ant-Man also being a part of the team, if not perhaps a part of this assemblage), and builds to a head by the last page. However, it still feels like a rip-off. A mere 20 pages of comic story (well, comic story build-up) with neither a single true battle, nor spell cast for $3.99? 
Aside from the last 2 pages, NOTHING HAPPENS! I would have been happier paying $5.99 for a double-sized, first issue spectacular where we at least get to SOME sort of SOMETHING happening.

It's just hard for me to imagine finding many DEFENDERS of this type of publishing.


·         * Footnote # 1)

As I had noted in earlier discussion about the comic-book theme that runs through the issue, to have the warning notes (the same notes as found in the “secret messages” of the silhouetted teasers –as I blogged in detail [HERE]); “Shut The Engines Down”, “Everyone You Love Dies”, “The Universe Will Break” and “Fight To Save Everything” along the bottom of the pages, right along with the other comic teaser notes, leads me to believe that they are also hinting that the comic itself is a clue. Or comics themselves. And, if as I (half-jokingly) guessed, that the secret of the Marvel Universe is that it is all a COMIC BOOK UNIVERSE (or something similar), then I just want to scream.

·       **  Footnote # 2)

The minor ‘lost character moment’ of Doctor Strange in the diner is where it is shown that he is drinking ‘Earl Grey’ tea.  The selection of tea, while not a major problem, is indeed a small window into the character of Doctor Strange. In many past appearances, Strange has often shown a preference for ‘Darjeeling’ tea. As opposed to ‘Earl Grey’ tea, a tea with no true ties to China, (but is well-known as the tea of choice for Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek; Next Generation,) ‘Darjeeling’ is a tea that originated in the Himalayan region of West India (the near-Tibetan region of Bengal, Sikkam and Nepal) where Strange would have learned under the tutelage of the Ancient One, and a tea that would be better for helping him collect himself after his previous evening. Even ‘Oolong’, a traditional Chinese tea, would have been a better selection. As an avid tea drinker, myself, I am partial to many varieties and blends of tea, and have been known to enjoy some ‘Earl Grey’ as well as the other blends I have noted above. Certainly, Stephen Strange can be depicted drinking ‘Earl Grey’ without it being a problem. This is especially so, as the scene takes place in a diner, which are not typically known for a wide selection of teas.

·         ***Footnote # 3)

A nitpick that I have with Marvel currently is that they have little care for past continuity. Even recent continuity. But definitely, anything that has happened before the Quesada-era is up for debate.
In this case, the problem is what to do with Doctor Strange’s manservant; Wong. For much of his history, Wong has been portrayed as the subservient, yet fairly treated, acolyte to a wise man (Strange). Not a stereotypical “chinaman” caricature at all, but not too deeply characterized either. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1980’s that Wong started to get a personality and a semblance of a life; love interests, history, etc… But in the 1990’s Wong turned against his former master because Stephen Strange failed to save the life of Wong’s betrothed; Imei. It set servant against master in a harsh way that by the time that the relationship even remotely started to heal, they were only able to reconcile if as near-equals. No longer did Wong call Strange ‘master’. They were on a first name basis.

But then, Doc lost his series, and appeared mostly in a few mini-series, and in each one, Wong’s relationship and personality changed a little. Sometimes, more of a retread back to his former subservient manner, while in others as a more eccentric personal secretary to the good Doctor. Of course, currently in the Avengers titles, Brian Bendis has chosen to portray Wong in a manner in which he has NEVER been shown; that of the angry, near-stereotypical, Chinese cook - a punch-line and a disrespectful treatment of a character older than many in the M.U.
But here in the DEFENDERS, for that one panel appearance, we have the Wong of old. I have no idea what Matt Fraction has in mind for him. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Doctor Strange : Sorcerer Substandard
Disaster of the Mystic Arts
Master of the Spastic Arts
Master of the Mystic Oops

Fantastic Four # 600, written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Steve Epting, shipped a week or so ago and in the issue was a scene that I wanted to discuss... or... at least show my disgust.

With a surprise invasion of Kree forces, the Fantastic Four attempts to defend Earth and repel the invaders while aided by multitudes of other Earth heroes (99% of them from various "Avengers" teams - especially since nearly all Marvel characters are on at least one Avengers roster).

Among them: Doctor Strange.

Given a suggestion on what to do by Ms. Marvel (since Doctor Strange, while a veteran of superhuman events, and a sorcerer for at least 40 Marvel-time years, hasn't had much experience with interstellar invaders), Dr. Strange affects the vessels ability to defy gravity via a spell cast with his mystic mastery...

... to a less-than masterful execution. And Disastrous results!

Seriously, Marvel. WTF!?

Did Doctor Strange just cause the deaths of untold numbers (both; the HUMANS living in the building and area around the crash as well as the KREE on board) because he screwed up a "basic" gravity spell (casually cast with a snappy quip)?
The only real example of a hero taking down one of the invaders in the issue and it is an epic fail.

So, my question is:
How long are we going to have suffer this screw-up version of Doctor Strange?

Before the modern-era of Joe Quesada / Brian Bendis with the recent additions of Matt Fraction and now Jonathan Hickman, Doctor Strange hasn't ever been this inept. At least not as blatantly.

Certainly, there have been classic adventures, written by the likes of Stan Lee/ Steve Ditko, Steve Englehart, Roger Stern and Peter Gillis (among others) where Doctor Strange has made grievous errors - resulting in terrible consequences. However, in each of those previous tenures, his chroniclers allowed him the ability to rectify those errors, and in doing so, rise and advance his spirit and ability to the next level.
This current crop of "realistic" write-it-to-sell-to-the-Hollywood-grist-mill hacks have neglected to truly connect with the characters; by-passed their history, ignored the true essence of these characters - or even worse, lost all sense of heroism for their characters.

In eras past, if a Marvel hero screwed up this badly, they felt remorse - the plight of the everyman was shown on the page and the grief of the hero was played out for all it was worth (melodrama, yes, but at least the emotion was there). Nowadays, the world seems populated by super-humans only and the cityscapes where they wreak their havoc are as soulless as the so-called "heroes".
Regular people are rarely shown and if they are, they are backdrops against which the "real" characters get to run rampant.

Nowhere in the issue is a reaction shot of Stephen Strange, possibly showing his grief at being a cause of such devastation. Not one. This may be more the blame of the artist than writer, but I am willing to bet good money that such a follow-up was not in the script.

I just want to apologize to Steve Ditko for this.
I am complicit in my continued assent, by spending money on this assassination of the heroic ideal.
But, it is only due to my love for the character that HE created, and my eternal hope that once more, a sense of greatness and grandeur can be returned to Stephen Strange.

Sorry Mr. Ditko.
Marvel owes you more apologies than can be counted.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Does Matt Fraction Add or Subtract from the Equation?


A favorite Marvel comics property - to me anyway.
Founded, and usually led by Doctor Strange, the team has been, more often than not, a loosely united assemblage of loners, monsters and freaks.
First starting from the 1970's, with several incarnations, iterations, and volumes - of varying success - which have come and gone sporadically through to recent years, Marvel is once again going to try to have this "team" burst forth into the realms of the unknown.

I WANT to enjoy this title.
I truly do.

However, to anyone who has read my past few posts which reviewed material from the upcoming DEFENDERS volume, it may seem obvious that my enthusiasm for the project, as well as my faith in the creative team in charge (writer, Matt Fraction and artist(s), Terry and Rachel Dodson) has all but vaporized.

Those posts dealt with the poor – many should say ‘destructive’ – characterization of Doctor Strange, about to be set into canon by the (perhaps) poisoned pen of Matt Fraction (as well as the unusually sloppy artwork being showcased by the Dodsons).

First, I took issue with the preview pages from DEFENDERS (v4) # 1, and their portrayal of some uncharacteristically unsavory sexual predilections of Stephen Strange, which can be read [HERE]. My unease continued when I read the prequel story that was a part of Marvel’s POINT ONE anthology issue, touted as the roadmap to Marvel’s 2012 publishing direction, and its off-base written and visual handling of Doctor Strange  - which can be found [HERE].

Another source of contention is that with 6 covers for the first issue and at least 2 or 3 covers for each subsequent issue (for each issue solicited, thus far anyway), I am rapidly losing any good-faith with Marvel. With the fleecing-the-flock predatory practices that Marvel is subjecting to its loyal fans, I wonder how much longer I can remain loyal, and not feel like a victim who has finally decided to stop going back for more abuse.

Now, before I launch into a lengthy diatribe, which will come not from some fan-nerd sense of entitlement (“GAH! They’re breaking MY character”), but instead from a position of “unofficial historian and caretaker” of a well-established property, let me just state that it is because I truly care about the proper handling of these modern myths. I don’t wish to see any writer mangle the better, more heroic natures of these 4-color heroes simply because it suits the whim of some half-baked story – or worse, because the writer just felt like it.

 I want to let it be known that I am not against changing a character, be it for “personal growth” or even to keep up with the times, but some changes are obviously wrong-minded and detrimental to the character. I should state that I am not one of those who insist that characters need to be preserved in amber. In fact, some of my favorite tenures of Doctor Strange are from when writers took him into deeply troubling, radically different, supposedly detrimental territory ( - for instance; Peter B. Gillis’ Strange Tales v2 [1987], where he turned Doc to the dark side and transformed him into a practitioner of black magic) . 

Strange Tales v2 # 15
Part of one of my all-time favorite character arcs for Doctor Strange.

The difference is; those had a plan for a complete character arc, a way for him to emerge from the troubled path renewed and refreshed. Fraction’s direction seems more for “coolness’ sake”.  Most likely, these poor changes will be later retconned away, or flat-out ignored by future writers, but still, the missteps can be made, and in this age where everything in the past, present (& future) canon is being reprinted in trade format, and thus available to be read, any missteps are “eternal”. 

The latter is my usual complaint of Marvel’s handling of Doctor Strange these past few years. Too many writers don’t do proper due diligence and neglect to fully research the characters in their charge. Some just fit any character into whatever plot they had in mind, paying little heed as to how the character, based upon their multiple decades of published history, would speak, behave or even if they might do such a thing.

Or, worse still, Marvel has thrown up its collective hands and said; “We have NO IDEA what to do with this character. Do what thou wilt.” It is that devil’s deal which I address first.

“Kitty Porn”:

This is the area, of which, I find myself most perturbed. In the preview to Defenders v4 # 1, Matt Fraction has Doctor Strange engage in an improper sexual hook-up with a nubile, young grad-student who had approached him for help with her thesis research. 

Wrong, Matt Fraction. Wrong on EVERY level.

As far as I can hazard a guess, this is ostensibly due to the ill effects of the rise of NUL (the big bad of the story). Supposedly, Nul is able to influence everyone and everything on earth, for the worse, merely by his being manifest on the physical plane. So, having Stephen Strange fall victim to a poor moral lapse due to this negative nul-effect would be acceptable – and almost excusable.

 In a recent interview [HERE], Fraction states:
 "... I'm doing a creepy, f*cked up Doctor Strange love story right now. The Tom Waits/Doctor Strange song I've always wanted to do. The first time we see Doctor Strange [in Defenders] he's in bed with a girl he shouldn't be in bed with. He's a teacher who sleeps with his students. I think that crosses a line, and I also think it speaks volumes to his character. It's an interesting lack of character.”

“An interesting LACK OF CHARACTER.” But, how can it be a lack of character when it is THE WRITER who just added that wrinkle to the character’s make-up? Never before has Strange done such a thing! And before anyone toss Strange’s carnal relationship with his former disciple; Clea, let me reaffirm that they started as lovers first! (Check out my post on the subject – and read the comment section where the Clea relationship is deeply discussed – [HERE].) Then, when Clea’s natural other-dimensional magical abilities faded away, Strange started to tutor her. While it might have been wrong to do so, while still retaining their intimate relationship, is a source of contention. (As I looked at in a slightly humorous, yet straight-forward examination of their relationship [HERE].) It should also be readily known that Clea, as a denizen of another dimension, is far more long-lived than we mere humans, and is, in fact, centuries old, thus removing any old-man/young-girl sexual accusations from the equation.

Doctor Strange & Clea discuss their Strange relationship
Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts # 45,
by Chris Claremont (story) and Gene Colan (art)

 I need to be fair and state that Fraction does show a pattern of not-so-coincidentally improper behavior among the other Defenders, who are also involved in improper relations at the story’s beginning. This also hints at a tainting of personages by Nul’s existence. So, in this instance, Strange is not being singled out.

However, Fraction expounds upon his assessment of Strange’s inappropriate sexual proclivities by stating;
Yeah, it's not that you're weird, it's that you're an a**hole. With Doctor Strange, he's a little grungier, a little creepier. Doctor Strange is a creepy dude. He sleeps with his students; he crosses lines most peoples wouldn't cross...”
“…Wolverine has never slept with Kitty Pryde. Doctor Strange totally would.”

Is he serious? Has the man EVER read ANY pre-Bendis-era comics with Doctor Strange? Please, no one tell Steve Ditko of this character maiming, because I truly think that Ditko would flay Fraction alive for such a transgression. Not just to his former creation, but to the heroic ideal itself. 

Many have been the situations where a female character has shown an attraction to Stephen Strange, and in each instance, Strange has politely, but definitively sidestepped the pitfall. Noble. Honorable. This is even in an instance when the woman throwing herself at him was a former incarnation of his then-current girlfriend; Morganna Blessing! One of his lover’s past lives (a hand-maiden of Rama-Tut from Ancient Egypt) – and from whence her deep, soul-mate-level love for him originated – and he politely lets her down easy, only to vanish in a puff of smoke. If ever there was an easy lay, having sex with the young-girl-who is-totally-enamored-and-whose-soul-would-eventually-evolve-into-his-then-girlfriend would BE the easiest of conquests. She was a total groupie for him. And he left her unmolested.

"Hush, Little One. It Is Not Meant To Be."
From Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts # 53

Stephen Strange has only ever had mature, consensual relations (and/or sex) with adult, fully-consenting women.
If you were to ask me, (or I’d wager, many X-Men fans,) I’d have put good money on Wolverine indeed having HAD sex with some of his young charges. Certainly, I’d believe that his sense of honor would demand that he would turn away any such schoolgirl-crush advances - maybe twice - before he would let it happen, with the thought of; “Hey. I tried to wave ‘em off, but if they want some animal sex… I’m gonna give it to ‘em.” Kitty Pryde might have had no interest, during her younger, Colossus-infatuated years, but later, when she was being trained by Logan, she may have had a weak moment or three and had the primal urge for the strong, male dominance that is Wolverine’s stock-in-trade. Jubilee and some others I can definitely see being attracted to Wolverine (in a “girl-with-daddy-issues” kind of way). But still, whether or not Wolverine ever had improper sexual relations with any of his young students, I know that there is no way that Stephen Strange would do so.

Not that Doctor Strange hasn’t been indirectly accused of such lascivious behavior. In the mostly forgotten mini-series; ‘WITCHES’, (by Brian Patrick Walsh and Mike Deodato) each of the three “Witches”; Satana, Topaz & Jenifer Kale, cast accusations against the others of sleeping with Strange. But, that’s all it amounted to: verbal cat-fighting between the three women. Strange was never in the room when these barbs were tossed about.

As listed in my complete listing of every woman that Stephen Strange has had any kind of romantic relationship (that epic post can be found [HERE]), there was even a case (in a recent Marvel Christmas Special) where the female heroes; Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy, Monica “Photon” Rambeau and Patsy “Hellcat” Walker teased Angelica “Firestar” Jones about her infatuation with Dr. Strange. They told her to buy a sheer, negligee and just show up at his door. He was never a part of this exchange. But, this was also (I hope) lighthearted fun, as the age difference (even without taking Strange’s true age into account, as he was born in 1930,) or should I say the “apparent” age difference - since he no longer ages as a mortal (due to his defeating "death", as I discussed in detail in a previous post [HERE])- would still be too large for an “appropriate” relationship. Firestar’s “love” of Strange was the by-product of a reverse “Florence Nightingale syndrome”, since he helped to administer to her during her battle with breast cancer.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t cases where a much older man is married to a very much younger woman, but those usually fall within the realms of foreign-countries with outdated marital arrangements, rich old billionaires and the gold-digging floozies who want to give them myocardial infarctions to inherit their wealth, and Elvis Presley with his child-bride (I’d even list Woody Allen and his “daughter”, but that is just TOO weird).

While I appreciate trying to return the creepiness-factor to Doctor Strange – a trait that he has been sorely lacking over much of his history – being a sexual predator is NOT the way to do it. This is an especially touchy subject recently, as the Penn-State sex conspiracy is a hot-button issue everywhere in the country. A trusted, older person, tasked with the enlightening of a younger person’s horizons, should never do so “horizontally”.

“Strange Tales”:

Counterbalanced, and to bring me back to his good graces, Fraction adds:

“Back in Strange Tales (vol 1), there are stories where he's in an ascot, waistcoat and fedora fighting wraiths in weird back alleys of unspecified Asian countries. I wanted that vibe from that first year or two of Strange Tales.”

To this I say; “I hope he succeeds!” Those Ditko/Lee Strange Tales issues are among the very BEST of the Doctor Strange stories, and a style only infrequently revisited in Strange’s subsequent history. 

Strange Tales v1 # 131
Lee / Ditko

But, as I made mention in my blog post about the Point One issue, I surely hope that Terry Dodson learns how to properly draw a hat.

But, he follows up with:

“Do you know what my way into Doctor Strange was? James Spader. Would you want to be on a road trip with James Spader? Just imagine three days in a car with James Spader. It's that "you're not from around here" feeling. He's a metric dude in a standard world. He's silently judging you constantly because he knows more than you…”

While truly a fan of James Spader, I don’t see him as the “voice” of Doctor Strange. Certainly, he has the dry, wry, knowledge-fu delivery that can be an interesting take, but if you are looking for someone with whom to liken the “creepy, know-more-than-you” aspect of Doctor Strange, I would suggest Jeff Goldblum. Just the way that Goldblum LOOKS at you is unnerving. When he speaks, you feel. Freaked. Out. (and not to mention, dumber then he is).

Heck, if you want to be on a road trip and get spooked out of your mind, sit in the passenger seat on a trip with Christopher Walken. Or Crispin Glover. That’ll teach you not to hitch-hike a ride.

I also put forth the truly classically accurate suggestion of Vincent Price. Price was known for his sojourns into the darker side of characterization. Not only a master thespian, known for his dramatic delivery, Vincent Price was also a fiercely intelligent man – an accomplished art historian and chef. Price possessed all that and his creepy voice, mannerisms and chilling laugh.

I have trepidations about Fraction’s infatuation of James Spader. Spader’s most recent star roles are from “Boston Legal”, where he played an affected, sexually dysfunctional and predatory, morally challenged bizarro, and now his taking over the lead role in “The Office”, as a manipulative executive shows me that Fraction is looking in the wrong direction for his inspiration.

Still, I am unsure WHY Fraction needs a "way in" to Doctor Strange at all. You know what MY "way into" Doctor Strange was? Reading DOCTOR STRANGE!

“No one likes the Golden-Child”:

The sexual misconduct, and Spader-ness aren’t the only missteps in Matt Fraction’s approach to the Defenders title. In fact, it is but a minor, easily explained away, error of judgment as compared to the real problem. Fraction has set in motion some universe-spanning machination that is supposed to “explain everything” in how the Marvel Universe came to be – the heroes, the history, everything. He’s likening it to Einstein’s oft-sought-after “Grand Unification Theory”.

Fraction states that everything that has happened, and will happen has been the secret cultivation of some outside force.
However, the very nature of having a “method” behind the madness of the Marvel Universe betrays the very essence of what it is that causes it to be special – or even relatable. The very nature of fandom for these characters is that, in some cases, a reader can picture themselves in the place of their favorite heroes- if only the accident or happenstance that led to the fictional person becoming a superhuman would have instead happened to them (and, y’know… that you’d get spider-powers and not cancer from a radioactive arachnid bite, or that a trip to study at the feet of a Himalayan guru would give you occult mastery, and not just a deep sense of harmony with the universe).

I am talking about the “chosen one” dilemma. Not to get into the theological debate of Calvinism vs Catholicism vs Lutheranism vs Unitarianism, but If things “happen for a reason” or more to the point; if things happen to a predestined plan of some cosmic googum, then there exists little (or no) hope that the possibility of greatness could be bestowed upon an average Joe (or Jane) of the 99% of us. Instead, the golden apple is held out of reach, except only for the select few. The 1%.

There have been a few instances of writers branding Doctor Strange as a “chosen one”, and that he was predestined to become the Sorcerer that he would become and that the Ancient One even protected him as a child, to ensure his continuing along the path. This ruins the “road to redemption” aspect of Strange’s origin, that it was only through great loss, soul-searching and acceptance of a greater power than he that he was able to ascend to greater heights. Personal growth.
There have even been similar attempts to introduce the same “chosen one” status to heroes like Spider-Man – the ultimate example (aside from Batman) of an origin that any child can imagine as being possible for them.

Such secret puppetry with invisible strings connected to an all-powerful hand diminishes the specialness of the heroic ideal. Despite the tag-line, Captain Universe may NOT be the hero who could be you or me. Perhaps the uni-force doesn’t come to anyone that needs it, but only those whom the cosmic machine has pre-selected. Truly Deux ex Machina.

A hero may or may not truly have free will to act heroically, but instead is merely performing a part, pre-written for them, like a play where they are unknowing performers.

To help counterbalance this, Matt Fraction details;

“… It's not about what-if minutiae stuff. I wanted to tell a story about the root of all the Marvel myths. What if there was a reason why they happened? What if it was something that was grown and cultivated rather than this collection of stories that we happen to be looking at? I wanted to tell a story about the Marvel Universe, not about the specifics. Every now and again, a pawn gets all the way down the board and gets to upgrade. The Defenders are pawns that have accidentally made their way down the board and get to upgrade and learn a little bit more.”

The idea of his last line there, that every so often someone gets to look behind the cosmic veil to gain a “level-up” of knowledge is an exciting one. There is a famous illustration from a centuries-old woodcut that portrays an ancient philosopher (or truth-seeker) peering beyond the curtain of the sky to behold the mysteries of the cosmos beyond. This image has always held some fascination for me, as it is a basic representation of all that we, as humans, strive to attain. The same sense of curiosity that caused man to leave the safety of the cave and to eventually voyage to the stars, is portrayed in this sentiment.

 colorized adaptation of a centuries-old woodcut

To have the Defenders be the cosmic seekers of truth (or, finders of truth) is an exciting prospect. 

With this direction - and the fact that due to the nature of the threat, the team is made physically unable to even discuss the conflict they are in - the best title for this title would have been; THE SECRET DEFENDERS. That seems more appropriate now than it was for the 1990's Defenders series of the same name. 

However, if the truth is that they find that the Prime Mover and the Shaper of Worlds are putting on a puppet show on the Earth, that would be less ideal.

“The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating”:

Lest I be accused of criticizing a product before it has even been released, I assure you that I have tried to be as fair and balanced as I can – given what evidence has been made available.

But, to act as my own defender… if you are being given an official, behind-the-scenes tour into the inner workings of a 5-star restaurant, and the chef is showing you his very best recipe for a pudding, but his ingredients are all wrong (or, perhaps even poisonous) – would you want to eat the pudding? Or even want to dine there anymore at all? 

Still, tastes differ, and I am sure that there will be many fans who will not see anything wrong with the handling of the characters and title’s direction, and may absolutely love it. Who is to say that they are wrong? Especially, if what we are being shown as teasers and previews are not the best representations of the title.

Still, as someone who can safely state to be a bit of a resource on the history and overall character of Doctor Strange, I am wary. However, I await the first few issues and hope that my concerns are addressed and allayed by some rational explanations in the plots.  

I WANT to enjoy this title.
I truly do.

I have read the issue and gave a FULL review of it [HERE].
The long and the short of it: It's not bad. But it's not very good either.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

From A TURKEY of a DUCK!

to all my American friends!
(And a Happy Thursday, to all the rest of the world.)

From Howard the Duck and Beverly Switzer!

Since my previous Thanksgiving posts dealt with Doctor Strange (the Sanctum Sanctorum as a part of the MACY's Thanksgiving Day Parade [HERE]), (the culinary tastes of Doctor Strange -[HERE]), I was looking for some sort of image that might feature either of my other blog-centric characters (Man-Thing, ROM; Spaceknight, etc...) and thought that it shouldn't be too difficult to find one of Howard the Duck facing the fate of a Thanksgiving Day turkey.
Face to face (so to speak) with a cooked cousin.

Turns out... it has been hinted at, and alluded to, but never shown outright.
Weird. I would have thought the threat of being plucked, stuffed and basted would have been a default threat for our favorite feathered fowl.

But, not to be deterred, I came across some stills from the 1986 Howard The Duck film and I knew that I had found my image(s).

Seen as a TURKEY in its own right, that movie, while ROASTED, and lambasted for the gastrointestinal discomfort experienced by most (if not all) of those who have ever seen it, has always held a sweet spot in my heart.
I always come back for a second-helping.
Seriously. I truly like that movie, Marvel's very FIRST official big-screen outing.

And one of the reasons is Lea Thompson, as Howard's human love; Beverly Switzer.

So, without further ado... I present some pics (trust me, there are plenty more - and far naughtier photos - that I could have posted) to show Howard... OBVIOUSLY THANKFUL for the bounty which has come into his life!

(The easiest jokes would be something about: "would you prefer breast or thigh?", stuffing, a wishbone and saying grace... but I won't do it.)

I, however, am thankful for many things, not the least of which are my many readers and the fine friendship which they show to me and my blog.
I love you all.

Howard does too.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

With The Aid of Time Travel...
My 3rd Anniversary Blog Post!

I made it to 3 years on this blog!
Who hoo!

OK. Actually, my bloggiversary was OCTOBER 11th.
But things have been SO DARN HECTIC around here that it was impossible to put together the required mega-post in time.

SO... with the aid of internet "time-travel" technology (back-dating posts), I have popped the actual post into the proper slot where it belongs (a month ago - sheesh!).

Filled with links to the "VERY BEST" of my Oct. 11 2010 - Oct 11, 2011 blog posts, it is a readers delight - and valuable resource for anyone wanting a "table of contents" for this blog.

Please feel free to go check it out - [HERE]

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Marvel’s highly-touted, intensely hyped “POINT ONE” (# 1) issue has dropped and it is purportedly a preview of the big things to come in the Marvel Universe for 2012.

With 6 short preview stories - all tied together by a flimsy 7th encapsulating "Watcher" story, my primary interest in the issue was for the DOCTOR STRANGE /  DEFENDERS preview story written by Matt Fraction and with art by Terry & Rachel Dodson. I can only say that if this issue is to be a roadmap, then this story seemed to be a speed-bump - or worse, a “wrong way” sign in that road.

The scattered leaf effect is the ONLY thing about this page that I like.
That mustache needs its own postal code.
Is that supposed to be an EAR on the side of DOC's head?
And "...My Village, and I am her magician"...? Ugh. Really?

The story, “The SHAMAN of GREENWICH VILLAGE” tries to hearken back to two landmarks in the publishing history of Dr. Strange and the Defenders; Doctor Strange’s first appearance in Strange Tales # 110, and his return to magic (and his joining the Defenders) in (the back-up tale of) Marvel Feature # 1 (also the first appearance of the Defenders).  A teaser that has Doctor Strange discovering the traces of a great cosmic mystery and the involvement of a new roster of Defenders, this story fails to meet the mark of the classic Steve Ditko / Stan Lee Strange Tales story as well as the Marvel Feature issue.

The allusion comes via Strange’s investigation of a sleep-affected individual (ala Strange Tales # 110) as well as his initial stroll through the village, the gathering of the Defenders and his story-end re-affirmation to his task (ala Marvel Feature # 1).

It starts off with, Groucho Marx is walking along Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Wait. That’s NOT supposed to be Groucho? It’s supposed to be Doctor Strange? With THAT mustache? Oh. OK. Whatever.

Anyway, Stephen Strange is wandering down the streets of the village and in a very man-on-the-street manner, speaks of one of the denizens of the area; “Notebook Joe”, who acts as a personal grimoire of the village’s history - secret or otherwise. This he does by soliciting individuals to write their observations and experiences into composition notebooks. That is a factoid that is proven useless since only Joe’s own stream-of-consciousness somnambulist-written notebooks will come into play in the story. Mentioning that there are others who feed him information is a dead-end plot point. It would be just as effective if Joe were to have produced all his “writings” on his own.

An apparently major error is that in his musings of “Notebook Joe”, Strange states that Joe has been in the village even longer than he. I fear, from what I have seen of his handling of Doctor Strange, that Matt Fraction is yet another writer who doesn’t research the characters he writes all that well. For in Marvel’s own official wiki (and handbook entry) [HERE] of Doctor Strange, (even taking into account the “10-year sliding timeline”) Strange has been residing as a sorcerer in his Sanctum Sanctorum since the late 1960’s (or early 1970’s – depending on how many years he spent in search of a cure for his nerve-damaged hands until journeying to seek the Ancient One). Joe isn’t portrayed in the artwork as being over the age of maybe 40-something. So, unless Doc is counting Joe’s years as an infant, there’s no way Joe is there longer. According to the story, Joe was an archeology grad-student and saw the cosmic mystery which – for all intents and purposes – took his mind, and then he came back to NYC and spent his life ever since on the streets. It was stated as happening “decades ago”, and even if we put Joe’s age in his 60’s, that would mean that coming to NYC as a late 20s to 30-something grad-student, he was in NYC for approximately 30 years. That is still a shorter span than Doc’s tenure. Certainly, if Joe were drawn as a late 60's – 70+ year old man, this wouldn’t be a point. But as shown, it is just a further reminder that modern Marvel knows not its roots. That, despite his appearance, Stephen Strange is far older than most others around him (with the exception of guys like Captain America, Thor, and/or Wolverine).

So, unless the artwork mistakenly drew Joe as being too young, there’s just no way he is old enough. But that brings me to one major problem that I have with the creative team; the artwork presented here (and in the preview of issue # 1 - which I blogged about [HERE]) by the team of Terry and Rachel Dodson is too cartoony and slack for my tastes (and saying that, I am saying it for ONLY MY tastes. I’d expect some readers to like it). It’s in the realm of the “manga-esque”, which I know is popular, but too close to “kiddie manga” than “serious manga” for my belief of what this series’ mission statement has led me to believe is its intended objective; to showcase the weird and arcane secrets of the Marvel Universe.

But, to point to something specific, to start with, as with my mustache comment earlier, there is far too much that is wrong with the artwork and Terry’s portrayal of Stephen Strange. First off, Strange is looking de-aged (maybe that’s why “Notebook Joe” also looks too young. Maybe Terry Dodson’s characters skew young. Certainly, the female artist-friend; Abby, whom, in the story, is said to have sold a series of paintings in the 1980's doesn't look old enough to have even used crayons in her coloring books in that decade). Perhaps, it just the fact that Dodson has all but grecian-formula’d away all of the white hair at Doc’s temples, and “Village-people’d” up the volume of his mustache. Even his gestures and posture are off character. It just doesn’t seem like Doctor Strange. (At least not to this loooong-term reader.) As for Stephen Strange’s apparel, this is not the first time that Strange has been portrayed as a 3-piece suit wearing dapper dandy. It’s a look, of which, that I will approve. As a nitpick, I wish Terry Dodson would learn how to draw a hat. The thing on Strange’s head is no hat that I’ve ever seen. A strange mixture of fedora top with bowler derby brim. Some panels it’s drawn as a fedora top and other panels it’s seemingly all derby. And always just plopped on his head at a weird angle.

The characterization isn’t only the problem of the artwork, however. Matt Fraction also has Strange behaving in a manner which he has never been previously portrayed. Stephen Strange has ever been a secretive and reclusive mystic. Not one to visit one local artist and sit, lotus position, in her living room to astrally project himself into the dreams of another. I don’t mind some kind of growth on the part of fictional characters, but I tend to like to see the character arc, and not have it be sprung on me, full-blown, with it happening between appearances. Even taking Brian Bendis’ treamtment of Strange over in the Avengers titles, this is an otherwise new, bright and friendly, touchy-feely Stephen Strange.
That is, except for when a modicum of personality might have been required; such as when Joe dies - Strange just abandons the artist friend; Abby, by spouting that Joe has just died as he runs out the door with Joe's notebooks. A moment to console Abby might have been nice. But sure... only a few pages to tell the story. Whatever. Still bad characterization. A one-line; "So sorry, Abby. Joe is dead. This is terrible! Are you going to be OK?" statement would only have taken the space of one word balloon.

And, as the title of this blog post will allude, there is one HUGE friggin’ problem with this story, and truthfully, the main reason that I decided to write this review. While Doctor Strange is in the dreamscape of “Notebook Joe”, he has a 3rd eye visible on his forehead.

This has always, ever been the actual EYE of AGAMOTTO, released from its housing in the amulet, that would alight upon Strange’s brow, to help him see into the realms unseen. NEVER, has there been any other eye to perform that task. And with the EYE of AGAMOTTO’s apparent destruction in the pages of NEW AVENGERS v2 # 6  (as detailed in this epic post [HERE]), this shouldn’t be possible. Perhaps this is a “lesser quality” Eye, made manifest via some incantation, but alas, there is no indication in this story of the origin on this eye. It is just there.
Is this the fault of the writer or the artist? If in the plot, then Fraction needs to bone up on the mystic weapons that Strange has at his disposal. If it’s to be a new trick up Strange’s sleeve (or between his eyes), then the method of its appearance should have been revealed in this preview story. It’s already been stated that this Defenders series is being produced “Marvel style”, with the writer producing a basic plot, the artist drawing the pages by extrapolating events from that, and then the writer scripting the events as portrayed in the artwork. Due to this process, it is possible that Terry Dodson drew the eye on the forehead as a reference to Doctor Strange’s abilities of old, without knowledge of the history of the EYE – purely as a visual treat. It has, sadly, been well over a decade or more since any story has had Doctor Strange call the Eye to his brow, so it is likely that there are many new readers who may not know of the history of the spell/effect/visual. Sure, it's cool. But there is a method and reason for it that is not being explained - or even possible in the classic usage. Either way, this team needs to cram on Doctor Strange history. Or at the very least, ask of the learned “scholars” at their disposal – be it on the internet (I’ll be glad to offer any help to their questions) or old-school comic historians like Peter Sanderson.

Considering that this story, and the issue it appears within, is to be a big, important showcase into the workings of Marvel’s upcoming year of output, it should have been a product of nothing but the very best that the creative teams could produce.

Sadly, nearly each of the 7 total short preview stories were of equally bad quality.
Either poor writing, rushed-looking artwork, or flimsy plots marred the bulk of the project.
For those who wish to know, the other stories were:

Behold the Watcher
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Javier Pulido

Nova: Harbinger
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciller: Ed McGuinness

Age of Apocalypse: The Myth of Man
Writer: David Lapham
Artist: Roberto De La Torre

Scarlet Spider: The Scarlet Thread
Writer: Chris Yost
Penciller: Ryan Stegman

Coldmoon & Dragonfire: Yin and Yang
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Salvador Larroca

Doctor Strange: The Shaman of Greenwich Village
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciller: Terry Dodson

The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Bryan Hitch

Each of these stories are lacking in any real "wow" factor. The Bendis Avengers tale being the possible best, purely due to the severity of the alternate future being shown wherein Ultron rules all. Unfortunately, it acts purely as a set-up, giving no information whatsoever as to the story at large.

The others:

Coldmoon & Dragonfire are Marvel's new "Wonder Twins" (siblings who have opposite powers but they are stronger when in contact with each other). A lame attempt at new character creation.

Scarlet Spider: purely trying to cash in on those fans who long for the crappiness of the 1990's Clone Saga debacle.

Age of Apokolype: Yet another alternate X-Men future, but one where humans are the hunted, near-extinct species fighting against the ruling mutant population.

Nova: Harbinger: The Phoenix force is coming! And Jeph Loeb attempts to write it. (And "Epic Fails" - a joke you'll get when you read this tripe.)

And... Behold The Watcher: An unknown race is seeking the Watcher's intel, and is planning on killing him to get it. Writing is substandard and the art was a poor man's Steve Ditko.

All in all, I feel that this issue was more of an afterthought, to cash in, and the quality present in this POINT ONE issue seems to support my belief. If not, and it was a planned-in-advance "event" - as reported - then the editorial staff didn't ensure that only the very best quality be present in this 2012 primer.