Tuesday, April 5, 2011

STRANGE THING... You make my heart sing!
You make everything... GROOVY!
LOVE... Like THUNDERBOLTS Straight to My Heart!
- Part 2 -

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A Succubus, A Sorcerer, and a Steel-Skinned Sassmouth walk into a bar...

As I stated at the end of my last post (Part 1 of this 2-part "Ode" - [HERE]) issue #155 of  THUNDERBOLTS, could perhaps be nominated as a contender for my all-time favorite comic book.
(qualifier: At least my all-time favorite that teams Man-Thing with Doctor Strange - and yes, there have been several others over the years).

The reasoning for this rather bold statement is arrived at by the combining of  the following:

- MAN-THING -
...with a new, heretofore unknown name and purpose.

- DOCTOR STRANGE -
...shown regaining much of his cache' of knowledge and ability.

- SATANA-
...combining her dangerous and heroic aspects.

- MYSTICAL  HIDEAWAYS of  the TIBET / NEPAL Region-
...and mention of Doc's time with the Ancient One.

- JEFF Freakin' PARKER! -
...my new Fave comic writer of the past few years.

 Jeff Parker starts the issue off strongly... and not just a bit "strangely" by immediately rectifying a glaring mistake made by Brian "I don't read or care what came before, I just make 'em up as I go along" Bendis, over in the New Avengers.
In recent issues of New Avengers, Bendis had Dr. Strange (and Strange's manservant/assistant/acolyte; Wong) move into Avengers mansion, because (Bendis believes) Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum is uninhabitable - despite several issues of other titles' showing Doc and/or Wong actually fixing up the place.
Parker puts that mistake to bed by explaining that Doc has set up a mystical doorway from his Avengers Mansion attic-space to his Sanctum-proper - for anyone worthy of admittance.

"I really set up the mystic portal to keep out that hack; Bendis!"

In this way, Parker sets up an elegant solution to Bendis' ham-fisted handling of the former Sorcerer Supreme, by allowing Strange to actually live in his own home, all the while permitting other writers' (Bendis) to have Doc keep a room in the Avengers' mansion.

This is not the only saving grace that Jeff Parker blesses Stephen Strange - and us - with, after long mistreatment by Marvel writers and editorial direction. In this entire issue, Doctor Strange is allowed to handle mystical threats with credibility, obvious experience and deft ability. He is able to wield magicks, of major and minor merit - successfully, never once failing or seeming inept or as one who is any less than a former Supreme Sorcerer.

Parker's Doctor Stephen Strange is a wizened, learned, adept, who just happens to be without his big guns and/or trappings, yet who is still a proficient user of magic.

Even when Strange is forced to admit that he is no longer up to being able to easily deal with a situation - like Satana's protective barrier - Jeff Parker allows Strange to show that he is still up to the task... just that it might be a little more difficult to accomplish.

How so unlike the handling of Strange by his main "caretaker", Bendis, whom, it seems, can find no other way to show Strange as being "weakened" than to show him fumbling, failing and fretting at every challenge.

Also gone are the useless "footnoted" spells that Bendis seems to feel "authenticate" his new "rules of magic" (despite that, here, already is a break in those aforementioned rules, and thank goodness!) - as Parker allows Doc to cast spells with elegant simplicity.
One such spell being; "I bequeath the Flame" - as a method to keep Luke Cage (and Man-Thing) from freezing as they stride, ill-prepared, in the Himalayas of Nepal.

That's a nifty trick to know - as I feel the cold far more easily in my advancing years.


While the hermetic hobbling that Marvel has administered to the long-time Master of the Mystic Arts has indeed made Strange more of an "earth-bound" mystic (at least inasmuch as he no longer just snaps his fingers and "Deus ex Machinas"-away his foes), Jeff Parker remembers that being a magic-user is less about "powers" and more about knowledge - that once learned, can not easily be eradicated.

In this, Jeff Parker writes Strange beautifully. He has the good Doctor balance the abilities and techniques of magic casting in an almost D&D (Dungeon & Dragons) sort of way. There are checks and balances in magic. Preparations and costs. And some instances where you are out of your element and must make due with other means.


Check out Man-Thing's "woah" pose in the last panel. Isn't he adorable?



When faced with actual elemental entities, Strange knows that they are in their domain, and he - especially in his depleted state - can only keep them at bay long enough for other spells and methods to work. In one instance, to "affect what you can" and toss an invulnerable fighter into prime logistical placement... and in another instance, to set up a counter-spell to nullify its anima.


Jeff Parker understands magic!
(Or at least, he may have read my blog-posts on this point.)

The fact that in these instances - as well as the end-game gambit (which I won't give away) wherein Strange out-thinks / out-maneuvers his opponent, something he used to do ALL. THE. TIME. back in his best-of days... shows that in this writer's hands, Dr. Strange is once again a true MASTER of the Mystic Arts!

Other things that I love about this issue are the depth being given to, and obvious love being showered upon, the Man-Thing! Suddenly, as revealed by Satana, Man-Thing has another "name"; "the Vagornus Koth", and perhaps more insights into his purpose. Perhaps, not all of them "good"...

This page has one Man-Thing and lots of "Woman-Things".


Satana's good and evil natures are played quite well here. As either evil succubus, or mystic "witch", she has always been unevenly portrayed in her previous appearances and incarnations. It seems that Jeff Parker is playing upon that schism of her persona for full effect. We'll soon see what the plan is for her, but I for one believe that she will be given all the benefits deserved. I am gladdened to see her in the company of Doctor Strange, once again, as she has been an ally of his on more than one occasion
(from her time as one of Strange's "Witches" -WITCHES mini-series - and going as far back as the time she sacrificed her own life in exchange for his when he died, after his being turned into a werewolf... Marvel Team-Up v1 # 80-81)

Something that I was not happy about was that the battles with the elemental creatures ended with no real sense of accomplishment. The first one having been fought and defeated almost entirely off-panel in the span of time it took to flip the page. Another mild gripe is that Daimon Hellstrom, the 'Son of Satan' is, once again, played as a bit of a punk (not "punk" as in "punk rocker" - although his shirtless mosh-pit fashion might make such a connection, but as in "this loser is a punk"). Having him show fear (or at least a "healthy respect") for his sister's wrath, seems a bit out of character. Although, as of late, that "walking-the-line-between-nice-guy-and-hell-lord" IS his character.

Another mild qualm is that Doctor Strange looks more like Joseph Stalin or some East European version of J. Jonah Jameson than himself. However, this is the only misstep of artist Kev Walker, who otherwise turns in a stellar issue! Walker avoids the pitfall of having Doctor Strange always use the American Sign Language finger gesture for "I love you" (or "devil's horns") when casting spells.
Instead having the former surgeon's nerve-damaged phalanges contort into weird gesticulations.


American Sign Language" symbol for "I Love You"


Also, as usual, his Man-Thing is picture perfect. I can FEEL his Man-Thing. (Now isn't THAT a sentence that can be read into all wrong...) Kev Walker's "Swamp Walker" has a unique combination of dumb, vegetative body with deep, soul-searching inner-being. The eyes of the Man-Thing have never been more piercing, calming, alarming, imploring or endearing than they have in the pages of this title.
That added spark may also be due to the work of color artist; Frank Martin, whose shades and hues add all the right touches to the settings and characters at play in these pages. Still, as good as his work is on all the other aspects of the title, I can't help but feel that he is giving extra attentions to making the Man-Thing more alive.

As I have stated in other posts, THUNDERBOLTS has become THE comic that I must read first on its given release date. It has revived my waning interest in modern comics and infected me with that youthful love of the medium that I first felt when reading quarter-bin copies of the original 1970's Man-Thing series.

This issue, with its combining of so many elements and characters that I love, and handling them, and all aspects of their personalities and histories with respect and a deep, knowledgeable understanding, places it at the forefront of many, many comics that I have read over the years - putting it in a top-tier of "BEST COMICS"...

I can't help but think that unless something truly remarkable comes out in the next 9 months, that THUNDERBOLTS # 155 will win my "BEST OF" SANCTUM AWARD for 2011.

Thank you, Jeff Parker.
Thank you, Kev Walker.
Thank You Frank Martin.
Thank you to all involved.

---
"Tamam Shud!"
~P~

6 comments:

Predabot said...

Seems like you enjoyed the comic... XD

Maybe ask Parker for an interview? ;) I'm sure he'd be delighted. ( although perhaps short on time)

So, how do you view this idea of using Satana as the new Thunderbolt-recruit? Does she fit into the mold of someone deserving, or perhaps being able of redemption? The character has certainly gone trough some very much so, like her brother, dark incarnations since her debute.

I think she will make for an interesting contribution, not so sure she has any plans of becoming a hero however. ;)

David H. said...

i just realized ~P~ how much you must be loving the comic book biz right now between having your favorite three characters (sort of as far as ROM goes) in currently running titles between Thunderbolts and Annihilators. did you ever check out that video review link i left on a previous posting? anyways, i liked the clip art you provided here it was a good read. i also think Man-Thing is draw well but as far as his "Man-Thing" goes it's all yours bro. i've got my eye on Satana who's taste in clothes i see hasn't changed much since the 80s. but believe me i ain't complaining!

hey Predabot, how's your ROM drawing coming along? i think i heard about some ROM fans who are on a hunger strike until you get it done. their deaths will be on your conscience.

Predabot said...

It's coming along... XD I got some other stuff that turned up, but it's getting there. I think it's almost 70% done.

Just needs a bit more work, before it's of a semi-professional quality. =)

Mike said...

Excellent, excellent post. I started following Thunderbolts when Cage took over as leader and Man-Thing was added to the roster (was that #144 or so?). I've read all the issues at least twice :) The art has been superb, with Marvel even managing to find a great fit for a guest/temporary artist. I'm so satisfied with this title right now that I really do feel like a kid again when a new issue comes out :)

Great post!

Chrisfs said...

Hi,
Just stumbled on to this blog and am happy to find another fervent Dr Strange fan (acolyte?). I am glad he is part of New Avengers and now Thunderbolt(!?). What do you think of the new way to caption spells in Avengers? Quoting a spell name and book. While iffy at first, I am getting to quite like it. I only hope they maintain some kind of continuity. I think I caught them stating an offensive spell was from the book of the Vishanti, which I believe is only supposed to have defensive spells.

~P~ said...

Hi Chrisfs,

Welcome to the Sanctum.
You kinda caught me at a lull blog-wise.
Lots going on personally, so my posting had been sparse.

However, there is a TON of old stuff here that will assuredly be of interest.
Just zip around.

As for your question...
I am not really a fan of Bendis' use of spell, name, chapter, verse and book usage.

It's a clunky method, and one ripe for mistakes - or as seen in this reviewed issue of T-Bolts; one that can be ignored completely.

If you want to read my many reviews of Bendis' treament of Strange and his handling of Magic... follow this link:

http://sanctumsanctorumcomix.blogspot.com/search/label/Bendis

(or just click the "BENDIS" search-word on the list to the right column.

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