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.


H said...

Here, this'll make you feel better.

It's Doc's ending from Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. It's short, but I think you'll agree it's worthy of him. Lots of tasty cameos, including the important one (the Sanctum itself).

~P~ said...

Thanks, H.

I have already seen it (of course... right?).
And I'm planning a little UMvC3 update post with that and a few other surprises.

But thank you for looking out for me (and our fellow Doc fans).


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