Tuesday, December 18, 2012



I'm presented with a slight bit of a conundrum in this blog post.

For you see, there are any number of ways with which I can present my thoughts...

I could follow the path of published history and, while doing so, insist upon the old axiom that those who ignore it are destined - or more appropriately; are doomed - to repeat it.
(In fact, this post is a revisiting of an earlier post from when Doctor Strange first took up his black & red new costume [HERE])

I could also take the tack of a designer; whether graphic or more accurately; of fashion.

But since the points which I wish to make are varied, and circuitous, thus it's probably best that I just touch upon the switchpoints as they come, and let the train of thought follow the tracks that are laid.

And so...

Once upon a time…upon having bested Dormammu, the lord of dark magicks, in order to safeguard our world, the Ancient One did bequeath unto his pupil, Doctor Strange, a “new cloak, and a more wondrous amulet”, which he did wear thence for many years.

Ditko Designed. Ancient One Approved.

That is… until recent years, when he no longer felt worthy and forfeited them, along with the mantle of ‘Sorcerer Supreme’ to another – Doctor (Brother) Voodoo. 

(The fact is that neither Cloak of Levitation nor Eye of Agamotto were ever a badge of office, or a pre-requisite possession for only the ‘Sorcerer Supreme’ – but many a modern Marvel writer and editor said it was to be so, and thus… it was. So, we won’t inquire why the new chosen Sorcerer Supreme never even wore the Cloak – and never properly utilized the Eye.)

As history has repeated itself, Stephen Strange has once again saved the world, this time by utilizing dark magicks, and as such had the Eye and Cloak bequeathed to him once again by his venerable Master. 

(Despite the fact that this was not the first time that nearly identical events had occurred - all without Strange's defeatist attitude, or the contradictory manner with which he regained his ability and title.)

What is important is that Doctor Strange is once again Sorcerer Supreme, and as such (for some reason that only Brian Bendis believes) he is able to once again wear the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto (which was supposedly destroyed... but... I'm not getting into that now either).

All this, while true, is not the point of the post... but what is the point is the trappings - the prizes bestowed - for Strange's return to prominence: The Cloak of Levitiation itself - and the Eye of Agamotto - as well as the garments worn beneath them.

Stephen Strange is returned to his proper station.

For you see, as of the end of Brian Bendis’ run on New Avengers, those powerful mystical artifacts have been returned to Stephen Strange. But not all is returned to the way it was… for in the interim, Doctor Strange had garnered a new look – stylish and different. Yet, now that the Cloak once again rests on his shoulders, the Eye residing at his throat, the dynamic between old and new styles leaves much to be desired.

If it were to be the Cloak, draping over the slightly looser-fitting black panels of his new garb, then I would be pleased – immensely. 

Doctor Strange's previous, most recent look.
Dashing, dynamic, decidedly different.

Unfortunately, Mike Deodato, the artist to render his newest look has instead turned Strange’s black costume into a standard superhero set of tights. Thus, all sense of magic and regal bearing is lost.

Much like the short-lived (and ill-advised) superhero suit Strange wore in 1969, this new look is a wrong-minded attempt to turn a sorcerer into a superman. A look which was similarly attempted again in the 1990's and again in the early 2000's... all to limited tenure, and a lack of interest.

Strange Superhero

What problem this also presents is that when the cloak isn’t being worn, Strange is basically standing around in long underwear that gives him a silhouette of a naked man. A body-stocking works well for some characters; Spider-Man for example, but the fact that in this modern version, Strange’s head is exposed and shows a man of no minor years wearing a form-fitting suit, so now he must be drawn overly muscled.

Were his black outfit to be the same one he wore earlier in the year (mostly in the DEFENDERS vol.4), looser-fitted, with the flowing “tails” extension that obscured much of his hips and legs, then it would be fine. That would give him a look that could stand alone without the cloak.
A look, very much like the one he wore in Neil Gaiman's '1602'.

Strange : 1602

This, much like Strange’s original outfit, with its billowing tunic and black leggings, the silhouette garnered would be balanced, the aesthetic, pleasing.

With or without the Cloak, Strange presented a commanding figure.

Oh, and don't get me started on the fact that while the black and red "Defenders" suit looked awesome, the round surrogate "Eye" belt-buckle was a confusing addition. This is made doubly-so now that Dr. Strange has regained the Eye of Agamotto - so that now the viewer's eye is drawn from one golden circle to the other; basically drawing your eyes to his crotch.

Don't believe me? Here... try not to look.

You're playing "Connect the dots" in your mind... aren't you?

Now, onto my biggest peeve about the redesign.

Designed by Steve Ditko, the Cloak of Levitation has always been more representative of a priest’s vestment; with gilded edging that leads up to the entire shoulder area and behind the back of the collar, just behind where the wearer’s head would be. All the rest remained a deep, rich, lustrous red.

advertisement teaser and a panel from Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa. art by Dan Green

Thus, it remained until artist (and Editor-in-Chief) Joe Quesada began changing the gilded areas of the collar.
First, he claimed the entirety of the back of the collar for the golden, gilded material…

Daredevil v2  #5

Next, he (and others) instead reversed the areas of gilt and red so that the band of golden edging now worked its way across the outermost ridge of the cloak’s collar.

This is the manner in which the Cloak of Levitation has been portrayed recently; from cover art, to video game design, this is seemingly the new arrangement.

But, dare I say it… it looks horrible.

Perhaps it is merely because I am used to the way it was designed and drawn for over 40 years, but I don’t think it’s merely that. I also dislike the loss of a priestly look that this new design dictates. For if the gold area is no longer across the lower head area behind the collar, then the broad shoulders must also lose their golden area, (sadly, something that many artists have already nullified over the years), since the headpiece was an extension of the shoulder-work.

I also dislike the imbalance the new look gives to the overall design of the cloak. With the exception of Gabrielle Del’Otto’s rendition of a “battle armor” type of look for Strange – wherein the golden edging on the cloak WORKED, as it made the sharp, edged horns of Strange’s cloak into gleaming golden daggers. A weapon all in itself. Form and function.

Mystic Warrior!

The collar-edging did have a precedent, however. In the 1990’s Strange did for a time forego wearing the Cloak, and instead adapted, first a "robe of levitation" and then a “trenchcoat of levitation” (interpolating some of the cloak’s edgework – and magic – into the new garment). These overcoats did have the golden edgework around the collar as well, but since there were no “horns” to draw attention, it worked. 

The same type of design was adapted into the Amalgam version of Doctor StrangeFate.

Thus we are brought to the modern age, and an artist; Steve Epting, who has drawn Doctor Strange in all his various forms; classic style, 1990’s metrosexual, 2010 plain-clothed mystic and now a hybridization of sorcerer and superhero.

So, while I did hope that he would render Doc with the proper overall design, I can see by the advance previews that with regards to the cloak at least, Steve Epting is following suit by whatever template was left by Mike Deodato at the end of New Avengers.

Look closely at panel 2. The top edge of the Cloak's cowl? Yeah... WRONG.

I can only hope that Epting has the sense not to draw Doc in a skin tight suit, but we can see that the variant cover by Dale Keown does indeed show him thus attired.

I can hope for a change. This new cloak design should best be seen as a design aberration, best deterred from with a return to the classic design of old, and the skin tight super suit should not be used for the master of the mystic arts.

Marshall Rogers totally grokked Doc.

The only thing assured about the repetition of history in comics - as well as the fickle nature of fashion - is that eventually... all things revert back to their original nature. So, it is with every hope that, in time... Ditko's original version will return.

Take a look at Dormammu’s “new” look (first seen in 2005's “Defenders” mini-series), and compare it with Strange’s “new” costume.

Don't forget to look at the initial design notes for Scarlet Witch’s new outfit.

Black and red, with a long, flowing “coattails” for each?
Coincidence? Maybe... Stylin'? You betcha!

Tamam Shud!


Mario Di Giacomo said...

I honestly didn't notice the change in the way the edging was portrayed... Huh.

That being said, I'm rapidly becoming of the opinion that the age of the Cloak may have passed. While at one time it suggested occult mysteries and the exotic Orient, nowadays capes seem to only trigger superheroic associations.

(For similar reasons, I dislike portrayal of mystical energy blasts).

What would be your favorite Strange apparel that did not include a cape?

H said...

When you play Marvel Avengers Alliance, the parallelism between Strange and Dormammu continues (they have very similar battle stances, though Dormammu is built far more substantially than Strange).

The red-and-blacks slightly disappoint me in M:AA, since the red symbol on his chest is indistinct and, without his Cloak, Strange looks more than a little reedy.

H said...

P, may I invite you to my Doctor Strange costume design contest?


It was inspired in part by this thread, though the idea had been kicking around in my head for a while. Come submit a new design for the Sorcerer Supreme and show off your design chops.

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

Dr. Strange just doesn't look right with his signature cape regardless of the rest of his costume. those water color renderings are sweet that medium really works in setting the mood for those scenes.

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