Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Comic Review:
Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #9


Hello again, Dimension-hoppers!

I'm just going to do one major review tonight, and have a few quick review-type bits of other recent comics at a later date.

Today we'll look at:

Marvel Adventures Super-Heroes # 09
(Featuring Doctor Strange)


I'll be tackling this one as a solo entry, because I have the most to say about it.

I'll recap by pasting the information for the issue that I posted (HERE) back in December '08, when this issue was solicited (and then, I'll continue with current thoughts):


"GENERAL ALL-AGES" DOC appears yet again in:


The Story: A PENNY SHORT IS A DAY SAVED: In a time long gone, the Ancient One fought a tremendous battle against the Dread Dormammu, ultimately banishing the ruler of the Dark Dimension back to his own reality by power of a mystically binding contract. Unfortunately for Dr. Strange, that mystical contract is hundreds of pages long, and the Dread One has now found himself one nasty lawyer, and a whole lot of loopholes. Dr. Strange is going to need all the mystical might he possesses, along with the legal prowess of one Mr. Foggy Nelson, Attorney At Law, in order to send Dormammu packing, or maybe just to stay alive!
All Ages …$2.99
In Stores: Mar 11, 2009

I gave a very good grade in my review of the PREVIOUS "All-Ages-Doc" appearance, in # 05 this mag
(read it if you wish, HERE).
All I can say is that the solicit for this new issue seems JUST as full of possibilities for FUN as the previous one. And it's by the same great creative team:

So... I have nothing but good feelings about this one.
Probably not something I'd want in a "canon" tale (Foggy Nelson; Interdimensional Lawyer? Really??), but for a fun romp... why not?


That was the original solicitation and then my thoughts on it.
The solicitation text is still fairly accurate. Some minor changes were made to the issue - the title for starters (for reasons that will be obvious once you've read the issue).

Now titled; "Contractual Discombubulations", it seems as though it may have been an alternate offered due to possible editorial fiat (since the solicited title is a big "SPOILER").

It isn't just the new title that seems randomly inserted.
With what seems to me to be some poor characterization, it's almost as if Paul Tobin wrote a perfectly serviceable Spider-Man tale, then realized that the deadline was for a Doctor Strange story instead, and just decided to swap the names and basic plot points to better "fit" Dr. Strange.

Much like my reaction to their last go-round with Dr. Strange in the Marvel Adventures Super Heroes title, this issue is an entertaining, yet uneven story, both in writing and artwork.
However, the story, predominantly the "big fight" portion does give forth some new and interesting uses for Strange's magic and also offers some good visuals while doing so.

Allow me to post a few pages so you can get a feel for it.

*Click pages to enlarge*

and a few pages later...


OK. I'll start with the overall tone of the writing.
Let me just state (as I did for my - otherwise positive review of the prior Dr. Strange appearance in issue # 05 of this title [HERE] - a comic that actually WON my "Best of 2008" Sanctum Award [HERE]) that the seemingly perceived need to have "all-ages" versions of the classic Marvel characters behave in an overly "young" manner is just plain wrong-headed.

I started reading comics when I was fairly young, in the 01970's and Doctor Strange comics back then were heady and intellectual stuff.
Kids today are supposedly much more intelligent (or so I've been told) and are more likely to be able to appreciate writing that isn't dumbed down.

As stated, this felt like it was written for any number of other, more lighthearted, characters.
Spider-Man, for instance. Doctor Strange, especially as a part of his origin (even here in this incarnation) is that he's a former world-class surgeon, who has studies the mystic arts for decades... wouldn't speak or behave like a teenager. And yet, here - he does.

It's not just him, either.
EVERY character speaks much the same way.

The newly youngified "Jason" Wong is the "Asian Rick Jones" of the book.
Sadly, however, when discussing matters of mental acuity, art appreciation and the sorcerous capacity of squirrels, "Jason" Wong comes across as the much more enlightened and learned mystic - even though, we know (from issue # 5) that (in this all-ages Marvel Universe) both He and Stephen, together, studied with the (now still very much alive) Ancient One.
So, if they BOTH studied at the same time, and Stephen is the "Sorcerer Supreme", WHY is he seemingly less apt than "Jason" Wong?

The story does make mention that, while Wong is not a mystic master, he is good at "the research end of things".
Still, a practicing Sorcerer Supreme should be just as knowledgable (if not moreso - due to the practical usage of the knowledge) than a studious non-adept.

One of the first points to strike me as characterization missteps was having Strange not seem to "get" abstract art. I can understand that art appreciation is a subjective thing, and that no two people feel the same, or even see art the same way. That said, for a character like Stephen Strange, who walks the worlds of abstract landscapes (and most likely even has to think in abstract ways for the more effective application of spell casting), to have him NOT understand abstract art seems myopic. A nice "bit" of "characterization", but just NOT for Stephen Strange.

Even Dormammu; Dread Lord of the Dark Dimension, speaks and acts less like an all-powerful demonic entity and more like a sitcom character.

Perhaps in the most telling manner... the ONLY character in the issue who behaves in an adult (and slightly malevolent) manner is Dormammu's attorney.
(Lawyers... seemingly evil no matter WHAT universe they inhabit.)

One way to have made this issue infinitely better (and more appropriate in feel and tone), since this issue does utilize the trappings of magic, might have been to use a "young" magic-user, instead of Dr. Strange. CLEA, for instance, would have been perfect, as she was handled quite nicely in a similar type of "all-ages" tale in King Size Spider-Man Summer Special #1 , not coincidentally, also written by Paul Tobin.

Still, it's not all bad news here.
There were some good points to the story.

  • The opening scene at the Guggenheim Museum, while poorly written from a characterization point of view, was nice to see as a locale. It helped give the tale a real-world feel. (Although, having Strange walk about in the museum and on the streets in his full costume was a bizarre choice.)
  • Dormammu being treated as a powerful entity who shrugs off most of this still-wet-behind-the-ears Strange's spells was a welcome aspect to the character. One not seen in many a year. Strange being able to only hold his own for seven seconds was an interesting way of letting the reader know that his only way to defeat the superior foe would be through intellect (or luck).
  • The flashback scene of Dormammu battling the Ancient One was the highlight of the issue.

    Honestly, that was the only part of the comic that got my full interest - my pulse noticeably getting a "bump" while seeing those panels.
    What may have gripped my attention at first is that the artwork and coloring, in that scene, took a dramatic turn for the darker and more realistic, as opposed to the brightly lit candy-colored pages that represented the "present".
    From a writing point of view; that the A.O. was able to battle strongly against Dormammu for several weeks is a testament to the proper treatment of a true Sorcerer Supreme - especially of a character who is usually shown as a frail, waning old man.

    I could definitely find myself looking forward to reading a comic (or perhaps a series of back-up stories) about the adventures of an "Ancient One" in his prime. *

    Still, a mere TWO panels is all that flashback garnered, yet those two panels were the stand-out point of the entire issue.
  • The Ancient One explaining to Strange that the reason Strange couldn't hold his own is due to only studying for decades, while he, even before he was "ancient" had thousands of years under his belt. That's a much longer time-frame than he enjoyed in the "616" universe (being alive only 600 years or so there), but a nice admission that experience doesn't come quickly.
  • The Mindless Ones.
    No matter HOW they're portrayed - and HERE they're Dormammu's giant, red-hued minions (not his stone-grey bane as in the "real" M.U.) - I just love them.
  • The Artwork.
    Jacopo Camagni's pencils and
    inks by Norman Lee while not what I would consider "perfect", were indeed interesting and intricate. Much like their outing in issue # 5, the art in this issue also had varied inconsistancies. Some pages are strong and definitive, while others are whispy and tentative. It isn't as if the art line-widths were reflective of the action on their repective pages, since some strong action scenes had weak lines and vise-versa.

    The coloring by Guru-EFX
    may have been to blame for obfuscating much of the line-art.
    Their special effects colors are dazzling and well handled, and as I mentioned earlier, the panels of the Ancient One's battle with Dormammu were beautifully colored. However, much of the rest of the book was far too bright and cartoony.

    Still, if you like that in your comics, then kudos... you'll love the look of this book.
  • The cover.
    Cover artist Roger Cruz delivers a beautiful rendition of the mystic master.
    While the scene depicted has absolutely no bearing on the story within, it is a pin-up worthy piece of work. I also like that it addresses one of my nit-picks from Doc's last appearance in this title; that he would be best depicted drinking tea instead of a Starbucks-type styrofome cup of coffee. The levitating tea-set is much more appropriate.
    As a tea-drinker myself (never really liked coffee), I approve whole-heartedly.
  • The "continuity".
    The returned mention of the "Gnarian Orb" (last seen and mentioned in issue # 5 of this series) seems to be an item of power that will be brought up again in a future issue and most likely have a big story-line built around it. I liked the use of this "MacGuffin" in subtle ways and can only hope that the big pay-off is worth the repeated foreshadowing.


Anyone reading this review is going to walk away wondering just how I feel about it, since I offer both negative and positive aspects to the tale. Honestly, I'm of mixed mind to it.
It's unneveness is apparent, and hard to reconcile since this is a work by professionals.
Paul Tobin is, normally, an excellent writer. He does bring a cornucopia of good concepts to the story, as well as some interesting new "rules" for the magic (of Dormammu - due to the convoluted nature of his contract with the Ancient One), however, it is exactly those "rules" that, all-too neatly provide the all-too convenient solution to the threat of Dormammu.

With a contract with thousands of pages and clauses delineating the "rules of engagement" in complex and convoluted ways to better thwart the Dark Domain's overlord from gaining access to our world, the Ancient One was able to keep his nemesis away from Earth for hundreds of years - at least until Dormammu consults - a lawyer.
Clauses like "Dormammu can only perform magic while standing next to a red convertible" or "Dormammu must eat a hot dog if it is a Wednesday" are cute little hoops through which he must jump in order to conquer this world. Dormammu's lawyer has found a precise path of loopholes through which the conqueror can navigate, but it is exactly one of those loop holes that Dormammu so conveniently messes up and Strange and his legal team (and the reader - in a fashion like the child mysteries of "Encyclopedia Brown") are able to point to as the fatal misstep of the villain.

To me, the primary failing of the comic is the unnecessary treatment of Strange, a former world-class surgeon and a decades-long practitioner of the mystic arts, as an inexperienced youth. It's really that the visual of a 50+ year old man and the 20-something way he speaks are incongruous to each other.
That's not to say that it doesn't happen in real life. No one said that an adult man can't behave like a young man (as I can readily attest), but for someone like Doctor Strange, an "odd" personality is a much better avenue to take than a "young" one.

So... while this issue won't be winning my "Best of" Sanctum Awards next year (except for possibly the handling of the Ancient One in flashback - I mean... WOW.), it did have a few points to keep me hanging on, in hopes that the next installment will be a little better and/or offer forth a more proper overall handling of Strange.


* Yes. There have been a few tales of a "Young Ancient One" scattered out through the years - first starting in the early issues of Strange Tales, then in a few back-up stories and finally, in an aborted story that was to have been continued in Marvel's 2nd go at the "EPIC" line.
There's a wealth of material just waiting to be mined there.


Unknown said...

that Young Ancient One tale from the 2nd go at EPIC was AWESOME!!! too bad it never went anywhere. BOOOOOOOOOO to that!!!

Shadow Mood said...


Your review of MASH #9 was well thought out and appreciated. I enjoyed the humorous anecdotes, especially the reference to Encyclopedia Brown. Like you, I also enjoyed MASH #5 better than #9. #5 was fun without being childish or simplistic, even though it is an all ages book. I am in agreement with you that the 70's Doc Strange books (especially by Englehart) were very thought provoking. And this is true regardless of the age of the readers back then. Finally, I am looking forward to the next installment of MASH with Doc. Let's hope it is funner and perhaps a little more thoughtful. Peace!

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