Wednesday, March 28, 2012


A while back, I posted an exhaustive, complete run-down of every love in the life of Doctor Strange.
Presented to you in order of their appearances IN HIS LIFE (not in publication history) - [HERE].

It has been updated a few times since it was first posted, because loves are always being unearthed - or introduced - all the time.

In keeping with my review of DEFENDERS v4 # 4 (as seen [HERE]), I have added the romance(s) of MARTHA, the follow-up relationship with MOLLY (as seen in DEFENDERS v4 # 1 - review of that issue can be found [HERE], with discussions on the sexual encounter [HERE]), as well as a few other discovered sexual partners of Doctor Stephen Strange (NURSE WILLIAMS, another nameless beauty, and a "creepy" comment about Namor's protege'; LOA).

They can ALL be found in the ever-growing, living, blog post that features every romantic link-up of Stephen Strange - [HERE]!



Thursday, March 22, 2012


Writer: Matt Fraction,
Guest Penciller Michael Lark
Inks Stefano Guadiano w/ Brian Theis
Colors by Matt Hollingworth
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
 Cover art by Terry and Rachel Dodson

 Variant covers:
"I am a Defender : Silver Surfer" promo art cover
Iron Fist Solo Shot by Dale Keown


"Misfits 1: Strange/The French Drop"


" 'Tis better to have loved and lost
than never to have loved at all."
-          Alfred Lord Tennyson

"I'm on your side
And here in you
my engines die
I'm in a mood for you...
...And love - is only Heaven away."

'The Ghost in You'
- The Psychedelic Furs

Defenders # 4 – a story of life, death, past, present, love, hate, self-loathing, desire, loss, recriminations and all of the above - all mixed together.

I am discussing, at length - and in hyper detail - a comic that came out a week or two ago.
I give away SPOILERS.
This is your only warning.

In the first of a proposed sub-series of issues focusing on the individual members of the Defenders; with this issue’s gaze centered on Doctor Strange, the story actually begins with most of the team – including the newest “member”; Prester “Omega”. 

They are gathered together in the Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange, as they strive to comprehend the mystery of the Concordance Engine which they acquired through the events of the previous arc. (Links to reviews of those issues can be found at the end of this post.)

In the first few pages, Fraction sets up a familiar side of Doctor Strange; the self-assured, level-headed, well-disciplined and learned man, who does what he can to utilize his vast library, patience and inquisitiveness to pierce the veil of secrecy about the artifact. In short: the classic Doctor Stephen Strange that we have, sadly, hardly seen in the Marvel Universe for many a year. Fraction also, in a brief span of a single panel re-establishes the old dynamic between Strange and his faithful manservant; Wong, wherein the servant is so attuned to his master’s thoughts and wishes that Strange not even speak them aloud for the dutiful Tibetan to carry them out.

We also are revisited by Molly; the “nubile, young grad-student” with whom Stephen Strange spent a wine-enhanced study-session (and the “tantric studies” that followed thereafter – of which I blogged about [HERE]).

But Molly, and her new brand of intimacy are not the only thoughts of love on the mystic master’s mind. For while, floating in the lotus position, meditating before the Concordance Engine, his mind dances across the thoughts of at least a few others… one of whom is Martha – a love long lost.

It is revealed that long ago, back when Stephen Strange was but a medical student, Martha was his grad student advisor. In the course of working so closely together – they fell in love. However, she left for another man and broke Stephen’s heart. Eventually she would marry, have a family, develop cancer – and die.

Strange’s secret wish, made before the Concordance Engine, is enough to bring her to his side – back from the dead (and at the age from when Stephen knew her, not her later self).

There are a few aspects to Martha that present problems to anyone who has knowledge of Doctor Strange and his romantic history (as well as his personal history/origins).

Matt Fraction unnecessarily introduces this lost love when there are already at least two pre-existing, in-canon women that would fit the bill (as showcased in my posted list of all love-interests in the life of Stephen Strange [HERE] - although, I have yet to add "Martha", or give an update for "Molly", but will do so for my next post).

The first was a fellow medical student with whom the young Stephen Strange fell in love – and yet never had the nerve to approach. Called “Alice Bluegown”, because of the dress she was wearing when he saw her, she was the end-all, be-all of Stephen Strange’s dream-love. Truly the mythic love of his life. The fantasy love that got away.

In fact it was only by the love that Strange felt for Alice that enabled him to be able to return to earth, and humanity, after he gained the god-head and became an all-powerful lord of chaos, after defeating Shuma Gorath (in the classic 2nd volume of Strange Tales).

The introduction of Martha, as this “great , lost love” into Strange’s backstory immediately sets her up as a sub-level emotional attachment than Alice Bluegown, as the previous story set Alice as the one for whom Strange’s heart pined the strongest.

Maybe, Martha was the deepest ACTUAL relationship that Strange would have in his young life, but as such, she still could not hope to defeat the memory of a dream-lover. Still, perhaps the desire for Alice was burned away by the events in that old Strange Tales story, thus allowing Strange to “move on” from that desire. That might lead Martha to be next in line for his secret pining.

The other lost love was Madeleine de St. Germaine, nee Revell; whose “Strange romantic” back-story) is similar to that of Martha. A translator for the U.N., Madeleine was involved in an accident that nearly killed her – should have killed her - if it were not for the surgical skills of a young Stephen Strange, medical resident at the hospital where she was taken.

After he saved her life, they spent time together, seeing more and more of each other, for more than a year. They were inseparable. Yet, when he asked her to marry him she declined because she did not like the cold, hard, greedy man he was becoming. Her leaving broke his heart – and so his heart grew colder and harder still (as seen in the Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts series, issues 39-41 & Man-Thing v2 # 4) .

Either of these two women would have been perfect choices for Strange to summon forth via the Concordance Engine during a melancholy bout of loneliness.    

There could even be a third, similarly un-plumbed love-interest in the form of Amanda Payne. She and Stephen had become something quite serious and their relation only ended when he found that he must return to his duties as Sorcerer Supreme. (First seen in Doctor Strange; Sorcerer Supreme # 86.) But now that he no longer holds that mantle or responsibility, his mind could have easily wandered to thoughts of their time together.

You’ll note that I don’t mention Doctor Strange’s longest and closest romantic interest; Clea – daughter of Umar and Niece of the Dread Dormammu. The reason is simple. If you were to look at the artwork showcased in the thought-sequence as Strange ruminates before the Concordance Engine, that Clea is indeed pictured in the flashes of memory (in the narrow panel - next to last on the right).

Still, there is one other reason for Matt Fraction to use a retconned lover for his story: As opposed to Madeleine de St. Germaine – who was not in Strange’s field (and may or may not have been his elder at the time of their relations) – Martha is set up as not only within Strange’s field of study, but also that she was his elder and his advisor. 

This establishes the reversal of the dynamic between Dr. Strange and Molly the grad student. This is Matt Fraction’s way of showing the fact that sexual misconduct is not just committed by older men in positions of authority whom a younger student respects and looks to for aid, but that the gender roles can easily be reversed. It seeks to set up a means for an “out” to the inappropriate behavior of Strange’s sleeping with Molly. It attempts to use the “we were both adults, but even the man can get hurt” defense – and does so to point out that Strange was hurt by BOTH relationships.

Now, aside from the possible lack of research into Stephen Strange’s romantic history, there could be one further transgression that Matt Fraction may have perpetrated with his inclusion of Martha into Strange’s backstory.

According to some wiki and comic database sites, (including a Marvel wiki site : [Marvel.Wikia],) the MARTHA in this issue is supposedly MARTHA CONNORS; the wife of Curt “The Lizard” Connors. Her history is similar to that which is described by Doctor Strange in the issue: she married, had a child (although Strange says; “kids” – plural – and she died from cancer (Strange specifically stated ovarian cancer, but Martha Connors’ cancer was of a more general variety, becoming critical when it metastasized to her spine). Martha died in the mini-series; Spider-Man: Quality of Life (2002).

So, could this Martha be Martha Connors? Frankly, this should be impossible.

If Martha is indeed Martha Connors, and she was older than Stephen Strange (since she was a grad student advisor), then that would make Curt Connors older than Strange (or at least about his own age), which is impossible – as, according to Marvel’s own official canon of him, Strange was born in 1930 (Dr. Strange is one of the few Marvel characters not affected by Marvel’s sliding time-scale). Doctor Strange predates the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom. He is definitely older than Curt Connors.

This slight goes against one of my biggest peeves of comic writers who don’t adequately understand or research Dr. Strange:

  • Stephen Strange should not have any contemporaries. Since he was born in the fixed year of 1930, due to the effects of Marvel’s sliding 10-year timeline, everyone he knew in his “old life” of a surgeon should be elderly – or dead.

Still, even taking this gross error into account, with the exception of the Marvel wiki site (- although is wikia an "official" wiki, or just one of those that mirrors information from other sites? *UPDATE* This wikia site appears to be "open source", not official, and Martha's entry has already been edited) and one or two other unofficial comic tracking sites, I can find no statement by Matt Fraction to confirm or deny this Martha’s identity. On MARVEL's own pages, she is not listed as Martha Connors. I can, however, state that in MY opinion, Fraction does not mean for this to be Martha Connors. The reason is simple; in the story, Fraction has Martha state that she “…got old… and died.” And since Martha Connors wasn’t old, per se (but maybe “old” in the mindset of a twenty-something is anything over the age of 30?) then this wouldn’t be the same woman. Also, Fraction has Strange state that they don’t know what she might mean to a world where she has been dead for fifteen years.

Since Spider-Man : Quality of Life came out in 2002 and was not a period piece, set in the past, I feel safely assured that this is not Martha Connors. (Not unless Fraction didn’t research that series either – or that he has no knowledge or understanding of the 10-year sliding timescale.)

Removing the negatives from the equation (Martha’s unnecessary requirement to the story or her questionable history) we are left with an actual, honest-to-goodness love story. And a good one, at that.

Stephen Strange is a reclusive specialist, who has little time for relations of a normal variety (although, in time’s past; live-in, other-dimensional princess/disciples being the more convenient, professionally acceptable sort) . Now, while caught in a moment of weakness – of loneliness – his mind drifts back to a purer love from a simpler time. What middle-aged man (or woman) hasn’t done just that? Think of “what might have been”… the path not taken seeming ever greener than the road that you are on presently.  Even someone as mentally trained, as in harmony with himself and the aether, and with the mystical training that Strange possesses… can fall victim to a moment of melancholy. Of a brief span of nostalgia. Of loneliness.

(And if there ever was a man alone… it is Stephen Strange. As one who has seen the myriad dimensions, and been beyond the pale, has outlived most of his contemporaries and bears the weight of an entire dimensional reality… Dr. Strange could feel alone while in a crowd. And for someone who constantly requires solitude and introspection, Strange always seems to surround himself with distractions and bombastic super-folks, to possibly help lessen that sense of aloneness.)

And so, while alone… meditating before the Concordance Engine, trying to clear his mind, yet being unable to do so as the weight of the years and his responsibilities having suddenly caught him at a low ebb… his mind wanders and he thinks of a girl he used to know. One that got away.

It doesn’t matter that years have gone by, or that he knows why she left, and that it might have been for the best – or even that he knew she had a long and happy life with a husband and children… the heart and the mind often do not agree when love is concerned.

So, Stephen and Martha pick up right where they left off; spending their days and nights – in love.

But with the inclusion of the new one-night-stand; Molly, who isn’t quite done with Stephen Strange, we now have an awkward love-triangle.

It’s never a good thing when two of your “ex-significant others” meet. Even worse when one of them is the result of an inebriated night of bad judgment and the other is a corpse, newly resurrected by a magic wishing machine. It is worse still when both are approximately the same age as each other, but you are now significantly older when having slept with the 2nd than you were with the first.

Molly, as we now know her name (as she was nameless when we first met her in issue # 1) is forced to return to Strange’s mansion in order to try to borrow the book that she originally consulted during their “study-session”; the “Liber Amsterdam”. We also find out that the thesis paper that she is working on is about the magical and arcane influences in pre-war architectural harmonics. Basically, “did people really try to design ‘magical buildings’ and why”. She is seen holding a copy of The Power of Limits By Gyorgy Doczi.  (Maybe she should have consulted Tobin’s Spirit Guide for the back-story on Ivor Shandor, or sought the aid of Dr. Venkmenn. - But of course, he’d try to sleep with her as well, so…).

I need to discuss the artwork for a moment.
Guest Penciller, Michael Lark (with inks by Stefano Guadiano w/ Brian Theis) brings a rich, realism to this issue that helps to solidly ground it in a “reality” that is required for this type of “real world” adult story to work. The comic-y art of the Dodsons might be fine for punch-em-up super-heroics, but this subtle and nuanced tale asks for a much more mature and sedate hand. Michael Lark provides lush interiors, replete with every detail and exteriors that are photo-referenced, but do not seem out of place with his renderings. His people are real. His settings are real. The expressions and sublime emotions that cross the faces of his characters are real.

But when mystical, otherworldly effects and moody atmospherics are called for, Lark is able to deliver – ably assisted and enhanced by the colors of Matt Hollingworth. If this weren’t an issue of the Defenders, it could be considered to be one of the best looking Doctor Strange issues ever, as this is a deeply personal story of Stephen Strange. Still, it does win for one of the very best drawn Defenders issues of all time!

I would kill to have this piece of art. It is that nice!
Might need to print it out as a poster.

Awash in chiaroscuro, Lark’s artwork is the absolute best thing about this issue. I can find no wrong in it whatsoever (unless you want to nitpick that he drawn Doc's armbands as cloth glove/sleeve thingies, but that is hardly his fault since Terry Dodson neglects to render these articles in a specific manner - which I commented on in my review of previous issues). This wonderful artwork is also due to the inks of by Stefano Guadiano w/ Brian Theis, who eschew the traditional hatch/crosshatch techniques in lieu of a wash/drybrush inking style.

In keeping his characters more real, however, Lark does lose the hot, ‘Zooey Deschanel’ caricaturized look that the Dodson’s originally gave to Molly, instead making her much more “average” – but much more real.

When Molly revisits the Sanctum Sanctorum and comes face-to-face not only with Stephen Strange, but also with his new/old lover; Martha, the discomfort is palpable. Matt Fraction gives Molly’s inner thoughts the exact urgent desire to be anywhere else that anyone in a similar situation would think and feel the same.

When she leaves a second time, she is in no mood for the next creep that crosses her path.

So as to prevent this comic from being renamed; ‘Strange Romances’, we are given the B-story of  that next creep: Tyson, a young, rival magician who covets Strange’s stored wealth of magical knowledge and artifacts, and finds a dark way to set out acquiring them.

While walking away from Strange’s house, holding the ‘Liber Amsterdam’, Molly is confronted by the villain of the story, who recognizes the tome that she now possesses. Molly tries to distance herself from him, only for the rogue to use street magic in order to discretely hide a mystical homing device; a coin with a personal sigil marked upon it, within the pages of the book.

This coin is the locus of the young mystic. Imbued with a minor spell, he uses it as an object upon which to focus his mind and to send his spirit form.  This is basically astral travel, so I’m unsure as to why he calls this; “Remote Projection”. “Remote Seeing” is a totally different thing than astral travel. In astral travel ones spirit form leaves his body and goes forth to explore the world around him (or, if he has the mystical skills; other dimensional planes). In remote seeing, one is able to project one’s consciousness to a certain location – usually one that is pre-determined.

Travel in this manner; utilizing an astral form, but to a specific location (where his locus is) mixes the two methods into one. But while his astral form seems to be limited to manifesting where his sigil-item is located, it is definitely his astral form in use, and not just his consciousness.

He uses this method to go to Molly’s home, and then, after she has read the book (somehow without her discovering the coin) and returned it to Strange, to invade the Sanctum Sanctorum itself.

Could it be this strange mixture of methods is what allows him to invade Strange’s Sanctum, by-passing whatever mystic wards that may be set in place? Perhaps the barriers and defenses are unable to detect such a minor breach. Or is it that, a much more low-level sorcerer than previously, Dr. Strange no longer has any such wards in place.

For whatever unknown reason, he is certainly unaware of the invading spirit within his home. There should be no reason why Strange can not see the astral form. Perhaps, like the wards around his home, it is the low-level method of astral seeing in use that is too crude for Strange’s perception to recognize. It isn’t until he is asleep and his subconscious personal defenses - a third-eye - activates, so that Strange can see this astral invader.

Much like in the POINT ONE issue, there is the usage of this “third eye” upon Strange’s brow. In all previous iterations, this was always the Eye of Agamotto, released from its housing that would alight upon Dr. Strange’s forehead and would allow him sight-beyond-sight. Yet, here (as in the POINT ONE issue) this seems to be a new spell in use – one that activates when what is hidden lurks within close proximity. Matt Fraction has used this 3rd Eye twice now, but has given no hints as to its origins or even what it is or how Strange has come to use it.

That is simply poor storytelling.

Still, when this invader; Tyson, is within the walls of the Sanctum, he/it is able to bear witness to the Concordance Engine, “Prestor Omega”; the Engine’s catatonic guardian, and Martha – newly resurrected from the dead. With this information, he attempts to blackmail Dr. Strange with the threat of exposing these secrets to the authorities.

Here Strange is written in an uncharacteristic manner. Not only does Strange first threaten to scatter Tyson’s soul to hellish places, but he then bows to the threat of the evil intruder. The Dr. Strange of old would have let the police in, and simply cast an illusion spell obscuring the truth from their eyes, and/or wiped their memories and either also done the same to the young magician, or set him up to seem “insane”, so that the authorities would “lock him away” somewhere, where his outlandish tale would seem the ravings of a maniac.

Yet, in need of aid, instead of going to any number of his associates (even Wong, for that matter) Strange rushes in the dead of night to the apartment of his jilted lover, Molly, begging help to whisk Martha to safety.
(Say what you will, but for a man to intentionally get two of his lovers together – without himself present – is a man who is able to walk in the flames of hell unscathed.)

However, Martha's second leaving of Strange seems... anticlimactic.
It is convenient for her to leave, so the status quo remains unchanged at story's end, but I can truly see no reason for her to go.
She says that she is cooped up in the Sanctum, hiding from the outside world (due to her status as "deceased") doing nothing but having sex all the time, like teenagers... but that's all the reasoning she gives.
She simply tells him she wishes to leave, and Doc quotes Aleister Crowley's "Do what thou wilt."

This is, of course, before Tyson's invasion and threat, and then THAT is given as the reason for her need to depart.
But again, I ask; "why?"
If Doctor Strange knows what his plan is to be in dealing with the upstart magician, then he need not hie her to safety. She will not need worry about Tyson.
If it is that she needs to go "find herself", well, I do hope Doc gave her some forged documents and ID, because otherwise, she's going to have just as much explaining to do, as if she were exposed by Tyson in the first place.

It simply seems that Matt Fraction needs her removed from the story. She's served her usage. Wham, bam, thank you, Ma'am. Luv you, buh-bye!

In dealing with Tyson, here now, Doctor Strange takes one further step down the dark path that Marvel has been sending him as of late.

After bringing Martha to Molly for help in getting her safe passage in order to start a new life, Doctor Strange then locates the mystic talisman left by the rival mage. He places the coin within a glass jar, so as to entrap the astral form of the invader. The jar must have a spell cast upon it so that the astral form can not escape, as it is obvious that the young mystic is indeed imprisoned therein.
He then places the jar in a bookcase that is filled with a multitude of other, similar jars.

Strange has now trapped the spirit, the astral form, of another within a mystic prison - a fate that will bring about the DEATH of the young mystic if it is not returned to his body within 24hours! While trapping the consciousness of another would lead to brain-death, it has long been a canonical constant that if the astral form is trapped away from the body for more than 24 hours, the body will die, dooming the astral form to a limbo state for eternity.

Has Doctor Strange just consigned this young magician to death & limbo?
And does the presence of other similar glass jars filling a wall-sized bookcase evidence that he has done this before?
(Even if Doc released Tyson before the 24hour time period were up, he would still have to deal with Tyson's threat of exposure. Unless Doc casts the same forgetful spell that I mentioned... in which case, why not just do so at the onset?)

So, is Doc supposed to be a much darker magician these days?
A darker person?

Is that what's going on?

Personally, I'm good with that if they just outright SAID SO.
Seriously, I could do with a darker tinge to a sorcerer. Makes more sense, really.

But, instead, we have Doc doing dark deeds and harsh tactics, (here and in other recent Marvel titles,) but with no explanation.
Instead, we are to assume this is just how the writers feel Strange "would behave".

While I am all for a darker, creepier version of Doctor Strange (because, let’s face it, mystics should be dark), I am uncomfortable with this level of dark (borderline BLACK) magic for a hero.
Certainly, in fiction, mystics do employ such harsh methods to ensure their secrets and/or the well-being of the world, but this isn’t a DC Vertigo title, where such a twist can be expected. This is a mainstream, “616” Marvel Universe comic.

Would I like to see Doc use such techniques if this were an “adult” title? Sure. Why not?
But as a mainstream title, this is the wrong thing to do.

Also, since I’m on the subject; with what is obviously a mature-themed issue (sexual relations and the following “daylight interactions”) it is to be expected that the dialogue must discuss it, in an un-couched manner. I am far from a prude, but it always strikes me as unnecessary when a mainstream comic book deals with sex in such an open manner – not utilizing double-entendres and veiled meanings.
While on the phone with a friend, Molly is told that she “needs to get laid”, and she then replies that she needs to get a chastity belt to prevent future “underpants dropping” mistakes.

I often wish that I could hand a comic that I enjoy to one of my nephews, nieces or even adult family members, without having to later rethink that action due to such story elements.
Yes. I know. Comics are not just for kids. The medium is an artform as old as mankind itself – as we have millennia-old cave-paintings to prove that point, but still, it seems that in the attempt to put on its “big boy pants”, the industry mistakes overt sexual discourse and “adult content” as being adult.

Either way, one of the reasons that I have always loved Doctor Strange comics is that he IS a sexual being. He has always had some kind of open air of sexual living. More than that of any other comic book character.
So, while I don’t want that to go away, I’m merely wondering if, for the benefit of securing future readers, comics might want to use more veiled dialogue, implying the sex going on behind the scenes (as Doc comics used to) rather than actually crossing the line to “indie” or “underground” comics and slapping it up in our faces.

Side notes and thoughts of things to come:

Matt Fraction continues to utilize the margin blurbs, like the 1970’s Marvel Comics of old to advertise other cool comics, as well as use them for more meta-textual insights. He mourns W.M. “Bill” Hicks; comedian, social critic and satirist whose forte’ was drug humor as well as shining a light on the disparity of the multiple levels of society. Fraction also reveals a source of inspiration for the story; Tom Waits’ classic song of long lost love; “MARTHA". I would also say that Fraction also uses the blurbs to give leads to the “soundtrack” of the story, by hinting to what seem to be little subconscious thoughts going on between certain characters, but are also really song cues of such hidden gems like , Skeeter Davis’ “What Am I Gonna Do With You?”, and “You Are My Sunshine” by  Oliver Hood. Strangely, it comes across more like a tween-age girl with her iPod/mix-tape list, to tease his favorite songs, since he re-hashes song lyrics and phrases that he has already utilized in other, older projects, like:  Liz Faire’s “Shane” (revisiting his old 2004 mixtape phrenology), and a call back to a “secret page” of his Casanova comic.

When I was a kid, my sister (then a tween or a young teen) would write little short stories using nothing but the titles and lyrics of assorted songs. They stories varied in quality, but in doing so she showed some creativity.
Matt Fraction is doing a shorthand version of that.

But to be fair, the songs chosen are cool and apt.
And to join in solidarity, I tossed in a poetry quote and an appropriate song choice of my own at the top of the review. (Tennyson and Psychedelic Furs)

The issue ends with King Namor telepathically contacting Doctor Strange and informing him that a coincidental image of what appears to be a Concordance Engine located deep in the ocean’s depths.
Thus, we know that there are most likely more than one such engine, and that like the teasers used to hype the comic, the Defenders need to “SHUT THE ENGINES DOWN”.
But before they do so, I hope to see to what destination the Engines bring us.

That one page where Doc sits before the Engine shows a few intriguing panels, which hold potential secrets and clues to what may be coming in the future for this title. We see images of Clea, other women, a mother & child, a hand holding a revolver (which looks much like a familiar ELF WITH A GUN), and more.

Since this issue, warts and all, is much better than the opening arc’s previous three, I am happy to say that I am on board for the foreseeable future.
At least, until I know one way or another if Matt Fraction has fuel for his Concordance Engine, or if it is merely running on fumes.


Reviews to previous issues in this series:

DEFENDERS # 3 review [HERE]
DEFENDERS # 2 review [HERE]
DEFENDERS # 1 review [HERE]
DEFENDERS PREVIEW review (mostly about the sexual congress of Dr. Strange) [HERE]
DEFENDERS prequel story review from POINT ONE # 1 [HERE]
and a Special Edition looking at Matt Fraction's possible merits or faults re: the title [HERE]

Sunday, March 18, 2012


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
 Cover art by Terry and Rachel Dodson

 Variant covers:
"I am a Defender : Red She-Hulk" promo art cover
Silver Surfer Solo Shot by Adam Kubert


This review is for a comic that is, as of this posting, one month old.
I reveal SPOILERS!
If you haven't yet read the issue, and don't want to know what happened - look away.

Everyone else... read along.


In wrapping up the first story-arc, Defenders (vol 4) # 3 needed to deal with the multiple threats, and threads, of: Prester John - wielder of the Evil Eye, the Concordance Engine and its mysterious guardian, and Nul; Breaker of Worlds, along with the troubles brewing within the make-up of the team itself.

It barely succeeds.
Or... more deals with the various threats by not dealing with them at all.

Truthfully, I wasn't even going to review this issue, as it was such a poor issue overall (and I had basically stated most of my thoughts in a few quick 140-character sound text bites over on my Twitter stream, on the same day that the issue dropped).
But, I knew that I should get to it, and since I NEED to review issue # 4 - that just came out - I couldn't justify skipping over this issue. So, in my usual manner, I bloviate at length and really get into the crux of this issue - for you.

Starting off right where last issue’s cliffhanger left off; The Defenders (Doctor Strange, King Namor, Silver Surfer, Iron Fist & Red She-Hulk) are at the mercy of Prester John – who has the Surfer neutralized by the power of John’s arcane weapon; the Evil Eye. Capable of potentially destroying the Surfer (but definitely causing him unimaginable pain),the threat of the Evil Eye, wielded by the insane Prestor John has the other Defenders stand defeated, waiting for a chance to turn the tables - hopefully before the threat of Nul arrives.

Prestor John, assured that Nul will come and destroy the Concordance Engine - and thus, the universe - John will be able to harness that destructive energy to propel himself (and his mutated animal crew) to a new reality.

However, the real problem with the issue is that as big and bad and deadly and ultimately destructive as Nul is hyped up to be, he is, in fact, a worthy bearer of his name, as all he ends up being… is nothing.

Both figuratively as well as (in the end, quite) literally.

In point of fact, Nul was nothing more than a poor plot device to have a reason to gather this team together. He/it served no purpose. He/it had no real impact on the story (the assorted deaths of those whose paths he crossed notwithstanding). He/it was in essence… a NUL. A waste of valuable storytelling time and real-estate.

The same end result could have been accomplished simply by Dr. Strange sensing that something was amiss at Wundagore Mountain, and that he would need assistance to handle it, as he is no longer the “Sorcerer Supreme”. Done. (That was the basic premise for the old “Secret Defenders” title from the 1990’s. And truthfully, with this team’s mission statement; “Secret Defenders” is a much more apt title.)

The only reason for NUL’s inclusion was a thin tie-in to the lackluster ‘Fear Itself’ “event” – and thus, the progenitor of this Defenders comic “spin-off”.

Yes. There is a brief fight scene between Nul and the Defenders, if a fight is what it can be called. There were a few panels of Red She-Hulk punching it, and then a panel or two of the team uselessly showing how bad-ass this monster is by their being unable to stop it.

This totally unsatisfying “battle” also contained a panel wherein Red She-Hulk (and Namor?) criticize Doctor Strange for standing around wiggling his fingers while the rest of them get the work done. 

"I'm crushing your head... I'm c-c-c-c-rushing your head!"

Since Strange’s magic is (and should be) usually invisible to the human eye, it is understandable for Red-Shulk to think this way. It is not appropriate for Namor to do so, since he is well aware of what a wiggle of Strange’s finger can do. However, since Strange’s cast spell (which he states is the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak, but really does not look anything of the sort) are ineffectual against Nul, perhaps his teammates CAN see them, but simply think his stymied attempts are feeble in the face of their opponent.

Either way, this is all until, in the end, the newly introduced “Other-Prester” – a silent guardian of the Wundagore Concordance Engine – steps up and, with but a touch, erases Nul from existence. Literally Nullifying it.

This anticlimactic resolution to the “big bad” not only sidelines the team whose title this is, but also fails to deliver any real sense of danger or proposed ultimate-doom that was promised. It also points out how unnecessary this team (and title?) is, because the same would have occurred even without the presence of this team. If Nul had touched the Engine, “Other-Prestor” would have zapped him. The end.

While just prior to his/its being erased from existence, writer Matt Fraction has Nul manage to punch the reality-altering Concordance Engine (as if the phenomenon known as the “Superboy punch” wasn’t derided enough) and with those two blows cause waves of reality-distortion to emit from the machine.
These waves alter reality, – at least somewhat – but most visibly by altering the garb of the Defenders - ostensibly transforming them into the clothing that best suits their inner sense of self: Red She-Hulk now wearing some Frazetta-inspired Woman-Warrior “armor”, Iron Fist now shirtless and looking more like a pirate or a prior incarnation of the Iron Fist, Namor his simple swim-trunks and Doctor Strange once again wearing his “blue-faced” costume, complete with Cloak of Levitation.

Quick change! Even easier than the "Bat-Pole".

Here, I need to point out an error made by artist Terry Dodson. While caught in the reality-distortion effect, Dodson draws the blue face of Doctor Strange as a mask – one which Strange is able to simply pull off from his head. That is wrong. The blue-face should truly be… his face.

The blue-face of Doctor Strange was originally conceived by Strange (waaaaay back in Doctor Strange # 177) because, at the time, the villain; Asmodeus was wearing Doc's face and form while Doc was trapped in another dimension - the magic rule being that Doc wouldn’t be able to return to our dimension since his “space” was occupied by another.
(Yeah… it wasn’t a good reason. Truthfully, the real reason was sales. Doc’s book at the time was in a slump and the editors thought that perhaps if Doc was more of a superhero, things would work out. They didn’t.)

Anyway, Doc cast a spell upon himself to change his very form (“for many are the forms and faces of the man called… Doctor Strange”), thus allowing him to return to earth.

Thus, Terry Dodson drawing the face as a mask isn’t accurate. (And while I am on the subject; why the heck are Strange’s costumed-feet all “Elephant-like”? Are those “footie-pajamas”?) However (and here’s where I go for my “No-Prize”) I’ll choose to believe that this version of Doctor Strange’s vestments come from a reality wherein he no longer needed to alter his appearance, but still liked the identity-hiding look, and thus simply chooses to wear a stocking mask. This would also account for the appearance of the Eye of Agamotto about his neck, since the Eye was destroyed when Doctor Voodoo went into battle against an entity calling itself ‘Agamotto’ in the pages of New Avengers v2 # 06 (my review of same can be found [HERE]). Still, I can’t tell if it is merely artistic interpretation or a purposeful detail, but Dodson does seem to draw the Amulet hollowed-out, as if the Eye is no longer within. Sadly, the art of Terry and Rachel Dodson is all too often far too rough (or adversely; cartoony – either sloppy or adversely; sparse) in places to tell for sure.

But, if these garments are his own from THIS reality, that would be ok, as the Cloak of Levitation is still intact (as it was never worn by Doctor Voodoo – instead being shown only once to exist, stored within Voodoo’s own mystic sanctuary). Also, my research has shown that on one other occasion, the face was erroneously drawn as being a mask (by Matt Haley in Kurt Busiek’s Defenders spin-off title; The ORDER # 6).

As the true hero of the story; “Other-Prestor” also reveals that he, as do all “Prestor/Knights”, possess the sign of the Omega ( Ω ) on his palms. This leads to the mystery that perhaps there is some link to the old 1970’s character; Omega the Unknown, himself an old-school Defenders tie-in.

As for Prestor John, his plan of riding a wave of reality to a new dimensional existence was thwarted as the Silver Surfer damaged his space craft and hurled it into deep space. Tiger Pilots and all.

Speaking of the Tiger Pilots, Matt Fraction continues to utilize the meta-effect of the page-bottom captions for mixed purpose and to mixed effect. Not only paying homage to those old-school blurbs of 1970’s Marvel comics, Fraction also continues to use the blurbs as messages to the other characters and to the reader as well – some times giving potential clues as to the mysteries within the story.
At least, that’s what he says in interviews. It’s probably a little too early to say that any of the previous messages have come to any real fruition.

The issue ends with Strange claiming that the best thing that they can do now (since all the obvious threats are vanquished) is to steal the Concordance Engine.
Maybe it’s just me, but having Strange say that they should “steal” it leads to the connotation that they are going to do something “bad”.

Also, since where goes the engine also goes “Other-Prestor”, you can’t really say you’re stealing the engine without the tied-in crime of also “kidnapping” the engine's near-catatonic guardian.
Instead, Strange should have stated that they need to “safeguard” it/them.

Heroes being heroic and all that.

All in all, this issue (and the arc as a whole) was a big let-down. It merely served as a delivery mechanism for the Concordance Engine to come into the possession of Doctor Strange and the Defenders.
But, it really needn’t have taken 3-issues and $12.00 (not counting the costs of multitudes of variant covers) to do so.

Am I being too harsh on this issue (and this first arc)? I don’t think so.
While not horrible, it has hardly been any great piece of work.

Matt Fraction’s story was flimsy and still has yet to pay any true dividend on its promised “weirdness” and “universal impact” on Marvel comics as we know them.

The Dodson’s artwork is (as I mentioned earlier) either (and at times both) cartoony or sloppy – with occasional beautifully drawn moments interspersed.

The coloring by Sonia Oback still has me at odds with myself as to whether or not I like it. Seemingly colored on a Ciniq tablet, it is both: lovely and gaudy, intricate and confusing, dazzling and muddying. I’ll wait and see how it goes in the next few issues.

Clayton Cowles' lettering more than does the job required. I imagine he puts in a great deal of effort in keeping everyone’s words and “voices” separate and distinct. If he has to work out an arrangement with Sonia as far as orchestrating a key to keeping track of which colors are used for which text boxes… that would also be a task in itself.

One last thought: re: Doctor Strange’s new costume – in these three issues the design of Strange’s wrist bands as well as the color of his gloves has been inconsistent.  In the span of three issues, the gloves have been either BLACK, RED or non-existent, with Strange’s hands remaining “flesh-colored” – and back and forth again. While it seems to be that the decision is for the gloves to be red, might I state that from a visual and design sense, BLACK gloves with the RED wrist bands would be a better choice.
If the bands and the gloves are both red, then it won’t be long before some artist just draws a pair of red gloves.
This is especially so, as Terry Dodson still hasn’t decided what to make the bands look like as of yet. They look different In each panel. Are they etched with detail? Or not. Is there some sort of gem attached? Or not?

As I mentioned in an earlier review (of Doc's new costume [HERE]) these gauntlets were originally designed by Gabriele Del’Otto (first for a series of cover images and then in use in recent issues of New Avengers). Dell’Otto designed them as being metallic, with etched details and a gemstone on each one. They were also colored as being red with gold edging.

If this look were to be replicated in this title, then perhaps the red gloves could be maintained, as the gold edging would break up the block of red color between band and glove (but still, black gloves are better – or no gloves at all).

Otherwise, I do like Strange’s new look. It’s not as good as his classic sorcerer’s vestments, but since Marvel insists on playing him as a super-hero, it is a good looking super-hero costume for him.

Still, it appears to be a FUN book, seemingly upon which everyone is enjoying their work. As long as this first opening arc is but an overture to future direction… with all the bigger and better growth which that promises, I will gladly stay on board.

With Strange now in possession of the Concordance Engine, in the future he need be concerned about the potential for succumbing to its madness-inducing effects. As Prestor John fell victim to its maddening embrace, and as “Other-Prestor” also seems to be losing his grasp on reality – and as “Notebook Joe” (from the Defenders prequel story – From Marvel Point One issue {reviewed [HERE]}) also tumbled headlong into an altered state, so too must Strange be ever on guard.


A review of Issue # 4 will be forthcoming in either a matter of hours or a day or so days from this posting.
I'll be sure to link to it here.

*NOTE - UPDATE* Here it is:
DEFENDERS # 4 review [HERE]


Reviews to previous issues in this series:

DEFENDERS # 2 review [HERE]
DEFENDERS # 1 review [HERE]
DEFENDERS PREVIEW review (mostly about the sexual congress of Dr. Strange) [HERE]
DEFENDERS prequel story review from POINT ONE # 1 [HERE]
and a Special Edition looking at Matt Fraction's possible merits or faults re: the title [HERE]

Saturday, March 17, 2012


MAN-THING wants to wish you all a 
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
But, trust me... you don't want to find his 4-Leaf Clover(field Monster)!

*click to embiggen*
Yes, I am reusing this image from year's past.
Recycling is the "green" thing to do, you know.

Be safe out there everyone!

If you do drink,
do so responsibly.
Don't drink and drive.

And if you need a ride home, Man-Thing now acts as personal transport (as seen in issues of The Thunderbolts)!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ROM Swiped-Knight
Rob Liefeld obviously owns some ROM comics


Lately, I find that I unintentionally give less attention on this blog to ROM SPACEKNIGHT than I would like.

Oh, no.
Not at all.

 ROM SPACEKNIGHT cover art by Frank Miller.

It isn't that I like ROM any less than the other characters that garner my interests (Doctor Strange & Man-Thing, among others).

Oh, no.
Not at all.

In fact, ROM was integral to my discovering Doctor Strange (as related in this blog post [HERE]).

However, since ROM is sort out of the public eye (no comic in many decades and with the rights tied up in legal limbo - no comic soon to be forthcoming either), it's easy to focus more on characters that are still current.

But that isn't to say that others don't keep ROM fresh in their sight.

Oh, no.
Not at all.

Many comic creators still dabble with the various ROM characters; the Dire Wraiths, Hybrid and so on, who ARE properties of Marvel comics.

And still, some creators keep their ROM comics out where they can obviously be used as creative fodder.

Rob Liefeld is such a creator.

He obviously has a copy of ROM # 17 lying around.
How do I know?
Well... take a look at this cover that Rob Liefeld drew for the current issue of HAWK and DOVE (# 7).

Look familiar?
Take a closer look and then check out the cover of ROM # 17 at the top of the post.
Sure, he changed some of it a little... but that is a swipe of the ROM cover if ever I saw one.

For those who may not be privy to the term, a "swipe" is when an artist basically copies another, earlier work and doesn't give any proper credit to the original artist. They just copy it and call it their own.
That is not to be confused with an "homage". An homage is an intentional replication, with some alterations, as needed, intended to remind viewers of the earlier piece - or just give a creative "nod" to the one that came before.

Homages are tributes to great artists who came before.
Swipes are not.

Oh, no.
Not at all.

When I first saw the cover to Hawk and Dove # 7, I immediately did a "double-take", saying essentially; "What-the-wha?"
I KNEW I saw that cover pose before.

The arm position of Hawk, with one clawed hand swiping down.
Heck, Hawk's entire body is in the same position as Wolverine's.

The furtive, helpless pose of Dove, held aloft by a much more powerful captor, standing spread-legged in a power-pose.
I KNEW it... but I originally thought it was a swipe of a Spider-Man cover.

But then, it hit me.

Because, it is not the first time that Mr. Liefeld used a ROM cover for his own ends.

Oh, no.
Not at all.

Take a look below.

New Mutants v1 # 91
See the background?
The stone cavern wall with the skull lodged in it, and the skeletal remains in the water?
Even the pose of CABLE and the fact that his enemies lurk around the corner...

Now take a look below, at the cover of ROM # 9, by Michael Golden.


Rob Liefeld isn't very good.

Oh, no.
Not at all.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

- 1983 -

Taking a break from other blog topics, I am posting this next entry in response to several requests to see this particular item.

Far be it for me to deny the fans that for which they clamor, even though this was originally to be posted later - as both; a part of a series of posts about the various Posters in the Sanctum, as well as a series about all the various weird items that feature ROM; SPACEKNIGHT.

However, this item is one that not only showcases ROM, but would (almost *) be the 1st ** that would feature all 3 of my blog's "Founding Fathers":
DOCTOR STRANGE, ROM: Spaceknight, and the MAN-THING.

from 1983

A rare promotional item, measuring 34" x 22", from 1983, when Marvel was still publishing their MARVEL TEAM-UP title.

Sent to comic shoppes at that time, this wasn't something that most fans would have been able to get their hands on, as it was usually displayed in the comic store until destroyed by time, faded by the sun, or simply discarded for the next promotional push.

The weird thing is, ROM never made it to be featured as a guest star in Marvel Team-Up!
He did, eventually make it as a gust star in the companion title; Marvel Two-In-One (starring The THING) in issue # 99, but never was there a Spider-Man / ROM team up.

Man-Thing was featured, at least twice, in the series, and Doctor Strange was a guest, several times over.

Now, I can hear everyone saying; "Now wait-a-minute... I can see Doctor Strange and ROM, but I don't see the Man-Thing." And you'd be correct.

Which is why I noted above with the asterisk  " * ".

* For you see, the poster in its final - printed - incarnation is not what was originally intended.
No. For next you shall see the original pencilled artwork, by Ron Frenz, of what he had originally designed the poster to be.

You'll note that many of the characters in the original penciled version are either in different, some might note; less-dramatic poses, or are shifted around with other characters when it came to produce the final piece.

Note: Doctor Strange is more menacing, but with no spell-casting gesture, ROM has no Neutralizer being used and Man-Thing is present just behind the hooded cowl of Moon Knight.
Other characters are also less dynamic or are totally relocated or deleted - compare and contrast with the printed version to see all the differences!

The final product is indeed better than the original layout, with more action-oriented poses and characters flying in the air (as I'd imagine Ron Frenz wasn't sure how much room was needed up top for logos and type copy), but alas... poor Man-Thing was omitted.

I can ALSO hear you saying; "Hey! Didn't the 'MARVEL UNIVERSE' poster come out first?"
Well, no.

As I noted above with my double-asterisk" ** " was that I was intending to get to that as well.

** In the interest of providing all the info that you might want to know - since I did mention it - while released AFTER the TEAM-UP poster,  the FIRST (and only) poster to feature all 3 of my "Blog Founding Fathers" would be the famous, and highly sought giant-sized mega-poster of:

from 1985

I am only showing this version - where I highlighted THE THREE, as I will be posting a solo entry for this poster eventually.

This GIANT poster (seriously, it's like 4 feet high by 4 feet wide!) is what was designed for the original 1982 - 1984 series of the OFFICIAL HANDBOOK of the MARVEL UNIVERSE, by Ed Hannigan - and inked by Joe Rubinstein. When all 12 original issues were placed in order, their wrap-around cover art would form this image (with some differences, as a few costume designs and artistic tweaks would be made when this poster was printed, in 1985).

This poster would be re-released twice more - once in 1988 and again in the 1990's (iirc?)  in conjunction with Dymanic Forces. The way to tell the original is by the date printed on the side.
Also, the Dynamic Forces version has a Marvel and DF logo on the bottom left and I believe is much smaller than the original.

But even THIS poster would have been a not-so-distant third to another poster that ALMOST edged out both of the above images...

1982 - By Michael Golden.

Here, in Michael Golden's illustration are featured but two of "THE THREE" - this time with ROM not present, as ROM was a licensed property and not one of Marvel's own characters.

This 11" x 17" print was first available as a mail-away offer (for 50cents) found in many comics in 1982. The print came folded (2 folds) along with promotional materials from other publishers and outlets.

The print was later made available in the 1998 as a prestige edition litho by Dynamic Forces with all new computerized coloring and effects.

Like the M.I. poster above, I'll be devoting a post to this wondrous poster, its history and incarnations at a later date.

Now, can't you see why I was originally intending to wait before posting this item?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

And Now A Few Words From...


And now a few words from IRON FIST:

from DEFENDERS v4 # 1 - by Matt Fraction & the Dodsons

Iron Fist expresses 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.
However, you can also add; "and Blogging about Comics"... since I have SO MANY posts in the half-ready stage - but just can't seem to get the time to wrap up:
- my multi-point series of posts on the "5 Fingers of Death for Doctor Strange"
- Reviews:
  • Defenders v4 # 3
  • Defenders v4 # 4  
- And many other cool surprises!

I'll have to toss a few "stand-by" posts up on ye olde blog (although, nothing is "filler" - just stuff I was hoping to do later).

Expect one tomorrow.