Doctor Strange #388 is some of the most delightful nonsense you’ll read this week
If you didn’t pick up Doctor Strange #388 on Wednesday, then you owe yourself a trip back to the shop.
But Brian, I haven’t been following along.
So what? Neither have I. Didn’t stop me from enjoying this really, really hard. Marvel provides a helpful recap at the beginning to tell you how we got here, but honestly? I didn’t read it until after I’d finished the rest of the issue. Sometimes, you just have to jump right in and find your bearings without any help. And when you’re swimming in waters this deep and demented, there’s only so much good a small recap on a credits page is going to do you, and it does no justice to the bonkers oddysey that will be yours, courtesy of writer Donny Cates, artist Niko Henrichon (with color assists from Laurent Grossat), and letterer Cory Petit.
That’s not just lip-service so I can tag them all on Twitter, either (but I will tag them. I WILL TAG THEM). This book is a stroll through Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, if said factory were actually the soul of a mystical master and infested with demons. It’s weird, imaginative, trippy, bendy, and beautiful, and yet you can still read it and make some kind of sense of it because the people that made it actually know what the heck they’re doing (I’m looking at you, Mr. Petit).
Henrichon’s aesthetic uses a lot of lines, with lots of textural hatching. Even with few big fills, it feels inky, and the flattish coloring compliments it nicely. It’s a look that would be at home in an Edwardian detective story, but somehow also manages to be the dead-on perfect choice for this psychedelic romp through Strange’s necrotic nightmare.
Cates more than rises to meet the rest of the team. The dialogue—particularly that of the character narrating the first page—is outstanding, and the back and forth between Strange and this mystery narrator is delicious. I don’t know much about him, but I can’t shake this feeling that the narrator is a stand-in for Cates himself—a common-sense (ish) voice speaking into a world of fantasy and not taking any of its crap. Regardless, the narrator is a real highlight in an otherwise super-strong book, maybe worth the price of admission on his own.
But Brian, I don’t have room in my budget for another ongoing series.
Neither do I. But Doctor Strange #388 is actually good enough all by its lonesome. Sure, it’s a middle link in an ongoing chain, but it’s a blast by itself. And if you end up loving it enough to figure out your budget problem—tell me how that’s a bad thing?
It’s easy to get stuck in this mode of looking at the forest instead of the trees. We’re told that’s what we should do by the popular maxim, and event-based, six-or-twelve-issue comic arcs have conditioned us to think in terms of big stories. But there’s nothing wrong with popping in here and there to see what’s going on with a book. There’s nothing wrong with saying “this one issue is a piece of art that looks amazing and has great characters and dialog and makes me smile” and enjoying it for what it is. And Doctor Strange #388 is a piece of art that looks amazing and has great characters and dialog and makes me smile, and I think it would make you smile, too, and you should buy it whether or not you ever buy another one.
But Brian, I haven’t made mine Marvel in years because aren’t they really terrible anyway because the internet told me so?
I haven’t read many Marvel books in the past few years, either, because they exiled my family and I wasn’t nuts about the quality of some of the storytelling that was going on. But my family returns, and there have still been some gems along the way (including this one). And from the looks of things, there are a lot more goodies in the pipeline. Yes, we’ve been hurt before, and yes, we could be hurt again, but that’s Comics. Comics will take you to the highest of heights, the lowest of lows, and the middliest of middlies. It deals in hype and seldom has enough scratch in the bank to cover the checks it writes. But it also gives us books like this one, even in periods of transition when common sense (and common experience) would tell us to expect uninteresting filler.
But Brian, I’m out of objections.
Good. Doctor Strange #388 came out on Wednesday, but if you’re lucky, your shop still has a few copies. Go get one.