Review by Ian Keogh
The short review is that Doctor Strange’s 2015 relaunch featuring the creative contributions of Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo is a genuine contender for the best Doctor Strange material ever. Their work coincided with the release of the Doctor Strange movie, and anyone curious about the comics after seeing it couldn’t ask for a better primer to the Sorcerer Supreme and his world. Because it’s so good, rather than the two paperbacks The Way of the Weird and The Last Days of Magic, you may want to consider this hardcover alternative.
It only takes a quick flick through to appreciate the visual innovation Bachalo brings to a series where almost anything is possible. Bachalo conceives new visual devices for a character who’s been around for decades, every chapter packed with detail, personality and imagination, featuring several stunning spreads. For Bachalo’s fans this premium version is surely a must buy because you’re not losing any art in the binding as in the paperbacks. Bachalo designed his spreads to avoid that as much as possible, but even the little loss evident in paperback isn’t seen here. It’s visual splendour, often with novel use of black and white mixing with colour, and when Doctor Strange is in another realm, it’s suitably disorienting.
Aaron’s innovation isn’t as immediate, but it’s there throughout the opening chapter, beginning with a sequence of a child’s nightmare, with a stop-off at the mystics’ pub before being introduced to Zelda, who has an unusual problem and sticks around for the duration. The main threat combines religious zealotry with advanced technology enabling travel across the dimensions, and a determination to wipe out magic as heresy in every single one of them. As long as you don’t consider the wider Marvel universe, the Empirikul’s arrival on Earth during the second half of this collection is a major problem for our good Doctor, who’s reduced to scouring the Earth for a few ancient artefacts retaining traces of magic. It’s still very good compared with standard Doctor Strange, but the quality dips after the superb opening half of the book.
The two halves are separated by an anthology section in which other creators offer their brief interpretations of magic practitioners who share Doctor Strange’s concerns. They’re all really nicely drawn, and James Robinson comes up with a neat twist to his contribution.
Aaron and Bachalo’s work continues in a second hardcover, or alternatively as the trades Blood in the Aether and Mr Misery.