Review by Karl Verhoven
Under the Knife is Mark Waid’s farewell to Doctor Strange after four previous volumes of largely first rate entertainment bringing some new concepts to the character and his world. Among them, in The Choice, was the simple, yet brilliant idea of restoring Strange’s surgical capabilities. The accident that ultimately led to his study of all things magical and his becoming Master of the Mystic Arts, damaged his hands, preventing him from continuing his previously very successful surgeon’s career. That’s now an option again, and he’s performing operations in between repelling demonic intrusions.
Hospital drama coupled with the danger of those armed with mystical weapons makes for an engaging six chapters linked by ongoing threads, yet each with their individual crisis. Waid also throws in a couple of wild cards to keep readers off guard, one being the sudden reappearance of the previously very dead Doctor Druid. The how and why is a mystery, so is he threat or ally?
Kev Walker seems to be enjoying himself reformatting a number of old villains for re-use and designing some eye-catching new locations, ne’erdowells and processes. His Doctor Strange in flying action is fluid, but a couple of early villains are from the school of speaking through gritted teeth, although admittedly immaculately kept teeth. Perhaps villainy comes with a dental plan. The suggestion may be Waid’s but Walker showing how Strange sees worlds collide when assessing illness on the sample art is especially novel.
The main issue is the frequent appearance of mystical weapons, which accounts for the Wrecker providing far more trouble than expected for the Master of the Mystic Arts. It may have escaped your notice, but as part of his theorising about magic calling on powers, Waid has been giving Strange a few new catchphrases along the way, here including “By the icy tendrils of Ikthalon” and “Magnets of Mercilon”. Whether they become standards alongside the Vapors of Valtorr only time will tell. We also like “Timorovich, hand me the laser”.
Some characteristically nice minor touches add the metaphorical mayonnaise, such as the aforementioned Timorovich being the hunk found in all medical dramas, Strange given an office assistant who’s a superhero nerd, and his being nagged for prioritising saving the universe over an afternoon surgery appointment. Under the Knife cuts a fine rug until the big reveal near the end, which is certainly a surprise, but an implausible one. It might have been presumed Strange would have had less trouble picking up on a relatively novice user of magic.
That there’s so much going on overall means that ending isn’t a total letdown, and Waid has left some mysteries for other writers to pick up on.