Review by Karl Verhoven
The Choice is one of those graphic novels that looks so slim in physical form that there’s a distinct possibility it won’t offer value for money even at a cover price of $16. However, that depends on whether quality or quantity is the priority. Mark Waid and Jesús Saiz have provided memorable stories and polished art when teamed on earlier volumes, although Saiz didn’t contribute to Herald, and they open with two single chapter stories channelling a similar intensity, at least on Doctor Strange’s part.
Waid plays the first as comedy, using a family’s reactions as a glimpse into what’s normal for Strange clashing with their suburban reality. Strange is curt and deep in concentration while the family home is demolished by demonic intrusion, although there’s a slight writing flaw in two consecutive stories requiring Strange not to be distracted by anything. “It will require total concentration and utter silence. If I lose focus for a second, I fail”, is followed by “the slightest distraction could mean this child’s life”. However, in the second story Waid makes a fundamental change to decades of Doctor Strange continuity. It concerns something very necessary to Stephen Strange’s original transformation into Master of the Mystic Arts, but until now no writer has ever considered why the precision of his hands once permitting a renowned career as a surgeon can’t be restored. It’s simple, and compelling in the course of a heart-wrenching experience.
His capabilities are emphatically demonstrated by Waid and Javier Piña in the following story with a clever sequence involving a scalpel and an apple seed. However, a further smart scene highlights the cost of restored surgical precision. Throughout his run Waid has also presented a Strange strong on arrogance, a trait cultivated during his earlier surgical career, which often leads to an unsympathetic personality, and that manifests several times. Perhaps it’s something to be picked up on in Under the Knife. Piña’s a decent enough artist who doesn’t match the grander vision of Saiz.
Before then there are two further self-contained stories. Andy MacDonald’s art shines on Tini Howard’s extrapolation of Halloween at Strange’s place, but her characters irritate, especially Zelma, who’s written as if a 1950s sitcom stumbler bumping into everything. ‘Treat’ by Pornsak Pichetshote and Lalit Kumar Sharma is much more satisfying, a solo outing for Wong with a threat smartly established and well wrapped up in ten pages.
Beyond the restoration this isn’t an essential coda to Waid’s Doctor Strange continuity, but there’s far more good than bad, and if you’ve enjoyed the remainder of his run, this will hit the spot.