Page 45 Review by Stephen
Have you ever had trouble with your scalp? Itchy? Nits? Dandruff, perhaps?
"It started a few weeks ago. I thought it was just a rash, but then it grew teeth and bit my hairbrush. I went to the Emergency Ward, but they screamed and threw bedpans at me."
Poor Zelma Stanton! She's a librarian from the Bronx and, after hesitating on its threshold, she appears to have brought quite the infestation to Doctor Strange's architecturally outré mansion. But then it was never very safe in the first place.
"The Sanctum Sanctorum is the greatest concentration of occult esoteric and mystical phenomena in existence.
"It should go without saying, but do not touch anything you see, except the floor. And be careful where you step.
"In this house, simply opening the wrong door could literally unleash Hell on Earth.
"And then there's the refrigerator. Seriously, don't get anywhere near my refrigerator."
Fruity and flamboyant, this is a comedy accessible to all. Like Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee's self-contained INHUMANS graphic novel, it has a tried and tested appeal well beyond its Marvel Comics confines and you need know nothing before its Sanctum Sanctorum. But since we are in the business of beginnings: here, let me help you.
Doctor Stephen Strange was once a surgeon.
In a way he still is. It's just that the cancers he cuts from infested individuals are now more mystical in nature and often come with a great deal of grumpy attitude, several sets of serrated teeth and breath that stinks of sulphur. But I believe we're getting ahead of ourselves.
As a highly skilled and sought-after medical doctor Stephen had an ego like nobody's business until an accident crippled the nerves in his hands. He searched the furthest and most inaccessible corners of the globe for a miracle cure - which is an odd thing to do for a man of science or even basic geometry - and found instead The Ancient One, after which he earned his place as Master Of The Mystic Arts and the Earth's Sorcerer Supreme.
"The nerve damage never healed properly.
"My hands still ache and tremble most of the time.
"Which is why my handwriting is beyond atrocious, even for a doctor."
Anyway, as our story opens, instead of an ego he now has a libido, even when confronted by an insectoid laydee sucking away at the soul of a comatose boy. What does our Stephen Strange do?
"Quietly casting a spell of romantic divination to confirm my suspicions. I think she's into me."
Hmmm. I think the ego's intact.
He cures this poor lad but is then set upon by a gigantic, transdimensional lamprey. Easily dispatched. Easily, but messily.
So there's the soul eaters, the leech and now those ravenous mouths growing out of Zelma Stanton's head, wreaking havoc all over the mansion. His grimoires are dying, his magic is failing. Something is seriously wrong.
What is wrong is this: Stephen has forgotten a very important lesson taught by the Ancient One long, long, ago. The laws of physics apply equally to magic: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
"The harder you punch, the more it hurts you.
"If a normal punch takes a physical toll on the one who throws it, what do you imagine the price of casting a spell to be?"
For years now Doctor Strange has been casting defensive and offensive spells willy-nilly. In the back of his mind he's known there is a price to be paid but he's brushed all that under the mystical carpet and buried his head in the sand. And now it is far too late.
From the writer of SCALPED and SOUTHERN BASTARDS, this is by far the best book of DOCTOR STRANGE I've ever read. Aaron has learned Matt Fraction's HAWKEYE lessons well: if you want to make superhero comics more mainstream with a much wider appeal, then sever them from extraneous continuity no one can keep up with, make them fun, full of foibles and a humanity we can all comprehend.
It is also breath-takingly beautiful. How could it be otherwise from the artist of Neil Gaiman's DEATH?
Chris Bachalo brings you exquisitely crisp if not brittle, late-summer leaves and colours them to senescent perfection. Yes, even the season is in synch with the story. They're being tugged from the trees opposite a mansion which you might malinger outside as well.
Within you'll find precarious towers of leather-bound books, stacked like a spiral staircase free-floating in space. The actual staircases have been designed by Escher.
The dying realms are truly ashen. It might be nuclear but it's certainly not a natural winter, more like a volcano erupted across the void, its particles dispersed on invisible, cosmic currents to smother all colour in dust.
Something or someone has harboured a long-festering grudge against magic and is now taking revenge. Across the dimensions it has travelled, executing Sorcerer Supremes, sending waves of pathogenic pestilence ahead of itself, eating away at the fabric of hyper-reality and bleeding its energies dry.
"When all the birds fly away in a hurry, get ready for a storm.
"So if these are still just the birds.... what the hell is that storm going to look like?"
"Some days it sucks to be Strange."