They say that the only certain things in life are death and taxes. Eventually, death comes to take us all away at some point. Even if one happens to the uber-powerful Sorcerer Supreme.
After a number of months of anticipation and curiosity, The Death of Doctor Strange #1 has arrived, and while it indeed features the death of the titular Doctor it has something far bigger going for it: life. Over the years comics have been much like other entertainment formats where big bombastic action and plots at times can overshadow character, people wanting more “bang for their buck.” Currently, there is a crop of writers across the industry that very much are moving things back to a place where great character work is on exactly the same level as the big action set pieces and mega plotlines.
Jed MacKay is most assuredly one of those writers, as books like Black Cat and Taskmaster and the recently launched Moon Knight can attest. We’ve had glimpses of a MacKay written Strange in the past, notably in some of the earlier issues of his Black Cat run, and here we get a full glimpse of how he approaches the character. All of the magical elements of Strange’s world are fantastic, but getting more time spent with Stephen Strange the person is one of the best ways to tackle this character.
These moments in the day of Strange really make the eventual moment where the title of the miniseries becomes reality even more emotional. We’re reminded that Strange is mortal and just a human-like so many others, and he’s well aware that one day his time may come.
Another thing that MacKay has really done spectacularly well is lay something out in the most offhand or direct way that still catches the reader off guard when it all comes together. Just check out the first issue reveal of Moon Knight #1 for a big example of this. In this issue, the captions from Strange throughout the whole issue, as well as some bits of Wong/Strange banter early on, are laying out something that comes into play at the end, yet the way it pays off leaves one’s jaw on the floor as it’s really unexpected.
When you need someone to bring a world like this to life, Lee Garbett and Antonio Fabela are easy names that spring to mind. Fresh off a truly amazing first volume of the creator-owned Shadecraft series, Garbett and Fabela bring their gorgeous stylings to this magical title. There is so much detail and emotion that just radiates off every single page, the personality of these characters and this world on full display. There is a healthy mix of light and dark found within the pages, befitting of a book with a supernatural status, which brings great depth to the work but also reminds of that fine line Strange is constantly walking in his position.
Truly I will never get tired of speaking admiration for so many artists that break out of the lines when it comes to how they tackle paneling. Garbett does it fantastically, using the white space in such creative ways to really showcase some of the action, allowing it to breathe and expand beyond its normal confines. Together he and Fabela make the supernatural elements within gorgeous in a creepy and mystifying way.
While the depth of detail is truly great, the less detailed montage shots and the use of close-up panels in that space is inspired. It’s all still distinct enough to know what is happening, but it hammers home just how much Strange has to do and matches his caption that none will truly understand.
Cory Petit helps tie all these elements together with his lettering work, being the one that helps spread those captions and dialogue in a clean and engaging way. There are a number of places where there is no dialogue on a page and just the captions, which are placed in a way that supplements the actions of the art beside it rather than taking away from it in any way. With the SFX there is an art to approaching them here, as Petit fills many of the pages with quieter more sedate but still vibrant bits of SFX. This allows for the later far bolder and louder and more immersive bits of SFX to stand out even more.
Everything about this issue just works and leaves one on the edge of their seat, hoping the next issue arrives sooner rather than later.
The Death of Doctor Strange #1 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.
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