“The last issue of Doctor Strange by mortals Chris Bachalo and Jason Aaron”, this over-sized thirty-page periodical firmly focuses itself upon the dangers of casting magic within the Marvel Universe, whilst simultaneously providing plenty of pulse-pounding perils for its 31,497-strong readership, courtesy of its leading cast inadvertently crash-landing “in the place where lost things go” and having to fend off an attack from the formidable-looking Lava Men. In fact, just this title’s opening sequence alone, which somewhat humourlessly depicts a smart-talking beagle stealing the Wand of Xyggondo from the House Of Infernal Mysteries’ auction room in Barbados, perfectly demonstrates its Alabama-born writer’s thinking that “everything [which] Doctor Strange does… comes at a cost. You can’t tamper with the Mystic Arts… without there being some toll to be paid.”
Interestingly however, the narrative to “The Weird, The Weirder, And The Weirdest” actually places Zelma Stanton far more in the spotlight than the former preeminent surgeon, quickly depriving the Bronx librarian of her mighty mentor and leaving her somewhat defenceless upon Weirdworld. Admittedly, the soon-to-be sorcerer’s apprentice hasn’t actually been abandoned by the Defender, as he’s unconscious close by fighting off the lethal effects of a poisoned arrow deep inside a cave. But it is the young lady who has to daily hunt for tantalisingly tasty grubs and snails with which to feed the pair, as well as single-handedly face the Witch Queen Le Fay’s fiery warriors from the Kingdom of the Torch; “I put an arrow in the wizard, its point dipped in dragon bile poison. There’s no way he’s still breathing.”
In addition, Aaron’s plot also seemingly rids the Master of the Mystic Arts of his greatest supporter, Wong, who inexplicably departs the Sanctum Santorum having “served here for years” simply because “it’s time my life became more than just magic.” Considering all the trials and tribulations Strange has recently endured in order to save his long-time friend’s life, the first-born son of Hamir’s sudden decision to break his family tradition of servitude to the Sorcerer Supreme appears disconcertingly unconvincing, and a surprising plot twist which seems to disappointingly stem from a desire to shock as opposed to one which actually makes any logical sense.
Perhaps the strongest element to Issue Twenty of “Doctor Strange” therefore is in the combined artwork of regular Bachalo and intermittent cover illustrator Kevin Nowlan, who share pencilling duties dependent upon whether the publication’s narrative is taking place upon the normal world or inside the Bermuda Triangle. Chris’ open admission at the back of this comic that Stephen “was always a character that eluded me” and “wasn’t someone that I wanted to spend time with” must have come as something of a shock to this book’s audience considering just how his “quirky, cartoon-like style” suited the magic-user, as does the Canadian’s subsequent confession that he even “initially declined Jason’s offer to join him on the book.”