Literally throwing its 32,142 followers head-first into the “Marvel Worldwide” 2017 multi-title comic book event “Secret Empire”, Dennis Hopeless’ script for Issue Twenty-One of “Doctor Strange” must have proved a truly pulse-pounding reading experience for those who already had some knowledge of the Cosmic Cube transforming “Captain America into the ultimate Hydra sleeper agent” and “some of Earth’s street-level heroes… [becoming] trapped inside the Darkforce bubble that envelops New York City.” However, for those bibliophiles ignorant of such catastrophic incidents, and faced with a Sorcerer Supreme who almost immediately hacks off the gory head of a needle-teethed demon inside a seemingly abandoned pharmacy, the Kansas City born writer’s narrative must have been a somewhat surprising change of story-line to that anticipated following the recent departure of the ongoing series’ previously ensconced creative team.
Fortunately though, the GLAAD Media Award-nominee doesn’t entirely abandon his audience to the thrills (and spills) of the raggedy Master of the Mystic Arts armed with a demigod’s old hatchet and an enchanted swan feather without some exposition, and quite unobtrusively pens a summary of events to bring any bookworm back up to speed whilst the titular character fights his way through the sickeningly slimy digestive tract of a giant monster. This intimate insight into Strange’s most recent memories works really well, but disconcertingly doesn’t help explain just why the likes of Daredevil, Spider-Woman and Ben Urich are found scaling the Chrysler building, nor how the Sanctum Santorum is suddenly “inside a big marble halfway up” the skyscraper.
Still so bizarre an interlude does at least provide Baron Mordo with an opportunity to joyously verbalise his disreputable qualities to Matt Murdock’s alter-ego and demonstrate just why the “sorcerer of some renown in dark wizarding circles” is now the “all-powerful caretaker of this darkforce Manhattan.” In addition, the Transylvanian nobleman’s appearance also helps pin-point him as a very understandable target for Stephen’s “fine witches’ brew” and the perfect justification as to why the former preeminent surgeon has made such a desperately dangerous trek across the beleaguered metropolis’ ruinous landscape simply to acquire “a meal a young couple shared on the first night in their new home”, a “lucky rabbit’s foot dangled from the ignition in three separate fatal car accidents” and “the prized possession of a three-year-old boy”; “By the Flames of the Faltine! Peel back the dark veil that encases us!”
Adding to the enthralling atmosphere of Hopeless’ post-apocalyptic New York is Niko Henrichon’s dynamic pencilling and rich colouring. The Canadian artist’s various demonic creatures would arguably not look out-of-place within Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” cult movie trilogy and resultantly adds an element of blood-curdling horror to the proceedings which arguably wouldn’t have been so evident otherwise.