Firmly focused upon the demonic events occurring within a truly terrifying “Darkforce bubble that envelops New York City”, Dennis Hopeless’ script for Issue Twenty Two of “Doctor Strange” must have somewhat surprised its 35,918 strong audience in June 2017 with its interestingly fresh look inside the financially biased world of Wilson Fisk. For whilst the “Secret Empire” tie-in certainly delivers upon its pre-publication promise of portraying “the incredible current events” occurring within the metropolis and its titular character’s action-packed efforts to protect the island of Manhattan from the Darkforce Dimension, the twenty-one page periodical’s central plot thread seemingly revolves around revealing the Kingpin’s startling relationship with black magic rather than the formidably-fat villain’s usual physically-violent machinations.
Indeed, for the majority of this comic’s length the pragmatic businessman genuinely appears to be the sole ‘voice of reason’ amongst the narrative’s four survivors, with the likes of Ben Urich disconcertingly taking up the mantle of the group’s incoherent madman when the former “leader of the Hand (American Branch)” offers Strange invaluable magical resources in return for the Sorcerer Supreme’s help to save his “dear” city. Of course, the plans of Don Rigoletto’s one-time bodyguard derail just as soon as the unlikely band of allies encounter his so-called ‘partner’ in the dark arts and discover the unnamed witch has switched allegiances. Yet even during this misfortune, as the party appear to be about to be overwhelmed by a mass of Mindless Ones, the bald-headed mass-murderer is quick to take the lead and supposedly save the day, courtesy of a disturbingly evil-looking energy-blasting weapon; “I’ve got no time for your white hat hand-wringing, Strange. We’re literally surrounded by weapons. Just pick one up and…”
Quite possibly this book’s ‘highlight’ however, doesn’t actually ‘spotlight’ Fisk’s insurmountable talents for death and misery, but rather concerns a truly inspirational-looking duel between Stephen and Wilson’s aforementioned treacherous ally. This battle of bodily transformation and counter-spells is highly reminiscent of the confrontation between Merlin and Madame Mim as depicted during the 1963 “Walt Disney” animated feature film “The Sword In The Stone”, albeit Niko Henrichon’s ability to pencil a truly furious-looking giant flaming tiger makes the Master of the Mystic Arts’ combat appear infinitely more death-defying and dramatic than the late Bill Peet’s family fun focused fight involving polka-dot purple dragons and comically-coloured blue walruses.