Having read Issue Twenty Five of “Doctor Strange” it’s likely that a portion of this “extra-sized” thirty-page periodical’s 29,526 strong fan-base earnestly started scrutinising their collections so as to locate the edition within which this book’s main antagonist, the mysteriously named “Haunted Girl”, made her first appearance. Yet whilst John Barber’s flashback storyline to a time when the Sorcerer Supreme is still accompanied by both Cleo and Wong certainly reads like something Stan Lee himself would pen, especially when its titular character starts waxing lyrical about the Vipers of Valtorr and the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, this “incredibly special anniversary issue” isn’t perturbingly a sequel at all.
Instead, the “best-selling X-Force relaunch” editor’s narrative is actually wholly original, and as a result seemingly takes full advantage of the additional space this plump publication provides by weaving a genuinely nostalgic trip down memory lane to a time when the Master of the Mystic arts could enter meditative trances and perhaps somewhat disdainfully wear the Eye of Agamotto; “Whatever you are, and whatever you have done to my friends… Gaze into my amulet — as it gazes into you!” Disappointingly though, arguably intermixed with these glimpses of a far haughtier ‘heyday’ Defender, is a much less enjoyable modern-day storyline which unhappily simply shows just how desperately dire a magic user Stephen has become since he “was nearly destroyed by anti-magic zealots from another dimension.”
Indeed, Barber’s depiction of the modern-day occult consultant seems to have been written more for laughs than any serious attempt to demonstrate the cloaked adventurer’s worrying impotence, with Strange one moment being barely able to stop himself from using his Axe of Angarruumus upon a somewhat humorously cursed member of the public, and then in the next drolly battering his apprentice Zelma Stanton in the jaw with a stop sign. Such jovial antics may well have worked if this entire comic’s script was similarly scribed, but when mixed with a far more seriously toned sub-plot involving the sorcerer’s horror-filled journey to a creepy citadel which “was not here, even moments ago”, it debatably just jars the senses.
Equally as irritating is editor Nick Lowe’s decision to employ a staggering nine different people to help illustrate this book. Split into two highly distinctive camps, Kevin Nowlan’s work on the ‘Past Sequence Art’ does an excellent job of capturing both the look and feel of Steve Ditko’s co-creation, as well as the late great American artist’s straightforward styled era. Whilst Juan Frigeri’s pencilling of the good Doctor’s current zombie-laden exploits is perhaps a bit more of an acquired taste..?