Doctor Strange #25

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DoctorStrange25Having 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..?

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For the past forty or so years I have been collecting American comics… To begin with they were predominantly black and white British reprints of “Marvel Comics Group” titles such as “Spider-Man Comics Weekly”, “The Mighty World of Marvel” and “Star Wars Weekly”; all six to ten pence editions I could store away under my bed in a large cardboard box. As a result though I was introduced to the teenage angst of Peter Parker, the discovery of a frozen Captain America by Earth's Mightiest Heroes, witnessed the dreadful rage of Doctor Bruce Banner, and even travelled to a galaxy far far away... Later I would be able to afford actual America colour comic books and supplemented my collection of “Marvel” titles such as “Conan the Barbarian”, “Howard the Duck” and “Captain America” with some “DC Comics” issues of “Batman”, “Green Lantern” and “Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew”. There would even be time for Independent publications such as “Wildcats”, “Spawn” and “The Authority”. These days however I must admit to yearning back to the simpler times of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, back to when both artwork and storylines were straightforward, easy to follow and super-heroes were just starting out on their adventures. A time when no-one had yet to be resurrected from the dead for the fourth time. I've written over seven hundred comic book reviews on my blog over the past few years, with them usually following my latest purchases, all wrapped up in a large brown paper bag, as well as occasional ‘flashbacks’ to some of the classic "Golden Age" issues I already own…

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