DOCTOR STRANGE #13
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Chris Bachalo, Antonio Fabela, Java Tartaglia
Published by Marvel Comics
Release Date: October 19, 2016
If the realm of magic and mystery lends itself well to perhaps any one kind of story over another, it is dreams and nightmares. The fabric of such stories inherently begs for art that goes off the rails and plunges characters and readers alike into a space where what is isn’t and what isn’t is everywhere.
Unfortunately, while Aaron and Bachalo spent most of Doctor Strange #13 establishing a strangeness that only hints at the horrors beyond Strange’s comprehension, it isn’t quite enough to completely make this title serve well as a singular issue. Fortunately, certain pieces of art, and certain ideas, make this an issue that warrants being included in the story Aaron wants to tell, even if it feels more like a splashy way of re-telling Doctor Strange’s core theme(s).
What works is the art, especially when it gets (pardon the pun) strange. From Mordo communing with a Dormammu composed of rats, Nightmare looming over Strange in his twisted realm, and Strange wandering through nightmare panels, each of these things are fantastic, bizarre, and they ultimately showcase why the Aaron/Bachalo team works here. The artistic stylings of Bachalo work well with strange textures and that then means that the ink and coloring team has a lot to play with. From Nightmare’s palid skin to the scales and skincolors of multi-headed nightmare serpents, the art in Doctor Strange #13 is up the task of showing what kind of universe Stephen Strange travels in.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough of it. I should premise my concern for this by stating that I believe I know why only half of Aaron’s story showcases the extreme and amazing artistic talents his team has. This is because the first half of the story is a kind of re-built origin story for Stephen. What is present is not bad, but was it necessary? Understanding who Stephen was pre-surgery is something I can see needing to be introduced, as per the rules of what Nightmare’s domain forced Stephen to confront, but Wong and Zelma’s role in the story, as shown only through a few panels, was extremely interesting and perhaps, as a reader, I just wished there could have been more space for their nightmares as well? Still, regardless, there are great horror moments within the first half of Aaron’s story here and they deserve praise: the ‘multiple women’ of Strange’s dream, the basement, etc… These points warrant as much praise other points warrant concern, at least from this singular reader.
There are plenty of plot points here worth praising, actually, from how Strange manages to escape Nightmare to Dormammu and Mordo’s relationship. The idea of Mordo and his relationship with other characters, particularly how he creates oaths, is something that Aaron finds an amusing way to poke fun at through Dormammu. While I have never expressly thought of Dormammu as ‘honest,’ his intentions for having a role in the comic, compared against Mordo, was a great one for Aaron to exploit. While Nightmare has always been a villainous entity that is more akin to a force of nature rather than a scheming antagonist, what Aaron has works and one panel in particular, with Strange maneuvering over the panel layouts, is one of the coolest aspects about what the Doctor Strange comic can and should to, often.
While Wong and Zelma take a bit more of a backseat than some might prefer, and one half of the comic will please some more than others, what is present is a solid story that allows for some fantastic art and some great panel-work. Sadly, I wish there were more of what makes this comic great packed into this issue, but at least the character who appears at this comic’s end promises, if anything, loads more weirdness and strangeness to come in this run’s future.
The Verdict: 7.0/10