The last issue of Doctor Strange was perhaps the best comic to have been released in the last year from either of the two big companies. Everything it did was done to perfection and it crafted a story that could have hooked in even the most cynical of readers. With that in mind it is important to remember not to compare this latest issue to that one as much as is possible. This was never going to be as majestic as its predecessor but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t still soar.
As you will hopefully have seen in last month’s offering, Doctor Strange had just come face to face with the Empirikul in what was one of the finest battle scenes in recent history. Whilst that entire issue was very action oriented, this one settled into a slightly slower pace and proved to be just as pleasing as it brought something new to the story that shed a great deal of light on The Imperator’s motivations.
Up to this point the main villain was simply a shadowy figure who had been operating largely in the background of each of the books. That all changed last time when he finally stepped forth to reach his endgame and in this instalment he became as fully fleshed out as he is ever likely to be. In this little history lesson, Jason Aaron did something quite extraordinary as he managed to create just a tinge of sympathy for this conquering invader.
You see that, long ago, The Imperator lived in a society that championed magic and held it up in a deeply religious manner, shunning science as the greatest form of heresy. As would be expected, The Imperator’s parents did not follow the prescribed path of mysticism and instead took to advancing their scientific knowledge to great heights. This all lead to their brutal murder at the hands of that world’s order keepers but, in a decidedly Superman-esque moment, the little baby Imperator was shot to safety in a rocket. Now, this flashback did two very important things. Firstly, it established a raison d’etre for the villain of the piece, which always makes for a more effective character. In doing this it made audiences stop if just for a moment and consider if it really is as clear cut as they previously thought. Of course that doubt was erased by the later actions of The Imperator (For the sake of brevity he shall be referred to as ‘Impy’ from now on) as he burned a particularly heroic old sorcerer to death.
The second thing that it accomplished was to create a piece of social commentary, or more specifically religious commentary. In the flashback the scientists were shown to be the plucky freedom fighters who were being suppressed by their magic following peers. One can’t help but draw comparisons to certain regions of the world where archaic belief systems surrounding gods are still widely followed and those who do not believe are either cast out or, often, killed. In a time where religion is coming under more and more scrutiny for the way it used to infringe on civil liberties and to justify wholesale slaughter it is nice to see a comic book take a look at the issue, albeit in an allegorical fashion.
Science is not painted as the ultimate good though, for those of you worrying about such an imbalance, as Impy is seen to take the cause to crusade levels and inflict just as much death, suffering, and intolerance as magic once did in his land. What this book does in this respect is show that such people exist on both sides of the fence and a subscription to one belief system does not in any way taint or sanctify an individual.
With regards to the main story beyond the flashback and its fascinating connotations, there isn’t a massive amount that could be freely revealed without straying into spoiler territory. A lot does happen and it furthers the plot in a deeply satisfying and rewarding manner but each moment is of huge significance which, whilst being a very high compliment to pay a script, does make a review rather hard to do. Hopefully it will be enough to say that the story takes a sharp turn to the left and things look set to get even more tense and intriguing in future issues. This arc is far from over and that is something that readers should be absolutely delighted about.
As is always the case in this series, the art was once again a thing of beauty. It is amazing how the large team of Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, John Livesay, Victor Olazaba, and Jaime Mendoza have meshed so well to deliver a book such as this. Each and every frame tells a story all of its own and the fantastic use of colour really drives home the sterilising effect of the Empirikul as it is drained away more and more each time they gain a greater foothold in this world. The page below should tell you all you need to know about the marvelous work each of these people have put in.
Despite there being a great deal that just cannot be discussed in this review you should still be able to see why this series is this authors favourite right now. The writing is award worthy for the most part and the art is right there along with it, a more complete book is hard to find. The current arc seems to be in no hurry to conclude and nor should it be as it has so much left to offer the comic world.
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