Both Neilalien and Sanctum Sanctorum Comix have recently posted their reviews on this infamous volume, so I felt I would add my brief thoughts into the mix now that the topic has been reopened.
Written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Emma Rios, this book was never going to make everyone happy. This miniseries was designed to introduce us to the new direction Marvel had intended for Doctor Strange, and comic fans in general are not fond of change. The first thing you will notice when you open this book is the beautiful art. Art sets the tone for a comic book every bit as much as the prose does, and this art sets a tone drastically different from what Doctor Strange fans have come to expect. While I must admit that I do like the art, I have to agree that it makes the book look like it was something written for teen-aged girls. It does not convey the eldritch and gentlemanly world of mysticism that many of us are looking for, nor does it give a feeling of spandex-clad super heroism that we associate with Marvel comics. It does, however, set a much more lighthearted tone for the characters involved, which I think was the point. It also immediately and intentionally brings to mind the Marvel series “Runaways”, which was much more about interpersonal relationships than it was about punching costumed psychopaths. Just by glancing at the art on the first page you can see where Marvel intended for the series, and the character of Stephen Strange, to go. That is a triumph in my mind, even though I would just as soon they stopped trying to force him down that path.
After Accepting or dismissing Rios’ art we get to the actual story. This, in my opinion, was by far the weaker element in this work. Initially we are shown Stephen at a baseball game about to enjoy some nachos, because he is a fun-loving dude now! They wanted to show that without the weight of all existence on his shoulders he is taking the time to enjoy himself and once again join the world. That part of his new direction is thrown out right away as we find out that he is really at the ball park on on business of a serious mystical nature and Waid is never able to show us Stephen Strange: Bon Vivant again. They have, however, tipped their hand at this point by introducing us to his plucky teen companion Casey. Aw crap, it’s the Straczynski nonsense all over again only now they are going to be trying to play off the popularity of Doctor Who instead of The Matrix. After looking through the book a couple of times I am quite convinced that Rios actually used photos of David Tennant as a reference for Strange in several places. Add in what is perhaps the worst panel in the entire series and the first issue didn’t do much to instill confidence in anybody that this was going to be a good book.
Throughout the rest of the series Waid continued to show us the new direction they had intended for Doctor Strange, then always immediately contradicted or forgot about it. First he is depowered and forced to rely on his wits, then he uses magic to perform surgery on Eternity. First he is pleasantly surprised to find himself in the position of a mentor, then he does no teaching and tells his new pupil to stay out of things without ever really explaining anything to her. First he is a washed up joke with no more clout in the magic community, then he commands all the worlds most powerful sorcerers to stop employing their skills in what is a very dark hour for them and they listen (for the most part). At the end of things we are given the same character we had before we went into this series apart from the fact he now has some sexy facial scars and can’t perform any magic due to his severely crippled hands (except when he can).
Despite being a notorious fan boy I was not very happy with this book until the last panel. That one panel was able to redeem it for me though. Traveling to other dimensions to save pretty girls, no matter the cost, is classic Doctor Strange. It seems like at the very end of things Waid just said “To hell with it, he is awesome the way he always has been.”
I just have to add here as a bit of an afterward though, it seems he never did go save Casey. Girl Comics #2 has a short story where she is briefly mentioned as having been lost to him, so there goes that bit of happiness from my life. I know it is not necessarily canon, but they will probably never revisit any of this anyways so that is likely to be the best resolution we will get.