Sunday, March 17, 2013

Quick Comic Reviews: Doctor Strange: The Oath

Its one of my favorites, but is it the comic for you?
I'm not going to waste any time here, and just come out to say that The Oath is one of my favorite comic books of all time. Written by Brian K Vaughn (Lost, Seasons 3-5) The Oath stars my favorite superhero, Doctor Strange, and while the story isn't flawless and there are a few art hiccups, it is still a very well written adventure with an excellent philisophical debate hanging over it.

Plot Summary
We open in a hidden hospital somewhere in New York owned by the mysterious Night Nurse, a brilliant physician who, after being rescued by a superhero, dedicates her life to helping wounded superheroes and vigilantes. After a fairly humorous cameo from Iron Fist and Spider-Girl, we have a bomb dropped on us when Wong bursts in carrying the bleeding body of Doctor Stephen Strange who has apparantly been shot. Night Nurse immediately begins to operate on him and is startled when Strange's astral form appears and begins talking to her and explaining the current situation. 

Strange had learned that Wong has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that will claim his life in under 3 months. Unable to help Wong either with his previous experience as a neurosurgeon (due to his injured hands) or magic, Strange decided to seek out a fabled potion called Otkid's Elixir which has the power to "ease the troubles of man's mind". He succeeds in finding it, but wants to have it tested to make sure it is both safe and effective before administering it to Wong and has a sample of it sent to a collegue's lab, unfortunately his activities have caught the attention of a shadowy individual who sends a thief codenamed Brigand, armed with an enchanted handgun to the Sanctum Santorum to steal the potion from Strange, and winds up shooting the Sorcerer Supreme in the process with his gun's silver bullet able to penetrate Strange's defenses.

After Strange's wounds are patched, he immediately decides to pay a visit to the lab where he left the sample of the potion, much to the dismay of Night Nurse, who only agrees to discharge Strange if he allows her to accompany him and Wong to the lab in case one of them takes a turn for the worse. What follows is an epic adventure through the hidden, magical side of New York to unravel the mystery behind the Sanctum robbery, and find Otkid's Elixir before Wong's condition turns fatal.

Without spoiling anything, the plot is very good and contains an epic journey with high stakes, some good humor, and a great villain with motivations far beyond just being "evil". The best thing about the plot is that it sparks an interesting philisophical debate in the form of the question "what if we could end illness all around the planet", I'm not going to spoil the resolution, but it is safe to say that both sides in this book have good arguments.

The other thing that I love about this book is that there is little to no knowlege needed about Doctor Strange prior to this mini-series to thoroughly enjoy it; in fact I'd say its a great introduction to the character for those who have never heard of, or know little about him. It explains his backstory rather throughly, and Brian K Vaughn makes the character both serious and very fun at the same time.

However in terms of flaws this book has a fair amount. The most pressing is one problem that most people have with Doctor Strange and magic in general, in that we clearly see that magic CAN be used to heal sick and/or injured people in the Marvel universe, but we are never told to what extent its limitations and effectiveness are. You'd have to read the book to see some of the finer (spoiler-filled) details of this particular flaw, but its safe to say that we see some people get healed with just a wave of a hand while others are apparantly beyond healing with no real explanation why.

Night Nurse's motivation to join in the quest is also particularly head-scratching, since one would think that since she is the only doctor/nurse on hand she would want to remain at her hospital in case some other superhero comes through her door bleeding and needing assistance. However she is a very likable character and proves to be competant with both defending herself and helping the group overall, plus she also functions as the bridge between the reader and the story since we learn new things about magic as they are revealed to her by Strange and Wong, as opposed to them just awkwardly explaining the events to themselves for the reader's sake.

Art Direction
Marcos Martin's artwork is for the most part good, but rather inconsistent. Sometimes characters will be finely detailed, but this seems to be mostly in panels featuring only one character, or in rather close-up views. Views from a distance tend to have the character design looking rather minimalistic in their faces particularly with short lines and circles for their eyes, nose, mouth similar to characters from a Hanna Barbera cartoon. This may be a style or perspective choice, but to me it just makes the art minorly inconsistent.

I do love the character's designs and appearance; the update to Doctor Strange's costume is absolutely fantastic, and I really wish it would have carried over into other books since it makes him look more modern with the black pants, shoes, and collared shirt as opposed to tights and a tunic, but it still preserves the elements of his classic look. Panel placement is handled rather nicely with only a few splash pages (1 page panels) which are all used effectively to showcase epic moments, or larger than life backgrounds and/or monsters.

Backgrounds all look great, but the winners here are in the other dimensions. Marcos Martin PERFECTLY captures the surreal, warped nature of the classic other dimensions that Steve Ditko drew back in the Silver Age. And finally the action sequences are all rather short, but well done and are all fairly satisfying, especially for people who like fights with lots of energy blasts and flashy projectiles flying around.

I love this comic so, and I really cannot give it a higher recommendation to people not only interested in Doctor Strange, but to people interested in comics in general. It has a few flaws, and isn't an eisner qualifier, but its a really good, fun adventure that makes for a great read and will be picked up many times afterwards.


How to Get it
It has been collected in a TPB form that can be found on Amazon or Ebay for around 14-18$. All 5 issues are also available through comixology.

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