The Fifth Color | Strange Tales Lose Their Strangeness
I always knew it would take a Brian Bendis story (do I use his middle name anymore? It’s like John Cougar, isn’t it?) to really get me back in the fight again.
Okay, New Avengers #51 has put a battered Stephen Strange at our feet and in that last image, I had the sinking feeling that he was asking for OUR help. A character who had sadly been taken to the sidelines and given the worst possible albatross-title of ‘Deux ex Machina,’ Doctor Strange literally sat out Civil War and was shoehorned into the
New Avengers as Swiss Army Knife and Guy Who’s Place We Hang Out At, and this is where the problem started. Using such an amazing character to house the Avengers and toss out a couple illusions was a waste and started a habit of looking at the Sorcerer Supreme as a disposable entity. Who doesn’t have a holo-emitter in the MU? Plus, Iron Fist buying them a new home after Strange takes off makes the Sanctum Sanctorum and mastering the mystic arts kinda… meh.
The very issue we find out he got the boot from being Sorcerer Supreme, Stephen Strange tells a young Billy Kaplan that the job of the Sorcerer Supreme is to see the forest for the trees, the greater, grander picture that all these alien invasions and crises fit into. It’s not that these Big Tent Events get in the way of someone who’s Mystic Arts Inclined, it’s that they are only drops of water in a ginormus pond mere mortals can’t fathom. It’s why everyone with a mask doesn’t act as protector of our plane of existence and why that job solely remains with the Big Sorcerer Cheese. In the back of Stan Lee Meets Doctor Strange (hey, work with me here), there’s a reprint of Marvel Premiere #3 and what caught my eye (aside from the stellar Barry Windsor-Smith art) is that in this story, Strange feels something out of tune with the universe. He goes through the story, crossing dimensions, pouring through mystical energies, looking under rocks, and not only does he not find it, but I AM SO ENTHRALLED BY THIS HUNT. What kind of story just says “Well… something’s weird” and then entertains you for pages on end? A tale of a man who’s entire sphere of influence is just incomprehensible. Where seeing the world through his eyes is a treat for the imagination.
At the same time Strange was having Avengers sleepovers at the Sanctum Sanctorum (oh ha, it’s disguised as a coming Starbucks), Brian K. Vaughn was discovering the true beauty of handling a character with phenomenal mystical powers in Doctor Strange: The Oath. Joe Quesada himself has complained that having Strange in the Marvel U makes trouble too easy to thwart. Where’s the challenge if you can just wave your hand and make it all disappear? Vaughn proves how utterly wrong that idea is by taking all that power and more and putting it to test under the most human of motivations. The power to cure all of mankind’s diseases… or save Wong’s life. How does someone cope when the problem is taken from the large and unfathomable to something more desperate and personable?
Doctor Strange is not going to handle your problems. He’s not going to wave his hand and make the Civil War stop (though really, I’m starting to get the ugly feeling that he did). Helping you personally is a moral challenge for him. Just look at the Defenders! The Defenders consist of four people who SHOULD NEVER WORK WITH ANYONE IN THE HISTORY OF EVER. Keith Giffen tried to bwah-ha-ha’edly tell us this in his mini with DeMatteis and really, just look at the roster. All of these people are incredibly powerful in their own right and even they can’t make it together as a team.
This is how Real Ultimate Power is handled, not by defining it and putting down rules and regulations, but by making the difficulty something beyond guys robbing banks or even invading alien nations. Just as the Sorcerer Supreme’s job encompasses where humans fear to tread, so should the stories. The idea of replacing Stephen Strange as Sorcerer Supreme hits me where it hurts, just as losing Bruce Banner as a viable character in the Hulk book did. Both are cases of lining up new entertainment when what has come before is just as relevant today. All of the tools to tell great stories are all there within what’s come before. LEGOS are awesome, you don’t need Duplo blocks.
Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Bendis does adore his curveballs and he’s put one over on us before. This Battle for the… the… Sanctum? (if a Cowl could be a House of Incredible Magical Power and All the Goodies Therein) could just lead us back to the beginning with a Stephen Strange whose not only won his rightful title back, but the hearts of fans as well, but who am I kidding? History has shown us that, love it or hate it, “new” sells comics (it’s why they keep tacking it onto book titles). While no one wants to hamper anyone’s creativity when it comes to character development, I just wish we didn’t have to completely dismantle characters in order to catch people’s attention. It happened to the Avengers, to Spider-Woman, and now Strange is next.