Readin’ Comics: Dr. Strange

I was never big reader of comics*. I was born in the early 80s, so by the time I was comic reading age comics had already moved into specialty shops (somewhere my parents didn’t, by-and-large, take me), and the comics industry had already started its never-ending whine-fest of “Why can’t we attract new readers?” My first real exposure to comics came when I made friends with a couple of comics readers in middle school, but they didn’t really read either of the big two. (Should that be capitalized? The Big Two?) They read Image comics; Fathom, Witchblade, Tomb Raider, stuff like that. Which, you know… I guess the best thing that can be said about those is that they had strong female protagonists. (Strong TOTALLY OBJECTIFIED female protagonists, alas.) So I collected some of those, and I collected some of the kinda okay Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics that Dark Horse brought out during the show’s run, but I never really broke into the realm of traditional superhero comics by DC and Marvel.

I do, however, love the idea of the Marvel and DC universe (moreso Marvel; other than Batman, I don’t think DC has any heroes that really appeal to me; Green Lantern, maybe). I liked pretty much all the comic book movies that have come out over the past decade and a bit (which, I’m sure, makes me the kind of fan who is totally anathema to real comics fans), with the exception of the third installments in, well, anything. My big sticking points are twofold; one, I’m really more of a fantasy fan, and two, I’m very completion-ist when it comes to a particular worlds canon. If I can’t start from the very beginning, or at least from the very beginning of a total reboot, which makes it nearly impossible for me to get into a new story. I thank the stars every day for DVD boxed sets, for instance, or I’d never watch any television. (Did you notice the pun? Kill me.) This makes the incredibly complex Marvel universe nearly impossible to break into; when you add together all the crossovers, its really not feasible to get a complete picture of the stories and universe. (The exception is Runaways, which I have several of the big graphic novels of, and really enjoy, despite some of the crossover bits.)

I do, however, love reading about comics, particularly Marvel comics. I’ve spent a lot of time reading other people’s articles about comics, and even have a vague idea of most of the major events in the Marvel universe because of how much time I’ve spent on Wikipedia and other wikis reading about it. One of my favorite sources of comics commentary is Christopher Bird. I did not know Dr. Strange was even a thing until he started running his I Should Write Dr. Strange series, but when he did, I was absolutely entranced. Dr. Strange, particular view through mightygodking’s eyes, was basically everything I love in fiction. Magic, mystery, tentacled Cthulhian nightmares, and all of it set on present day Earth. The fact that he hangs out with superheroes occasionally makes it even cooler. So I finally had discovered a Marvel comic I really wanted to read from the beginning, and get all of it, so if, by some miracle, mightygodking ever did get to write it, I would be prepared. Luckily for me, there are the Marvel Essentials.

It took me a while, but I finally got around to picking up the second volume. I recently traded in some comics (largely a bunch of those terrible Image comics, but miscellaneous other stuff that I wasn’t wild about and didn’t really need to keep) at a local Portland store called Excalibur, one of the only places around that does trading, and used the store credit to pick up Essential Dr. Strange #2 (I read about half of #1 while kind of tipsy at Powell’s once, so had the general idea, and also they didn’t have #1 in stock). I’ve discovered two things. One, if Dr. Strange is an indication, I really shouldn’t have let my fear of jumping in in the middle stop me for so long. Two… I don’t quite understand why Stan Lee is so venerated as a comics writer. While I really want to like Dr. Strange, so far it’s kind of terrible.

Don’t get me wrong; Stan Lee today seems like a cool old dude. And I’m grateful for all the awesome comics and comics characters he’s created over the years. But the emphasis there is on created. If they were all written like Dr. Strange, I have less than zero desire to go back and read them at this point. Seventy percent of the dialogue is the characters narrating what they’re doing, and another twenty percent is really lame incantations and unnecessary “dramatic” adjectives. Maybe ten percent of the dialogue is actually dialogue. I’ve seen outtakes from present day Marvel comics, I know they’re not still written like that, so I’m not quite sure what the deal is. The actual plots are fairly interesting, if rather drawn out, but the dialogue is really hard to plow through.

I will probably stick with it, at least to the end of this volume, but considering that at present day, the Sorcerer Supreme is apparently Dr. Voodoo (?!), Marvel is not doing a good job of making me want to buy things from them.

*I did read a lot of manga during my hardcore Japanaphile phase in my late teens and early twenties, and I’ve read a lot of webcomics ever since college, when I first had a good enough ‘net connection to load them in a reasonable time. But for the purposes of this post I’m discussing traditional American comics, particularly DC and Marvel. Obviously.

Edit: I went back to read some more, and Stan Lee is the Editor, not the writer. That’s better, but only marginally; he still approved all the dialogue.


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