Thursday, May 26, 2016

Strange Would Pay The Ferryman SImply Out Of Politeness

Marvel released a collection last fall called Doctor Strange: Don't Pay the Ferryman, which covered the final 7 issues of the '80s volume of his series. Written by Peter B. Gillis, with most of the art by Chris Warner, I've owned the first issue, #75 (which was written by Roger Stern and drawn by Sal Buscema), since I was a kid, which is why I wound up tracking down the rest in back issues.

The story starts with a demon escaping Mephisto's realm after Mephisto gets his ass kicked by Franklin Richards' awesome mental powers, because Mephisto overextended himself relying on the power boost granted by the Dire Wraiths managing to bring their world (sun?) into Earth's orbit, only to have it busted by Forge's giant Neo-Neutralizer.

None of that is strictly relevant to Strange's story, but it's just a such a bizarre sequence of intertwined events I had to lay it all out because I love that strange overlap of all these different worlds and characters.

As it turns out, the creature is actually a beautiful woman trapped within the form named Topaz, who is missing her soul, which Strange vows to help her recover. Except, for the remainder of the arc, Stephen is constantly distracted. An old friend falls in love with a powerful succubus sorcerer type, and Strange narrowly saves him from having his life force drained, only for his friend to curse him for leaving him in an empty existence. Which sets off a crisis of confidence in the Sorcerer Supreme, as to whether he has become so focused on the larger job of that title that he's become distanced from his own emotions. Which raises the question of whether that's actually the proper approach for a Sorcerer Supreme to take, as Strange is repeatedly confronted with situations where he can act to save one or two lives right now, but it may impair his ability to defend all of reality down the line.

It's a bit of a quandary because on some level Strange resents being forced to save all these people all the time, but also hates that he feels that way. His attempts to reconnect with friends he's kept at arm's length leaves him distracted when an alien sorcerer manages to steal the entire Sanctum Sanctorum and whisk it to another galaxy. So he's torn with indecision, and confronted with how much there is he doesn't know. He visits realms he's never seen before, encounters forces he doesn't understand, and struggles all the more because he keeps wavering in whether to trust his own judgment on how to proceed.

Ultimately, I think Gillis feels Strange makes the right call opting to save the people in danger in the present, but since the series ends with this story, I don't know what he might have done with the status quo going forward. The end does feel a bit rushed. In the final issue, Stephen uses the body of Rintarah, a minotaur apprentice of the being Stephen asked to repair his Cloak of Levitation. He appeared in between issues 80 and 81, and offered to assist Strange in recovering his friends and home from the alien sorcerer. And Stephen's acceptance elicits an angry reaction from Sara Wolfe, who had been housing Stephen's astral form (as his physical form was injured), and sees this as a rejection. There seemed like there was more there that got cut for space concerns. Also, in issue 75, Wong mentions he's arranged to be married, again to Sara's consternation, but that never comes up again. I guess Gillis wasn't interested in that idea.

Warner's art works well. His various creatures are impressively menacing or mocking as the situation requires. Khat in issue 77 is this long-limbed, scrabbly shape with big eyes and teeth. But everything else is covered in what I guess is fur, but it's drawn to look almost like a living mass of scribbled lines, or like someone was drawing a swarm of insects. And Warner frequently draws him in extreme close-up on the face, so those teeth and eyes are front and center, commanding the reader's attention. And since Khat is mostly using words to attack Strange's confidence, the fact the panels are forcing you to look at him as he cuts away at Stephen is highly effective.

Randy Emberlin tends to ink heavy shadows around Stephen's eyes and cheeks, like a man in considerable gloom, or perhaps, with his eyes hidden, someone missing some key human component. Topaz has striking red eyes (except in issue 75, where she has no pupils at all), but Stephen's are often hidden entirely. Warner also gives Strange this appearance of walking with a light tread, which I tended to read as uncertainty of his next step, both physical and philosophical.

No comments: