Doctor Strange: The Oath

Mike Lukich

This Doctor Strange is Gandalf, Sherlock Holmes, and Indiana Jones all rolled into one cool New York package.

Doctor Strange: The Oath

Publisher: Marvel
Contributors: Artist: Marcos Martin
Price: 2.99
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Length: 32
Formats: Single Issue
Issues: 5
First date: 2006-12
Last date: 2007-04
The doctor will see you now.

-- Night Nurse, Doctor Strange #1

That's certainly a potential catchphrase if I ever heard one, and one that may have even gone on to rank up there with classics like "I'm Batman" and "It's clobberin' time" if only the doctor himself didn't dismiss it as "very droll". Of course, I prefer "By the Hoary #%*-ing Hosts", but that's just me. Regardless of your taste, these little poetic exclamations give the reader a pretty good indication of what to expect from this mini-series by writer Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways, Y: The Last Man, The Escapists) and artist Marcos Martin (Batgirl: Year One, Breach). Quite remarkably, the pair manages to reinvent a classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko creation by bringing it back to basics, and they craft what is certain to be one of the definitive Doctor Strange tales.

For many years, the Doctor Strange character has been relegated to being one of the Marvel Universe's resident deus ex machina figures: he usually functions as a problem solving plot device rather than an actual character. The question is often brought up in regards to Strange; how can someone whose powers are theoretically unlimited ever be in any real danger? Vaughan opens the story by addressing that very problem in quite a dramatic fashion. He has someone pop a cap in him.

Vaughan is very good at finding the root of a concept and finding a fresh take on it. The initial premise of the book is a good one -- a quest. In this case, the quest is to find a cure for Strange's loyal servant Wong, who Strange discovers is suffering from a brain tumor. This fires the first shot, so to speak, that brings the good doctor down to a more earthly plane. Strange is then reminded of something that forms the main hook of the series: the Hippocratic oath. This not only connects the doctor with his past as a medical doctor, but it also sets up a situation where Strange is forced to walk the line between his sincere desire to help people and the inevitable arrogance that betrays someone known as the Sorcerer Supreme.

Thankfully for him, Strange has some help. The re-introduction of the obscure character Night Nurse as a strong female lead is an inspired choice, injecting a refreshing dose of sexual tension into Strange's generally solitary and austere world. Both she and Wong form a Scooby gang of sorts and are as much the stars of this book as the doctor. The chemistry and wit that Vaughan generates with this group through the use of snappy, Whedon-esque dialogue provides brilliant comic relief even in the face of genuine danger.

Martin's artwork, which has a very friendly and appealing retro feel to it, compliments

Vaughan's approach by keeping things light while still conveying an atmosphere of mystery and drama. It's obvious that he gets the comic eeriness, for lack of a better term, that characterized the Ditko art of the 1960's. This doesn't mean that Martin is a Ditko imitator, by any means, as he certainly has his own distinct style. His artwork simply has a similar vibe. The slight changes he makes in Strange's wardrobe are a nice touch as well, switching out the leotards and orange sash for a classier and more sophisticated dress pants and shoes, while still keeping the more recognizable and unique Ditko-designed elements.

Another key idea that Vaughan incorporates here is the idea that the Doctor must live up to his title and realize that sometimes, as a physician, you have to get your hands dirty. It's only fitting, then, that the climatic battle between Strange and his nemesis throws the magic gloves aside for a good, old-fashioned fistfight. How else could Strange prove that he's more than just an aloof prick with a magic amulet? If I had to sum up this series by choosing only one panel, the close-up of Strange as he takes his glove off, his scarred hand in the foreground, pretty much says it all.

In the end, the best part about this series is that it happens to be both smart and fun, two qualities that you can never have enough of in a superhero book. Vaughan and Martin deliver an engaging, well-crafted and highly entertaining supernatural mystery-adventure that also happens to enrich the origin and history of one of Marvel's classic characters and sets the stage for a new era for the Sorcerer Supreme. This Doctor Strange is Gandalf, Sherlock Holmes, and Indiana Jones all rolled into one cool New York package. Let's hope Marvel keeps him this way.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.