That Voodoo They Do At Marvel
It's official: they took Doctor Strange's lunch and gave it to Brother Voodoo. A huge disappointment for most Doc fans- but then, Doc fans are used to disappointment. Go-go gadget rant!
This was precisely the scenario Neilalien opined would be the second-worst possible outcome: another superhero gets the Sorcerer Supreme mantle on a "permanent" basis, complete with a new monthly book to smear in our faces. (The absolute worst would have been if Scarlet Witch or Wiccan landed the gig.) Gods forbid we actually give a shit about these corporate-owned-and-operated things enough to buy the comics. For an enterprise that is myopically monopolistically addicted to the addiction of the hardcore fan, Marvel seems to strive to kick the hardcore fans off their product- granted, if it is possible to please such fans, or offer them any change whatsoever, or if one should cater to them. It would suck for Thor fans if they gave Mjolnir to Moon Knight, naming him the new Odinson and making Thor the new supporting-character Odin in some royal-succession storyline- it's not so crazy for Doc fans to feel bummed. Despite so many more appearances now, Doctor Strange feels more a "dead" property now than when Neilalien started, as a blog-theme, championing a favorite character that was absent from monthly comics in 02000. So this is what running a Space:1999 fansite feels like.
The "destruction" of Doctor Strange at Bendis' hands is now complete, from being "chaos magic" useless versus Scarlet Witch in Avengers Disassembled, to the nonheroism of Illuminati, to more uselessness in New Avengers, to squandering World War Hulk's aweZomness. Except for one or two effective spells in battle, Doctor Strange hasn't done anything competent, confident or heroic under Bendis' tenure. He's been torn down, he's constantly saying he's not at full power and can't do this-or-that, he's "'chosen' to let go of his 'chores'" (oy!) as the Ancient One says in New Avengers #54- but there's been no building back up, or redemption, or heroic ending on the other side, under Bendis' tenure. Other characters used to roll their eyes at Doctor Strange's elaborate speech- now they roll their eyes waiting for him to finish Bendis' "I-- I--" Bob-Newhart-stammer this-means-the-character-has-self-doubt dialogue. We could have had a satisfying off-Earth adventure quest by the New Avengers to help Doc cleanse himself of Zom, that if necessary could have established an interesting new status quo and power level (once again) (lingering effects making him less powerful, for example). But instead we get New Avengers #54, which beyond the implications for Doc, sucks for having Dormammu do nothing mystical at all, just a moronic rampaging Hulk, getting defeated with all the creativity of hits with Captain America's shield, a floor pentagram and one word balloon of gibberish.
The colossal disappointment is more meta than all that: *This* is the story Marvel came up with, this is Bendis' "great arc" for the character. This is *better* than what other "writers attempt[ing] to continue Strange's odyssey" came up with for Doctor Strange after New Avengers Annual. What were those rejected stories- that Strange died or became a rapist? (Yes, that would've been worse. There's always worse, fans. Just ask Land of the Lost fandom.) Doc moping around doing nothing active (even the Eye does all the questing, really), until he's relieved (phew!) that a good guy gets the mantle instead of The Hood/Dormammu: is this really "redemptive" to Doc, is this a "successful quest" for Doc, in Bendis' eyes? The great "story potential" Bendis is leaving for the next writer is "the dynamic between Doctor Voodoo and Doctor Strange" and "a mentoring position"- to be the new Ancient One, the Aunt May of the Marvel Mystic Universe? If only we could all be smoking what gave Marvel Editorial this vision, because most Doctor Strange fans see no redemption, no success, no great arc, no story potential waiting for the next writer here.
Switching to Brother Voodoo unlikely will solve what's best described in Aquaman terms as The Water Problem. The Magic Problem? There's been no actual exploration of a magical system that makes more sense, or a new way found to put Doctor Strange in danger, as Quesada says Doc requires, in any panel of New Avengers. Nope- they're just trying the same shade of lipstick on a different pig. Brother Voodoo is weaker, so he'll feel in more pro-drama peril than Dr. Strange? Well, not anymore!- making him Sorcerer Supreme, which apparently ups power now, and giving him the Eye of Agamotto nixes that storytelling advantage. Brother Voodoo's magic has a better rules system? We're one voodoo doll pin and shrunken head nonsensically affecting some godlike entity away from losing that advantage. There's nothing inherent with Brother Voodoo that offers better "rules"- the rules are all made up, y'know, it's comics- and Bendis stated that he didn't use his real-life voodoo research anyway. Anything that a well-written Voodoo story or magickal system/rule/powerlevel offers could have been done with Doctor Strange instead. But either Brother Voodoo now being the one who outsmarts Eternity, or being that street-level occult guy, and not Stephen Strange, is apparently what Marvel thinks will currently sell a new book better. Or maybe they think the solution to magic titles not selling is to try selling two magic titles to the magic fans instead of one- Doctor Voodoo and the Strange miniseries- two characters struggling with new roles and new ways to do their magic instead of one, now redundant.
Brother Voodoo as Sorcerer Supreme with the Eye of Agamotto is Prime Minister Electro, the name of the phenomenon Neilalien most recently ranted about re: the recent "Old Man Logan" Wolverine storyline. It is the rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. It is fun for the hardcore fan up to a point; it can be refreshing and evolutionary if done well. But for every Winter-Soldier Bucky-Cap, we get ten crutches for bad writing. It is the incestuous swapping of familiar pieces, characters and items of the Marvel Universe until a semi-interesting What-If Earth-X Age-of-Apocalypse combination is found, and hurled at the wall to see if there's stickage, with no nod to story or sense. All we ever needed were well-written Doctor Strange stories.
How the Marvel crew describes Doctor Strange in their interviews would make any Doc fan wonder if we're all reading the same comics. Remender describes Doctor Strange as a "passive" character, and thus less fun to write, in his interview. What does that mean? Has any "heroic" character been as "passive" as that? A hero is by definition active- even the zen wanderers and wall protectors. Is Sherlock Holmes passive because he only solves crimes that have happened already? Is James Bond passive because he has to wait for someone to begin machinations to destroy the world first? The internalization of years of bad Doctor Strange writing only begets more bad writing. It's rarely been shown, to the character's detriment, what Doctor Strange did in his duties as Sorcerer Supreme, he wasn't shown "on patrol", being proactive, checking in with allies, checking in on great remote gates barred with chains to ensure they're still sealed, observing situations with the Orb, going to enemy dimensions more often, etc. So we get this passive meme- Doc just sits around in his smoking jacket screwing Clea until someone attacks and destroys the Sanctum for the hundredth time. What is the "active" alternative? You don't have much of a story if you chop the cult leader down before she's had a chance to create the army of ninja werewolves already. Is Brother Voodoo now off to defeat Dormammu and Nightmare on their own dimensional turfs, where they're supposedly unbeatable, in Iraq/Illuminati pre-emptive strikes? And such acts are so mantle-keepingly morally pure. But this passivity is further concretized, now that Doc is the mentor, and not the actual doer, versus mystical threats.
The question to examine: Is being Sorcerer Supreme and possessing the Eye of Agamotto essential to the Doctor Strange character? What is "Sorcerer Supreme"- just a dumb dramatic title one too many writers ran with? Have they broken Doctor Strange? What change is acceptable? Contrary to what Marvel Editorial believes, these characters are breakable, if you wander too far off the reservation of what makes Thor Thor, if you don't push those essential buttons. If Moonraker and Casino Royale are both clearly James Bond movies, then our reservations are not oppressive. We are open to many reinterpretations.
It's slightly tricky to pin down exactly what kind of change this is to Stephen Strange. Consider some changes we've seen in comics: new Thor mortal identities (Donald Blake to Eric Masterson), new users of Mjolnir, new mantle-holders of the "Green Lantern of Earth Sector", new people inside the Iron Man armor, new Iron Man armor and Spider-Man costume designs, a million deaths and resurrections, Hal Jordan's been nuts, evil, dead and Spectred, even Rawhide Kid's apparent sexual preference. A philosophical treatise on identity is not forthcoming here, but this feels like a change in status more than a change in identity. Does "Sorcerer Supreme" even have as much of a separate stand-alone identity built up like "Iron Man" does? Are we Stephen Strange fans or Sorcerer Supreme fans- or are we in supercomic fandom fans of binaries, like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, both pieces must be there? Or are we Marvel Magic/Cosmic fans? This is more like T'Challa losing his Wakandan kingdom- not so much a new person in the Black Panther costume. This feels like the kind of animal of James Bond losing his 007 license to kill, not a new person in the Eye of Agamotto/Cloak of Levitation Costume. Perhaps a change in status is not as bad as a change in identity, but a status can be essential too. It's as if Black Panther fans were expected to embrace concurrent "Cyclops: The New Black Panther" and "T'Challa: Now An Accordion Player In A Polka Band" books.
Neilalien would prefer to say that Sorcerer-Supreme-ness and the trappings of the Eye of Agamotto, Cloak of Levitation, etc., are not essential to the Doctor Strange character. But the answer is, they probably are. Is it a failure of imagination if one cannot picture Strange lower on the org chart? As long as Professor X lives, he's the optimal leader of the good-guy mutants. There may be great story arcs when he's absent, not the leader, replaced, incapacitated, beaten, etc. But it's naturally going to suck for Professor X fans, and not really work for most Marvel zombies, when he's rolled out of the way semi-permanently and Iceman is shown using Cerebro better, etc. Being at the top of the Marvel Mystical Universe Hierarchy is essential to the Stephen Strange character (note here that although the Ancient One might be officially at the top (while he lived), Neilalien considers Doc to be at the top, since the Ancient One is only a supporting character). He's the Magician in the Marvel Tarot. He's always been, since becoming the Ancient One's heir apparent, which was about five pages into his origin tale (and even earlier, if you believe retcons and terrible "Chosen One" origins). (Apparently being Asian, as Doc originally was, was ~not~ essential, or didn't have a chance to become essential.) It's one of the corners you paint yourself into when you use the title "Sorcerer Supreme" for thirty years. He is the mystical champion of the universe. Now, champions get dethroned, being the best doesn't mean that you're the champ, etc. In a way, and partly due to a lack of character development and range, Doc is defined by his job as SS. Sorcerer-Supremeness speaks to the past arrogance and ambition of the Strange character- these qualities still exist in him, he struggles with them, but they are also his strength like in that Star Trek episode when Kirk gets split into good and evil, they require being #1. Isolation from the humanity he protects is essential to the Stephen Strange character- the Sorcerer Supreme responsibilities are part of what necessarily isolates him, and part of his payment for past sins. The Amulet/Eye of Agamotto and Cloak is essential to Stephen Strange, to Steve Ditko's design- that golden Eye floating to the forehead- we are open to reinterpretations and modernizations of, and acknowledging updates to that design, but not to move those elements to another character.
Still, that's all ultimately window dressing. The bottom line tonight is: (1) good writing, as always, and (2) implied second-banana-ness in a character's own pocket dimension. It is possible to give these characters great challenges without breaking them. But Tony Stark lost being Iron Man in an interesting alcoholism storyline, and Rhodey was never "Iron Man Supreme", Stark was never second-banana War Machine while Rhodey was first-banana Iron Man, the Iron Man armor gave Rhodey trouble because it was cybernetically tuned for Stark, etc. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange loses being Sorcerer Supreme and all of his mystic items and design elements in disgustingly underwhelming fashion, and now he's teaching because he can't do, he can't hack his "chores". Yuck.
Just as it's been claimed recently with Brubaker and Captain America's return, a talented writer can step in at any time with several ways to bring Doctor Strange "back". Heck, even Neilalien's thought of a couple potential story arcs already, and they keep Voodoo's dignity and competence intact, too. No need to tear the shirt or jump off a bridge. Uncle Ben's deadness is the only permanent fact of the Marvel Universe. Every character has good and bad stories. This will get fixed the moment a Doctor Strange movie is announced. But let's be clear: in Neilalien's eyes, that new writer will be tasked with fixing a broken toy, with restoring Doc and bringing him back- if we fans cling to that hope, cling to the past. If not, then tasked with grabbing a completely clean Doctor Strange slate with bold new exciting surprising ideas and risks. Fortunately, we don't have to wait too long for the first attempt. Almost guiltily, a new Dr. Strange miniseries was quickly announced. Veteran comics scribe Mark Waid has the opportunity. Neilalien will be reading with as open and hopeful a mind as possible. Give us something truly new. We are told Waid has a few turnarounds in his cap- FF, Captain America. The interviews are a mixed bag- some concepts and ideas sound potentially cool in their hype, while others make one wary (Brevoort says in the IGN interview that a positive shake-up for Doc is to see him in places he isn't normally seen, like "Silicon Valley"- gah!- don't we read Doc for interesting non-Earth locations?- and when was the last time we got one of those? locations like we can't get with Daredevil? aren't exotic locales as essential to Doc as James Bond?). We shall see what is essential to Doc, what makes Doc Doc- we shall see if a character defined by his job can yield good stories while on "sabbatical", if a new golden era of Doc stories unburdened by the duty of protecting the whole frickin' dimension might really be dawning. It's always darkest before the light.
There will be no crazy Neilalien proclamations. This weblog is not shuttered. No analogies to an abused wife staying with her husband shall be uttered. Hopefully there isn't too much fan entitlement above. Let's not write a text about a fictional character's current denouement that would be a lot longer and emotion-filled than what Neilalien could possibly write in a more important situation like if a real person like Stan Lee or Steve Ditko actually died. Marvel Comics isn't dead to Neilalien- they will still get the little money they do from the Orbital HQ- at least the rest of Captain Britain and MI13 and Incognito.
But as proclamations go: Assuming (a) limited attention/energy/time, and money, for Neilalien to give, (b) a desire to vote with his dollars, (c) a stack of much-more-nourishing MoCCA indie-comic loot, and (d) that this tear-down and "sabbatical" is the best and most important Doctor Strange event that Marvel can muster during the ten years of Neilalien's blogging tenure and advocating for the character- it should not be a surprise to anyone if (e) Neilalien doesn't buy or contribute to the sales of the Doctor Voodoo book in any way, and (f) his weblog reduces, as one of its central themes, hitching its wagon to a Ditko-created but grossly-misused corporate object. Not a Comic Book Guy "I've wasted my life (blog)" moment- wouldn't want to kill the braindumping-about-Doctor-Strange golden goose that lays the uniqueness-in-the-vast-comicsblogging-sea golden egg! But an opportunity to evolve, to change. We shall see how empty these threats. Because Doctor Strange isn't the only one who's been given a big juicy "out" from his "chores" here- so have his fans.
Posted 30 June 02009 - Permalink