Doctor Strange: The Oath #1
“The Oath, Chapter One”
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Pencils/Cover artist: Marcos Martin
Inks: Alvaro Lopez
Colors: Javier Rodriguez
Letters: Willie Schubert
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN
With Brian K. (Runaways, Y: The Last Man) Vaughan listed as the writer on this limited series, there was no way I was going to miss the book. But to be honest, I didn’t expect much more than an entertaining supernatural, super-hero yarn. As I made my way through this debut issue, that’s exactly what I found. Vaughan offers some solid drama and sharp humor, and artist Marcos Martin captures the same kind of vibe that the original and ultimate Dr. Strange artist — Steve Ditko — brought to the character four decades ago. So figured I was definitely getting my money’s worth… and then I hit the last page and realized I got so much more.
Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Strange’s longtime manservant Wong is dying from an inoperable brain tumor. He has only months to live, but his boss and friend dedicates his time to finding a cure for Wong’s condition, something supernatural, hidden away in another dimension, far from the eyes and awareness of the mainstream medical community. Strange may know how to help Wong, but what he doesn’t know is the actual depth of his undertaking. There are other uses for the cure Strange seeks, and there are those who have their own ideas about what to do with it.
Marcos Martin and inker Alvaro Lopez do an excellent job of capturing the surreal, almost silly look that Steve Ditko established as the hallmark for the title character back in the 1960s in Strange Tales. But the artists don’t unleash that powerful homage right away. It isn’t until later in the issue that they go into full Ditko Mode. Mind you, one wouldn’t mistake their work for Ditko’s by any means. They incorporate a Ditko sensibility, sense of design and movement, but they don’t simply ape his approach. The scenes set in more mundane circumstances demonstrate personality and show off a more natural kind of movement than one might find in Ditko’s depictions of the everyday. While the Ditko Mode serves the supernatural elements of the story well, Martin’s own style brings out the personalities of the characters quite clearly. I love his take on the Night Nurse, for example, and the fluid motion Wong demonstrates when dealing with the street thugs. Javier Rodriguez’s colors also reinforce the Silver Age style of the other-dimensional sequences perfectly.
Vaughan’s script boasts some snappy writing right from the start, and it actually reminded me of Gail (Secret Six, The All-New Atom) Simone’s slick, playful super-hero banter. The scene in which an oblivious Dr. Strange goes about conjuring a spell while Wong faces mortal danger only inches away was a hoot and serves as an important moment of comic relief in a story that has a real-world human drama as its catalyst. Vaughan also goes further than any writer before him in introducing and exploring the character of the Night Nurse. The character has been lurking on the periphery of the Marvel Universe for a while now, turning up in Daredevil, for example. But she’s really served more as a plot device than anything else. Here, she lives and breathes, and the banter between her and Strange is a lot of fun.
The final page, which features the big revelation about the true nature of this story, elevates this from a good, entertaining super-hero story to something special, something thought-provoking, something significant. No, I’m not alleging that a Dr. Strange comic is going to effect social change. But the plot development on the final page, the themes introduced in this issue and the title of the story itself all indicate that Vaughan is going to pose some interesting ethical questions that can prompt for personal and social reflection. I shouldn’t be surprised that Vaughan has developed such a smart story. He remains one of the most important talents in the industry today. 9/10