Saturday, March 31, 2007

Delayed Reaction: Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment

Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment (Marvel Comics), by Roger Stern, Michael Mignola and Mark Badger

Why’d I Wait?: As far as I can tell, this original graphic novel was released in 1989, which was actually a few years before I started reading comics. So unlike a lot of the books I feature in these “Delayed Reaction” segments, I didn’t wait to read it so much as I completely didn’t know it existed until fairly recently. It’s unfortunately long out of print, despite the fact that it features pencils by Mike “King of the Hellboy Multi-Media Empire” Mignola.

Why Now?: Synchronicity, I guess.

A few months back I re-read Cosmic Odyssey and kept thinking how crazy it was to see a big-deal artist like Mignola drawing the likes of the J’onn J’onnz and Orion for DC.

Retailer Mike Sterling at EDILW favorite recently mentioned Triumph and Torment in the context of, “Hey, wouldn’t it make good business sense for Marvel to have this book available for sale?” (With a Dr. Strange direct-to-DVD ‘toon in the works and another Fantastic Four film just months away, the book seems like one that it would be easy to foist on all sorts of readers, not just Hellboy/Mignola fans).

Then last weekend I was selling some old comics to my local Half-Priced Books, I found it sitting among the graphic novels for a scant $8.50 (Also scored: A Killraven graphic novel with art by P. Craig Russell for just $3).

Clearly the universe wanted me to read this story, and who am I to argue with the universe?

(Above: Doom's very nice fire place, as drawn by Mignola and Badger. Richards may be smarter and more virtuous than Doom, but Castle Doom is much more tastefully appointed than the Baxter Building)

Well?: It’s actually a pretty strange artifact, from the days when graphic novels were still pretty brand new. It’s relatively short—only about 80 pages—but it’s a hardcover, and an oversized, album one at that. This is the biggest I’ve ever seen Mignola art, and it’s quite a treat (if Marvel ever gets around to reprinting it, though, I suspect it would sell better as a traditional-sized trade paper back).

Roger Stern handles the writing, and it’s a fairly simple story, with the most complex part being the portrayal of Doctor Doom as a less evil guy than his name might imply. He’s actually a pretty complicated guy.

Stern opens in the Himalyas, where a crazy old mystic by the name of the Aged Gehngis is ranting and raving to his Wong-like servant, and then off he flies to do the work of The Vishanti, whom turn out to be actual deities, and not just an empty swear word Strange uses when frustrated or excited. Once every 300 years they declare a worldwide magic contest, and the winner gets the title “Sorcerer Supreme,” as well as a sacred task—to grant a boon to the runner-up.

Strange wins, naturally enough, but it’s Doom who comes in second, and so Strange must help Doom.

What he wants isn’t any magical assistance getting revenge on Richards or anything so pedestrian. Rather, he needs Strange’s expertise in the realms of the mystic to help him free his sorceress mother’s soul from Hell, where’s Marvel’s Devil Mephisto keeps it.

The rest of the book basically consists of Marvel’s two baddest doctors in Hell, shooting beams at hordes of Mignola-designed demons, while a gigantic Mephisto lounges on his throne in the background.

There’s some very nice melodrama in here, as the title promises there will be, and while I’ve read very little of Stern’s writing in the past—certainly not enough to get excited just by seeing his name on the cover—I was quite pleased with how it reads here. Clearly he approached working on a graphic novel as something a little more special than just another comic book script, and he really upped his game.

Mignola is inked by Mark Badger, and his art has yet to be refined down to the bare essentials that it’s currently at, but it’s awfully close to the style on display in his Hellboy stories (And it’s more Hellboy-esque thant it was even in Cosmic Odyssey).

Mignola’s characters have always had a thickness and a blockiness about them, something which I’ve always felt makes him and ideal artist for Marvel characters, as you can draw a line from the work of Jack Kirby to that of Mike Mignola.

His Doom is therefore unsurprisingly utterly perfect, and his Mephisto is probably the best I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t care for Minola’s Strange all that much, however, in part because Steve had a more ‘80s/Metallica-looking moustache here instead of the Vincent Price one I so like, and, in greater part, because Marcos Martin so spoiled me with Doctor Strange: The Oath that I don’t think I’ll ever like a visual interpretation of the character as much.

Would I Travel Back in Time to Buy it off the Shelf?: Well you’d pretty much have to in order to buy it now, wouldn’t you? In the mean time, you can see several pages of it (and some very colorful color commentary on those pages) at Scans_Daily.

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