Sunday, 12 May 2013

Doctor Strange: The Oath Review

I wanted to review one if Brian K. Vaughan's longer series but my other commitments on Shared Universe Reviews, mainly working on my larger projects and regular comic reviews, are keeping me pretty busy. Thankfully, Brian K. Vaughan has also penned a few shorter comic projects. I chose to read Doctor Strange: The Oath because I remembered really liking it but more specifically because Vaughan and Marcos Martin have published the first two issues of their new series: Private Eye .I quite like Martin art and I felt like reading a BKV story, The Oath seemed like a good fit.

BKV is one of the comic book writers that really encouraged me to read more comics. Not just superhero comics either. By following him I discovered other publishers, characters, and genres that exist in the comics medium. Because of Runaways I developed an interest in the B and C-list heroes of Marvel. Because of Y: The Last man I read such Vertigo series as Sandman, Transmetropolitan and Preacher. It's all BKV's fault that I discovered some of my favourite comics creators either because other series were compared to Vaughan's series or because he had a blurb on the cover of a new series or collection. 

Occasionally I feel a little bad for BKV. I would not list him as one of my all-time favourite comics writers but i do think he's better than most. Don't get me wrong, he's very good and he definitively cares more about the quality of comics he writes than the quantity. Still, I've always enjoyed a comic written by BKV, some more than others of course. I'm certain I will always continue to admire his desire to create new characters and series of his own as opposed to focusing all of his attention on the serialized adventures of the Big Two's superhero of the month.

What about The Oath? Where is it situated in Vaughan's body of work? It doesn't compare to his larger series, Ex Machina or Runaways or Y: The Last Man, but I think it might be his best mini-series. What makes this potentially Vaughan's best mini-series? For starters, having Marcos Martin on art duties does help out a lot. The creative team establishes the Night Nurse in the Marvel Universe, gives us a bit of her origin, offers us a short revamp of Doctor Strange's origin and also establishes his relationship with Wong. There’s also plenty of snappy dialogue and an establishing conflict as well as a few other nice moments where Vaughan uses the shared universe of Marvel to his advantage – and that’s all in the first issue! None of it feels dense though. Vaughan gives Martin the room to let his art breathe and the whole thing stays pretty balanced throughout all five issues.

Stephen Strange's origin story is about him putting aside his arrogant ways and learning to be compassionate and helpful towards his fellow man. Vaughan thinks up a story in which we get to see that he's really taken his lesson to heart and actually has changed for the better. It wasn't easy and Strange has moments if doubt but it’s his willingness to help his friends and his ability to overcome his fears that make him the hero he is. It doesn't have a whole lot to do with his powers as Sorcerer Supreme. Many other characters also have the abilities to wield magic and it doesn't mean they're all heroes. Mordo is a prime example of this. The guy is a villain, plain and simple. His power doesn’t instil in him the desire to help others. In fact, being powerful makes him want to take advantage of others and take actions that benefit himself. Vaughan does a good job of humanizing Strange while allowing him to have a dangerous edge. He's the Sorcery Supreme, after all. He is not to be underestimated.
One of the difficulties with writing a Doctor Strange story is the unpredictability of magic. Certain readers could find it difficult to enjoy reading a story in which a veritable deus ex machine exist as a primary story telling element. How do you write interesting conflict when your protagonist can just magic it all away? A lack of rules or an overabundance of rules to link the usage I magic in a story is an important and commonly dealt with element of the fantasy genre but it’s been a constant problem for Doctor Strange. Vaughan takes the time to address this problem directly without making it the focus of the story. It’s a little tough I appreciated and by defining how the magic works, Vaughan slips in with an emotional sneak attack near the end of the story. The guy had it planned all along!

Vaughan and Martin’s Doctor Strange comic effortlessly balances magical battles in other dimensions, philosophical debates on the use of power, and a sneakily emotional story. Doctor Strange: The Oath is a quick burst of superhero comics that actually has an interesting story to tell and doesn’t hinge on the fisticuffs of the title’s hero. It’s something we don't see often enough. BKV packs a nice amount of story and character development in five issues and gives it all a weight that is appropriate for a mini-series. The reader is neither overwhelmed and the story doesn't feel breezy or light. By focusing on telling an interesting and balanced story, BKV doesn't have to justify the existence of one more sock ‘em superhero comic on the stands. BKV knows he had one good Stephen Strange story and he told it, and stopped. He never even considered overstaying his welcome and instead leaves us wanting more once the last page is turned. I wish there was more of a demand for shorter superhero stories with some actually depths to the story than the endless parade of variant covers and summer crossovers that plague the market on a monthly basis.

Because I liked the art so much, here are more sample pages:


  1. Hey Mario,

    I'm big into the Marvel & DC worlds, but I had never heard of this mini-series. I checked it out on your recommendation and I gotto say I loved it! It's actually up there in one of the best Dr. Strange stories I've ever read. The last one I had recommended to me was "Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom in Triumph and Torment". Another good read but it lacks the wit found in The Oath.
    Great recommendation and I look forward to you next Capes & Tights review!!

  2. Thanks Steve. It's always nice to hear I did an alright job on a review. Glad you enjoyed The Oath!