Doctor Strange #19 // Review
Somewhere in Mid-State New York, a woman is driving her son down a slick highway at night when a phantasm appears, causing an auto accident. No need to call an ambulance as a Doctor has already been tracking the apparition as writer Mark Waid and artist Jesús Saiz continue to wind-down the current run of Doctor Strange. The ingenious blend of magic and medicine challenges Strange in another bright standalone story. That proceeds to show the potential for compelling action and drama from a character soon to vanish into the corners of the Marvel Universe.
It’s a rainy night. There’s a mother behind the wheel. Her son Danny is sitting in a car seat playing with a digital tablet. And phantasm appears out of nowhere, causing a car crash. Doctor Strange had been tracking a spectral force when the apparition appeared. It vanishes in spite of Strange’s use of the Sapphire Bands of Storann to exile it. The disappearance of the phantasm is the least of Doctor Strange’s concerns as little Danny has suffered from a traumatic brain injury. The good news: Strange was trained as a brain surgeon before becoming a sorcerer. So he’s able to instantly make a highly detailed diagnosis way beyond the capacity of modern medical science. The bad news: having lost the ability to manage the fine motor skills that would allow him to perform surgery, he’s powerless to help Danny.
Waid handles a clever fusion of magic, the supernatural and medicine in a remarkably smart story. That engages Doctor Strange on multiple dramatic levels without compromising the pulse of a very sharp sense of action that pulses through the entire issue. Strange is a multi-layered character who is often treated as a one-dimensional agent for all things magic in the Marvel Universe. Waid’s cunningly simple plot engages Strange in a drama that pulls-in all of his identity. In a conflict that is refreshingly earthbound for someone who has recently been engaged in much more cosmic endeavors.
Saiz handles the balance between drama and the supernatural with the same deft sense of subtlety and nuance that made the previous issue so enjoyable. There’s a very vivid atmospheric effect in the background with a clean but moody rainstorm on a highway in New York. But it’s the dramatic nuance that gives the atmosphere a compelling reality to center itself around. There’s a striking moment when Doctor Strange realizes that he’s incapable of helping Danny, that Saiz delivers to the page with more power than anything encountered in the massive cosmic conflict that Strange was handling just a few issues ago.
This issue and the one that came before it stand as cleverly-rendered examples of how to bring a very contemporary Doctor Strange story to the page. Without all the cosmic clutter that can grow to compromise the action. It’s not terribly new stuff. It’s nothing that Strange hasn’t dealt with numerous times over the decades. But Waid and Saiz are showing readers just what they’ll be missing when Strange vanishes again after next issue.