by Mark Waid (writer), Emma Rios (artist), Christina Strain (color artist), Lauren Sankovitch *(associate editor), Tom Brevoort (editor)

The Story: Strange, powerless, has found the demon Tul’uth possessing a baseball team. He also finds a girl with an unusual aptitude for magic.

What’s Good: I really, really wish I could have found something to write here.

What’s Not So Good: As a big Dr. Strange fan, it kills me to say this, but I was… disappointed. I know Steven Strange doesn’t draw the readership he once did, but except for a few years here and there, he’s always been somewhere in the monthly books because he’s a compelling character. As much as Tony Stark, Stephen Strange is about redemption and unlike the new Stark, Strange is still selflessly, unflinchingly, unquestioningly heroic. This first issue of this limited series isn’t showing Strange the love.

First off, there’s nothing wrong with Emma Rios’ pencils, but the wild-blue-hair anime style does not suit the menacing mystic worlds that surround Dr. Strange. Even Casey’s true view through enchanted glasses revealed a world of deep, riotous color, but without the foreground shadows or darkness that really make Strange’s adventures moody and spooky. So…good artist, wrong book.

On the writing side, I’ve read a lot of great Mark Waid books, but this story is starting in a particularly unambitious way. First of all, I don’t understand where all of Strange’s power went. He first appeared in 1963 as Master of the Mystic Arts and didn’t become Sorcerer Supreme until about 1972. In those nine years he wasn’t the Sorcerer Supreme, he had power enough to defeat Mordo, Nightmare, Dormammu and anyone else who came his way. In the late eighties, he used some black magic (much like he recently did with the Avengers). This tainted him for a while, so he had to look for new sources of power. Despite the fact that he couldn’t call then upon his typical patrons, he was still skilled enough to use the black magic that Kaluu taught him. So why then is this Strange so powerless that he can’t beat a second-rate demon without playing baseball?

More unambitiously, this newly humbled Strange, instead of seeking to regain his might (not necessarily the supremacy he had, but his mastery), pits himself against a minor demon in what looks to be a 1-issue mop-up operation with no significance to Strange or the rest of the Marvel Universe. On the Marvel website, some prominence is given to Strange finding a new student. This leads me to think that Marvel is trawling for new teen readers drawn to a teenage girl growing up under Strange’s tutelage, and that she’ll be the one growing as a character, not him. I hope I’m wrong, but otherwise, by issue #4, I’m going to be suggesting that the limited series should have been called “Casey, Apprentice of Strange”.

Like I said, it kills me to criticize a Dr. Strange book, but there’s so much they could have done with this title. Some of Strange’s best adventures have been when he is massively outgunned and has to survive on his wits and skill alone in alien dimensions. Why couldn’t Waid, Sankovitch and Brevoort have picked out something like a quest to redeem Strange? A journey to reclaim lost skills and take what he is and the wisdom he has learned and save some world from evil, with only his wits and limited magic to help him? Lead a magical guerrilla war on some foe Dr. Voodoo is too busy to fight? The possibilities for heroic redemption are endless, but none of them are suggested by this first issue.

Conclusion: I’m disappointed not only for this series, but also because I know that the failure of this series will delay a true return by Dr. Strange to the mainstream of the Marvel Universe for a couple of years. (I’ll still buy issue #2, though, because Stephen Strange is such a great character)

Grade: D

-DS Arsenault