Review – Doctor Strange #20

Doctor Strange #20


printSizeImageI’ve been a fan of fellow Southerner Jason Aaron since his days on Scalped.  I’ve particularly appreciated how he deftly explores an extremely flawed character in all of his comic book runs, both creator- owned and at Marvel.  Since his inception, Doctor Strange has been such a flawed individual, although few have written him as broken as Aaron does.  Aaron’s Strange has a beautiful and destructive relationship with magic, which he has explored through much of the run, to varying levels of success.

In his final issue on the run, Jason Aaron explores the fallout of Stephen Strange’s battle with Mr. Misery, its effects on Wong and Zelma Stanton, and Stephen Strange’s struggle to hold onto what little magic remains on earth.  

There are several reasons that this is my favorite issue of Aaron’s 20 issue run. The first is Aaron’s subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) humor, which goes from biting to slapstick here, much like it did during his run on Wolverine and the X-Men.

In one scene, early in the issue, Doctor Strange, in the form of the dog, attempts to threaten an auction room of big bads in an attempt to get his paws on “the fabled Wand of Xyggondo” (good luck pronouncing that).  When that fails, he steals it with his teeth, only to be turned into his human form, whereupon he steals a kiss from a beautiful maiden and crashes through a window.  

The issue truly shines, however, when his librarian, Zelma Stanton, a Jason Aaron original character, saves a poisoned Strange, flies a motorcycle over the Bermuda Triangle, and ends up, with the now unconscious Sorcerer Supreme,  in the magical and aptly named Weirdworld.  

I will admit that I was unfamiliar with the original Weirdworld storyline from the 70s. I have, however, grown to appreciate the absurdities of the place since Aaron reintroduced it in Secret Wars.  That Aaron has Strange spend half of an issue, most of it unconscious, in Weirdworld seems like a missed opportunity.  Weirdworld is clearly a magical place, and its connection to earth since the end of Battleworld seems like a good opportunity to juxtapose with the larger world, where magic is dying.

As a side-note, this was also a missed opportunity to make some great Strange/Weird puns, but that’s probably just the English teacher in me.  

Fortunately, Aaron makes the most of the short time as the experience centers around developing Zelma’s character as she rises from mere librarian to the Sorcerer’s new apprentice.  

In doing so, we say goodbye to Wong, who must venture out on his own.  For most of his adult life, Wong has lived to assist Doctor Strange.  Over the course of Aaron’s run, readers have truly gained a sense of the sacrifices that Wong has had to make.  

Aaron poignantly writes, “I have devoted my life to the ways of magic. To the ways of Strange.  No wife. No children. No one to carry on my name when I die.  It is time that changed. Goodbye, sanctum. Watch over him for me, won’t you? It’s time my life became more than just magic. That has been a difficult path to walk for all these years.

In writing this, Aaron leaves open the opportunity for new chapters in the life of Wong, beyond the Sanctum Sanctorum. I doubt that this separation is permanent, but I look forward to seeing both Wong and Zelma develop over the next few years.


As much as Jason Aaron’s writing has defined this run, Chris Bachalo’s art has also.  Bachalo’s unique style fits well in Doctor Strange, and he brings a similar feeling of unreality that he brought to his Shade: The Changing Man run in the early 90s.  My favorite two Bachalo images from this issue are the cover and the incredibly detailed psychedelic two-page spread, late in the issue, where Zelma first sees just how much strange magic, not to mention magical creatures, exists in the world.  Bachalo splits the spread between black and white, representing the world as we see it, and color, representing the world of magic.  

Kevin Nowlan first drew Doctor Strange way back in 1983.  He’s appeared on and off over the course of Aaron’s run. In this issue, he deftly takes on the haunting feel of Weirdworld.  Perhaps the most poignant image from this section is of Zelma, eating a giant grub while looking over the misshapen and bone-filled landscape that makes up the magical land.  


So ends Jason Aaron’s run.  Doctor Stephen Strange has depended on Wong for so long that I wonder how he will get by without his most trusted companion.  Due to the assistance of his new apprentice, Zelma Stanton, however, the situation is far from Hopeless.  

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About the author

Stuart Ringwalt

Stuart Ringwalt teaches English/Language Arts at Walter Williams High School in Burlington, NC. In his free time, Stuart likes to read novels and comics, go on walks, play frisbee and video games and watch more television than he cares to admit.

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