Up is down, left is diagonal! Loki Laufeyson, (Thor’s brother) has taken up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme–to make matters worse, Loki has even become the star of the ongoing Doctor Strange series! Find out what we have to say about all this today in The Marvel Rundown!
Doctor Strange #381
Written by Donny Cates
Illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Alexander Jones: AJ! Nothing will ever be the same! The God of mischief has taken up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme in Doctor Strange #381! What were your first impressions of Loki’s first couple days on the job?
AJ Frost: Well, from what we saw in this issue, Loki’s having a bit of a rough start, but slowly settling into his new role. I think the prospect that the God of Trickery and Mischief should be given the powers of magic and command inter-dimensional might is a fertile one. And since we know Loki’s usually up to no good, how he wields these new powers will be fun. I didn’t completely buy the set-up though. Loki just happened to win these powers from Stephen Strange? Seems like a bit of a cop-out exposition-wise, and the overall execution is still yet to be seen. However, from what we see in the first chapter of this arc, it’s going to be a fun ride.
Jones: The criticism about the duel which caused Loki to win could prove moot in the next couple of issues as I believe writer Donny Cates likely has more to say about this. The details of what went down between Loki and Strange are fuzzy at best. In the first couple of pages, I was passionately in love with the book as the title takes Jason Aaron’s run on the character as Gospel. The problem with the plot for me turned out to be the characterization of Loki in general. The God of Mischief and Sorcerer Supreme was definitely moody in this installment and seems so desperate to be taken seriously. There was nothing quite interesting plot-wise for them to accomplish. In the past couple of years at Marvel, readers have gotten lots of new status quo shifts and very few have stuck–I hope there’s more to this whole thing than what is immediately apparent on the page. However, there was nothing about this debut to justify its existence for me aside from the beautiful cover.
Frost: So, you didn’t dig it so much, even though you wanted to? I can see it. I think there was a lot of hype and a lot of expectation of what would be going on with Loki given the powers of the Sorcerer Supreme. Not sure if the potential was squandered here so much, as not explored in a way that makes it super-compelling. It’s an interesting premise, and with time I think it will be worthwhile. But, I can see where you’re coming from.
Jones: Maybe if the anchor character Zelma was the lead and not Loki this title would have more to say? I think the sole idea of having him take over the role of Sorcerer Supreme is definitely a strong idea, but the scene in the bar where he is moping around or the conversation with Thor didn’t exactly inspire with confidence in where the series is planning to go next. In the past, Loki runs have explored some of the characters’ more redemptive elements in Kieron Gillen and Doug Braithwaite’s Journey into Mystery and Al Ewing and Lee Garnett’s Loki: Agent of Asgard title. This title seems to take the approach of the Thor: Ragnarok film and show that the Sorcerer Supreme cannot be redeemed–if that is the case, the tone here should be quite a bit darker.
Frost: The moping about in the bar was as meta as Marvel gets. There is something quite odd about magicians and gods having a watering hole to air out their grievances with their lines of work.
Jones: This idea might seem incredibly novel at first, but The Bar With No Name dates back to 1986 and Aaron reintroduced the idea with his run as well. Seeing Cates throw Loki there and spend so much time in the locale didn’t have the energy it should have harnessed. Seeing Loki just sit still didn’t give Gabriel Hernandez Walta a lot to do either. When the scene ended with him angrily lashing out at the other magicians it was hard for me not to interpret the scene as anything other than formulaic. We just saw Infamous Iron Man doing something very similar to this a few months ago. I’m tainted by previous stories for sure but still, I’m just expecting more here!
Frost: Right! Can I tell you a crazy thought I had while reading this scene? And please call me out if I sound crazy. I had this weird thought were Loki was acting almost like President Trump a bit: a guy who’s definitely not ready for the job he’s given makes everyone question his judgment, is rueful he got the job in the first place and then lashes out when people ask him simple questions. Does that sound absurd?
Jones: To be frank, this is just the direction Marvel has decided to go in. The reception I would have regarding this book would certainly be different if there was a different president in office. However, I’m not letting my political beliefs or ideas hold me back from looking at this book critically.
Frost: Just an observation.
Jones: I feel like I say this every week, but where is the plot in this book? What is Loki doing here? What is his motivation? In screenwriting classes, that’s the first thing we learn is the protagonist has to have one aspect they need driving the adventure. Was I missing the thing he was looking for? Enlighten me AJ!
Frost: Cue in the U2 lyrics. In Marvel’s defense, this is just the set-up issue, so maybe they felt that less was more. Maybe the “less” was too much in this case, as we readers are not given too much to invest in. On the other, everything here is pure exposition, very little action. For a substantive plot, maybe just wait until the whole arc coalesces.
Jones: I’m not sure if you think this criticism is a little nitpicky too, but the structure of the book kind of boggles my mind. If they weren’t going to tell us why and how Loki became the Sorcerer Supreme, why do they spend so much time lingering on those aspects of the story? From a pacing standpoint, I don’t understand what this story achieved.
Frost: I see where you’re coming from, but I think it might be as big of a hindrance to the goal of the book. It is a part 1 of a story arc, so at some point, I’m sure we’ll find out the answers you’re looking for.
Jones: Is this the first time you have ever come across Gabriel Hernandez Walta?
Frost: I’ve seen his stuff before with Vision, I like his style. It has a nice off-kilter feel to it. This isn’t a big issue, however, devoted to big pieces of action. A lot of the artwork, then, is low-key (get it?), more about atmosphere than action. And I appreciated those qualities about it.
Jones: The Jordie Bellaire colors were beautiful and the art had an energy to it despite the subject matter being slightly dreary. When Loki experiences dread, Walta’s depiction of him is striking. This is well-charted territory for the artist, but his work is always treated and has a strong, consistent level of quality I have come to appreciate over the past couple of years of seeing his work stretching back to Magneto. The pages were Cates’ script is filled with things that go bump in the night are an absolute joy to take in.
Frost: Kudos to Jordie Bellaire for the superb coloring!
Jones: Agreed. What are some of your final thoughts on the book?
Frost: It’s a solid opening to an arc that doesn’t show off all its cards. There’s a bit too much ambiguity as to why certain characters have certain powers (or don’t have them). There are moments of real levity which I thought were nice, but overall, it doesn’t stand out as a singular piece of Doctor Strange. For readers who dig the Strange stuff, they’ll like it. For more casual readers, the premise itself might be a bit too confusing for them to pick up on what is going on.
Jones: I don’t think we are going to agree this week!
Frost: What’s your verdict?
Jones: Over the past couple of years, I have been really concerned about comics not taking risks or telling bigger, large-scale stories. Doctor Strange #381 seems to exist on a very small scale which doesn’t take full advantage of the premise. The sense of ambiguity laced with an already sparse issue held the potential of the comic back for me. I want Marvel to really push the stories forward instead of starting with an interesting premise and slowing the pace down to a crawl afterward. I know this sounds kind of dour, but after reading the energetic and beautiful Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo Doctor Strange run, I wanted a sinister version of this story which was brimming with exuberance and a wonderful sense of direction. This book certainly could gain steam and the art is pretty, but I can’t recommend this particular installment. Am I being too harsh?
Frost: For all we know, that may still happen. Are you saying readers should skip this outing?
Jones: I didn’t feel good enough about this to give it the benefit of the doubt and still feel the majority of the issue was Loki sulking about his new promotion. SKIP.
Frost: Ok. I’m a little more optimistic than you on this one because if say give it a BROWSE.
Jones: It is good to have a healthy debate on this and I’m sad because I liked the idea here and sincerely do love this cover–all hail Mike Del Mundo!
Verdict: AJ says Browse Alexander says Skip.
Next week we’re going to take a look at Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #25 and Silver Sable and The Wild Pack #36–don’t miss it!
Fruit snack aficionado. @AlexandComics