DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #1

Writer(s): Nick Spencer and Donny Cates
Artist: Rod Reis
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee

So something like two weeks ago I think because who knows anymore because everything is chaos and time has no meaning, I was up in this space giving a little bit of guff to another “mini-event” by the way of INFINITY COUNTDOWN, which basically crowded its way out of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY proper to lead us to an actual INFINITY event later this year. And beyond what I felt about the actual issue itself (it was okay!) my main emotion was basically of an exasperation that we are still doing this. It wasn’t enough that SECRET EMPIRE was a clusterfuck that dragged an iconic character through the mud for about two years before resulting in, yet again, property damage for the sake of cheap heat and throw away character deaths, but it also led Marvel to “pull back” on events, which is why we’re here now. We’re not doing “full-scale” events anymore except, y’know, we’ve got whatever INFINITY ends up being later this year, but we are making sure that other books all do their own duty to drum up extra sales, like the NO SURRENDER crossover going into the AVENGERS books and DAMNATION here, spinning out of Donny Cates’ DOCTOR STRANGE run. Needless to say, the best foot was not put forward with me going into this issue, even though I have enjoyed that Cates run in and of itself.

Mind you, I’m not one to let a bias against this continuation of Marvel to keep their heads firmly placed in their asses to keep whatever money train they can going as they flounder about, but at the same time my goodwill is somewhat starting to dissipate with this. And it can’t help but be nudged along when by time I get done with this issue here, the first of the DAMNATION mini that will be intertwining with DOCTOR STRANGE proper and some MIDNIGHT SONS tie-ins, my main takeaway from the book was “that was solid… why the shit is this not just a normal Doctor Strange arc?” In one aspect I sort of understand blowing this arc up a bit because it deals with the Doctor, now amped up after his battle then uneasy alliance with Loki in his own book, using his newfound power swell to undo one of the more heinous acts of SECRET EMPIRE, the leveling of Las Vegas. Given the reversing of such a big and traumatic event for the universe and how it shows off Stephen Strange’s new power levels in front of the Avengers holding a memorial in the area, I can kind of jive with it being a story on a higher than normal scale. Except that by the issues’ end we’re confronted with the prospect that DAMNATION is “just another” Mephisto story.

Again, I’ve been digging on Cates’ STRANGE run proper going into this because his writing style has a nice darkly sardonic tinge to it that works well for the kind of darkness Strange combats in the world. It also translates well in DAMNATION to Mephisto once his underworld casino rips its way up through the center of Sin City immediately after Strange restores it and its inhabitants to life. Mephisto shows up all dapper suit and slick tongued and is highly entertaining, but at the end of the day, this issue and the mini-series as a whole looks like it’s shaping up to be a game with the devil for the soul of a town famous for its debauchery for maximum irony. Why this is going to encompass something like another fifteen issues or so is beyond me.

In and of the issue itself, DAMNATION is a perfectly fine story that borders a little more on the “romp” side of things than you would expect given it involves the resurrection of hundreds of thousands of people casually slain and then descends (or is it ascends in this case?) to literal Hell on Earth. That’s the talent and charm in Cates’ writing though. But as much as I believe in Cates’ talent there is absolutely nothing here that makes me think it was necessary to double my DOCTOR STRANGE pulls for four months just to keep up, let along why there’s double that number over for the full scope of this storyline. Then again, SECRET EMPIRE overstayed its welcome by a fistful of months too and its scribe, Nick Spencer, is along for the ride here plus it seems that Marvel, now on the verge of it’s something like seventh “reboot” in ten years is incapable of learning any sort of lessons while it flails about to recapture lost market share. If even someone like myself who usually trusts talent before anything is at a low tolerance level with stuff like this story and an INFINITY COUNTDOWN coming from a writer I really dig in Gerry Dugan, then it’s going to be a long and painful road back for the company. As is, because I like Donny so much, I am willing to swallow an extra twenty bucks for a few months to see if his is the greater influence with this story than Spencer or Editorial, but it’s become a very fine line that I’m not sure I’m willing to walk anymore unless I really start seeing something out of these “micro-events” that shows they are more driven by the creative teams already at the helm of these books than an obvious mandate from the top.

Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to AICN COMICS and now at MLMILLERWRITES.COM. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to – funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He’s a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, Facebookand a blog where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn’t the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.