The Odd Couple meets magical shenanigans as the loss of Doctor Strange continues to have large repercussions on so many aspects within the Marvel Universe, and Spider-Man & Black Cat are on the case. Every single bit of this issue is a true show of how tie-in comics should and can work, doing their own unique fun thing while keeping the spirit of the main event intact along the way (it helps when the event writer also does a tie-in).
As soon as it was announced that Jed MacKay was going to be writing The Death Of Doctor Strange mini-event, it was only natural to wonder where and how he would find a way to fit Felicia Hardy/Black Cat into the mix. Per usual when it comes to the writer and his past few year’s work with the character, her inclusion into the story through a Spider-Man titled tie-in comic did not disappoint.
Strange and Felica’s paths have crossed numerous times recently (the review headline being a reference to those run-ins), within the pages of her solo series that MacKay has been writing for about two years, and it’s only fitting that she be there to ‘supervise’ as the duty to handle some of the Doctor’s affairs after his untimely demise falls to the new Spider-Man, Ben Reilly.
Even with the specter of death hovering over this book, within the title even, it’s actually just a really fun magical odd couple/buddy adventure story at heart. There are a ton of great magical elements at work here, but what really gets things going is the interplay between Felicia and Ben through the issue. Understandably with Peter Parker fighting a life and death battle right now (see the current Amazing Spider-Man run for more details on that), Felica is very much on edge and has a lot of reasons to mistrust and dislike Ben, especially since he’s a corporately sponsored Spider-Man.
We get a few full sequences of them tackling a list of things Strange wants Spider-Man to clean up/deal with in his absence followed by a montage of those things, and through the whole thing, there is a logical steady evolution of this relationship. They aren’t friends, but there is an understanding and a bit of camaraderie that is built at this moment. Despite many of the differences, Ben is still very much like Peter in a lot of ways.
MacKay is truly great at deep emotional beats and deep character work, while not losing any bit of the inherent fun that comes with superheroes comics. We get a deeper look at just what Stephen Strange means to the world here, what he accomplishes on a daily basis from the big to the simple small human moments, which reflects on the heroes here too. As much as Felicia and even the audience might dislike it, Ben’s impassioned speech that the world needs a Spider-Man, just like it needs a Doctor Strange, is correct. It might have been a bit Miles dismissive, understandably so from Ben’s perspective, but these hero roles are basically modern mythology even within the universe itself.
This mix of fun and deep character stuff is only enhanced by the work that Marcelo Ferreira, Wayne Faucher, Andrew Crossley, and Peter Pantazis have done artistically. Not only are the magical elements perfectly rendered to bring awe or scary vibes or just wonder, but the body language/facial expressions are on point. We know what these characters are feeling before they even talk thanks to this energy, often assisted by a lot of great panel choices that shift between close-ups and medium shots as well as the wider standard type of shots.
Alongside these various types of shots is the great paneling work, shifting things around so no two pages are exactly alike. More importantly, this allows for the easier shift in the types of shots mentioned, as there are panels upon panels such as a wider shot with two panels inset that give us the better emotional or action-packed closeup view.
Crossley and Pantazis’ colors dance in that just right realm of allowing the superheroic style of brighter colors to pop and show up in this world but also making the world shadowed and darker when needed both for story tone and the reality of the world. Ben’s costume is cool but it’s the type of change that has to grow on a fan sometimes, but the way it’s brought to life here just pops in a way that helped me appreciate it even more than I was already starting to do.
The aforementioned shifting of light and dark is at best displayed in the montage pages where things go from the darker tone set by a Moon Knight cameo to flashes of red, yellow, greens, and more as filters as well as some panels that offer up even poppier almost fairytale-like colors.
One doesn’t have to go far at Marvel to find books that have been graced with the magical lettering touch of Joe Caramagna, this issue being one of those. A lot of the work done to the various types of words in a comic gets taken for granted, but it really can add so much to a book when there are little flares and creative choices made. Take the caption boxes for instance, how little things like full colors that match a character when it’s their own thoughts or small borders of color to designate who is talking when the boxes replace bubbles are visually pleasing as well as helpful to follow.
Not to mention, colorful big bold bombastic SFX (as well as their more subtle quieter versions) never ever get old to see. Seeing a really great ‘Thwipp’ in a Spider-Man comic gets this longtime fan’s heart screaming in joy every single time.
Death of Doctor Strange: Spider-Man #1 is now on sale in print and digitally from Marvel Comics.