Follow The Yellow Brick Road: Reviewing ‘Strange’ #9
by Scott Redmond
‘Strange’ reaches the endgame as the dual Sorcerers Supreme begin a final confrontation with the Blasphemy Cartel which leads them to another deceased former ally as well as the secret behind the Cartel. Every issue of this series has been such a magically engaging experience, with great character depth and moments as well as stunning visuals and vivid colors all structured to maximize the effect of this tale. Truly a must-read series.
Clea and Stephen are together once more, and to stay that way they must take the war to the Blasphemy Cartel. As the final battle begins we learn even more about what the characters have been going through and dig deep into Stephen Strange’s past to learn more about the threat of the present.
There are numerous things that Jed MacKay does so well as a writer, the list would be a pretty good length, chief among them is the way that he handles continuity. Marvel Comics has pretty much been running the same universe since the 60s, with refreshes and retcons to the sliding timescale every few years, which means these characters have been on a lot of adventures. Their world has been under some event-level threat pretty much every other day and it’s a shock that anything is still standing and people are actually functional rather than in perpetual shock. It’s a lot of stuff to recall or glance through and often trying to stay true to continuity can end up being an anchor around the neck of a story if not utilized in the right way.
MacKay always uses continuity in the right way. It’s never an anchor or a weight of any kind to a story, but instead, it’s a fellow passenger in the story there to stand alongside the new/current elements. We learn that the former members of W.A.N.D. that make up the Blasphemy Cartel answer to a group known as The Trinity who have ties to Doctor Strange during the time he fought in the 5,000-year-long Vishanti War. I had no clue what any of that meant, having never read older Strange stories, but it doesn’t slow the story down or need you to understand what that means other than it’s part of Strange’s history and it plays a role in what is going on now. In fact, this has made me really intrigued to check out that story as well as some older Doctor Strange stories, so its inclusion accomplished two goals.
All of the series MacKay works on have immense deep character work to them that explores all of their emotions and flaws and issues in really powerful ways, but they also weave the continuity lines as mentioned above. Both of these elements speak of not only understanding but love for the characters as well as the universe and medium. If you get a story with MacKay’s name on the cover you know that it’s going to go all out with the characters and world and leave you wanting more as soon as you reach that last page.
Oh and what a last page it is here as we finally figure out what the Revenant Prime is, the bodies that are being used to house tons of ghosts, and it’s some bonkers awesome comic book stuff featuring one of the biggest retcon characters of the 2000s. Looking all dangerous but also spooky decayed.
Visuals such as that one are just what Marcelo Ferreira, Roberto Poggi, and Java Tartaglia have been pulling off through most of the issues of this series so far. What we get from Ferreira and Poggi are visuals that have such depth and weight to them with amazing detail but also a bent that bleeds easily into the more fantastical side of things. Rife with an energy that makes sure that while it is detailed and many elements are realistic looking, it’s not going for a photo-realistic space as there can be elements that have proportions slightly off fitting of the tone.
One element that is spot on though is the facial expressions and body language, mixed with such great paneling choices, allowing us to feel alongside the characters just with a glance. A close-up of just the hands of Clea and Stephen reaching out conveys so many powerful emotions without us needing to see their faces. Sandwiching it between close-up shots of each character gives us more because we can see how they are feeling in the moment and how determined Clea is especially to be done with this mission and get her husband back to the land of the living.
I just love the way that Ferreira goes about doing paneling, as they are such a variety of shapes and sizes that give us a different view into elements. Sometimes they even bleed into one another or allow for a lot of white/empty space around to frame the panels. It gives the book such a distinctive look and makes the elements even more engaging as the eyes move across the pages.
Throughout the day or life, we’re constantly in spaces that are lit differently and have a different tone to them because of that light. Tartaglia captures that so well because the spaces we see here all have their own lighting and color palettes so that no space feels exactly the same. Our opening pages within the storm have a more washed-out cool tone to them making the popping costumes of the Stranges feel more toned down. Compared to the inside of the Blasphemy Base known as The Emerald City, which lives up to its name, with a green tone that contrasts the gray and brown walls but makes costumes pop in brightness because everything is more vibrant again.
At the same time, there are still heavy shadows and darker elements in play, while in other panels the colors are pulled back dramatically so that we’re fully in shadows with splashes of light. It all cycles through colder and warmer tones, whichever is needed at the moment to convey the right feeling for what the characters are doing or experiencing. Many of the cooler moments come as the Stranges are getting emotional, and focused on their situation, while the brighter warmer things are centered around the action and magical moments. Some of my favorite panels actually feature both qualities as the Stranges are still in cooler/lighter tones and the revenants they fight are warmer/poppier colors keeping them distinct while sharing the same space.
Just like how Ferreira is a master at paneling and maximizing the effects of the artwork, the same can be said of how Cory Petit handles the lettering here. Making the dialogue and captions flow in an easy-to-follow digestible way is pretty much a standard way to go, but Petit doesn’t just make them fit in a space around the artwork. They often are very much part of what is going on, hugging in close to the characters and action. Especially on the pages where Clea’s narration is broken up and popping up in the great pink-hued boxes, giving us insight into her thoughts right next to where we’re watching her fight or struggle.
We feel the pain, determination, and just overall personality through the boxes and other words on the page. All mixed in with the rest of the colorful lettering found on the page, I’m a lover of the big giant colorful shouted names or dropping a character’s actual comic book logo in as part of someone exclaiming their name. It’s comic booky and I love that stuff so much.
There is only one issue left to go in this series, but what is coming next in 2023 should be pretty darn exciting.
Strange #9 is now available from Marvel Comics.