Tag Archives: Mark Waid

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Dr. Strange Surgeon Supreme #1

Certain characters never begin their hero’s journey until they lose something they can never get back. It happened to Luke Skywalker when he lost his aunt and uncle in “Star Wars: A New Hope.” It happened to Spider-Man when his Uncle Ben was murdered by a mugger he could’ve stopped. For Dr. Strange, what he lost and where that took him is unique.

For Steven Strange, it wasn’t someone he lost. It was something. Before he became the Sorcerer Supreme, he was a gifted, but self-centered surgeon. He was a man of science and prestige. He had knowledge and skill that few could match. It afforded him wealth, respect, and affirmation the likes of which few achieve.

Then, in an instant, he lost it all. Beyond humbling him, it forced him to follow a new path. That path eventually led him to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme that Benedict Cumberbatch so brilliantly played in Marvel Studios’ dazzling adaptation to his story. He’s been on that journey for years in the comics and it has taken him to many magical places, literally and figuratively.

That does raise some interesting questions, though. What would happen if Dr. Strange suddenly got back what he’d lost all those years ago? How would regaining that precious gift he once lost affect him? This is what writer Mark Waid explores in “Dr. Strange Surgeon Supreme #1” and the implications are revealing.

The circumstances of this issue and this new series spin out of recent events involving the magical sector of the Marvel universe. The details aren’t necessary to know in order to follow the story. There’s a passing reference from Dr. Strange about making a bargain with a demon to get the use of his hands back, but that’s all you need to know to follow the plot.

It’s a unique plot in the context to a Dr. Strange story. In addition to the mystical battles with demons and various Lovecraftian forces, Dr. Strange is back to being a doctor. Specifically, he’s a neurosurgeon who takes on cases that no one else is equipped to handle. Dr. Strange makes that very clear. He only gets the cases that everyone else says is impossible.

For anyone who knows somebody who has been told by a doctor that there is no hope, it’s a powerful message and one that isn’t lost on Dr. Strange. Waid even lets some of that old arrogance from Dr. Strange show, but it’s the kind of arrogance that’s understandable. He’s not just a master of the mystic arts. He has skills as a surgeon that nobody else can match. He has a right to be a little arrogant.

At the same time, he’s still the Sorcerer Supreme. He’s still the same man who went down that hero’s journey and came out a better man. Seeing him navigate a crowded hospital and its labyrinthine of bureaucracy while also fighting mystical battles on the side is compelling. It provides a unique balance that mixes real world threats with those of magic.

It’s a balance that is difficult to strike in a Dr. Strange comic. One of the major appeals of Dr. Strange comics is that it doubles down on all those mystical tropes that push the imaginations of writers and artists alike. Mixing it with something as common as a crowded hospital feels like it shouldn’t fit, but Waid makes it work and the imagery provided by artist Kev Walker still gives it a magical ambiance.

That mix works because, as Dr. Strange often points out when describing magic, the byproducts come at a price. He has back what he lost and he’s still the Sorcerer Supreme. However, it’s not all operating rooms and dark dimensions. Doing both, even on a part-time basis, takes a toll on him and that toll shows.

It doesn’t just mean he has less time to sleep and slay demons. As the story unfolds, there’s an ominous undertone that Dr. Strange can’t completely balance these two lives. He can dedicate himself to being the Sorcerer Supreme. He can also dedicate himself to being a gifted surgeon. However, by doing both, one life will affect the other. There’s no way around it.

Going back to the catalyst that leads many down a hero’s journey, it’s rare for any character to reclaim what they lost. Peter Parker can never get his Uncle Ben back. Luke Skywalker can never save his aunt and uncle. However, “Dr. Strange Surgeon Supreme #1” gives Dr. Strange that rare opportunity to still be the hero he’s become while regaining what he lost.

The story never gives the impression that Dr. Strange goes back to being the arrogant asshole he was before he knew magic was real. His attitude and disposition in “Dr. Strange Surgeon Supreme #1” never feels like a regression. At the same time, there’s a clear sense that he can only push himself so far, even as the Sorcerer Supreme.

When mystic threats start to affect his non-mystical pursuits, he struggles in ways we don’t expect of a man who regularly stares down the likes of Dormammu. It reinforces the notion that magic comes at a price and so too does regaining what you once lost. Is Dr. Strange willing and able to pay that prices?

That question remains unanswered, but “Dr. Strange Surgeon Supreme #1” makes clear that it cannot go unanswered forever. At some point, Dr. Strange will have to make some difficult decisions and for once, there’s no magic spell that will make those decisions any easier.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Invisible Woman #5

Certain characters are held to very high standards. That’s especially true of superheroes. Not all heroes can or should be judged with the same criteria. Wolverine can go on a rage-fueled killing spree, lust after married women, and drunk a gallon of whiskey a day, but still get labeled a hero. That’s because he’s held to a different, albeit very lenient standard.

That sort of standard just can’t work for a character like Sue Richards. Aside from being a hero, she carries herself very differently from the likes of Wolverine, Tony Stark, and Black Widow. She’s not a career assassin, a playboy billionaire, or some cosmic tyrant. She’s a hero, a role model, a loving wife, and a caring mother. She knows who she is and cherishes that identity.

That same identity has been tested, strained, and pushed in her latest solo series, courtesy of writer Mark Waid. We’ve seen her revisit an old part of her life that almost took her down a very different path, one that would not have met those lofty standards ascribed to heroes like her and teams like the Fantastic Four. In “Invisible Woman #5,” she comes dangerously close to crossing lines she swore to never cross.

It’s the end of a story that has taken Sue Richards away from her family and her life of wild cosmic adventures. Instead of battling planet-eating cosmic beings, she navigates the shady world of espionage. By the end, it’s easy to see why she prefers battling Galactus.

At first, the mission was simple. Sue set out to find a former friend and partner, Aidan Tintreach. As is often the case in stories involving spies, espionage, and beautiful women, it gets exceedingly complicated very fast. Along the way, Waid explores just how capable Sue is on her own. She’s one of those characters who is often defined by her team and her family. She rarely gets a chance to show what she can do by herself.

As a spy, Aidan saw that potential in her. Throughout the series, he has forced her to realize it in ways that don’t always sit well. Initially, it was as an ally and someone in need of her help. The events leading up to “Invisible Woman #5” steadily revealed the kind of person he became. He now has Sue in a position to become that same person.

True to the high heroic standards that she holds for herself, Sue never stops trying to save her former partner. She keeps trying to reconnect with the man she once knew. At every turn, however, Aidan keeps shooting holes in their history and her faith in him. It puts Sue in a difficult position in “Invisible Woman #5,” one for which she can’t play by the same rules that help make her an iconic hero.

What starts as a rescue is now an unfolding tragedy and it comes dangerously close to becoming much worse. At this point, there’s no more room for betrayals and secrets. Sue has to confront Aidan, who at this point has a death wish. However, rather than poke the Hulk’s eye or kick a puppy in front of the Punisher, he wants Sue to be the one to stop him.

He seems so far gone, but Waid never paints Aidan as someone who has just lost their mind. He’s not the Joker, the Green Goblin, or a villain from a James Bond movie. He’s just someone who has crossed so many lines over the year as a spy, lying and betraying everyone along the way, that there’s no standard left to judge him. As a character and someone who used to ally himself with superheroes, he’s gone morally numb.

At times, Aidan comes off as a dark mirror for Sue. In him, she sees what she could’ve become if she’d remained a spy. He is living proof of what happens when you’re held to a high standard, but cross too many lines. It makes what Sue has to do to stop him feel so dramatic and impactful.

Along the way, she has to push herself and her powers in ways we rarely see outside of trips to the Negative Zone. Artist Mattia de Iulis does an excellent job showing off what Sue can do when she needs to use her powers creatively. The visuals make clear that, even without her family, Sue is very powerful.

Anyone who has read more then one Fantastic Four comic knows that. However, seeing her powers applied in such unique ways helps demonstrate what Aidan sees in her. If she held herself to a different standard, she could be a true force to be reckoned with and not just as a spy.

Between de Iulis’ renderings and Waid’s characterization, “Invisible Woman #5” shows the Fantastic Four’s perennial mother figure in a new light. We get to see glimpses of her past before she became this iconic hero that we hold to such lofty standards. We also see how her approach to heroism differs from those who immerse themselves in situations where heroes and villains alike have to lie, cheat, and deceive.

It’s not one of those stories in which Sue can rely on her family, teamwork, or her inherently endearing personality to save the day. She has to face down someone who ventured into the same shady world, but came out far worse. It’s not the kind of situations that Sue often finds herself in with the Fantastic Four, but “Invisible Woman #5” shows that she can handle it, albeit with a heavy heart.

In the end, that same heart is exactly why Sue Richards holds herself to such high standards. It’s the same reason why her heroism is judged by such a strict criteria compared to other characters in the greater Marvel pantheon. When she does have to cross a line, it breaks her heart, as it would for anyone who hasn’t been too hardened by circumstance.

The fact that there are still characters like Sue Richards, who hold onto those values and refuse to cross certain lines, is nothing short of refreshing. In an age where we expect heroes, celebrities, icons, and leaders to cross lines all the time, a hero like Invisible Woman stands out for all the right reasons.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Invisible Woman #1

There are some iconic characters whose iconic status acts as a double-edged sword. Being iconic helps give them staying power. Only a handful of characters are iconic enough to remain relevant for extended periods, especially when their relevance extends all the way back to the Kennedy Administration.

With that staying power, however, comes often baggage, circumstance, and complications. For much of her history, Sue “Invisible Woman” Richards has been defined by her role in Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four. She’s not just the cute blond on a team of superheroes. She’s a wife, a mother, and a sister. She frequently acts as the anchor that holds the Fantastic Four together, as a family.

It’s a role that has helped make her iconic, but it has also limited her opportunities to explore stories outside that family role. It certainly didn’t help that she, Reed, and her children were MIA from Marvel’s comic book universe for an extended period, which may or may not have had something to do with movie rights.

Even with those complications, Sue is one of those characters who has always had the potential to be something more than her iconic role on a famous superhero team. With “Invisible Woman #1,” Mark Waid and Mattia de Iulis finally take a chance at realizing that potential. At a time when the Fantastic Four are still recovering from years of negligence and a historically bad movie, the timing couldn’t be better.

This isn’t just another story about Sue holding her family together. It’s not about her trying to balance being a mom, a wife, a sister, and a superhero. Waid and de Iulis put Sue in a position to show that she can be iconic in her own right without sacrificing what makes her so vital to her family.

The premise of “Invisible Woman #1” is fairly simple. It establishes that there was a time in the past when Sue explored other types of superhero activities on top of her role with the Fantastic Four. One of those activities involved espionage on behalf of SHIELD. In the world of Marvel superheroes, it’s basically the equivalent of taking the night shift at a grocery store.

She was good at it too. She could get the job done and, unlike other trigger-happy SHIELD agents, she could do it without much bloodshed. It nicely reflects the loving, compassionate nature that makes her the lynch-pin of the Fantastic Four. It also shows that she can be tough and cunning when she needs to be.

It’s a side of Sue that hasn’t been explored much, but one that still reflects the greatest strength of her character. She’ll never be as cunning as Black Widow or as stoic as Nick Fury, but she’ll find a way to get the job done and she’ll make an impression on those who work with her. Even before she became a mom, she embodied that motherly love that many find comforting.

It’s because Sue did this job her own endearing way that she gets pulled back into the world of espionage. In many respects, the timing couldn’t be better. Waid builds on the recent developments with her family that have been unfolding in the current Fantastic Four comics under Dan Slott, which I highly recommend. She’s still the same mother figure she has always been, but her family is evolving.

Her children are growing up. One of her closest friends is married now. Her brother is always doing his own thing. Waid even explores how someone like her deals with the changing nature of her family. It makes diving back into the shady world of espionage feel like a golden opportunity and Sue embraces it.

It also helps that the stakes aren’t so high that the entire multiverse is in jeopardy. Whereas the Fantastic Four will routinely prevent reality from falling apart, this particular mission involves saving the lives of imprisoned students and a captured agent that she once worked with. The world isn’t at stake, but it feels personal for Sue and that’s all the motivation she needs.

It’s both refreshing and overdue, seeing a character like Sue take on a challenge that’s far different from cosmic, psychedelic adventures that often involve shape-shifting aliens and hostile planet-eaters. She does so while never deviating from what makes her so endearing, as a member of the Fantastic Four. Waid’s past history with the Fantastic Four helps make “Invisible Woman #1” feel like a perfect extension of an iconic character.

The pace of the story is slow and steady, but it never drags. It sets up plenty of intriguing elements, some of which are hinted at in the final pages. There’s a great deal of introspection, which makes sense for a character who has been subject to many upheavals in the world around her. It helps reaffirm why she’s so iconic in the first place.

Sue Richards will always be defined by her role in the Fantastic Four, but “Invisible Woman #1” proves that she still has room to grow. She can still be a mom, a husband, a sister, and a superhero. She can also be a spy on the side and not fall into the same trap as every female spy in a Jame Bond movie.

Both Sue Richards and the Fantastic Four have a long way to go in terms of recovering from the setbacks incurred by bad movies and vindictive CEOs. While it may be a while before they show up in the MCU, a book like “Invisible Woman #1” feels like a small step in that process.

It’s been a while since anyone has been able to say it with a straight face, but the future of the Fantastic Four looks genuinely fantastic.

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