With the upcoming release of Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, many people may want to understand the character of ol’ Stephen Strange a bit more. Luckily for those wanting to get into the character, there is a new one-shot that presents a clear jumping-on point for the character. That one shot is Doctor Strange: Nexus of Nightmares #1 written by Ralph Macchio with pencils by Ibrahim Moustaga, colours by Neeraj Menon, letters by VC’s Cory Petit, and edited by Kat Gregorwicz.
The first thing that struck me about this issue was confusion. For those not in the know, Stephen Strange is currently dead in Marvel comics. His wife Clea is our current sorcerer supreme in his own title; this one-shot is set in the distant past, albeit with modernized designs. This quickly becomes apparent because of the writing style of Macchio. Strange is my favourite superhero, so I have an immense amount of love and affection for his early stories from the 60s and 70s. These were fairly simple stories of Strange battling all sorts of magical creatures and sorcerers and travelling through various trippy dimensions and realities. In many ways, these are the atypical “explaining what is happening while it’s happening comics.” So this book is structured like those classic stories. The prose and dialogue are very overt and blunt, with the characters speaking in broad unambiguous monologues. The core of the story here is Strange grappling with himself and whether he has grown past his arrogant beginnings. Macchio delivers all of this with the subtlety of a pink bus, but it works with the throwback style.
Unfortunately, that throwback style does bring some baggage with it. Stephen’s origin is repeated here once again, albeit with some twists. The twists are admirable in how they fit into the issues themes, but it doesn’t change the fact that much of this issue is simply retelling a story I have read hundreds of times. Strange’s origin is frequently retold with seemingly every new run or mini-series. I’m sure this could be helpful for a new reader, but for those who already know the character, it just comes off as rather tedious. Similarly, this issue also focuses on the rivalry between Strange and Baron Mordo, which has seen no shortage of stories. Mordo’s plan and goals here don’t differ much from what we’ve come to expect, which might be interesting for new readers, but also felt like something I had seen done better many times before.
Thankfully the art does make up for the issue’s shortcomings. Moustafa gives Strange’s world an authentic texture and sense of place. The exaggerated features of character designs work excellently with Menon’s soft and toned colour palette. It strikes a good balance between feeling classic and old-fashioned while retaining the visual language established by modern Strange artists. However, I personally think this issue would benefit from a different and more experimental artistic style. A massive part of why I love Doctor Strange (especially that early stuff) is because of the trippy and psychedelic imagery that his stories are often immersed in. This issue is trying to throwback to that era but visually features very little of that experimentation. If this story really wanted to feel like a throwback, a more free-flowing style could go a long way. This is an issue that wants to bridge the gap between fans of Doctor Strange from the MCU and fans of Doctor Strange from the comics, and I think this art team achieves that here. It retains enough of the iconography from both past and present Strange stories so that new readers can come in and understand the character.