Doctor Strange by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo is the second of the monthly titles I have been following in the All-New, All-Different, post-Secret-Wars era of Marvel. And to be honest I assumed I would pick up the first two or three issues and drop it. An ongoing solo title for the good Doctor didn’t seem like it would hold up because it would simply cater itself to be just a tie-in to the upcoming movie. Or at least that’s what my cynical self thought.

Doctor Strange hasn’t had a solo title since the 80s and after that has been confined to being a backup or to one-shots and mini-series. All of varying quality – some have been great, some not so much. So, yeah, I wasn’t putting much hope out in this one.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the character of Doctor Strange. Back when I was a kid in the 70s (yes, I’m old) I adored his comics. I was full into horror and occult and cosmic weirdness so anything remotely mystical in nature fit perfectly into my bailiwick. Doctor Strange was mystic, occult and cosmic with just a touch of horror so it was a natural fit for a weird kid like me. And while I am fully aware that the 70s version of the character was a bit, well, goofy, there was an endearing quality to all his ‘Crimson Bands of Cyttoraks’ and ‘Mists of Munnopors’. Filter that through the eyes of a child seen through nostalgia goggles and you are left with an expectation that a new series simply could not live up to.

Unless it did, of course.

Minor Spoilers Ahead (if you care about such things)

Doctor Strange #1: The Way of the Weird is basically all setup.

It begins with the past, flashing back to Strange’s origins (and showcasing Steve Ditko’s art) before throwing the reader smack dab into a very different type of situation and a very different style of art.

We find a Doctor Strange who is weary and worn out. Magic, we come to learn, has taken its toll on the man and he is feeling the full weight of the consequences of his lifestyle. And yet he seems very young in many ways, there is a bit of whimsy and humor to this version of the character that has not been explored in a very long time, if ever really.

Jason Aaron: story
Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, Kevin Nowlan: art
Chris Bachalo: colors
Cory Petit: letters

As Strange wanders through New York we get the lay of the land, the magical otherworld that no one but the Sorcerer Supreme can see. It is a world of psychic leeches and inter-dimensional worms and general weirdness. We see him doing his job, protecting people from threats no one is aware of or notices.

And we meet the Doctor’s companions, the ever present Wong of course and a new character, Zelma Stanton the Bronx Librarian, who will be the reader stand-in and can ask questions so the Doctor can give exposition without seeming like he’s talking to himself all the time. A bit like Doctor Who in that regard.

So all in all nothing really happens in this issue other than the setup of the book’s premise and an upcoming story arc. This could have been a disaster but it works. The reason this works is Aaron’s writing.

Jason Aaron has been a solid comic book writer for quite some time now. It seems he can take whatever assignment he is given and add new life it. Whether it is Thor or Star Wars the result is unexpected and thoroughly entertaining.

And so it is with Doctor Strange, he has added a vitality to the character that has been missing in previous versions where he dour, self-involved and oh-so-serious. In Aaron’s hands he is just a regular guy. Albeit one who is one of the most powerful practitioners of magic to have ever existed. And he seems to know exactly when to incorporate previous continuity and characterization and when to have selective amnesia.

Also there is Chris Bachalo’s art. Bold and beautiful and grotesque at the same time. But the grotesqueness has a Tim Burtonesque quality to it. No matter how slimy or disturbing the images are they still seem playful and psychedelic. It pays homage to Ditko’s style while not attempting to copy it; rather creating something completely new.

All-in-all a strong start to a book that I didn’t hold much hope for but found myself eagerly awaiting the next issue. So far so good.