Below you will find everything from original works of art to stories scanned directly from the pages of old comics, there are also anecdotes and photographs that relate to the comics industry. I hope you enjoy your visit to the Virtual Vault.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dr. Strange #55

Let's release the inner geek and talk some comics! From time to time I plan to do a post about some of the best comics I've read and why I think these particular books rise above the usual schlock. The one featured on this post is Dr. Strange number 55 published by Marvel Comics back in the spring of 1982. The writer is Roger Stern who by the time of this publication was a seasoned veteran of comics with a number of successful books to his credit. The artist is the legendary Michael Golden. Most fans will know Golden from his run on the Micronauts and his award winning comic The 'Nam.
Golden is an artist without peer. He really has it all: the ability to do complex compositions inside tiny frames, a knack for rendering expressive hands and faces, and a deep understanding of how light and shadow work together to describe form... Even with all that graphic firepower Golden never allows ego to get the best of him. It would be easy for a man of his talent to go off drawing tangential images that don't necessarily serve the narrative, but with comics, as in most artistic endeavours, the point is to tell a story... And what a story this one is. Dr. Strange #55 is Golden at the top of his game and in this instance his art is in the service of an amazing bit of writing by Roger Stern.
The issue begins with a deeply distraught Dr. Strange. The great love of his life has left him and the Master of Mystic Arts has taken to his Sanctum where he refuses to eat or do anything but pout. Right off the bat we're in a story that most fanboys can relate to. I mean lets be honest here, most guys reading comics are doing so to escape the harsh realities of their young lives... You know: the incessant wedgies, the occasional swirlie, the rejection of pretty girls, all the typical frustrations plaguing the adolescent as he attempts to navigate the world of Junior High. Sure, we can laugh about it now, but who didn't read Lord of the Flies at that age and think, "Damn, give me a rough day at the beach over this shit... At least Piggy doesn't have to sweat that 5th period Algebra exam." Sorry, I digress. So, Dr. Strange is hold up in his Sanctum trying get over his case of the blues when along comes what seems to be the ghost of a dead mystic who's all set to help him with his problems. Over the course of the next few pages the mystic leads the hero from depression, straight to self pity, and ultimately into the kind of solipsistic worldview that often becomes nihilism. It's in these pages that Stern's writing really shines. With an economy of words (coupled with Golden's lovely images) we're shown the anatomy of an imperilled psyche. It's presented in a way that even a child can understand it but its simplicity belies the fact that this is a writer who has read extensively. The pages where reality is questioned and undermined are something straight out of Immanuel Kant or David Hume. In the end, the protagonist is left in a very dark place. He's without friends, family, love or even reality, and there appears to be no way out. It's here that the guide begins to reveal his true intentions. His offer is the unthinkable. His path for the hero is suicide... A path spectacularly rejected as only a Sorcerer Supreme can!!! A full page splash reveals the truth behind the lies. The hero's guide is none other than D'spayer the demon and legendary destroyer of hopes. Stern's story pulls us out of the metaphysical just before it gets too boring for the twelve year old attention span. He takes the demons and better angels of our nature and gives them human form. Before our eyes the dark, inky thoughts that have troubled everyone's mind at some point or another are given expression in colorful ink and newsprint. What follows is a old fashioned comic book smackdown with the demon and Dr. Strange fighting not for the fate of mankind or to save a busload of kids from going off a cliff, but rather a fight to insure a clinically depressed person's sanity. Of course the hero prevails, but it isn't easy, the Demon D'spayer has a number of cruel tricks up his sleeve and doesn't hesitate to use them. Tricks that once again have everything to do with the loss of faith and hope that comes with depression. But in this story as in life, the tests that don't kill us only make us stronger. And it's this lesson from Nietzsche that Stern leaves us to ponder as he closes the book on an upbeat note Come on folks, if you don't love this kind of thing then I fear that the kid inside of you is just stone cold dead.

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