Doctor Strange (by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo) Omnibus Review

Dr. Strange

After Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars shook the Marvel universe to its core, there was a period of soft reboots that impacted a lot of the stories set in this universe. Actually, people will often argue against this point, because it’s not entirely true. Pre-Secret Wars storylines are still canon, but Marvel did put some effort into giving people a good jumping in point to some of their books after Secret Wars wrapped up. I think that’s probably the more accurate way to say what happened.

So in that context, the esteemed Jason Aaron teamed up with the fantastic Chris Bachalo in 2015 to do a Doctor Strange story, with a brand-new #1 issue and a fresh take on the classic character. And when I say Strange is a classic character, I really do mean classic — Doctor Strange’s first appearance was way back in 1963 (the same year the X-Men made their debut).

Now, I’ve been a fan of Bachalo ever since his work on Grant Morrison’s New X-Men (Bachalo drew the “Assault on Weapon Plus” story). And say what you will about Brian Michael Bendis’s run on X-Men, it was always drop-dead gorgeous whenever Bachalo got his talented hands on it. When Bachalo draws something, it tends to catch my attention.

So when Marvel released an omnibus that collects this entire run of Doctor Strange (by Aaron and Bachalo), I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of this book. I mean, Bachalo’s art is worth the price of admission on its own, and it does look like this book is going to sell out rather quickly.

With all that said, here’s an overview of the Doctor Strange by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo omnibus.

What’s collected here?

Dr. Strange

This omnibus collects Doctor Strange (2015) issues #1-20, plus Doctor Strange Annual (2016) #1 and Doctor Strange: Last Days of Magic (2016).

If you’re curious about the mapping, it looks like this:

  • Doctor Strange (2015) #1-6
  • Doctor Strange: Last Days of Magic (2016)
  • Doctor Strange (2015) #7-20
  • Doctor Strange Annual (2016) #1

This contains 576 pages, and it’s one of the slimmest Marvel omnibuses that I currently own. I have some real monsters on my shelf, like Grant Morrison’s New X-Men (1,120 pages) and Chris Claremont’s New Mutants (1,240 pages), and this thing is pretty slim in comparison. In fact, even when I set this next to Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men omnibus (672 pages), it’s about half that size. The closest comparison I have for the thickness of this book is pretty much any of the Ultimate Spider-Man oversized hardcovers.

That said, I do own one omnibus that’s thinner than this one: Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers (which is a meagre 360 pages).

How is the quality of the physical book?

Dr. Strange Omnibus

First off, the version of this book that I’m reviewing is the first printing. This was manufactured between August 20, 2021 and November 1, 2021, at Imak Offset in Istanbul, Turkey. The official release date for this book was April 5, 2022.

This omnibus is available with a variant cover by Mike Perkins (and it’s admittedly pretty awesome), but, as I’ve already made pretty clear, I’m here for Bachalo’s art. Since the standard edition of this omni comes with Bachalo’s art on the dust jacket (in collaboration with Tim Townsend), that’s the one I went with.

But the real eye candy is underneath that dust jacket. When you pull it off, you’ll find a wraparound mural that’s freaking incredible. Just look at this:

Dr. Strange Omnibus

That’s actually a two-page spread from issue #20, though the in-book version has a few word bubbles added to it.

I mentioned earlier that the paper is pretty thin. I estimate that it’s about half the thickness of old Marvel omnibus paper, but it still feels sturdy. It’s slick, with a bit of gloss to it. If you tug at a single page, it doesn’t feel like it’s at risk of coming out (unless you pull really, really hard, and if you’re doing that, what on Earth is wrong with you?)

Now, there is a little bit of image bleedthrough, where the image on the reverse side of the page shows through a little bit. This is only noticeable in the lightest sections of the book, and it’s not a huge issue.

Doctor Strange - Paper Quality

I enhanced the image above so you can see what I mean here. If you look really closely at that image, you’ll notice a word bubble from the opposite side of the page showing through the bottom section, where there’s a lot of white space.

For me, this wasn’t a problem, though some folks out there might disagree. My job, I think, is just to point it out and let you decide if it’s a deal-breaker or not.

The stitching on the binding is mustard yellow to match the cover, though, which I found to be a nice touch. I’m not sure if every copy of this book is constructed like this, but mine certainly is, and I love it.

Dr. Strange Omnibus

The binding feels really tight. While a lot of the bigger omnibuses will get that sort of “eye” at the edge when they’re opened all the way, this book really doesn’t. I think this volume as a whole is just not thick enough.

Because of this, there is a little bit of gutter loss, but that seems to be largely consolidated around the beginning of the book — toward the end, it really isn’t much of a problem. That’s a little bit of a shame, considering Bachalo likes to play with double-page layouts where creatures and tentacles and tree roots sort of twist their way off one panel and into the next. You do lose a little bit of that toward the beginning of the book, but it’s honestly not super bad.

Dr. Strange Omnibus

I do have to say that this book has a really potent scent to it as well. It’s not bad — I actually dig that new book smell — but it’s really powerful. Even after lugging this thing around all day, I could smell it when it was just sitting on my desk like two feet away from me.

Is the story good?

Dr. Strange

I’m going to talk about the story here, but unlike my recent X-Men reviews, I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as possible. I do talk about a couple plot points that happen late in the book, but I think I’m vague enough about those that most people won’t be bothered by it. That’s my hope, at least.

So, how is the actual story? Well, this is a matter of opinion, but I really like the narrative here. My initial response was to just gawk at the art for extended periods of time, but once I actually started reading the thing, I found myself sucked right into its twisty, magical realm.

This omnibus collects two major story arcs that are spread across 22 issues of the comic series (well, 20 issues, plus an annual and the single-issue Last Days of Magic). In the first story, magic is being drained from the world, and Sorcerer Supremes across the multiverse are being murdered by a group of science-worshiping fanatics called the Empirikul. Thus the magically inclined band together and go hunting for every last magical relic on Earth so they can draw power from these relics to fight back.

It’s a bleak tale that our titular Doctor takes with a pretty decent sense of humor. The writing is snappy enough to make these transitions work, where one moment you’re seeing magical characters from the Marvel universe tied to trees, ready to be executed, and then the next moment Strange is cracking wise.

But there’s also an internal monologue happening all the while, framed inside yellow rectangular boxes (this is very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One). This storytelling style has become something of a comic-book crutch at this point, but that’s because it’s such an effective way of communicating within this medium. It works really well here, pushing the action from panel to panel, and page to page.

Dr. Strange - If they only knew

In the first issue, we’re introduced to Zelma Stanton of the Bronx, who is my favorite character in this book. She’s a librarian who comes to Doctor Strange to remove a magical growth from her head, and she winds up becoming Strange’s personal librarian. She serves as a great viewpoint character for new readers, since she’s tossed into a magical world she doesn’t understand, and having her around gives the characters an excuse to explain things from time to time.

But she’s a great character in her own right, and her arc through the first story is perhaps the most compelling one here — at least as far as character growth is concerned. Then again, a huge part of this is that Bachalo excels at drawing faces, so Zelma is extremely expressive whenever she’s on-panel.

Dr. Strange - Zelma Stanton

Even though she doesn’t have a huge role, Illyana Rasputin (A.K.A. Magik) shows up throughout the first story. As a longtime reader of X-Men (and New Mutants), I have a lot of affection for Magik, and it’s always good to see her around. She also looks like an absolute badass when Chris Bachalo draws her (which is as true here as it was when he was drawing her in Brian Micheal Bendis’s Uncanny X-Men run).

I do have one minor gripe about the first half of the book. While I do get why Last Days of Magic was included in this collection, I feel like it slows down the pacing of a story that, up to this point, had some really great momentum. In fact, I put the book down for the first time when I finished reading that issue, which felt jarring after the irresistible urge to keep pushing through the first six issues.

Part of it is that, even though the art is great throughout the story, it’s really, really hard to match Bachalo when he’s on fire. And during this run, he’s absolutely scorching. So seeing this collection of various artists, each taking over their own little piece of the story, just forces the comparison. It feels like a distraction.

And that problem persists into the second story arc, which has some of the biggest players from Strange’s rogues gallery attempting to take advantage of the fact that the fight against the Empirikul has weakened him (and magic in general). Bachalo isn’t as consistent here, and there are several artists who take on some of the illustration duties throughout. That means you’ll jump back and forth between Bachalo’s art and the work of other artists.

Yeah, my biggest gripe about this entire book is that Chris Bachalo didn’t draw the entire thing. I know that’s just the fanboy raging inside me, but it’s worth noting for others who might have similar feelings about the art inside this omnibus.

Dr Strange - Dormammu

My only other gripe is that the second story just isn’t as compelling as the first one. While the first story feels like a perpetual buildup to a really satisfying conclusion — with some great character work weaved in — the second feels like a series of excuses to get Doctor Strange into the weirdest and most awkward situations possible. While it can certainly be amusing, it just doesn’t have that narrative momentum that makes the first arc so damn enjoyable.

In fact, I would say that the first half of the book balances tension and humor, while the second half tips that scale toward the humor, sacrificing a lot of the tension in the process. It’s not without its moments of darkness, of course — this run as a whole doesn’t shy away from darker themes.

To be clear, the second half isn’t bad — or even close to bad — it’s just so much weaker than the stellar first half of the book. And I have to admit that it does regain a lot of its momentum during issues #18-20, and that the finale is really satisfying.

After issue #20, this omnibus also includes Doctor Strange Annual #1, which feels a little bit unnecessary. It wasn’t penned by Jason Aaron or drawn by Chris Bachalo, and it features two short stories that are hardly essential for this collection. The first story seems like it probably takes place between issues #10 and #11, and the second takes place centuries ago. I guess it’s best to just think of it as a bonus that has little to do with the main contents of the book.

Is this a good place to start reading Dr. Strange?

Dr. Strange

I have to admit, my previous Doctor Strange reading was limited to a few issues from the Silver Age, along with the character’s various appearances in X-Men and Avengers throughout the years. I have seen the first MCU Doctor Strange film, so I know the basic things I need to know about his character.

And even if this weren’t true, the first page of issue #1 gives you all the backstory you need to know. Strange was a genius-level neurosurgeon who had an accident that wrecked his hands. He went Eastward on a journey to find someone to fix his beloved digits, and he wound up gaining magical powers and becoming the Sorcerer Supreme instead.

Once you’ve got that figured out, you’re off to the races. Of course, there are some additional flashbacks peppered throughout the story to give more context when it’s needed.

So yeah, this is a really good place to jump into Doctor Strange if you’ve never read it before. Oftentimes, jumping into an established comic-book series can be a frustrating tangle of back-references and decades of lore that the writers just assume everyone knows. Jumping into this run feels so much smoother. Aaron works really hard to make sure new readers feel welcome here.

There is a caveat, though. From what I’ve heard, this version of Doctor Strange is a bit of a departure from his classic form, in that he reads as a bit younger, and he’s a bit less serious and more happy-go-lucky. Think of him as being just a little closer to Han Solo…

So if you want to just read this run and call it quits, you’ll probably be just fine. If you jump from this version of Strange into additional storylines beyond this book, you might have to get used to a personality shift. Then again, that adjustment period comes with any comic-book character who’s been handled by multiple creators.


Dr. Strange

The bottom line is that Jason Aaron is an incredible comic-book writer, and Chris Bachalo is an S-tier artist in my opinion. Just reading their names together on the cover was enough for me to pick up this book. And I have to say, it doesn’t disappoint. It doesn’t necessarily make me want to hunt down as many Doctor Strange stories as I can find, but it does make me want to read more of Aaron’s work (and stare at more of Bachalo’s art, though that was true before I read this). I hope these two team up again in the future, because the combo is absolute gold.

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