DOCTOR STRANGE #388 by Donny Cates and Nico Henrichon
DOCTOR STRANGE #388 is a nearly perfect comic book narrative, with exciting twists and turns that reminded me of old school STRANGE comics. I epsecially loved the all-star art by Nico Henrichon, who truly highlighted the psychosis of the issue's main baddy!
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Sometimes, the best stories arise from a hero’s mistakes. This can be no more true than it is for the current DOCTOR STRANGE crossover event, DAMNATION. In an attempt to resurrect the deceased citizens of Las Vegas, Dr. Stephen Strange brought the forces of Mephisto to Earth. However, that isn’t the only mistake Strange has made in recent continuity. All of his missteps, his split-second decisions gone wrong, weigh against him in the pages of DOCTOR STRANGE #388. In a battle for his soul, Strange must turn to the only being that will still stand at his side: Bats, the Ghost Dog. However, when the elder god Shuma-Gorath crashes into Strange’s life again, will this ally be enough to save him?

Bleeding Neon

DOCTOR STRANGE #388, Page 1. Courtesy of Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE #388 is a fantastic and interesting read. It flows along at a perfect clip, giving even its slow moments a noticeable tension. I will say that although some of the events of this issue do get a bit confusing, I still give writer Donny Cates a lot of credit. This story feels a lot like classic DOCTOR STRANGE stories. Cates fills the story with obscure magical lingo that has no real context. The reader can look past this, however, because the events held within feel so interesting.

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I really enjoyed every single moment of this issue because Cates went to great lengths to focus on character moments. Even in the midst of battle with a massive Elder God, we still get to glimpse inside the heads of Strange and his allies. Even with the airy magical lingo, this story feels really grounded.

I also want to point out that DOCTOR STRANGE #388 succeeds because our hero doesn’t seem like the wisest man in the room. Dr. Strange gets tricked again and again. It seems almost ridiculous, but in context, it only makes sense. Strange has been severely tortured by Mephisto’s forces and made to see his greatest dreams dashed to pieces. The story plays into this unique headspace well. While it can seem fun to have an all-powerful superhero leading the charge, having a fallible protagonist grants the writer a lot of opportunity. After all, this is a Dr. Strange who can learn and grow. He has room to look at his past choices and debate their righteousness, which can only lead to good story moments.

Mystic Team-Up

Doctor Strange #388
DOCTOR STRANGE #388, Page 2. Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Much like the plot, I feel that the characterization in DOCTOR STRANGE #388 is some of the best in the series thus far. Just looking in general, the amount of wit and sarcasm in the dialogue had me grinning throughout. I also enjoyed the ways Cates played with other characters. I don’t want to go into too much detail for fear of spoilers; however, a well-known character gets represented with two souls in this mystical realm. The way the characters deal with magic really ties well into their character arcs, and that leads to some fantastic storytelling. I especially enjoyed the fact that the “sinners” of Las Vegas literally gamble their souls away for eternity. The magical aspect turns a lot of metaphors into reality, making this issue really fun to read.

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I also want to point out the fantastic dichotomy between Bats and Stephen Strange. There is a scene in DOCTOR STRANGE #388 in which the pair are simply sitting and talking. Strange tells Bats that he has made mistakes because of the terrible year he has had. Meanwhile, Bats’ year ended with him dying painfully. The way Cates showcases these two perspectives from this point on feels very satisfying. Bats’ cynical positivity plays well against the good doctor’s plain self-hatred.

We don’t get a whole lot of new information about these characters. Still, it feels satisfying that their personalities get so cemented here. I especially enjoyed the fact that Bats pushes Strange to be better than his past self. It almost feels like an addict-sponsor relationship. Strange keeps wanting to sink into the depths of his fears and insecurities, while Bats looks to pull him out of it.

Psychosis of the Nether-Realm

DOCTOR STRANGE #388, Page 3. Courtesy of Marvel Comics

This psychedelic and meaningful plot only intensifies thanks to the incredible art of Nico Henrichon. His work simply amazed me. It moves just a step past realism, with manga-styled eyes and twisted, energetic movement. However, this works so well for this story. Dr. Strange has always existed just on the border of the real. He deals with forces just outside of our own reality. This gives artists the flexibility to stretch their creative muscles. While Chris Bachalo’s art may be my personal favorite for the series thus far, Henrichon fits perfectly into the traditions of the sorcerer supreme. He fills every page with astounding energy and detail. Surprisingly, though, I appreciated the scenes in which the team walks through pure white space with nothing more than slot machines. This sequence feels so surreal in the context, and it fascinates me with every reread.

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I do want to bring up the battle between Strange and Shuma-Gorath because I feel this epitomizes Nico Henrichon’s artistic strengths. The entire world twists out of control into creature’s domain that looks like a sequence stripped from class STRANGE comics. More importantly, the arrival of the one-eyed tentacle monster is as imposing and trippy and high energy as it should be. To be frank, the elder gods from Lovecraft’s works are meant to represent psychosis and loneliness and utter chaos. When Shuma-Gorath enters the scene, every single one of these emotions rushes across the page in stunning swaths of color and detail. Seriously, you need to buy this comic for no other reason than Henrichon’s fantastic art.

Final Thoughts: DOCTOR STRANGE #388

DOCTOR STRANGE #388 is just minuscule steps off perfect. With a fast-paced, character-centric story, this issue needs to be read by any and all comic book readers. The plot does have its confusing moments, but the reader can look past these for the way they feed into the frenzied journey. More importantly, the character moments between Stephen Strange and his ghost dog Bats are some of the best in modern comics. This is a fantastic story that gives context to an already powerful event story.

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