DOCTOR STRANGE #390 by Donny Cates and Frazer Irving
While the rather goofy Spider-Man section of this story drags on a bit long, DOCTOR STRANGE #390 is a wonderful and warm homage to the character that perfectly caps off Donny Cates' run. With a slow paced, highly focused plot and brilliant characterization, this story does away with superhero tropes to deliver a really powerful story.
88 %
A Warm Departure
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Donny Cates had something of a controversial run on DOCTOR STRANGE. To be fair, I absolutely enjoyed his take on the character. Giving his title to Loki gave the character the chance to reexperience the mundane world. It allowed his character to see how far he has come. Not only that, but he has given Strange a Ghost Dog and has him leading a battle against the Devil in Las Vegas. His work has been so brazenly odd in the best way possible. Given that he had to fill the shoes of Jason Aaron, the writer of arguably the greatest Strange arc ever, I give Cates a lot of credit. But his time is ending. DOCTOR STRANGE #390 rings the death knells for Cates’ time on the series. Does it honor the brilliant work he has brought to the series thus far?

The Good Doctor

DOCTOR STRANGE #390, Page 1. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE #390 absolutely shines in its characterization. There are only four characters introduced in this story. Stephen is joined by Bats, Zelma Stanton, and the surprising appearance of Spider-Man, and I never felt like they broke character. The moment when Bats the Ghost Hound meets his idol Spider-Man)felt so satisfying. More importantly, this story actually feels fun. With such somber circumstances (the departure of a writer), the story could fall apart into dusty grays and lackluster melodrama. However, Cates goes the opposite direction. He delves into the brightest aspects of each character. Their humor and their sense of community made this story stand out as a celebration rather than a requiem.

With that said, I didn’t feel that the character arc between Zelma and Stephen is properly explored. In previous issues, it is hinted that Strange may have some feeling for the woman. However, while the two have a chance to talk here, nothing truly gets resolved. They have a really interesting talk where Zelma states her wonder over magic. Yet she still refuses to come back and help him out. Things are left up in the air, and until the series’ next writer, Mark Waid, makes his debut, we won’t know the full circumstances of this talk.

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Conversations with Spiders

DOCTOR STRANGE #390, Page 2. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

I am surprised to say that I really enjoyed the plot of DOCTOR STRANGE #390 given Cates’ minimalist approach. Not a lot actually happens in this story. It is largely a dialogue heavy character piece. Very little happens outside of talking, and that might honestly bother some fans. However, I feel like it adds the right touch of somberness to this story. Where the characterization feels fun, the plot provides us with the necessary drama. We get to see Strange wondering if he is making the right decision in a way that is really enjoyable. We watch as he attempts to repair his relationships. Also, Spider-Man gives one of the best bits of dialogue in comics ever when giving Strange advice.

However, with the strength of this style of plot, one element really drags the story down. I liked Spider-Man in this story. I feel that he has a place, and the meeting between him and Bats is the most adorable thing I have ever seen in comics. That comes with a price, though. Cates almost makes the story all about Spider-Man. The web-slinger steals the attention for half of this book. By the time I reached his section of brilliant dialogue, I felt a bit lost and frustrated. It didn’t help that Spider-Man largely comes off as little more than a joke. He doesn’t carry the gravitas he should for such an important issue. It confuses me that Cates decided to include him in such a way.

Strange and Beautiful

DOCTOR STRANGE #390, Page 3. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Frazer Irving handles the art in DOCTOR STRANGE #390. Needless to say, he blew me away again. Irving’s style is so different from the typical aesthetic of modern comics. His art doesn’t look like a superhero comic with its painterly design. He manages to beautifully capture the characters and their setting in a highly realistic style. It gripped me right from the start and never let go. I also loved the expressions of the characters. Strange just looks dogged from the very start. It is clear that he hasn’t had a good few months. I especially enjoyed the attention to detail with Bats. For a character with no lips and plenty of bloodhound wrinkles, that little ghost turns out to be the most expressive character in the book.

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I do have one little gripe with Irving’s style. His realistic painting style really helps set the tone and atmosphere, especially with more moody characters like Strange and Zelma. However, Peter Parker just never comes out quite right. Spider-Man looks completely brilliant from the start. However, once that mask comes off, we get some odd faces. They look very crude and flat. This is especially odd when, in the next panel, we often see an incredibly detailed depiction of Strange or Bats. I don’t understand where these strange faces came from, but it is almost like another artist drew them.

DOCTOR STRANGE #390: Final Thoughts

DOCTOR STRANGE #390 is an odd experience. It feels nothing like a traditional superhero comic, for good and bad. Nothing truly happens in this story, but the dialogue still manages to win me over from the beginning. The characterization is largely spot on throughout, and in some cases, it is adorable. However, in the case of Zelma and Spider-Man, they devolve into bad comedic overtones or incomplete caricatures. Even the art by Frazer Irving has its issues, despite its general beauty. Besides this, though, DOCTOR STRANGE #390 still acts as a brilliant send-off for Donny Cates’ run. More importantly, it got me excited for the things ahead in Mark Waid’s coming interstellar journey.

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