DOCTOR STRANGE DAMNATION #4 by Donny Cates, Rod Reis, Szymon Kudranski, and Dan Brown
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4 fixes the event's prior mistakes and improves upon its strongest elements in this thrilling conclusion. This isn't just one of the series' best issues; it is one of the best issues in modern Marvel comics.
97 %
Getting the Fire Back
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DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION has been a strange ride. On the one hand, the story has become this sprawling adventure through the mystical side of the Marvel Universe. It has dove straight into the depths of Hell and back in this action-packed thrill ride. On the other, it has stumbled a bit in the delivery. With so much action, writer Donny Cates has faltered a bit in the characterization. This has led to an entertaining story, but one that hasn’t seemed very deep. The strongest character analyses have come through the spin-off titles, but the main series has lacked that inherent, psychedelic power that Doctor Strange stories have. In DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4, though, all of those problems have faded away. Suddenly, in the final moments of the war with Mephisto, Cates has delivered us a definitive and far-reaching story with incredible power.

Mephisto’s Folly

DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4
DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4, Page 1. Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I’ve discussed in previous reviews how powerful failure can be in a narrative. The entire DAMNATION story arc has focused on Doctor Strange’s impulsiveness leading to the damning of Las Vegas’ souls. In a cool narrative move, Cates manages to do this again, bringing the arc back around so that Mephisto’s mistakes end his cruel game. This element gives the story a more potent thematic punch than previous issues. More importantly, it ties together this entire plot line, spin-offs included. Everything, from the fights to the slower character moments, have felt a bit disconnected up until this point. However, Cates slams everything together in a deft narrative move, showing that Wong has had every little detail planned out from the start.

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Thankfully, even with this more self-reflective storytelling, Cates still manages to deliver one of the most intense action stories in modern Marvel comics. It doesn’t matter what internal struggles are happening or what side-plots are being resolved. Action takes center-stage in DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4. However, this intensity feels far more balanced than in previous issues. This is a story that manages to explore some real human moments amidst the chaos of war, and that feels very satisfying. Especially when both of these elements are just so damn good. The action set-pieces in this comic are incredible, cohesive, and most importantly, completely clear. I never had to question what had happened in a particular scene, which made my experience even more satisfying.

Legions of the Damned

DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4
DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4, Page 2. Courtesy of Marvel Comics

DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4 works so well because in the midst of all the action, we are set firmly in Wong’s head. With every punch thrown, Wong’s inner monologue manages to supersede the action. He dictates and narrates the fight, true, but he also adds a lot of character to the events. Through his eyes, we get to see the unabated determination and overwhelming fear these people are going through. Wong’s plan requires everything to go perfectly. One small misstep means total failure and death. That gives the story a huge amount of stakes. I also appreciated the opportunity to see the other characters through Wong’s eyes. This character manages to give a very compelling and emotional breakdown of Doctor Strange that would only be buffered through that character’s own thoughts.

While Wong and several of the other characters take center stage in this issue, I did feel that several others didn’t receive their due. By issue’s end, I almost forgot that Moon Knight, Scarlet Spider, Doctor Voodoo, and Man-Thing were even present. DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4 never quite felt like a team book. It felt like a Doctor Strange narrative with a few superpowered extras. I understand the worry here. After all, we are already dealing with the intense events of the Las Vegas battle. In fact, I can pretty easily forgive this oversight. However, I still would have liked these characters to have a more key role. Moon Knight, for example, has almost no right to be there without any powers. I would love to see how he handles that terrifying reality.

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Ashes and Cinders

DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4
DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4, Page 3. Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I need more Rod Reis artwork in my life. His particular style of painting adds such a trippy and intense edge to all of his pages. Don’t get me wrong. Previous series artist Szymon Kudranski is a fantastic artist, and I especially enjoyed that he got an artistic cameo in the issue’s “post-credits” epilogue. However, I cannot get enough of Reis’ work here. Every character, every design, is so visceral and realistic. The demonic Avengers (pictured above) are intensely frightening and incredibly cool at the same time. There’s something really special about an artist that does the process on his own. While I appreciate the hard work of the inkers and color artists in the industry, I do really enjoy seeing a single artist’s work completed entirely through their own intention. Every color and shading choice belongs explicitly to Reis, and the results are incredible.

I also want to point out the fluidity of Reis’ combat sequences. I honestly don’t think I have used that word in a review before, but it is the only descriptor that works. Every fight scene just feels so natural and realistic. The way Reis constructs his pages and his panels simply flows. Nothing in those fight scenes took me out of the experience. In one way, this speaks to the utter importance of detailed and realistic anatomy. Reis is a master of character posing. However, this also speaks to simple, intellectual design. Reis knows how to build up a big splash page with tons of people. Crowds are an intense thing for artists, but Reis manages to make those people-heavy moments feel very real. And there are a ton of those moments in DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4.

Final Thoughts on DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4

DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4 is a fantastic, thrilling ride through Marvel’s mystical universe. While it does lose out in its characterization, the fast-paced plot never fails to impress. I also really enjoyed Rod Reis’ return to the series. His painterly work perfectly expresses the more chaotic, psychedelic aspect of Doctor Strange’s career. Despite the fact that previous issues stumbled a bit, DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #4 manages to unite the entire experience, spin-offs and all. More importantly, this is one of the best comics to come out of Marvel in a very, very long time. This should say something, considering the fact that Marvel has been on its A-Game for the last couple of years.

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