Backyard Multiverse

Writing this at the end of a long weekend, one which was both productive and quite lazy.

We had a warm Saturday which prompted Debbi to take the covers off our patio furniture at last. It’s pretty durable stuff, but we were happy with the waterproof protection of the covers during the winter rainy season (such as it was – California is in another bad drought), and we didn’t get any critters nesting in the furniture when we removed it.

Consequently it was so warm that we spent most of Saturday afternoon sitting on the sofa outdoors under the umbrella and reading (in between wasting time on our iPads, of course). We left the doors to the family room open (with the retractable screen in place), so the cats got to have the full outdoor-smells experience. I don’t think the kittens are quite used to us being around but not indoors, but neither of them tries to go out (Simon definitely does not want to go out), so it’s fine.

In the evening we played Jackbox Games with friends and family – which we’ve been doing regularly throughout the pandemic – followed by me going out for a walk.

Sunday we also spent a bunch of time outside, but I also did some yard work since it cooled off to reasonable levels. I finally replaced the transformer for our low-power accent lights outside, which went really well, and I honestly probably spent more time practicing stripping the wires than anything else. I also re-staked a couple of the lights and replaced some bulbs, and it made me feel like a real homeowner.

Then I assembled my new extension pruner (the old one having seized up last summer) and filled up our yard waste bin with trimmings from the plum tree. Our yard is maybe 20% larger than I have the energy to take care of, and so it’s been slowly getting away from me over the 11 years we’ve lived here. I expect we’ll re-landscape sometime in the next couple of years.

I took today off and Debbi took the afternoon off. After lunch at nearby sandwich joint Specialty’s, we went to see our first movie in the cinemas in over 2 years – for which we were joined by exactly three other people, who all sat behind us. We saw Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I’m not going to write a full review, but I enjoyed it overall. People who enjoyed Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) character development in WandaVision will probably enjoy it here as well – I personally did not, though since it wasn’t her film, I can live with it. I enjoyed seeing Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange as a more experienced sorcerer, yet I thought he had some good character development. They didn’t quite stick the landing on that character development, instead taking things in a suddenly-different direction, so that was disappointing. Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez and Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer were both great. There was a bunch of fan service nonsense in the middle which was fine as far as moving the story along and setting up a big set-piece, but honestly since I thought the Illuminati in the comics were stupid, I’m glad they didn’t make more of it than they did. The film’s sense of humor works sometimes but feels awkwardly bolted-on at other times. I sort of agree with Kurt Busiek’s take in this Twitter thread, though I think I liked it more than he did. But the script probably needed a couple more rewrites to completely work.

Anyway, it’s a dark and sometimes very grim film, and I think they really missed an opportunity for closure and optimism at the end by not having Strange more directly talk to the one person he really owed some emotional honesty to. A solid mid-range MCU film, sort of the dark version of Guardians of the Galaxy. If they’d clung more firmly to the theme of “learning to love yourself” (the flip side of Guardians’ found-family theme) and followed it through then I think it’d have worked better.

Hey, I guess I did write a review.

Anyway, I’m sitting on the back porch again writing this while Debbi plays (different) games with friends, and I think we’re going to QBB for drinks and barbecue afterwards. So it’s been a good weekend.

Doctor Strange: Into the Dark Dimension

Doctor Strange: Into the Dark Dimension HC, by Roger Stern, Peter B. Gillis, Paul Smith, Bret Blevins, Mark Badger, Terry Austin & Steve Leialoha, Marvel, 2011

Roger Stern was one of the best writers in comics in the 1980s (he’s still good today, as his Captain America mini-series supplementing Ed Brubaker’s regular series show), and his 4-year run on Doctor Strange was his very best work (it was published bimonthly from 1981-1985 – remember when comics companies used to do that?). So it’s terrific to see Marvel reprint the end of his run in this handsome hardcover volume.

A brief recap: Doctor Stephen Strange was a brilliant but egotistical surgeon before a car accident wrecked his nerves, so he could never operate again. Wandering the Earth in search of purpose, he met The Ancient One, an eastern mystic who eventually took Strange as his apprentice. In the ensuing years, he grew to become Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, and master of the mystic arts, operating out of New York’s Greenwich Village to defend the world against mystical threats.

While many previous creative teams (Lee & Ditko, Englehart & Brunner, etc.) had written fine Strange stories, Stern topped them all, by mixing the cosmic with the personal. Strange became a richly characterized human being, as he lost his apprentice and lover, Clea, when he became romantically entwined with another woman, and he gained friends and allies on his adventures as well as in his household (his manservant, Wong, and his accountant, Sara, developed a romantic attachment). He had some pretty great artists, too, starting with Marshall Rogers, then Steve Leialoha, and then Paul Smith, the main artist in this volume.

This story opens with a story in which Strange helps Dane Whitman, The Black Knight, throw off his family’s curse, but the story quickly shifts when Strange realizes that Umar, the ruler of the Dark Dimension, has decided that he is masterminding the rebellion against her rule. He’s not, Clea is in fact behind it all, but her persistent attacks on him force him to take the fight to her. It’s a terrific story in which we see Clea develop more fully as a character, and with a satisfying victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat ending. The story showcases Strange’s humanity and empathy, a man who wields immense power, but who does so with conscience and wisdom. Other writers have often heavy-handedly returned to Strange as a man who achieves catharsis and enlightenment through his experiences, but Stern goes beyond that to show him as a fully mature, rounded individual, a man who still has personal and external challenges to face, but who is as much a role model as any of the mainstream superheroes who live in the spotlight that he avoids.

Stern is ably assisted by Paul Smith’s art. Smith had developed considerably from his earlier work on X-Men, but was not quite as fantastic as he would be later on The Golden Age. His stuff is nonetheless terrific. Bret Blevins does a pretty good job of aping his style in a single-issue story (itself quite good) prior to the main arc. All of their work looks terrific in this reprint, and the coloring is bright and vivid, complementing their styles perfectly.

Stern unfortunately left after the next-to-last issue collected here, and Peter B. Gillis – the series’ next regular writer – wrote the code to the Dark Dimension story, illustrated by Mark Badger. Badger’s sketchy (if not downright muddy) layouts and pencils have never appealed to me, and Gillis always seemed a very dark writer whose characterizations seemed a bit too simplistic, his stories a bit too convoluted. It’s a disappointing ending to the volume (plus it tied in to the lousy Secret Wars II series Marvel was printing at the time), and I’ve always wondered why Stern departed so abruptly.

That aside, the overall package is wonderful. I highly recommend giving it a try, and if you like it, go back and try out the rest of Stern’s run (mostly quite affordable in your back issue bins), starting with Doctor Strange vol 2, #48, and running through #67 (the last issue before this volume). There are many great issues in there, and I guarantee you’ll love it.