Marvel Graphic Novel: An Apple a Day: Doctor Strange: The Oath (2006)

Marvel has its fair share of weird things going on, but I have always dug the magical side of their comic universe. Doctor Strange, the neurosurgeon turned Sorcerer Supreme, is a fun character and it allows the writers to play around with creative story-lines and ideas. Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) took a crack at him in 2006 with a five part miniseries called The Oath which was collected into a trade in 2007.

Doctor Strange has an interesting past because he wasn't always a philanthropist and superhero. In his former life he was a talented and egotistical neurosurgeon who would only help patients who could afford his exorbitant fees. After a terrible car accident he incurred terrible nerve damage to his hands that rendered him unable to conduct the fine motor work needed to wield a scalpel. In his search for a cure he comes upon The Ancient One who reluctantly agrees to teach him the ways of the mystic arts. As always happens in these types of tales, Doctor Strange has a change of heart.

In The Oath, Strange is on a quest to help his servant (and best friend) Wong cure his inoperable brain tumor by magical means. He also enlists the help of Night Nurse, a woman who is infamous as the preferred underground medical help for superheroes. Vaughan does a great job with portraying Doctor Strange's snarky humor and it never seems forced. All of his work tends to have a wry sense of humor about it and it meshes perfectly with the somewhat serious nature of the story. I enjoyed seeing a fleshed out Night Nurse as well, and she holds her own quite well as a sidekick. Even though she doesn't have any special powers, her resourcefulness and intelligence gets her out of any sticky situation. While some people might think that Wong being a servant is problematic, it's handled in a compassionate and complex way, and Strange never treats him as any less than an equal.

One of the concepts I find the most interesting in The Oath is the idea that science and magic are not replacements for one another. Sci-fi writer Arthur C Clark's famous saying comes to mind: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." and in this universe science and magic have a yin and yang relationship with each other. In this regard, Doctor Strange has to switch between the two disciplines to solve problems. It makes sense because Strange's powers are deeply rooted in Chinese mysticism which is preoccupied with balance.

Marcos Martin's (Batgirl: Year One, The Amazing Spider-Man) art is excellent and it has this great mix between retro and modern comic book style. His version of Doctor Strange is tall and elegant, just as he should be, and I loved the way he depicted his facial expressions especially. His Night Nurse character design is fantastic with her old-fashioned nurse outfit and jaunty little superhero cape. Martin is also able to make the magical elements seem more "believable" and grounded though he is able to be fantastical as needed. Willie Schubert's bold coloring makes the comic feel like vintage serial from the 1960s, but has that polished look that new comics are known for.

The Oath is an enjoyable adventure that never takes itself too seriously. Even if there are comic readers who aren't intimately acquainted with Doctor Strange, there is enough backstory given to fill them in without retreading old ground. If you are looking for something light to read, this will definitely fit the bill.

-Michelle Kisner