“Beginnings and Endings”
written by J. Michael Straczynski and Sara Barnes
art by Brandon Peterson
published by Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics’ sorcerer supreme, Dr. Strange, has been one of the most under utilized (when not completely mishandled) characters in their super hero universe. Partly this is because creators typically don’t know what to do with him or have no particular take on his mission and motivations. They don’t know who he is; for that matter, neither does most of modern day comic fandom. We see him in his typical role, support character in other people’s books, called in when their adventure has taken a mystical turn. Well, J. Michael Straczynski (Dream Police, Rising Stars, Supreme Power, Amazing Spiderman) and creator of Babylon 5, reintroduces Dr. Strange to a new generation of readers and fans in the book simply titled Strange.

The story is a familiar one: brilliant and selfish surgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange, gets into a senseless accident that destroys his hands and his career. In his attempts to find a cure, and reclaim the life he thinks he wants–in effect, a second chance–he comes to realize that he’s been sought/groomed by each side of the ancient war between shadow and light.

For the sake of the collected trade paperback market, the story takes six issues for what was done in one back in the day. Not much new is done with the character here, but like the character-driven emphasis that typifies Straczynski’s work, the characters are deepened and are given clear motivations and real backgrounds. What is interesting is how the characters are fairly unlikeable (Strange, Clea), still a cypher (Wong), or are given modern sensibilities (like the almost too hip Ancient One). Though the dialogue sometimes suffers from being too … weighty, the book still manages to inject a bit of fun and wit and remains quite engaging throughout.

Another trademark of Straczynski’s work is how it is grounded in a spiritual sensibility. Dr. Strange seeks (and becomes) a spiritual healer, a caretaker for the soul sick. His role in life is to pursue becoming a nexus, a guardian at the gate between the forces of night and day until all worlds are called into account. We’ve been given gifts for a reason, for the sake of others. Stephen Strange falls into the trap many of us fall into. Full of pride. Successful as modern society defines success: money, freedom, women, able to isolate himself from the rest of the world. Trying to fill a hole that will not be satisfied. However, when all is said and done, this is a book about two things: figuring out your true calling and becoming a disciple.

“Life is about the journey, not the arrival.” -The Ancient One

Dr. Strange is a man of regrets. A powerful theme in the book is how it is his journey, mistakes and all, that make him into the man he is and should be. We have free will and with that free will comes a simple choice. Having essentially two paths, we have to choose which master we want to pattern ourselves. “The Ancient One” or ourselves. Yes, ourselves. The “Evil One”, the Dreaded Dormammu, didn’t try to convert Strange to “the dark side”, but merely needed to keep Dr. Strange focused on himself and his own wants. That kind of self-focus keeps us from not only seeing where we are, but keeps us from fulfilling who we should become. Doing “what thou wilt”, we then “default” onto the path of “Dormammu”.

Like Dr. Strange, it’s too bad that we often have to get to the end of our rope in order to find ourselves and our purpose. We walk in our selfish worlds, not realizing our true state of being hopeless, lonely, empty, and lost. We need to come to the same realization that Dr. Strange comes to, learning that one lesson that while we may not be able to fix what’s wrong with the circumstances of our lives, we can be healed. Look at this prayer, this cry of his heart:

I’ve spent my whole life chasing what i thought mattered, without understanding that I was in love with the gold that covered the bars of my life that I didn’t care that i was living in a cage. A cage of my own making. So I am a fool twice over … I don’t know if I’m up to this, if I’m doing the right thing or not, I just know that i have to try.

“Some journeys shouldn’t be walked alone.” -The Ancient One

The other theme of the book involves what it takes to become a disciple. We don’t often count the costs of becoming disciples, rarely realizing that it requires sacrifice, a “willingness to do what is right, not just what is easy.” As Baron Mordo, a disciple who stumbles and betrays the Ancient One, points out, many have that power, but few answer the call to serve. Becoming a disciple involves changes in several areas of your life:

-belief (we turn to Christ, our “Ancient One”, expressing our desire to see him as he is, not simply how he’s been represented to us)
-behavior (our lives become–slowly–transformed, centering our lives around living out the kingdom mission; putting feet–action–to our faith and knowledge)
-belonging (we join a specific faith community).

Discipleship, simply defined, can be seen as a process of how we transform everything we do in order to “take on,” or becoming more like, Jesus. You figure out what it means for you to live and work in light of being a blessing to your neighbor and to the world. It takes time and in our culture’s need for immediate gratification, we’ve forgotten this.

Strange is a wonderful comic book about self-discovery and magic. While I’m not quite down with the light saber action of their magic fights, it is certainly entertaining and worth wrestling with. Then again, J. Michael Straczynski rarely disappoints.