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Doctor Strange floats, reclining, on his townhouse stoop, with a levitating cup of steaming coffee, and his ghost dog. A sign over his door says THE DOCTOR IS IN, in Doctor Strange #1 (2023). Image: Jed MacKay, Pasqual Ferry/Marvel Comics

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Doctor Strange’s next epic role: Magical Wife Guy

The creators of Marvel’s new series on the Strange-est couple in the Marvel universe

Surprising no one, Dr. Stephen Strange is back from the dead, less than two years after he departed the mortal plane. March’s Doctor Strange #1 resurrects the Sorcerer Supreme for the latest chapter in writer Jed MacKay’s Strange saga, which began with 2021’s Death of Doctor Strange and continued in the Strange series, spotlighting Stephen’s widow, Clea. Artist Pasqual Ferry and colorist Matt Hollingsworth join MacKay for the new series, which focuses on Stephen and Clea’s marriage — and plenty of magical superhero life shenanigans.

Over the past year, MacKay has established Clea as the Sorcerer Supreme of both Earth and her native Dark Dimension, a dual role that makes her an especially formidable hero. Early in Strange, which concludes with this week’s issue #10, Clea declared herself the “Warlord of Manhattan,” and she’s been very aggressive in taking out mystical threats to her domain while searching for a way to resurrect her husband.

Now that Stephen is back, MacKay has the opportunity to delve deeper into their unique mystical marriage. “What I find interesting about Clea and Stephen’s relationship is that it has a pedigree that is up there with all the other great Marvel superhero partnerships,” said MacKay. “This is a relationship that extends way back into Marvel’s history, and I wanted to see that expressed on the page. These are two people who have known each other for a very long time, have suffered their ups and downs, and have come through them to find a new balance in their lives together.”

Doctor Strange and Clea lounge in their bedroom and share a kiss in Doctor Strange #1 (2023). Image: Jed MacKay, Pasqual Ferry/Marvel Comics

“I think there’s a certain gravitas in the two of them together — neither of them are young, fresh, unseasoned,” said MacKay. “Stephen Strange is an elder statesman in the Marvel universe, the person that’s always brought in when magic intrudes into lives of other heroes, and Clea is every bit his equal: an alien warlord who possesses great power of her own. I think Clea and Strange are a power couple in every sense of the word, and I’m interested in exploring that relationship and bringing it back to the forefront in the world of Strange.”

Their marriage is especially rife with storytelling potential because up until Stephen’s death, Clea had lost all memory of their relationship in one of those deals with the devil that Marvel heroes do every so often (see: Spider-Man’s “One More Day”). “[Stephen’s death] has brought them together after every power in the world conspired to keep them apart,” said MacKay. “In bringing Stephen back, our heroes have a fresh start. What remains is seeing how they use it.”

With a fresh start comes a new art team. Artist Pasqual Ferry has been working in superhero comics for over 25 years, drawing big-name characters like Superman, Iron Man, Thor, and the Fantastic Four. After taking a few years off from monthly comics, Ferry returned in 2021 with the Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow miniseries, and there was a notable shift in his artwork. He began incorporating panel layouts evoking the grid-based abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian, giving the alternate-universe horror story its own distinct design sensibility.

With Spider’s Shadow, Ferry tackled one of the two heroes he’d been dreaming of drawing since he was a kid. Doctor Strange is the other one, and the new series is a passion project for the artist. “I have always liked magic, I have always liked the world of fantasy and anything that has to do with imagination,” said Ferry. “I’ve been intrigued by the designs by Steve Ditko, whom I admired for his work on Spider-Man. I always thought that the character of Doctor Strange gives artists a lot of potential to play with and imagine new things.”

“It’s the possibility, the challenge, the idea is to bring something new and wonderful to the table,” said Ferry. “There have been many great artists working on the character, from [Mike] Mignola, P. Craig Russell, Paul Smith. Great artists that have given us their version, and it is important that when Doctor Strange is in those worlds that we create an environment maximizing the use of panels and designs.”

“Pasqual is a marvel,” said MacKay. “He brings a seemingly effortless magic to these characters that sets them apart in the way those who live in the worlds of magic should be. He has an appetite for the weird and unearthly, and I can’t wait for people to see the strangeness he’s going to conjure!”

Doctor Strange chats with Spider-Man through a window, and then in a fantasy shop of some kind, in an unfinished page from Doctor Strange #1 (2023). Image: Jed MacKay, Pasqual Ferry/Marvel Comics
Doctor Strange talks with Luke Cage, mayor of New York City, in his office; then Clea and Strange are seen talking with half a dozen strange magical creatures on the street in Doctor Strange #1 (2023). Image: Jed MacKay, Pasqual Ferry/Marvel Comics

Ferry is also looking outside of superhero comics for artistic influences to maximize the book’s visual impact, from the nightmarish fantasy painting of Hieronymus Bosch to the surrealism of René Magritte and the mind-bending distortion of psychedelic art. He’s excited to translate these more abstract artistic concepts through a superhero whose aesthetic has been shaped by visionary comic book creators. Ferry’s frequent collaborator Matt Hollingsworth rounds out the art team, and his extreme versatility means that no matter what influence Ferry incorporates, the colors will match the style of the line work.

Stylistic contrast also plays a big part in how Doctor Strange’s and Clea’s specific types of magic are represented on the page. “I am going to try to differentiate Clea’s powers from those of Doctor Strange, making it clear that Stephen’s are fundamentally White Magic, while Clea’s come from the Dark Dimension, inherited from her parents, Umar and Orini,” said Ferry. “Aesthetically, while Strange’s spells will be bright, perhaps with an art deco touch in their shapes — I love P. Craig Russell’s designs — Clea’s will be darker in tone, more twisted, baroque, while remaining harmonious in shape. It could be said that Clea’s are more subtly threatening.”

That extra bit of menace ingrained in Clea’s personality will cause tension between the Spouses Supreme. Like any marriage, Stephen and Clea’s relationship has its own challenges, largely stemming from fundamental differences in their perspectives and how they engage with the world.

“We’ve seen in the past how Stephen’s background as a doctor is something that informs his every action,” said McKay, “while we’ve also more recently seen Clea carve her way through the arcane gangsters with little concern for bloodshed. How will these irreconcilable philosophies clash?”

Doctor Strange leaps towards the viewer in a swirl of magic on the cover of Doctor Strange #1 (2023). Image: Alex Ross/Marvel Comics
Doctor Strange and Clea seem to be drawn into the dreams of a sleeping child, as Nightmare watches on his black horse on the cover of Doctor Strange #1 (2023). Image: Alex Ross/Marvel Comics
Doctor Strange floats, reclining, on his townhouse stoop, with a levitating cup of steaming coffee, and his ghost dog. A sign over his door says THE DOCTOR IS IN, in Doctor Strange #1 (2023). Image: Jed MacKay, Pasqual Ferry/Marvel Comics
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