Though it’s technically correct to say that I “watched” the Doctor Strange movie, it’s probably more accurate to describe the process more as a light dozing. I think it’s one of the greatest bummers of the whole Marvel-movie series that they turned a scenery-chewing wizard into a dour asshole, as though audiences are longing for a hero who reminds them of being trapped in line at a coffee shop behind a rich idiot who’s already made up his mind that he’s going to be complain about the service.
Anyway! That misstep has been rectified in Strange Academy, a new trade paperback in which Dr. Strange — a good fun ridiculous version of him — starts a school for magical youngsters. Disaster soon follows, just as one would hope, and it’s wonderful rollicking fun. If you’ve been looking for a new “kids at magic school” franchise to take the place of that other TERFy one, this will do nicely.
Thanks as always to Phoenix for helping to pick out the week’s best new comic releases — in addition to the strangeness, we’ve also got a wonderful memoir of transitioning by Julia Kaye, a haunted house that’s met its match in a plucky young girl, and a young man about to marry God in Japan.
It’s Professor X meets Hogwarts, but strange. The premise of Strange Academy is that magic has been restored to the world, and certain troublemaking teens display an aptitude for spellcasting. Dr. Strange has assembled them for a first-of-its-kind school for magic users, and I’m sure you can see the dramatic adventure potential unfurling infinitely from there. Delightfully, this book gets right what the Doctor Strange movie got wrong — namely, making the doctor a real fucking weirdo. As is the case with Dr. Who, Strange is at his best when he’s a freaky sorcerer, rather than a moody ripoff of Hugh Laurie on House. But his appearances in the book are appropriately concise, and we’re given plenty of time with the assembled youngsters who are discovering their powers as they discover what it is to be an adult. And hooray for these excellent characters: There are two fun twins from Asgard; a villain’s son; a demon who always looks on the worst side of everything; an otherworldly fairy; and with all the clashing personalities the book seems to have been cast like a perfect reality show. This comes at a welcome time for Harry Potter fans seeking refuge now that the creator of that franchise has rendered it impossible to enjoy.
You will read My Life in Transition many times, and each time you will enjoy it for a different reason. A truly lovely personal memoir, the book is a series of touching reflections by Julia Kaye about affirming her gender — a time of many different transitions, large and small. Big issues like family and cultivating new relationships nestle alongside thoughts about cats, video games, and hair. Julia’s line art is charming and clean, as is her storytelling: Modest, intimate, and honest about her mistakes (and, occasionally, great triumphs). Sometimes funny, sometimes melancholy, sometimes anxious and sometimes joyous, this collection of three-panel strips is at all times human and relatable. It’s also reassuring, and not just to readers whose experiences are close to those of the author. Through up and downs, life goes on; this book leaves me with a reassuring sense that in spite of everything, and maybe because of it, we’re all going to be okay.
Four ghosts are determined to scare a family out of their mansion, but they’ve met their match in a young girl who is determined to establish a home for herself. Forever Home is an all-ages delight about Willow, the kid of military parents; forced to move every two years, she’s never been able to put down roots. When the family has an opportunity to put down roots, she’s not about to let the undead get in the way. And as it turns out they all have something in common: They’re all searching for a place where they can be at peace, and for some escape from the restlessness they’ve known. I’m a sucker for “unlikely friends” stories, and this one is a masterpiece of the genre. The book’s adorable colorful art is a joy, and Willow is my favorite kind of hero: Plucky, impatient, and kind. A sort of modern take on Beetlejuice, fans of Coraline will not be disappointed.
There’s a fantastic adventure unspooling in Shadow Doctor, an inspired-by-real-life tale of a Black physician who, ostracized by the medical community, takes work where he can find it — with the mob. Also excellent is X-Men Legends #1, an absurdly faithful revisiting of ‘90s-style stories, down to the gorgeously retro cover, physiologically implausible poses, and surfer-style take on one particularly intriguing character. Young Hellboy is an airy adventure with an Indiana Jones flair that I love, and a disinterest in establishing any depth to the characters, which I do not. I’m also intrigued by The Day I Was Forced to Marry God, a manga about Jehovah’s Witnesses in Japan. And you will be able to tell by looking at the cover of the Brubaker book Scene of the Crime if it is for you: A scowling bandaged man points a gun at the reader, blood trickling from his nose and deep shadows obscuring his face, eliciting my largest of yawns.