Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.

I’m among the minority of Marvel fans who think Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange is one of the franchise’s most mature entries, introducing a character whose abrasiveness and egotism is actually an impediment rather than a superpower. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange has a similar backstory to Tony Stark — uber-intelligent specialist at the top of his game brought low by an injury — but that’s where the similarities end, at least to me. Unlike Iron Man, whose role in accepting selfless action took almost 10 films and never required him to lose anyone close to him on-screen (as Pepper’s biggest character moment happens entirely off-screen), Strange pushes away everyone close to him away and ends his film alone on the edge of eternity.

Strange starts his journey as a man in full control over his environment. An accident destroys his hands, leaving him unable to control anything. As a result, he eschews modern medicine for magic, which shows him he’s simply a small part of a much larger universe. By the end of his origin story, Doctor Strange is a man who does his best to defend the multiverse without recognition, and without any real control over it. His mangled hands are a reminder that some things stay broken.

One of the most unique aspects of Derrickson’s film is Christine (Rachel McAdams), a non-traditional love interest in the fact that she’s not really that at all. The two shared a romance in the backstory of the movie, but by the start of the film, all that remains is a flirtation. Strange is too self-possessed and his genuine selfishness after his accident makes it unlikely they could ever rekindle what they had. Even when Strange returns as a hero and sees Christine again, all they share is a moment, and it’s not one that screams “Go get ’em, tiger.” Strange lost Christine by being a bad person and he doesn’t earn her as a reward for changing. It’s a mature take on these types of characters that still stands out in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The fourth episode of What If…? introduces the question: What if the accident that led Strange to use magic had killed Christine rather than shattered his hands? Of the first four episodes, this feels the most like a story from the comics — a Dark Strange who must be confronted. But it’s also the one I like the least because it inherently misrepresents what made Strange and Christine compelling in the actual movie on which it’s riffing. Yes, Strange loves Christine and Christine loves Strange. But when we’re introduced to them in the film, there’s no way the two of them would be attending a gala like this together.

Like Episode 3, this episode doesn’t just pose the titular question about a canonical choice from the known story going a different way but rather re-constructs its own version of the MCU up to the point where the choice is made. It feels a bit like a cheat to see this happen again even if the episode is enjoyable on its own merits. I’m not really a huge fan of this storytelling tactic in this context.

Superficially, though, I’m happy to get more Strange. It’s been a frustrating wait to see him get his own story again. The first film feels unfathomably long ago, and despite his excellent turns in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, I really just want more of his mind-bending presence in the MCU. I’m excited to see he’ll play a big role in Spider-Man: No Way Home, but still: Five-and-a-half years is a hell of a wait for the sequel. I just hope the next Doctor Strange movie keeps the thoughtfulness of the first one amid its likely awesome madness.

What I Bought

This past week, a few big Marvel books arrived on my doorstep. I spent entirely too much on comics in August, but it was worth it because some of my pickups were very rare and found at an incredible price. All of them under cover price, sometimes by 60% or so.

First, I got a package containing The Eternals: The Complete Saga Omnibus, which I’ve hoped to read before the movie; I’ve read the original Kirby run but not the more definitive stuff that followed it and truly informed the characters. Alongside it was Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness’s Hulk omnibus, which I bought for nostalgia reasons. Loeb’s Red Hulk is hilariously juvenile storytelling, and reading it makes me think back to when the issues were originally being released and I was first setting off to college. Most of comic collecting is nostalgia, so this was one I was eager to jump on when I saw it for a good price.

I also got a package containing one of the rarest books I now own, Tomb of Dracula Omnibus, Vol. 2, It’s long out of print. I own the first and third volumes and was missing this second one. I’d hoped I could find a copy before this Halloween season. Thankfully that happened, and at an incredible price. I can’t wait to dive into them: I loved the first volume last year. The same package completed my collection of thus-far published Omnibus editions for Chris Claremont’s X-Men run, which I’ll hopefully continue buying when the next few are released at the end of the year.

What I’d Buy

I’m hoping to get a good MCU Doctor Strange for my Marvel Legends collection. There’s one coming out with the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home wave that I will likely buy. I’m conflicted as to whether I also need Dark Strange from this episode of What If…?. I love his costume, which is actually more comics-accurate, but I don’t know for sure where I’d place him on the shelf as I already own an Astral Projection Strange that floats above the shelf. Decisions, decisions!