In New Avengers Annual #1, Marco Rudy continues to establish himself as one of the next big artists in comics. He already illustrated Marvel Knights Spider-Man and a fill-in issue of Uncanny X-Men, but Rudy comes into his own with a story featuring Doctor Strange. New Avengers Annual #1 retells Doctor Strange’s origin, but it also tells a new story where he must struggle with sacrificing yet another innocent life to save the universe. Writer Frank Barbiere makes a strong Marvel debut as he focuses on Doctor Strange’s hubris, and how he hasn’t really changed since his days as an arrogant neurosurgeon. It is a new, darker take on Strange which matches his portrayal in New Avengers where he mindwiped Captain America after he tried to stop him from making a world destroying machine to protect Earth from another colliding planet. Barbiere and Rudy weave together subtle influences from Doctor Who (“I am the Doctor!”) to Hellblazer to tell an epic drama of one man’s pride and the consequences it has for the people around him. But what will really stick with readers is Marco Rudy’s art.
No one page is the same in New Avengers Annual #1. Marco Rudy shows his talents for composing pages as he goes from a two page spread of Doctor Strange entering the astral plane to a heartfelt conversation between Strange’s colleague in the past with a dying man. Rudy’s art evokes J.H. Williams’ work on Promethea and Sandman Overture, and his use of water color and fluid linework reminded of Bill Sienkiwicz’s art. However, he isn’t just a painter/water color artist as he uses different shades of black, white, and grey as Strange and the people around him get closer to death. Rudy’s pages are incredibly detailed and filled with background objects and motifs that reinforce the story’s theme of accepting the cycle of life and death. The scenes where Strange has conversations about these subjects are done in concentric circles with varying sizes.
But Rudy doesn’t just just draw pretty pictures or trippy astral plane battles with demons, he is also a deft storyteller. For most of the comic, Barbiere uses minimal dialogue and narration allowing Rudy to tell the story with his visuals. Rudy uses all kind of crazy panel layouts, but the plot is straightforward and easy to follow with different color schemes for the flashbacks to Doctor Strange’s past as a surgeon and his current battle with a parasite demon. His figure work is as detailed as his backgrounds, and he captures the moods of the various characters from a family about to say goodbye to their father to a proud, standoffish Strange that tells a young boy he will save his father, and finally pure rage and power when Strange uses blood magic. New Avengers Annual #1 is a showcase for Rudy’s skill as a penciller and colorist, but it also shows that he can convey characters’ feelings in complex emotional situations.
Even though it is $4.99, New Avengers Annual #1 is probably the most beautifully illustrated Marvel or DC comic this year. It also is an easy to follow introduction to Doctor Strange as a character for new fans, who may only know about him from the announcement of his film last week or the 2007 animated film. Marco Rudy shows the visual potential of Strange’s magical world while also working with Frank Barbiere to craft him as a powerful sorcerer filled with hubris that will do anything necessary to save a single life or the universe. New Avengers Annual #1 is quite poetic at times with primal imagery of death, struggle, and suffering. Barbiere and Rudy have created both a great character study and a wondrous, complex piece of sequential art.