ďDead a Long TimeĒ
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artists: Nick Dragotta with Mike Allred
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: Sorting through the levels of Hell, Dr. Strange has assembled an odd posse of departed souls with the help of Dead Girl: Ant Man, Piano Player, Phantom Rider, Mr. Sensitive and U-Go Girl. Theyíre fighting against an equally odd passel of specters: the Ancient One, the Pitiful One, the Anarchist, Kraven and Miss America. But will Wong be able to protect Stephenís mortal form while Guy and Edie resume their romance?
Comments: Funny stuff. The contrast between this title, where Milligan clearly has free reign to do as he will with his own characters and the assorted ghosts of Marvelís past, and X-Men, where the reigns are clearly tighter, is striking. Humor, witty asides, a budding romance between a depressed Dr. Strange and an optimistic (as usual) Dead Girl, and a compelling ambiguity about good, evil, faith and desire have truly revived the lamented spirit of that most unusual X-book, X-Statix.
You wonder why itís so hard for him to inject this same sort of wit into the top-tier book, and I think it might come down to humor. Playing these Marvel heroes straight, Milligan can only come up with odd and overwrought plot developments. Playing them for laughs, he comes much closer to keeping them in character, and provides a compelling action/mystery plot as well. Itís a giddy one that will probably have no lasting effect on anyone involved, but itís as fun as cotton candy at the amusement park while it lasts.
This story is really no more complicated than his best X-Statix story, which pitted the team of mutant superstars against the Avengers in several witty vignettes that revealed the Avengers to be craftier than imagined, and the X-staticians to be not quite as ruthless as they fronted.
Here while Dr. Strange works to find the lair of his foe, his foe works to kill Strange and regain life for his ragtag crew. But all this hokum is just a means to examine emotional concerns; Strangeís lack of love, his abiding trust in Wong, the tortured love of Edie and Guy, Phantom Riderís feelings for his horse, the Pitiful Oneís unending self-hate, Tikeís crippling guilt, Miss Americaís retro racism and more.
Along the way, we get a complicated hierarchy of the afterlife not unlike Tim Burtonís visions in Beetlejuice, and Dragotta and Allred offer their retro-chic images to capture Milliganís wit perfectly. X-Statix lives again, if only as long as the magic holds out. This one goes on the shelf next to Morrisonís Seven Soldiers Zatanna, which also caught a sorcerer at a low ebb and thus vulnerable to nefarious attack.
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