Color Is Literally Magic In Chris Bachalo And Jason Aaron’s ‘Doctor Strange’
The most recent volume of Doctor Strange by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo has provided an updated and fresh take on the classic character, casting him more as a man of action than ever before, and setting him against impossible odds.
While the stories have been exciting, one aspect of Doctor Strange that’s especially interesting is Bachalo’s use of color to portray the world of magic, and perhaps more importantly, the effects of its absence.
Bachalo’s shorthand for magic is first shown in the very first issue, where Strange narrates to the reader that the world is a lot weirder and more magical than you could ever expect --- and as he opens his third eye, all color leaves the streets of New York City, and it only remains in the magical flora and fauna that only Strange can see. He then crosses a threshold into a bar for sorcerers, where the comic reverts to full color.
A similar method is used in the third issue to an even better effect, as Strange wakes up naked in the middle of Central Park, chased by magic-hungry extradimensional slugs. Bachalo’s work has always lent itself to poppier, block colors, and on Doctor Strange --- occasionally assisted by color artists Java Tartaglia and Rain Beredo --- those strong and vibrant colors are an essential part of the story.
Things get really interesting with Bachalo’s colors later in Doctor Strange #3. Magic is under threat in this story, and Strange's pursuit of the cause leads him to the slugs’ home dimension, which is described as “a place filled with even more magic than Manhattan.” Yet when he crosses the threshold, the color seems to drain out of the page. The only sources of color are Strange and Wong themselves, because they are still equipped with their powers of sorcery, and even their colors are muted when overwhelmed by the absence of magic.
The villains of the first two arcs are an army called The Empirikul, led by the single-minded magic-hater known as The Imperator. When he was just a child, he was raised in a dimension dedicated to magic, and his parents were found guilty for the crime of practicing science. The Imperator was sent away, Superman style, while his parents held the Blood Monks at bay, and he grew up alone with a hatred for the forces of mysticism that damned his family.
So it’s no surprise that, when we see The Imperator and The Empirikul, they’re rendered in the starkest and most sterile black and white. Occasionally a small glimmer of green or blue will peek through, but the monochrome color scheme of The Empirkul tells us everything we need to know about them. There is no magic to be tolerated; all scraps must be eradicated for the good of the multiverse, leaving only the laws of science to govern existence.
As The Empirikul get the upper hand, it makes characters like Strange, the Scarlet Witch, and Shaman pop off the page with blues, reds and greens. By highlighting the importance of color in the role of a superhero comic book, Bachalo establishes the threat presented by the villain actively taking it away, and establishes the stakes inherent to the heroes winning it back.
Comics coloring is an unappreciated art, with series-defining artists like Jordie Bellaire and Rico Renzi left uncredited on collected editions of titles such as The Vision and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Bachalo's use of color in Doctor Strange is just one of many recent examples that make the reader sit up and realize how important coloring can be to a comic, and how lost superheroes comics in particular could be without it.