Cates is the new hotness at Marvel thanks to his work on “Thanos,” “Venom,” and to a lesser extent his brief run on this title. I say this because in all likelihood “God of Magic” came about because Marvel wanted to keep “Doctor Strange” going through their “Legacy” initiative but needed someone to kill some time on it before Mark Waid and Jesus Saiz came in for their “Strange in Space” relaunch. So yeah, we’re dealing with a fill-in arc here. A fill-in arc which happens to be pretty good as far as these things go since it sets up and resolves a clever change to the status quo: Loki as the new Sorcerer Supreme.
That’s right, the Asgardian God of Mischief/Lies/Stories has taken over Stephen Strange’s job. As for the good Doctor, he’s now doing his best to make it as a veterinarian and leave the magic stuff to Loki, who is doing a great job by most accounts. The problems start when Strange hears that Loki is sniffing around for a spell known as the Exile of Singhsoon, which puts all of a realm’s magic in the hands of one person. Most magicians think that it’s a legend, but Strange knows that it’s very real because he’s the one who hid it away. The problem is that he’s no match for Loki in his current state, so it’s a good thing that Strange has become friends with a former Horseman of Apocalypse.
If making Loki the new Sorcerer Supreme sounds like too drastic a change for a fill-in arc, then let me assure you that the status quo is restored by the end of the volume. It’s all about restoring Strange to a familiar status and bringing back a particular character into circulation. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that those two things were directed by editorial when Cates took the job to write this arc.
Even if this arc doesn’t seem like it’ll matter a whole lot in the long run, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a lot of fun. To the point where I wish that Loki had been granted a longer tenure as Sorcerer Supreme. It’s great seeing him assert his new position to Strange’s drinking buddies with a mixture of confidence and bluster, as well as watch him try to convince Thor that he’s doing this because he genuine wants to help other people. Naturally, Loki’s interactions with Strange are highly combustible as they drive the plot and provide many opportunities for the two to deliver some quality sniping at each other.
This arc also benefits from how big Cates decides to have it go at certain points. After all, if the status quo is going to be restored at the end, why not use it as an opportunity to go to some interesting places. And I’m not just talking about Dimension Blood. The switch-up with Loki is just one example, but we also get the return of the character that was once a Horseman of Apocalypse, a trip to Asgard with both a fight with Cul Borson and Strange negotiating with Yggdrasil, the revelation of just what’s in the sealed door inside Strange’s house, and Loki’s final revelation as to how and why he became Sorcerer Supreme.
...Okay that last one is just some quality bullshit on the Lord of Mischief’s part that reads like a winking acknowledgement by the writer of the inconsequentiality of this arc. It’s a scene that could’ve left the reader feeling like they’ve been had, but it’s a quintessential Loki moment at the same time. So it works because of that, along with the fact that it’s pretty funny too.
A very willing partner in all this mischief is artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta. Last seen around these parts illustrating Tom King’s “Vision” series, Walta is an artist who has no problems doing “intimate” in a superhero comic. In “Doctor Strange,” Walta shows us that he can do “epic” as well starting with a two-page spread in the first issue showing Loki fighting in Dimension Blood, to the attack on Asgard, and Loki’s fight with Strange in the fourth issue. It’s quality stuff that’s delightfully weird in the right places as well.
I guess I should wrap this up by clarifying that even if “God of Magic” isn’t just good a good fill-in arc, it’s genuinely entertaining. Period. Even if that status quo is restored at the end of the arc and Loki doesn’t get to do as much Sorcerer Supreme-ing as I’d like to have seen, this is still a wild ride that fans of Loki and Doctor Strange would do well to check out. Even if the upcoming tie-in issues to “Damnation” will be the last we see of Cates on this title for the foreseeable future, I hope he finds his way back to chronicling the Doctor’s ongoing adventures eventually.