"New Avengers Annual" #1 is not so much an "Avengers" story as it is a Doctor Strange story, but writer Frank Barbiere and artist Marco Rudy gives readers one heck of an issue regardless. Set very much in the present with flashbacks to Strange's days as a successful neurosurgeon, this story draws parallels between the two timelines, serving up a testament to the lack of change over time, or more truthfully how much Strange has reverted from what he achieved by acquiring the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme.
Naturally, "New Avengers Annual" #1 builds out from the recent events of "New Avengers," but doesn't involve any of Strange's Illuminati brethren. Barbiere reverentially takes what Jonathan Hickman has established in "New Avengers" and expands on it, creating an insightful character piece focused on Stephen Strange. The writer doesn't belabor any goings-on, nor does he lull readers to apathy with yet another retelling of Strange's origin. Instead, Barbiere focuses on the personalities at play and investigates Strange's compulsion to be successful from the sorcerer's pre-magical history and his current endeavors.
Marco Rudy absolutely fills "New Avengers Annual" #1 with gorgeous art that defies traditional layouts and style. Some panels appear to be stolen from Rudy's sketchbook while other images emanate with the delicate vibrancy of watercolor. Sure, Doctor Strange can be drawn in a more traditional manner, but after seeing Rudy's work here, I cannot imagine reading the good (or not so good?) doctor with art in any other style, at least not any time soon. There are a number of iconic images peppered throughout this comic book, but none more impactful than the three on the final page of "New Avengers Annual" #1. Strange's journey has set him upon paths others fear to tread and Rudy's imagery evokes the mystery, loneliness and potential horror that awaits Stephen Strange in the not-so-distant future. Frequently "traditional" lettering over artwork like this looks like a set of stickers. Caramagna appears very cognizant of this and never overpowers the page with his crisply appointed word balloons as Caramagna's letters meld nicely with Rudy's art.
Just a few images short of being the definitive Doctor Strange story, but complete enough to be a perfect primer for what comes next "New Avengers Annual" #1 is an impressive offering from Barbiere, Rudy and Caramagna. With recent developments on Stephen Strange's migration to the silver screen, readers are going to be looking for Doctor Strange stories to whet their appetite and this one is a must. As the time draws nearer, it is almost a certainty that Marvel will find a way to give Strange his own series and this comic book is a masterful audition from the entire creative team.