Note: I wrote about the first issue here and while some of the speculation of the story turned out to be inaccurate, my estimation about the artwork has just grown with the whole story and the lovely oversized collection that Marvel recently published.)
Sometimes I think we forget about the power of cartooning. Week in and week out, you’re probably reading all kinds of comics that are produced largely in the unspoken assembly line of mainstream content. One issue after another after another, so on and so forth for months and years and decades. It’s easy to become numb to it. A lot of us (myself included) are probably guilty of this. Reading comics becomes a habit in every sense of the word. Sure, there are occasional standouts, those adrenaline blasts that keep you coming back for more and more even if they’re fewer and farther between. And probably even worse, those hits are just a bit duller every time. But every now and then, there’s a book about art and energy and excitement. Something that screams “This is what we should be doing!”
Tradd and Heather Moore’s Doctor Strange: Fall Sunrise is the latest book to do that, especially in the recently released oversized treasuring edition format.
Tradd Moore’s artwork and Heather Moore’s colors in Doctor Strange: Fall Sunrise doesn’t just show us a different reality; they transport us to a different plane of existence. Flip to any page in this book (particularly if you have the wonderful recently released Treasury Edition) and prepare to see sights and experience things you’ve never seen on a comic page before. Tradd Moore has synthesized the vocabulary of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko with Mike Mignola and Jim Woodring’s sense of time, space, and movement to pull us into Strange’s nightmarish adventure. But for as much action and fantasy as there is in this book, T. Moore uses it to explore a family’s drama and Strange’s role as a healer more than his role as a Sorcerer Supreme.
In the pages of Fall Sunrise, magic becomes this physical, emotional force, unrelenting in its oppressiveness. The weight of this surreal atmosphere presses on us from all sides. T. Moore keeps up this attack on us, creating these overwhelming images that become a reflection of Strange’s consciousness, and his feelings of being unrooted and lost. In his drawings, T. Moore shapes this environment that’s always aware of us and is watching us (see the below page for all of the eyes just looking out of the picture plane.).
T. Moore draws the human form at its most beautiful and its most twisted. The body becomes not just the form of the characters but a representation of the ways that this reality has become corrupted by an angry god. When a pregnant goddess from another dimension named Sophia calls on him in his Sanctum Sanctorum demanding that he deliver her child, it can’t be that easy as this birth takes place on two levels- the Marvel Universe that we know and the goddess’ dimension that she abandoned and left to the angry and bitter god Bythos (let’s call them “gods” and “goddesses” for now due to the lack of a better term.). She is a being of shapes and he is a being of ideas. She left and his ideas ran unchecked to shape this reality around his wrath.
The characters have their bodies but T. Moore draws an environment that’s built around the human form. Eyes are everywhere and the prison that Strange and his allies need to escape from is a giant human body. Their escape is quite literally through the bowels of this Body Machine and out of its ass. For all of the highfalutin sorcerer concepts, T. Moore keeps this story very physical, giving it a solid base as we recognize all of these figures and eyes turned toward Strange.
The ambition of this art leads to sensory overload as there’s so much to take in on every page. Where do you start and where do you finish reading each panel and page? The layers intentionally uproot the reader from any feeling of safety as much as the story uproots Strange from his own complacency. Thrust into this mystical family drama, Strange is actually out of his element most of the time and rather than just being told it, Moore expresses it through the artwork, in creating this new world of familiar yet alien shapes and figures. All of these images are overpowering to both Strange and us as we get pulled further and further into this story.
But even in the most mind-bending imagery, the combination of art and colors creates these gorgeous pages that you do want to get lost in and never pull out of. T. Moore’s lines and shapes are so seductive that you just want to linger on them forever, taking in how all of these seemingly disparate marks come together in these images that tickle dormant parts of our imaginations.
Heather Moore’s hallucinogenic colors are a guide for the reader that Strange himself doesn’t have. She provides the heat of this story and the relief from it. Her colors are either fiery reds, yellows, and oranges, or cool blues and greens, others side by side in the same images. It’s her use and balance of these colors that control how we read this story— the largely red pages are action and speed, while she uses blues to slow us down and allow us to catch our breath. Tradd Moore’s art is the engine of this story while Heather Moore’s colors are the gas pedal and the brake, regulating just how fast we go through this book.
Doctor Strange: Fall Sunrise is a horror book. When you allow yourself to spend time with each image, Tradd Moore is drawing all of this sensory horror but Heather Moore’s colors obscure a lot of it. Not in a way that overpowers but in a way that feels more protective and nurturing. That’s the voyage that Strange is on in this story, trying to find a newborn child in a harsh and brutal environment. Stephen Strange is a man who’s brought into the center of a dysfunctional family environment where he’s asked to possibly sacrifice himself to deliver a child from an emotionally abusive father. In the end, Strange gets nothing but he gives everything in this hopeful and beautiful book.