Posted on September 2nd, 2010 - 09:12 AM by Claire Donner, Party of One
Marvel’s Strange Tales title, a regular anthology of dark sci-fi and thriller comics, first hit the stands in 1951. It served as a showcase for the work of Kirby, Ditko and Jim Steranko, and introduced such familiar faces as Dr. Strange and Nick Fury. Today’s mainstream comics audience is no longer tantalized by titles making claims of Strangeness or Weirdness, as the most popular superhero creatives are increasingly those who insist on “gritty”, “realistic” quality in their writing and rendering – or even, god forbid, going meta. For the modern reader, what qualifies as “strange” is other comics; Marvel has confirmed this beyond any shadow of a doubt with its new, startling Strange Tales series, the first collection of which has just arrived in stores.
Perhaps not wishing to be shown up by DC, with their atypically heady Vertigo line and oddball ad-free projects like SOLO, Marvel stepped up to the plate last year with the resurrection of Strange Tales as a regular collection of comics featuring indie luminaries such as Johnny Ryan, James Kochalka, and more. Though awkwardly situated under Marvel’s ultraviolent Max division, the project seems to bring out the best in its participants. Many of today’s indie darlings began as pallid little fanboys, salivating over Sue Storm or Kitty Pryde (just ask contributor Jeffrey Brown), and Strange Tales names names. The whole endeavor feels be a bit like when you’re in high school and you realize you can write your sociology term paper on your favorite band.
Paul Pope is a rare bird in the comics world, a taste-maker and fashion victim in equal parts, who has worked for Diesel and DKNY when not drawing Jim Morrison look-alikes and their sooty-lashed consorts dealing drugs in a pre-apocalyptic future. For some reason, Strange Tales’ proposal proved that there is in fact a funny bone buried somewhere in Pope’s famously perfect bone structure, and he leads the volume with a protracted gag strip wherein Lockjaw (a character as rich in comedy gold as MODOK) single-handedly defeats Inhumans nemesis Maximus – only to use the villain’s crown to crack into a can of dog food. Wocka wocka.
Similarly, fine artist-cum-fashion model Dash Shaw churns out the funniest segment in the series so far, wherein we find Strange Tales standby Dr. Strange struggling with soup, contagious yawns, and his enemy Nightmare. Shaw is known for his exceedingly cerebral graphic novels and animated projects – but not so much his sense of humor. Shaw’s “Strange” tale manages to split the difference between his sophisticated art school inclinations, producing challenging layouts and floridly colorful imagery, and the wry wit that the project so deserves. Maybe the key to his success choosing Strange, whose powers allow for hallucinatory visual excess, but who has become something of a second-stringer with the passage of time, making him particularly vulnerable to Mad-style mockery.
A popular pick for the Strange Tales project has been Spider-Man, surprising no one – see also Peter Bagge and Jason here, confirming the erstwhile nebbish’s unstoppable popularity. Perhaps strangest member of Spidey’s fan club is Japanese artist Mizuno Junko, known to art comics and manga audiences for her mix of extreme visceral horror with uber-cute cartooning. Junko does us all the great service of bereaving Peter Parker of his super-powered specialness and damning him to his former terminal dorkiness. Peter’s powers become passé when he and MJ move to a town populated by spider people, and even his trophy girlfriend’s beauty and (um) brains can’t dig him out of the dumps. (See the results of her helpful hints above) It’s refreshing to see this character, who has gone from being the ultimate nerd avatar to a regular old comic book Adonis with a little black book as thick as the King James, returned to a state of relateable geekiness – even in Junko’s seductively surreal world.
I wish I had the word count to pore over every entry in this series, which will continue shortly in Strange Tales II, featuring Tony Millionaire, living legend Jaime Hernandez, the dearly missed Harvey Pekar, and more. Suffice it to say I’ll be back soon to say what more this unholy union spawns.
Tagged: Dr. Strange · Indie Comics · Lockjaw · Marvel · Spider-Man · Strange Tales
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