Monday, November 01, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 271 (11/1) -- Strange Tales, by a whole bunch of people

Strange Tales credits four series editors, one collection editor, two editorial assistants, an assistant editor, an "editor, special projects," a "senior editor, special projects," an editor in chief, a publisher, an executive producer [1], and a Senior Vice President of Sales (for no obvious reason, unless everyone thinks that David Gabriel would have made a really good editor, if his life had gone differently) -- not to mention a partridge in a pear tree and at least ten ever-lovin' lords a-leaping -- so I hope you'll forgive me if I don't spend any more time trying to figure out who did what to make this these stories exist in the first place or turn them into a book. There aren't quite as many suits as they are creative types -- the back of the book credits twenty-seven creators or teams -- but it's a very close race. (And note well that the office types are all up front, while the creative types are relegated to the end -- there isn't even a table of contents to list what's in Strange Tales.) Perhaps that explains why Marvel needs to make so many of its comics $3.99; they seem to be stacked like cordwood at the office, and it can't be cheap to keep all of them fed.

Strange Tales is an anthology of Marvel stories that aren't much like the usual run of Marvel stories, by creators who usually do more personal (and interesting) work than the monthly long-underwear punchfest -- though they all apparently have some interest and and affection for these characters, or they wouldn't have gotten involved. (Everyone's nostalgic for something.) It collects a three-issue series of the same name from 2009 (not to be confused with the various series over the year that have starred Dr. Strange and others), plus Peter Bagge's 2002 one-shot Startling Stories: The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man, for a total of nearly two hundred pages of comics.

But those two hundred pages -- except for Bagge, who has a 23-page Spider-Man story and another 22-pager staring the Hulk -- mostly come in two- or four-page clumps, giving the creators just enough time to set up and then deliver their punchlines. Those punchlines are pretty soft, as well, mostly relying on the juxtaposition of Stan Lee-esque high superhero drama and pronouncements with dull, everyday life. So Jason has Spider-Man moving his fight with Dr. Octopus into a bar to impress Flash Thompson; Max Cannon does the "real" (mundane) versions of the origins of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four; James Kochalka shows Hulk fighting rainbow versions of himself, and the rain; Nick Bertozzi details MODOK's love troubles with a female minion; and Michael Kupperman sinks low enough to do an Avengers fruit pies joke.

Those pieces -- and the dozen-or-so others on similar lines -- are mildly funny, but they're mostly pretty obvious, and not even as oddball and goofy as the similar DC collections Bizarro Stories. (Of course, DC has a long history of bizarre goofiness, while Marvel has always tired to be as cool and collected as possible -- but there's plenty of What The?! issues with sillier premises than most of the stuff here.)

There are some standouts, though: Stan Sakai's reworking of the Hulk as a samurai is a fully developed, touching, story; Junko Mizuno's version of Spider-Man is childish in all the best ways; Dash Shaw's art style works remarkably well for a Dr. Strange story (that, nevertheless, has a weak punchline ending); Tony Millionaire's Iron Man is an authentically bizarre story about talking luncheon meats; Paul Hornshschemeier has a very talky story that at least is about some interesting ideas; and Matt Kindt takes his now-standard WWII spycraft focus and ports it wholesale into a Black Widow story. But, all in all, Strange Tales is mild and thin, doing the kind of jokes that Fred Hembeck has made a career of for several decades without bringing more than a dash of independent energy and outlook. It's either a wasted opportunity, or exactly what we all should have expected: a sign that a big corporation can co-opt just about anyone it wants to, with the right bait.

[1] Fifty quatloos for anyone with a plausible explanation what such a person does for a book; in films, the EP traditionally is among the most egomaniacial of the money-men, requiring his name to be on the final project though his role was mostly limited to opening his wallet and attempting to seduce starlets.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

vollsticks said...

Yeah, it is an extremely spotty read, isn't it? The new series looks like it might be better. I only really bought the first trade collection for the two Bagge stories-there was a mild whiff of controversy over the "Incorrigible Hulk" story.

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