Internet wisdom says there are two types of comic creators. The first are the soulless, toe-sucking, corporate hacks who care only about earning their work-for-hire paychecks while pandering to emotionally-stunted fanboys. The second type are the indie creators: beautiful souls who suffer for their art in poverty and obscurity even as they transform pure Beauty into sequential images.
But, hell, even the indie guys need some spending money every now and then, which is how Strange Tales came into being. Strange Tales is a 3-part anthology series where indie creators get to play in Marvel’s sandbox, though outside any recognizable continuity. Most of the entries are short stories running only 4-5 pages, though Peter Bagge’s “Incorrigible Hulk” is part of all three issues. There are about 9 tales per issue (and I have no intention of reviewing them all individually, because I am lazy), all of them either satires or spoofs.
“Incorrigible Hulk” is arguably the main draw of the series, but it’s actually one of the least entertaining tales.
Bagge’s art just doesn’t really grab me, and most of the jokes aren’t very funny. The story tends to drag even though each installment is only a few pages.
I found Junko Mizuno’s take on Spider-Man and Mary Jane to be far more amusing, as well as just plain odd.
It’s unquestionably the girliest take on Spider-Man I’ve ever seen. It’s like Spider-Man wandered into the universe of Strawberry Shortcake. (The first two scans were from issue 1, all further scans are from issue 2).
There doesn’t seem to be any specific criteria for what gets included in Strange Tales. For example, some of the stories seem like they’re targeted at younger readers. Jacob Chabot’s short story, “Lookin’ Good, Mr. Grimm” could easily have appeared as a backup story in an all-ages book like Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four.
Like many anthologies, quality in Strange Tales varies considerably from story to story. None of the tales were outright hilarious, but a few elicited a chuckle from me. Others, however, were a chore to read through (there’s not one, but two dismal stories featuring MODOK. If you can’t find genuine humor in this clown, then you’re just not trying). Additionally, there are vast differences in tone, age-appropriateness, artistic style, and affection for the subject matter. Strange Tales lacks any integrating concept that is more substantial than indie creators working on Marvel properties. As an anthology, it makes for an uneven and unsatisfying read.
To further understand why Strange Tales is such a disappointment, I think it’s useful to compare it to DC’s recent anthology series, Wednesday Comics. The most obvious difference is format. Strange Tales is a typical comic book, while Wednesday Comics was published as a newspaper with each strip taking up a full page. Theoretically, Wednesday Comics is much more daring, but in practice very few of the creators really knew how to take advantage of the format, leading to stories where nothing of interest would happen each week. The more conservative format of Strange Tales works well enough for most of the creators, but it doesn’t provide much space for storytelling.
Another difference is how the creators deal with corporate superhero properties. The creators working on Wednesday Comics clearly had much more respect for their subject matter. Most of the strips were typical superhero stories that showed the expected amount of reverence for the “modern myths” of DC. That’s the nice way of saying that most of the strips were boring and had no sense of humor. Strange Tales, on the other hand, is all about satire and mockery with varying degrees of nastiness. Now, I’m not particularly offended when someone makes fun of Iron Man, so Strange Tales would presumably be right up my alley. Unfortunately, much of the humor falls short, and there are few things as aggravating as reading bad comedy.
But all the differences between Strange Tales and Wednesday Comics seem insignificant compared to one major similarity; they’re both about the same old characters that have been appearing in Marvel and DC comics for decades. And from what I’ve seen, indie creators are no more capable than genre hacks at bringing new ideas to an old table. Whether you’re worshiping Batman or mocking Spider-Man, there just isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said.