Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strange Tales #1

Strange Tales #1
by a kabillion writers and artists
Marvel 2009

Garrett Martin
: Comparing Strange Tales to DC's Wednesday Comics is as tempting as KFC's new Double Down sandwich. That's to say it's incredibly tempting. Both comics see a gaggle of acclaimed artists semi-unexpectedly working on some of the hoariest corporate properties around. Both are liberally doused with tasty portions of Paul Pope. Each one features great work alongside some pretty drastic misfires. Neither of them will sell anywhere close to whatever new piece of mentally deficient psuedo-political horseshit and/or zombified torture-porn tops the direct market sales charts this month. When you get down to it though they are two pretty different propositions. There's an almost straight-up inverse nostalgia-to-mockery ratio between the two. Neither are 100% to either extreme, but Wednesday Comics skews closer to loving tribute while Strange Tales mostly takes the piss (as Captain Britain would say). That makes Strange Tales a quicker, more enjoyable read, but also makes it feel less substantial, both physically and artistically. Is it wrong to immediately compare the two like this?

Hillary Brown: No, it's kind of what you have to do. That said, I found Strange Tales much more complete and, therefore, more satisfying. The fact
that only Peter Bagge's Hulk story ends on any kind of a cliffhanger makes this book more of a thing unto itself. Yes, it's uneven, and some pieces are too short, but Michael Kupperman doing Namor? Jason doing Spider-man? James Kochalka doing the Hulk? And, be still my beating heart, Dash Shaw? This book pushes my nerd buttons (which, as our readers may have gathered, are not unfriendly to superhero whatnot but light up far more readily for the indie stuff, despite your best efforts) way harder. This has nostalgia, but it is, as you point out, a very different kind. There's plenty of love here, but, yes, it's much more smirky, which I like. One of my formative comics experiences was reading a Peter Porker: The Amazing Spider-Ham comic (maybe in the back of one of the Spidey-MJ wedding specials, about which I remember far less), and this is totally on that level... mostly. There are indeed weaknesses, including Nick Bertozzi's MODOK piece. How you gonna make MODOK unfunny?

GM: Whoa, I loved the MODOK piece. It is funny, up until the end, which is surprisingly sad and touching. I don't think it's my favorite piece, but it's stuck with me longer than anything else. Before rereading it over the weekend the only stories I could remember were Pope's, Shaw's, and Bertozzi's. But yeah, Strange Tales is more immediately enjoyable, and Wednesday Comics (which I'm behind on but have been buying every week) provokes far more groaning and consternation, but overall the latter is more memorable. I love Kupperman and Nicholas Gurewitch, their strips in Strange Tales are better than almost everything in Wednesday Comics, but in my mind their Strange Tales stuff has already been subsumed by their overall body of work. It's just another hilariously absurd Kupperman strip, but with Namor, a dog, and a barrel instead of Twain and Einstein. Jason's Spider-Man is really funny, but less than a footnote to the guy's career, you know? Some Wednesday features are too reverent or serious (that Superman nonsense is the worst stuff I've read this year), but when you look at the two you can definitely tell which one's had more attention and care put into it. That wouldn't matter without quality work, but thankfully there's enough of that in both to make 'em each worth our whiles. But damn, you've got to admit those Victorian She-Hulk and anime Spider-Man strips stink Strange Tales up a bit.

HB: I so do not have to admit that. I think anime Spider-man is cute and Victorian She-Hulk is... well, it's kind of uneven. I guess I'm not crazy about that one. You're right that this is not a fabulous addition to anyone involved's career, but does it have to be? Isn't Strange Tales just a chance for a goof, for an artist/writer to play around with a brief and humorous idea? Whereas Wednesday Comics feels a little cramped by its space. It's as though those contributors wanted to do even bigger, more expansive ideas, and being limited to a page means the focus is way more on art than on story. Of course, I gave up after two issues, so what do I know? Attention and care are all very well and good, but there's something to be said for slapdash and funny, at least to me. As far as MODOK goes, I just think the layout is a damn mess, and I've read better MODOK stuff.

GM: The Wednesday comics that feel cramped are the bad ones, y'know? And the size is vital to the good ones. Compare Pope's Strange Adventure strip to his Inhumans piece in Strange Tales; both look amazing, but it's a lot easier to notice and admire all the tiny details when they're blown up to ungodly proportions. The newsprint even helps his muted color palette, too.

Anyway, yeah, enough with the faulty and unjustified comparisons. I'm sounding more negative about Strange Tales than I am. It's pretty damn great, but let's talk about those two strips I dissed. Yeah, the Spider-Man one looks adorable, especially the kindly old spider-man who offers Spider-Man a tasty treat at the end, but the bland "be yourself, don't try too hard to fit in" message makes it feel like a bad afternoon special, or something. And the premise isn't clever or funny, but just silly. I appreciate what Molly Crabapple was trying to do with the Victorian parody in her She-Hulk strip, but, again, the execution is less clever than the idea, and the art just left me cold.

Thankfully everything else here is far better. I'm glad to read some Johnny Ryan comics that don't make me feel like an asshole for laughing. His Punisher thing made me laugh harder than Gurewitch or Kupperman, which is a bit of a shock.

HB: Oh, I know what you mean with the Wednesday stuff. It's more that they're still only getting a page at a time, and there's only so much you can cover in a page. The tiny details are lovely, but do they advance the plot?

I think your points on anime Spidey and Victorian She-Hulk are both totally justified. The former has cute art, and the latter has a good premise, but neither capitalizes fully on the potential that's there. You're also right about Johnny Ryan. I think the Punisher strip takes a tiny bit long to get going (if I had to complain about anything), but it's funny and well-realized, and it ends well, which is the most important thing. I'll take a great ending over a great beginning that peters out pretty much any day. Are you looking forward to the next one of these? I certainly am.

GM: Definitely getting the next two. I wish more Dash Shaw Dr. Strange was coming, but then I kinda wish every good artist did more Dr. Strange. Who would you like to see in this book?

HB: Lucy Knisley, Laura Park (I'd like to see more Laura Park period!), Josh Cotter, Chris Ware (I'd like to see him get to be more humorous), Patrick Dean (wouldn't he do an awesome job?), the Hernandez Brothers.... who wouldn't I like to see in it?

GM: Yeah, Patrick Dean would be excellent. That guy should be far better known than he is. Brian Chippendale would be great, too. I'd love to see some daily newspaper strip guys like Richard Thompson of Cul de Sac, Mark Tutulli of Lio, and Pearls Before Swine's Stephen Pastis. Or even some of the classic MAD guys, like Jaffee and Aragones. They might be wholly owned subsidiaries of Time Warner, though.

Oh, this is probably mandatory: how does this compare to Bizarro Comics? Still haven't read that.

HB: Well... it's been a while since I have, and I suppose I should go pull it off the shelf. I think this maybe has a higher percentage of stuff that really clicks, but that's prettier. What mostly sticks with me from that is Evan Dorkin, of whom I'm not a huge fan. And I think (again, don't hold me to this) that the pieces are longer, and they should be short. So, I like this better because I just read it.

Stay tuned for guest appearances, perhaps some kind of an interview, and more. We're trying to rev this puppy up again. Also, if you're checking us out in Google Reader, click on over and take a peek at the new Colleen Coover-drawn logo up above.

1 comment:

Smoggo said...

I just looked at one of those Wednesday Comics on one of my first visits to a comic shop in years. I thought the price was too steep. Pass. The Strange Tales sounds fun. Reminds me of that Highwater Marvel Benefit from years back that I always seem to be talking about. (That contained the single best Spider-Man story ever)

Hillary: I heart Spider-Ham! Had half the run of the original series when I was a runt.