Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Strange Tales

Strange Tales Strange Tales by Becky Cloonan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a child, my primary exposure to comics came from the Marvel stockpile with a sprinkling of DC, Archie, and Richie Rich. Being an Air Force brat living overseas for many of my prime being-brainwashed-by-comics years, I had access to The Stars and Stripes bookstore on base, and not much else. It was only as a teenager that I became aware of such things as independent and/or underground comics. For years, I was forced to "make mine Marvel".

Now, that's not a bad thing. I really enjoyed Thor, Conan, and anything with Silver Surfer in it. Even after I returned to the states, I collected Defenders for quite some time and even had a subscription to the Star Wars comics and (dare I admit it) The Dazzler. Mom bought me the latter, though I think she was way more enamored of the sparkly mutant songstress than I was, but, hey, it was thoughtful of her. Thanks, Mom!

But like any good thing, familiarity breeds contempt. By the time I was in my middle teen years, I was thoroughly burned out on Marvel and comics in general. I "graduated" to more adult-oriented publications like Epic Illustrated and Heavy Metal. For a long time I didn't seriously read comics at all.

Well, as you can see by my previous reviews, I've jumped back in the game and enjoy several titles, most notably Fatale and The Manhattan Projects.

So what ever happened to Marvel? Let's see, I burned out about the time Secret Wars was tying up. Then I came back to Marvel via the silver screen and discover that the franchise, from the movie side, anyway, has been ripped in twain. So, until contracts change, I won't be seeing Silver Surfer alongside Doctor Strange anytime soon. And that makes me sad. I just haven't had the heart to "make mine Marvel" again.

So what is the most natural thing to do with your idols after your idols have lost their holiness?

Mock them. Mercilessly.

And that's what Strange Tales does. It's as if Marvel got drunk and decided to give permission to a bunch of independent comic writers and artists to abuse their characters and storylines in whatever way they saw fit.

And, boy, did they! From the dark side of Peter Parker's supposed "super powers" to a domestically challenged Bruce Banner/Hulk as a Doctor Jekyll/Mister Hyde of the singles dating scene (I'm not kidding), the artists herein have stretched, chopped, boiled, and burned Marvel's sacred cows with shameless abandon. Imagine if Stan Lee had hired The Onion's staff in some bizarre alternate universe and you get the idea.

Not all of the stories worked for me. One was so abstract as to be incomprehensible. A couple were downright uninspired. But when they hit the nail, they do it with a resounding boom!

My favorite of the bunch was Tony Millionaire's Iron Man. This all-too-short strip harks back to the comic art and comedy of the early 20th-Century, falling halfway between homage and outright ridicule of both Marvel's Iron Man and the comics that preceded him.

If you're a Marvel purist who takes him- or herself too seriously, you're gonna hate this . . .

. . . and that's why I liked it. Not enough to make me get back into Marvel, but enough to justify keeping my distance. Gone are the days of Marvel and DC dominance. And I say, good riddance.

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