Written and Drawn by: Paul Pope, Peter Bagge, Molly Crabapple & John Leavitt, Junko Mizuno, Dash Shaw, James Kochalka, Johnny Ryan, Michael Kupperman, Nick Bertozzi, Nicholas Gurewich, and Jason
Cover by Paul Pope
Published by Marvel
Review by Henry Chamberlain
This is a strange anthology indeed, with cartoonists known primarily for being part of the "alternative comics" world taking on the Marvel universe. It's great to see and we can only hope to see more. This time out, we are led by the master, Paul Pope, with a smashing cover and opening story.
Paul Pope's take on The Inhumans is what we've come to expect and even demand from such an artist. His story revolves around the teleporting dog Lockjaw who has an uncanny ability to save the day. He even only asks a can of dog food in return. The story's presentation, like the character himself, was ultra-cool. After that, you're in for a ride as you adjust to a variety of styles and attitudes.
Molly Crabapple, Dash Shaw and Nicholas Gurewitch, as far from the "Marvel way" as you can get, provide some good experimentation. Then there's the subversive talent of James Kochalka who actually holds back his biting satire in favor of a cuddly Hulk. An amusing Kupperman riff on Submariner's anti-social ways follows. Also, we get Jason doing his low-key interpretation of Peter Parker's insecurities which resembles Charlie Brown on a bad day. Junko Mizuno's Spider-Man has a Power Puff Girls look with its gentle scenario.
Johnny Ryan seems to need a couple of pages with jokes that fall a little flat before he can settle in, but once he's off and running, the result is actually very funny. The idea of a concerned parent hiring the Punisher to scare his slacker son into making straight A's is hilarious, and Ryan delivers as only he can.
A couple of artists seem to want to delve deeper, taking a hard look at some of Marvel's big characters. Peter Bagge dares to look inside the apparently empty head of the Hulk and the befuddled head of Bruce Banner, while Nick Bertozzi meditates on the failed hopes and dreams of super villain MODOK. Bagge sets up both the Hulk and Bruce Banner with potential love interests, then explores how the Hulk and Banner's reactions. Bertozzi's MODOK is a tragic figure who is his own worst enemy; he does more with only four pages than others do with a whole book as he conveys a lifetime of disappointment and missed opportunities.
What will be clear by the end of this book, if you're new to indie cartoonists, is that it's not all just laughs. That wouldn't be much fun, at least not for long. There's also deep stuff that can be hard to describe.
Often, "alternative" comics are defined by the general populous as what they aren't: superhero comics. But what happens when "alternative" mixes around as much as it does here with "superhero"? In this case, you get something great, fresh and different. Marvel has just begun to tap into the vast alternative comics reserves out there and it will be exciting to see what happens next. For now, readers can heartily embrace these Strange Tales.