Rich Kreiner’s Yearlong Best of 4

Posted by on December 30th, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

A panel from Junko Mizuno's "Welcome to Spider-Town" in Strange Tales #1

The best things in 2009 I read from Marvel Comics were the funnybooks it turned over to independent contractors. This year it turns out that the brightest tactic from The House of Ideas was to put unhousebroken alt/indy creative foxes in charge of their corporate property henhouse.

A prime example, Fin Fang Four Returns! by Roger Langridge and Scott Gray, was cited last entry. What that pair did for the company’s stable of giant monsters, a posse of outrider cartoonists do for Marvel superheroes in the three issue Strange Tales miniseries.

The title is a thoroughly mixed bag as a whole, yet one that pretty much assures there’s something, somewhere, for everybody, particularly those familiar enough with the Marvelous Marvel Manner to get a laugh out of the abuses.

So my favorites need not be yours. I’m partial to the quick stories that expose the deviance potential inherent in the crowded stable of characters: Nick Bertozzi’s framing pages on Uatu, The Watcher, as peeping tom; Bertozzi again in a quartet of single page strips that follow M.O.D.O.K. — and his lover! — through the decades of the Marvel Age; Michael Kupperman’s two-pager, “The Avengers in ‘Let’s Fight,’” as neat fusion of standard genre fare and format advertainment; Nicholas Gurewitch on Bruce Banner making a sandwich; Johnny Ryan on any situation or character that comes under his gaze; and Max Cannon channeling his inner Ditko to reprise a seminal secret origin (“Bad news, son — your aunt and uncle have been killed and eaten! Uh… partially eaten, anyway … They were hung up in a fishing net, like flies in a spider’s web,” soberly leading to the moral “With profound mental illness comes grave responsibilities”).

You really have to take your hat off to Marvel for the liberties allowed. Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca pack a send-up of Brother Voodoo with flesh-eating zombies and drug use, wherein the drug-filled hypodermic needle, so memorably poised above a victim’s eyeball by Jack Cole some 62 years ago in “Murder, Morphine and Me,” finally plunges home. In a tale chopped and dealt to all three issues, Bruce Banner and his alter ego wind up a mismatched pair of love toys thanks to Peter Bagge.

Then there are such diverse hands as Stan Sakai, Tony Millionaire (who, brandishing his best Gene Colan chops, has Iron Man battle Liver-Wurst Face and a giant hologram of Dwight Eisenhower’s head), R. Kikuo Johnson, Paul Pope, Jason, Becky Cloonan, Jhonen Vasquez, Paul Hornschemeier (who, God help him, seems to have given some serious thought to the mortal predicament of his protagonist), Junko Mizuno, Jeffrey Brown, James Kochalka and Dash Shaw. Each issue of the miniseries boasts its curiosities although you’d have to go a long way back in time to find a Marvel release as collectively odd and internally irreconcilable as the third.

From Stan Sakai's piece in Strange Tales #3

Though the parallels aren’t perfect, old timers might think of this incarnation of Strange Tales as a cross between the company’s Not Brand Ecch and the legendary “Marvel Benefit” issue of Coober Skeeber. Everyone else can think of it — with the same caveat — as Kirby’s Ergot.

Images [©2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.]

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