Strange Quality: Strange Tales II #1-3

Posted by on January 12th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Strange Tales II #1-3; Jody LeHeup (editor); Marvel Comics; $4.99 ea.

While Vol. 1 of Marvel’s Strange Tales reveled in the comedy beneath the fan-fetish-plagued superheroes of the Marvel Universe and what readers expect from them, most of the stories in Vol. 2 display a mirror world of strange possibility the superheroes could inhabit given a certain creative direction. Not to say that Vol. 2 is without comedy: Nick Gurewitch returns with an untitled two-page strip that shall henceforth be named “Magneto: Refrigerator Magnet of Galactus,” and Kate Beaton’s “A Distraction” has Kraven the Hunter saying, “You may not go home until tonight has been magical.”

On the whole, though, Vol. 2 emphasizes the “strange.”

What’s strange about the stories in Strange Tales II is only so relative to the normal tone and plot in an average Marvel comic. When Gilbert Hernandez draws Iron Man (in his original suit) and the original Human Torch defeating a host of gummy baddies by melting them, deep within the “Secret Sanctorum” of The Leader, it’s strange because these days Iron Man’s busy stopping this month’s terrorist stand-in or busting his fellow heroes for not making it onto Mark Millar’s “good” list; not because the plot is unique in the history of Iron Man. There are some exceptions: Benjamin Marra’s “U.S. Agent vs. The Terror-Saur!!” in which U.S. Agent rides a rocket bike to Terrorstan with a scantily clad female reporter to fight a half-human, half- velociraptor with a nuke on its back is … unorthodox … even in relation to its fellow strange tales.

Another example of relative strangeness is James Stokoe’s “Silver Surfer” in issue #3. The Surfer alights upon a game of Skrull poker (that’s “five card torrek,” for all the Skrull historians in the house) as his master, Galactus, destroys the world. The Skrulls invite the Surfer to play a game, in which the Surfer promptly beats them in the seconds before the world is no more. This strip is primarily comedic, save for one of the Skrull’s closing lines. After losing the hand to the Silver Surfer, the Skrull tells him, “You enjoy that drink now … And may you never find a place to call home.” The portion of the quote after the ellipses is a nod to the greater mythology of the Silver Surfer. Its appearance there is not only an interesting turn in a story comical and bizarre up to that point, but also it shows that even here, in this strange tale, popular iterations of a character can creep in and create a new effect in the meeting of the strange and the popular.

There’s no real “winner” of Best Strip in Strange Tales II. The whole three-issue package wins because, more than anything else, Strange Tales II, like Strange Tales I and DC’s Bizarro Comics before it, presents superheroes drawn by high-quality cartoonists: not pencilers, inkers, colorists, writers, letterers and editors—cartoonists. It’s amazing that the quality of superhero stories increases when they’re taken off the assembly line, and how fantastic, comical, morose, cheesy, odd, terrible, energetic and fun they can possibly be.

*”Mara” has been corrected to “Marra.”

All images © 2010 Marvel Characters Inc.

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