A panel of indie comics luminaries took to the stage this past Friday at Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss how they warped the Marvel Universe in their own twisted ways. On hand to discuss their pieces in the recent “Strange Tales II” collected edition were Shannon Wheeler (“Too Much Coffee Man”), Jhonen Vasquez (“Johnny the Homicidal Maniac”), Jeffrey Brown (“Incredible Change-bots”) and Jacob Chabot (“The Mighty Skullboy Army”).
Each of these creators had the opportunity to put their own unique spin — and let their freak flags fly — on beloved characters from the House of Ideas. Chabot, who has long been a fan of the Thing, got the chance to draw his favorite pile of rocks with a bit of greenery to go along. His four-page tale revolved around Ben Grimm’s attempt to grow a mustache by reverting to Chia Seeds.
For Vasquez, the project was an opportunity to revel in the grotesque side of the Marvel U. “I wasn’t interested in hero stuff,” said Vasquez, who referenced the old Marvel Universe handbooks and their pages after pages of bizarre character bios as the source of his inspiration. It was M.O.D.O.K who most interested the creator, who wrote a touching tale about how the enormous floating head finds a young boy dressed in a costume to look like him. In an attempt to free the boy, M.O.D.O.K rips the child’s head from his body and then tries desperately to have an ongoing friendship with body-less head. Vasquez also contributed a Wolverine story to the mix.
Wheeler, who has always disliked Captain America, decided to turn his talents to Cap’s old nemesis, the Red Skull. In his tale, the Skull retires from his Nazi ways and moves to South America, as former Nazis are wont to do. Unfortunately, retirement isn’t all fun and games, as loggers move into town and the Skull is forced to resort to eco-terrorism. Eventually, Captain America shows up and thwarts all parties involved. In a strange editorial moment, Wheeler was asked if he “could make Captain America 10 percent less of a dick” in his story.
If one Wolverine story weren’t enough for the collection, Brown’s tale also shined a spotlight on the metal-laced mutant, specifically the Logan/Jean Grey/Scott Summers love triangle. In Brown’s story, the reader learns even the little things count — such as being on a first name basis with someone.
And it wasn’t just the tales contained within “Strange Tales II” that were on the bizarre side, as each of the creators received some editorial notes about their work by editor Jody LeHeup, some of which were definitely keeping in the spirit of the anthology. When it came to Wheeler, for example, LeHeup seemed to have a slight problem with his take on one of their more famous characters, asking if Wheeler could “make Captain America ten percent less of a dick,” in his story, which Wheeler believes was due in part to the movie.
In the case of Vasquez, his original plan was to make the poor M.O.D.O.K. costumed boy who dies right off the bat when his head is removed, as most humans do. Apparently that was not quite up LeHeup’s ally. The editor asked Vasquez if M.O.D.O.K could keep the head alive. Vasquez did so, but wanted the audience to know he felt it was much more disturbing than his original take, as M.O.D.O.K is now torturing the child by keeping him in a state of artificial life.
Chabot was told that his tale was too long at five pages and was asked to cut it down to four. In a creative solution to his problem, he changed the layout from a six or seven panel page to an eight to twelve.
As for Brown, he was told that Jean Grey would never refer to Logan as “Wolverine” in day to day conversation. In response, Brown simply pointed out several instances in the X-Men titles where she had done exactly that, and the note became void.
Vasquez finished up the panel by telling the crowd what made him want to work on “Strange Tales II”. “I love genre stuff in general. Most of the mainstream stuff didn’t satisfy what I wanted.” In reference to the superhero lifestyle he said, “At some point, you die, and at some point, you give up.”
The “Strange Tales II” collection is currently on sale, though sadly, no plans for a “Strange Tales III” miniseries were announced.