The last “Strange Tales” anthology was years in the making, and provided exactly what it promised — indie creators doing off-the-wall takes on Marvel favorites — in absolute spades. Its sequel series arrives a year later with more of the same. Only, in this case, more of the same means more of the very, very different.
In fairness, almost no-one gets into comics without harboring at least some affection for the super-heroes that make up the bulk of the industry. Even the most artistically-worthy, naval-gazing, human condition-exploring indie cartoonist probably has an idea for a Spider-Man story tucked away somewhere. The problem, if there is one, is that roping indie auteurs into a more commercial world has the potential to be massively embarrassing for all concerned. This isn’t like when indie darlings like Nick Spencer, Kieron Gillen, and Jonathan Hickman turn up writing superhero comics; It’s like finding out that William Burroughs has been asked to help redraft the US constitution.
Luckily, everyone involved approaches their work with respect, affection, and absolutely no irony; T results are hugely entertaining, expertly treading the line between homage and satire. Gilbert Hernandez’ Iron Man & Toro Vs. The Leader short has all the rapid-fire lampooning of an episode of Harvey Birdman. Jeffrey Brown uses his usual subject matter of angsty relationships and grafts it onto the X-Men’s classic Scott/Jean/Logan love triangle. Paul Maybury’s Spider-Man comes with a perfectly-executed punchline, and Paul Hornschemeier’s Colossus story is surprisingly bleak, affecting, and perfectly suited to the character. And, of course, no indie anthology would be complete without a pop at MODOK, delivered here by John Vermilyea.
There’s no denying the talent on display and, with so many unusual styles on offer, it’s inconceivable that you won’t find something that leads you to more work you might enjoy. Arguably, there’s a slight tendency towards Silver Age pastiche – a genre well-worn even by more “mainstream” creators – but it’s hard not to be charmed by such personal versions of familiar characters, even if they are being used in parody. As with any anthology, it’s certain that some stories will click more than others, but even if you only like a few, it’s well worth buying the issue just to read a few stories you haven’t seen before (and might never again).