Released, rather appropriately, on April Fool's day, Marvel's "Assistant-Sized Spectacular" draws inspiration from "Assistant Editor's Month" -- a stunt where Marvel ostensibly turned comics over to the assistant editors, bringing us such genuinely unforgettable stories as the Aunt May/Franklin Richards "Marvel Team-up" issue where Galactus transforms Aunt May into his herald, Golden Oldie, then satisfies his hunger by eating a Twinkie planet.
However, the days of turning almost the entire Marvel line over to the assistant editors are well and truly behind us. Instead, they've been given a two-issue miniseries to play with.
Except they haven't actually done that -- the bulk of this series appear to be reprints of original stories from Marvel's Digital Comics Online service. There's a wacky framing sequence set in the Marvel bullpen that's packed with in-jokes and self-referential moments, more fitting of the assistant editors' tradition, but the tone of the actual stories collected doesn't quite mesh with that.
That's not to say they haven't tried -- characters like D-Man and American Eagle aren't high up anyone's list of credible characters, but rather than go for laughs, the stories themselves play things dead straight, and that causes a harmful rift between reader expectations, and the credibility afforded the book's super-heroes. Chris Giarrusso's Mini-Marvels short is the only one of the three stories that goes directly for laughs, and is all the better for it. The real star of the book, though, has to be Jacob Chabot, whose artwork imbues the framing sequence with bags of cartoonish charm.
There's no denying that this is a self-indulgent series, but done sparingly, that's perfectly forgivable. As a method of packaging previously online-exclusive shorts for the direct market, this is far more preferable to something like "Astonishing Tales," and its idiosyncratic tone makes it a memorable read, even if half of it isn't very good. It's a far worse crime for a comic to settle for mediocrity than it is for one to stall halfway towards greatness, and so even though the "Assistant-Sized Spectacular" falls into the latter camp, I'll still be picking up issue #2. It's earned that much of a chance.