The Comic Book Club: “Strange Tales II” and “Knight & Squire”

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up talking about what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Graeme McMillan, Evan Narcisse and Mike Williams discuss the debut issues of Strange Tales II and Knight & Squire.

DOUGLAS: I enjoyed last year’s incarnation of Strange Tales as an art-cartoonists-do-Marvel-characters anthology, but I liked the first issue of Strange Tales II better than any of the previous run. My favorite thing here has to be Kevin Huizenga’s piece with Wolverine and the Silver Surfer–partly because he actually managed to do a “Fight or Run” strip on Marvel’s dime, but mostly because of that amazing twist it takes on the final page to commenting on what’s involved with doing stuff on Marvel’s dime.

(More on Techland: A Brief History of “Strange Tales”)

GRAEME: YES. A million times yes. The Huizenga piece – and Kate Beaton’s – almost feels more like something that should’ve appeared in one of his Drawn & Quarterly books and accidentally ended up in here. The “The Dream Is Over!” line at the end was perfect.

DOUGLAS: A week after all the John Lennon reissues came out, no less! Other highlights: Gene Luen Yang’s sweet little piece about trusting fate; Nicholas Gurewitch’s excellent Galactus/Magneto gag (and what’s with everyone’s fascination with Galactus?); Dash Shaw’s crazy four-pager about Spider-Man and movie illusions–I checked, and the text on the final page is indeed a quote from Tobey Maguire about filming the kiss scene in the first Spider-Man movie. Rafael Grampá’s Wolverine piece doesn’t quite click for me as a story, but Jesus that guy can draw, and he sure loves his violence.

Mostly, I think the reason this incarnation works better than the first one is that that one often seemed to be the result of indie types trying to do gag stories with Marvel characters; this time, the indie types mostly seem to be doing the same sorts of things they would otherwise do, just with Marvel characters as their subjects. (The Kate Beaton piece, for instance, is a perfectly fine Hark! A Vagrant strip whose topic is Kraven the Hunter rather than, you know, “Wuthering Heights” or 17th-century Portugese politics.)

EVAN: Loved this. I missed the first Strange Tales mini, but this issue will make me go back and find the trade collection. (To me, that Nick Bertozzi Watcher story inside the front cover was the perviest thing in the book. And that’s saying something.) I really, really dug the Rafael Grampa Wolverine piece and, from a programming standpoint, thought it was a really strong way to open the issue. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a standing tradition of watching Monday Night Raw with friends every week or because it maps so closely to The Wrestler, but the Grampa Wolverine really entertained me. I loved the re-imaginings of the costumes and the framework of pro wrestling. And, yeah, the emotional underpinnings may be a bit trite, but the art really drove it home.

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: Thor #615)

It’s this kind of freshness that invents a new status quo. When you’re not worrying about continuity, you do a thing like the Kraven story. The implicit trippiness of old Dazzler comics can move to the foreground. It’s funny how Wolverine and the Silver Surfer popped up over and over again; that might just be testament to how that ‘outsider’ energy that characterized them still lingers or may have imprinted on these artists. I dunno, I may be over-investing here, but Strange Tales II #1 is giving me exactly what I wanted from Deadpool Max last week.

MIKE: I was really anticipating reading the Wolverine story by Grampá and then wading through the rest of this book. I could not have been happier with what I got instead. The execution on all of these stories was just perfect. They were the right length. They used enough familiar characters and situations that setup wasn’t needed. There was a tie for what made me smile the widest between the Kraven story and the Galactus/Magneto story. Kraven literally pouncing on a prom date in the middle of a meal was fantastic and easily my favorite joke in a book full of great jokes. Any readers of Perry Bible Fellowship are familiar with the impeccable comic timing of Gurewitch. It took me a moment to get the gag,  but it’s classic PBF. It might even have too much setup. The final page could stand alone for the seasoned Marvel reader. But then we wouldn’t get that close up of the world devourer’s head in the first panel.

I too, would like to gush over Grampá’s story, if I may. The first thing Grampa’s work always makes me think of is Paul Pope and his similar loose, kinetic feel. After a page or two, though, I get past that and start to absorb the details and the humanity of these distinctly inhuman creatures. Like many of my favorite artists, it’s Grampa’s ability to choreograph that makes me stare at a page. It’s his sense of pacing. He knows when to shock with violence and when to linger.

I did wonder who Deadpool’s son is here. Who is his mother? Did Wade finally get together with Siryn? That’s just the Marvel fanboy in me talking. Oh, and Evan if you liked this wrestling story you should read a very short arc in Thunderbolts from a while back about a super powered fight club in Hoboken. It featured the Battler and Armadillo I think. Decent story, great art.

GRAEME: More than the first series, this really reminded me of DC’s Bizarro Comics books from… what, maybe a decade ago now?, where indie cartoonists did their thing with DC superheroes. It wasn’t as much of a gag book as the first Strange Tales, like Douglas says, but offered up the chance to make some of the characters shine much more than their “regular” incarnations – Jessica Abel and Dylan Horrocks’ Supergirl strip in particular, I seem to remember. Visually, this is a great collection – Grampá’s art is just AMAZING, and anything that has Kate Beaton, Dash Shaw and Kevin Huizenga is always going to look good to me – and storywise, there’s some really good stuff in here that really makes me wish, like Evan, that more of Marvel’s books offered the same kind of inventiveness and fun. If Marvel has to have three monthly Wolverine books, one should definitely be written by Jhonen Vasquez, you know?

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