The Comic Book Club: Batman & Robin #16 and Strange Tales II #2

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DOUGLAS: A handful of scattered thoughts on Strange Tales II #2: I always find it interesting to see when the idea of “Marvel” is locked in time for the creators of stories like this–for the Hernandez Bros., it seems to be around 1965. And I am totally cool with that.

Gilbert’s Toro looks a bit like ¡Fortunato! from Luba, doesn’t he? This is an Iron Man story by someone who’s really, really into the look and feel of early Tales of Suspense-era Iron Man. (I bought a sketch from him this summer of Iron Man with his mask half melted off by the Melter. It might be the single best drawing of Iron Man I’ve ever seen.)

That Paul Hornschemeier Colossus story is like the most Paul Hornschemeier thing Paul Hornschemeier has ever done.

David Heatley really is good at making incredibly creepy comics.

Omega the Unknown was my favorite Marvel comic of the last few years, so I’m really happy to see Farel Dalrymple playing in this court again. I also love the fact that one of the story’s pages is directly copped from How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. That book really did a number on a whole lot of cartoonists of a couple of generations.

MIKE: I missed Omega, but now it looks like I’ve got some trading to do. This Spider-Man and Silver Surfer story might be my favorite of the book for the art style alone. Dalrymple might have been riffing on the Marvel Way instructional book, but he is a natural with urban environments. The first three panels of New York City alone are unreal. When Spidey laments that NYC is killing him, he does so with the infamous BK Bridge in the background.

DOUGLAS: I think a lot of people missed Omega, which is very odd to me–I believe it may have been the worst-selling Marvel superhero series ever. And Jonathan Lethem wrote it! And it’s so good! It reads best as a book, but I’ve found a lot of the issues in quarter bins at cons. Might just’ve been that it didn’t look or read like a typical Marvel superhero title (and maybe the presence of full-on superhero stuff scared away people who would otherwise have been drawn to comics by Lethem and Dalrymple), but I’ve kind of had to shove it into a lot of people’s hands.

GRAEME: I liked Omega as a collection, but it REALLY didn’t work in single issues for me. I can understand why it failed as a series, especially considering the fact that it’s pretty much unlike anything else Marvel was publishing at the time. “Hey, like Bendis’ Avengers? Here’s… a comic that might make you want to never read Bendis ever again. And you might ponder some existential issues, and realize that superhero comics are much more hollow than you ever had before.”

MIKE: If Jeffrey Brown is locked in time, it’s certainly the early ’90s. (Well, maybe the late ’80s). His X-Men story, “Indecision,” gets to the root of many of the hangups that X-men still have to this day: same old enemies and the same old fighting tricks. Having said that, I may never grow tired of the Fastball Special. Also, as much as I might not like the fact that Cyclops has grown into a complete dick the last few years, I didn’t like whiny, emotional Scott either. Maybe I just don’t like Scott Summers.

DOUGLAS: Jeffrey Brown actually did a full Wolverine comic a few years ago, called “Dying Time”–and not through Marvel, either. He just drew it for the hell of it. There are copies floating around online. That’s dedication.

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: “Strange Tales II” and “Knight and Squire”)

EVAN: I laughed out loud on the train (twice!) while reading Brown’s X-Men story. First time was the “Oh, great” line from Professor X and the second was Wolverine getting disintegrated.

MIKE: As far as David Heatley being creepy, maybe I’m missing some undertones here in this Wolverine and the Power Pack story. Are you just referring to the fact that the Power Pack, a team of children, would be fighting a group of implied pedophiles? OK, that’s a little messed up.

DOUGLAS: It’s more the combination of Heatley’s flat “kidlike” drawing style and the kid-logic of “grown-up inflicts violence on kid, grown-up goes away for a while until the violent nature goes away, then comes back and promises never to hurt the kid again, happy sunset.” I mean, that’s kind of an abused kid’s fantasy structure he’s evoking there. (And to be clear I don’t think Heatley’s creepy as a creator, I think he’s deliberately setting up stuff as a creator to give a reader who sees the subtext the creeps.)

EVAN: I didn’t read it that way at all. To me, Wolverine was almost like a parent who accidentally hurts his child and has to deal with the regret. Not a huge metaphorical distance, I know.

GRAEME: That’s interesting – I totally didn’t see that comic as very creepy, the first time I read it. Now, of course, I will never be able to read it innocently ever again. THANKS, Douglas.

This was much more of a mixed bag for me than the first issue. That one just felt like it had a higher level of… I don’t know, quality? Purpose? Tone? than this one, for some reason. I liked the Jaime Hernandez story because, come on, it’s Jaime and all Marvel Comics should look like that for awhile, Paul Maybury’s and Farel Dalrymple’s storie looked gorgeous, but otherwise, it felt more one note and “Ah ha! I will do an obvious story about the subtext of these characters!” than last issue. Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read it, who knows.

EVAN: Oh, Graeme, you even hatin’ on the Tony Millionaire Thor. Even if the other stuff in the story is weak, extrapolating Stan Lee’s version of “Ye Olde-Timey Shakespearean English” to the point of absurdity is 100% pure comedy gold.

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: “You’ll Never Know” and “Action Comics”)

The Ghost Rider heavy metal cop story left me cold, though. Really liked the Colossus story more than I was expecting, as it reminded me of characterizations of Piotr that felt resonant to my adolescent self.

DOUGLAS: I did like that Tony Millionare Thor thing, although it somehow didn’t really play to Millionaire’s strengths–it actually seemed more like a MAD parody of Thor than like “Maakies”!

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