The Comic Book Club: Strange Tales and Big Questions

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Graeme McMillan, Douglas Wolk and Evan Narcisse talk about Strange Tales II #3, Big Questions #15, and more!

DOUGLAS: Well, now we see why Marvel was playing it close to the chest with the lineup for Strange Tales II #3. It’s bittersweet but also sort of delightful that the final story was written by the late Harvey Pekar, one of the last people I’d ever have expected to write a Marvel superhero comic. (And, incidentally, I really hope this issue’s indicia doesn’t mean that Pekar-as-a-character belongs to Marvel now.) It’s also exactly the kind of conversation I’d have expected Pekar to have with the Thing.

EVAN: The Pekar thing made me choke up a little bit because, y’know, with Harvey being gone in real life, he’s also sort of gone from comics.

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: Batman & Robin #16 and Strange Tales II #2)

DOUGLAS: One of the things I love about this incarnation of Strange Tales is seeing how deeply rooted the Marvel characters are in certain cartoonists’ DNA. James Stokoe’s Galactus? Holy crap: the first page of Stokoe’s story looks like something he’s been waiting 20 years to have the opportunity to draw. Ditto for Dean Haspiel’s Woodgod story. Because it’s about Woodgod. (And is it me or is that story’s final caption much more like something that would appear at the end of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book or an Infocom text game than your typical comic? I kind of love that too.)

EVAN: I’m not going to lie: at first, a lot of this issue felt like leftovers to me. Strangers in Paradise is a personal favorite of mine, but Terry Moore’s effort on Thor languished in the shadow of that awesomely weird Tony Millionaire story in Strange Tales II #2. The lurid U.S. Agent drew me in, though, and I remembered why I show up for this book.

DOUGLAS: Yeah, that Benjamin Marra U.S. Agent story is something that could’ve appeared panel-for-panel in some angry young underground comic book 35 years ago, which I guess shows that Marvel is catching up in some ways. Or something.

EVAN: Like you say above, Douglas, it’s always great to see the childhood obsessions of the creators work themselves out in this kind of off-brand work. (It’s doubly off-brand, too, being a divergence for Marvel and the alt/indie creators.) So, while Alex Robinson might’ve done research for those little details in his Mr. Fantastic story, I’m guessing he didn’t need to. And Robinson’s contribution here fits in with the wistful vibe of his other work, too. This could’ve been outtakes from Too Cool to be Forgotten, if not for Victor Von Doom’s presence.

Also: Kate Beaton’s storytelling is world-class in that “Avengers at the Fair” story, but the third panel of the first page? You can wait entire lifetimes and not get a panel that good. You can just hear the dialogue: “C’mon, Odinson, it’ll be fun!” “Oh, okay…”

DOUGLAS: Also, it’s a little weird to see Tim Hamilton in the context of “bizarre art-comics people doing superhero comics” twenty-plus years after The Trouble with Girls, but I’m not going to complain about new Tim Hamilton comics.

EVAN: I loved The Trouble with Girls. (And I remember pining away for it on Twitter, only to have you tell me that they’re out in TPBs, Douglas.) But Hamilton’s work really blew me away here, because his Machine Man story really danced the line between ironic satire and genuine poignancy. It’s like he took all these cliches about robot-wanting-to-be-human and a corny reversal, yet found some real gold there. I honestly couldn’t tell if the whole story was meant for a smirk or a sigh and I liked that a lot about it.

DOUGLAS: Plus I know I singled out Ivan Brunetti’s cover last month when it appeared as a “coming attractions” page, but let me just note again how great it is. The little wobbly Don Heck line on the side of Iron Man’s helmet! The Hulk’s one-brushstroke arms! The Green Goblin “squashing” Spider-Man! MODOK jumping rope, with mechanical assistance!

GRAEME: Best thing about the Brunetti cover for me? The Thing’s look of determination on his exercise bike. It’s Clobbering Bodyfat Time.

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

This issue felt like a collection of leftovers for me; I loved the Kate Beaton and James Stokoe pieces – You’re right, Douglas, that first page is amazing – and liked the Toby Cypress, Eduardo Medeiros and Michael DeForge pieces, but both everything else left me cold. Yes, even the Pekar piece, which makes me a heartless bastard, I know. As a series, Strange Tales II has been all over the place – I feel like there was enough material here for a killer two-issue series (or oversized oneshot), but each issue individually had bits that I either didn’t get, or didn’t really enjoy for some reason. I’m glad Marvel’s doing these series, but I guess I’d rather this kind of experimentation wasn’t shoved into one series, outside of the main Marvel Universe line.

Yes, that’s right: I want Kate Beaton to take over from Brian Michael Bendis on the Avengers books. You heard me.

DOUGLAS: I wouldn’t mind at all if the Mystery Solving Teens joined the New Avengers.

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