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Graphic Novel Friday: "Strange Tales"

Do not adjust your screen. The cover for Marvel Comics' Strange Tales is intentionally upside-down and is representative of the collection as a whole. When Marvel announced the project a few years ago, it sounded more like a What If…?-inspired alternate reality than a press release. Was Marvel Comics really going to turn over its properties to Jeffrey Brown, Max Cannon, Michael Kupperman, and Paul Hornschemier, among many other indie creators? I had to read the comics to believe it, and since I could not idly wait for this collected edition (newly released this month), I did my research early with the individual issues upon release. It's real, folks, and it is strange.

Dash Shaw, lauded writer and artist of Bottomless Belly Button and the forthcoming BodyWorld, turns in one of the weirdest Doctor Strange stories I have read, where The Sorcerer Supreme battles a relentless yawn. Yes, you read that correctly. And that's not the last you'll read of superheroes battling the mundane in Strange Tales. Tony Millionaire opens his piece with a full-page Iron Man exclaiming, "What is that delicious smell?? Smells like…cold cuts!!" While, in Jacob Chabot's charming, colorful offering, The Thing attempts to grow a handlebar mustache out of a Chia Pet.

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But it isn't all wink-wink storytelling. Matt Kindt turns in a welcome, poignant Black Widow tale, while Stan Sakai breathes the soul of a samurai into a period piece involving The Hulk. Paul Pope's opener focuses on The Inhumans, and it's full of an infectious love for Jack Kirby and Lockjaw, the teleporting dog. [Click here for more Paul Pope goodness.] But it's mostly laughs: there is a chapter involving Longshot speaking fluent LOLcat ("Yo! Whas' up mah robots?!"); Brother Voodoo strutting in "Death Rides a Five Dollar Bag," complete with yellowed pages and purposefully iffy color separation; Strange Tales Max cover paul popeand The Perry Bible Fellowship doing what it does best, only now directing its catastrophic gags at Wolverine and company. The centerpiece is Peter Bagge's extended "The Incorrigible Hulk," a crazed, abrasive look at the insecure mind and abused body of Bruce Banner. Plenty of gnashed teeth and sweaty brows abound (pairing nicely with Jason's all-too-brief, quiet look at Spider-Man).

If you didn't stop reading this post at "Longshot" and "LOLcat," then chances are fairly good you'll find something subversive to enjoy here. My favorite title has to go to "…And Call My Lover M.O.D.O.K.!" by Nick Bertozzi. There's a reason why Marvel doesn't focus too often on the innermost desires of a Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, but that's why Strange Tales works so well--aberrant looks at the most popular and the most unfathomable characters in the House of Ideas' universe. It's a fine Who's Who for mainstream readers unfamiliar with the comics lit crowd, and for devotees, it's manna.

--Alex

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