Strange Tales #3

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
Marvel's three-issue dalliance with independent comics creators concludes with this comic, which is pretty much the epitome of a mixed bag.

Leading off the issue is a real winner of a story. Of course, it's by the great Stan Sakai, so it's no surprise that the story takes place during the medieval era in Japan, nor is it a surprise that the story is absolutely terrific.

"Oni" imagines Bruce Banner as a warrior on the run after he flees a battle. Banner wanders across a small cabin in the woods, where a woman, cleverly named Gama, lives. Gama casts a spell on Banner, which, we soon find out, changes him into an Oni, or ogre. Banner tries to recapture his lost honor, only to bring about a tragic confluence of actions.

Sakai's eight-pager is a perfectly realized take on Bruce Banner and his oni problem. It works perfectly because Sakai's rearrangement of story elements works perfectly as an analogue for Bruce Banner's story. "Oni" feels like an old Japanese legend – and for all I know, it might be. The story is that resonant. Sakai's story is a marvel of compressed storytelling, telling a wonderfully charming story in a way that seems to just breeze by for a reader. Of course, his art is a perfect match for the story, drawn in that casually wonderful style for which Sakai is so well known.

If only all stories were as terrific as Sakai's.

I've found myself completely unexcited by Peter Bagge's "Incorrigible Hulk." Bagge reimagines the Hulk as a kind of henpecked slacker with behavior problems, detailing the Hulk's dalliances with a young blue-haired trust fund girl named Trashy. It's all very boring and odd, and nothing in the story really resonates.

Where Sakai finds an analogue for the Hulk in his typical medieval milieu, Bagge finds no analogue for the Hulk in his urban dysfunctional relationship milieu. I kept flipping pages in this story, wondering where the hell it was heading. The last page, especially, is so odd and off-putting that it made me wonder why Bagge chose to move away from the elements that make the Hulk and Bruce Banner such potentially interesting characters. This story isn't funny or clever or charming. It's plain weird, and even rather pointlessly weird.

Other stories are much more interesting. Jonathan Jay Lee presents a unique take on the Punisher as kung-fu badass, battling with fists rather than guns against a luridly colorful background. It's barely a story, more four pages of color and attitude, but the energy of the story is infectious.

A completely different explosion of color comes in Chris Chua's surreal four-pager. The piece looks pretty and is exciting when viewed as a piece of primitive and bizarre artwork. But I keep staring at the story, drying to discern some sort of narrative in it. I'll be damned if I can find anything other than pretty colors and some real strangeness in this one.

Corey Lewis and Dylan McCrae's Longshot story is equally as colorful and energetic as Chua's story but also has an actual plotline to it. The graffiti-style artwork is full of tremendous bursts of excitement in service to a plot that's cleverly reminiscent of the original Longshot series.

The other stories in this issue also are interesting in their own ways, but aren't especially interesting. Jay Stephens presents a cute confrontation between the Beast and Morbius in which the two men have an intellectual conversation during a fight. It's charming but instantly forgettable. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Brown presents a Fantastic Four story that would belong in a Marvel Adventures book, and Becky Cloonan delivers a cute little FF/Namor story.

Two other nice stories wrap up the issue. Paul Hornschemeier delivers an oddly haunting tale of the Molecule Man and Nightcrawler. In the space of just four pages, Hornschemeier presents an interesting take on man's place in infinity, a wonderful look into embracing the unknown.

The other interesting story is Max Cannon's two-page reimagining of Peter Parker as "Peter Pepper", a creepy loner with a mental illness who is reminiscent of a Jeffry Dahmer type. Cannon brilliantly uses familiar images from Amazing Fantasy #15 to present an alternate take on Lee and Ditko's original story, giving readers a feeling of Peter Parker as a kid who could have gone either direction in his life.

Give Marvel lots of credit for trying something really unique with their characters. It's nice that some of these pieces are pretty terrific and of course unfortunate that some are not. Give me Sakai's Hulk over Bagge's Hulk any day.

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