When I first heard of the "Strange Tales" mini-series, my fear was that Marvel had just scrambled to find an additional group of creators to pad out Peter Bagge's long-delayed Incorrigible Hulk story into a full mini-series. Thankfully, the end result is something much more entertaining than that. While you may come for the Hulk, you'll stay for a lot of the other pieces. Nick Bertozzi's introductory page sets just the right tone for this book full of wonderful wrongness, and he brings a sense of fun to what could have just been another tired Watcher-as-peeping-tom joke.
Most of the best stories in "Strange Tales" #2 delight in being, well, strange. Tony Millionaire's story pitting Iron Man against Baloney-Head is as crazy and full of non-sequiturs as you'd expect from the creator of "Sock Monkey" and "Drinky Crow," and the perfect lead story for the issue. Baloney-Head and Liver-Wurst Face are sufficiently ludicrous enough on their own (I especially love the hovering slices of meat at the end of Baloney-Head's face that double as his mouth) that this would be fun, but once Dwight D. Eisenhower gets involved you know it's gone off the deep end.
In terms of sheer craziness, it's hard to beat Jhonen Vasquez's story of MODOK, having found his number one fan and deciding that the two should have crazy adventures together. If you've encountered Vasquez's creations "Squee" or "Invader Zim" you'll know what a sick and warped mind Vasquez has (and I say that in the most admiring way). This story won't disappoint, with the right combination of disgusting, did-he-just-do-that? moments, and out-and-out grim black comedy. It's been a while since I've seen Vasquez write and draw a comic, and it makes me miss his output that much more.
Peter Bagge's Incorrigible Hulk turns out to really have been worth the wait. What impressed me all the more is that for a one-shot story that was chopped into three installments, this middle piece works well on its own. It's easy to figure out exactly what's going on, and it's both a loving take on the Hulk and a tongue-in-cheek satire of the character. If the surrounding stories hadn't turned out to be so good, it would almost be painful that Marvel had sat on this comic for so long.
Interestingly enough, one of the best stories here actually plays it straight. Matt Kindt (who is probably best known for his "Super Spy" graphic novel) turns in a beautiful, strong Black Widow story. If Marvel's ever looking for someone to give the character a full-length outing, I hope they ask Kindt first. It's got just the right level of action, glamour, and humor that I'd be up for more. What makes it stand out from just another Black Widow story, though, is Kindt's lush art and beautiful typography. It just doesn't look like a typical Marvel story at all, with colors that look like watercolors and the long, stringy lines that they're painted over. Kindt's an amazing artist, and his contribution to "Strange Tales" is as solid as always.
Some of the other stories, though, are just a little too close to regular Marvel that they don't have quite the same level of punch. I enjoyed R. Kikuo Johnson's Alicia Masters story, which seemed to be channeling its own inner Mike Allred in terms of writing and art style. It's nice, but it didn't stand out as a story that was, well, particularly strange. The same is also true of Jacob Chabot's story, although I'd actually go a step further and say that it felt like it belonged more in Marvel's all-ages comics. Ben Grimm growing a chia-pet mustache is funny, sure, but it just lacked a punch.
Only Max Cannon's story of the Unfortunate Three (a precursor to the Fantastic Four) didn't quite click for me. It's short and to the point, at least, but the punch line is so obvious that I guess it's a good thing that it was only two pages. On the other hand, while Jonathan Hickman's recruitment posters to work for Galactus may not be a story, they're clever (and attractive) enough that they more than balance out the Unfortunate Three.
"Strange Tales" has turned into a fun little mini-series, much more than I'd hoped for. Sometimes, as it turns out, waiting a little extra for a comic can turn out to be a good thing. Maybe Marvel should sit on another Bagge comic for several years if we'd end up with another great mini-series to accompany it? (Nah, I didn't think so either.)