måndag 6 juni 2011

Chris Giarrusso: Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection

How would the Marvel superheroes and -villains behave if they were kids? What would their lives look like? Peter Parker, for example, couldn't be a photographer for the Daily Bugle if he was just a kid. He could, however, deliver papers for them. However, naturally Venom would compete with him for the paper route, and even if he would be able to keep it, delivering the paper to the Osborns' house would entail the Green Goblin trying to kill him every morning.

How do I know this? Because it's all in Chris Giarrusso's excellent Mini Marvels, of course.

There's plenty to parody in the Marvel Universe. You can do it in a short strip, having, for example, Harry Osborn complaining that his father wants to spend quality time with him – which is hardly surprising as it turns out that that means him being dragged along after the Green Goblin's flier. Giarrusso did a bunch of strips like that, spoofing events and characters of the Marvel Universe, and they were published as "Bullpen Bits" in the back of standard Marvel comics. The feature eventually expanded to one-shot issues which were then collected into paperbacks, and Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection collects those and what is apparently a previously unpublished story in 216 (mostly) hilarious pages. You can see how Giarrusso evolved as an artist by comparing the earliest strips and stories with his most recent story, "Hawkeye and the Crimson Crown" (which, if I understand things correctly, hasn't been previously published). BTW, Giarrusso writes the best-damn-Hawkeye I've seen in any Marvel comic, bar none. The character has never been better than it is here – with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but with quite a bit of justification considering the patronizing, belittling attitude he's getting from his fellow Avengers and other superheroes.

Anyway, here is an example of Giarrusso's early drawing style, a shot of the Fantastic Four – not bad, but a tad, well, maybe we could call it "naivist". It works – especially as it's finishing up a sequence where a cured Ben Grimm has suddenly and inexplicably turned back into the Thing – but it lacks some of the dynamism and confidence of his later work.

Apart from the obvious humor to be mined from the relationships between the characters, Giarrusso is also a skilled humorist in his own right. Not only is he good at coming up with silly situations and fun story lines, he's good at milking situations for their comedic value. One of the techniques he uses is to have a character fixating on something and persevering with a phrase or theme, simply refusing to let it go, thus creating an ever more absurd situation for any character unfortunate enough to have to interact with him. The funniest example of this is when poor Thor has been given an armor by Iron Man (who plans to make a bundle from selling armors to the general public, with extra PR from having the other superheroes using them), and Odin apparently thinks it's all part of Thor having been corrupted by Earth's pop/rap/vulgar culture...

Giarrusso does use this technique several times, but it works so well that it doesn't get old. Like, for example, when the Hulk's talent for speaking in excellent haikus is not just explored, but beaten into the ground – in a most amusing manner.

So this is a gem of a book – funny and charming, and while it caters extra to the sort of person who knows his or her Marvel history just a little bit too well, it's still funny even if your knowledge of Marvel lore is somewhat less-than-obsessive. Marvel would do well to let Giarruso create more of these wonderful stories; he's clearly a talent worth more exposure. I'm getting his G-Man collections from Image, now. They won't give me the extra amusement that comes from from spoofing my favorite superheroes, but they do feature his comedic talent, and based on Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection, that talent should be enough to carry those collections as well.

...And just because I love Peanuts, a bonus sample of the brand of humor in the early strips:

Giarrusso is at his best with the longer stories, where he has time to work more on the relations and interactions between the characters as well as their various hang-ups, but the strips are usually good for a laugh. The only slow part of the book is not-quite-a-dozen page-long jokes about Red Hulk - Blue Hulk. Other than that, it moves between the poles of "funny" and "brilliant".

Warmly recommended!

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