Thursday, 27 June 2013

Stranger Than Fiction...

Hello loyal readers, we're back and we're going to talk about Strangers #5. This little series was something of a hidden gem back the 90s (as were many of the series from the much-maligned but fondly remembered diamond in the rough publisher Malibu). For those of you who rode the Malibu wave that was kicked off by totally rad TV spots like this and this you may remember Strangers #5 as the 'team member comes out of the closet' issue.

Then again you may not, because you see unlike other similar issues from other publishers the Strangers creative team of Steve Englehart and Rick Hoberg handle it with skill and elegance. The 'coming out' portion of the story is small, low-key and completely natural. It's treated as a reveal just like any other in our 'getting to know you' journey with these characters.

Let me break it down for you. Multi-coloured Human-Torchy dude Spectral skips out on the rest of the team at the start of the issue to run an 'errand'. Said errand turns out to be visiting a friend in hospital who is dying of Aids. Spectral figures his newly discovered healing powers might be able to do something to help.

When Spectral arrives late to a Strangers emergency call he explains where he has been. That's when resident team loud-mouth, jock, jerk-wad Grenade susses out the situation and lets the cat out of the bag...or in this case - out of the closet:
That's beautiful man *wipes tear*

No variant, gatefold covers, no mainstream media coverage, no double page spreads by the hot-shot artist of the month - just the sincere, heartfelt condolences of a misogynist jerk-ass that proves we can 'all just get along'. Hats off to the always sterling Steve Englehart, for showing how it should be done.

However I know some of my loyal YouAreComic readers out there aren't into all this deep, emotional touchy-feely crap.You want explosions and dudes in tights punching other dudes in tights through skyscrapers.

Don't worry baby, Strangers #5 has a little something for you too - like say a 30 foot tall, super-powered, monster rastafarian who happens to be made of cancer for example. Behold Deathwish:
Geez Charles Bronson has really let himself go hasn't he?

This issue, and the Strangers in general, are a pretty good yardstick for Malibu's Ultraverse universe as a whole. Every book was this sort of weird dichotomy. One the one hand you had some absolutely fantastic, fresh and original high concepts (Six 'strangers' on a cable car are struck with a bolt of alien energy that gives them super-powers) and on the other hand you had some of the oddest, clunkiest character creation decisions this side of Talky Tawny (alongside the thoroughly great Spectral, Grenade and awesomely named Atom Bob the Strangers roster also boasted Lady Killer: a ninja fashion designer with complete mastery over....cloth, Zip-Zap: a teenage, backward-baseball-cap-sporting home-boy with street lingo cribbed from Vanilla Ice and last but not least Electrocute: a sex-robot gifted with the super-human power to think and feel.)
Oh You, Tee Hee Hee

It just seemed that everything Malibu produced, from characters to stories, were equal parts awesome and clunky as hell (with the exception of Barry Windsor Smith's mind-blowing Rune).

That being said I loved them all. From Strangers to Prime, from Hardcase to Manta, from Night-man to the Solution. There is something to enjoy in every single one of those series -  be it the sweet Norm Breyfogle art  in Prime or the far too rare joy of Steve Gerber scripts in Sludge. 

These books hold a special warm place in my heart (right next to the cockles) and I've had a blast re-reading a whole mountain of them during my blogging break.

'We want to have a blast too' I hear you say. 

Well then loyal Y.A.C. readers- let me here the cry: Comic Book Store! Let's Go!

Ah 90s, what were you thinking?