IT'S A GREAT IDEA: have some of the biggest creators in indie comics tackle mainstream superheroes like Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Hulk. Alas, Strange Tales—a collection that gives an impressive roster of talented indie creators free reign within the sprawling, weird Marvel Universe—is a mixed bag. As these creators gleefully run amok with time-honored Marvel characters, Strange Tales is consistently random and unexpected. Sometimes that works; sometimes it just feels half-assed and repetitive.

The sharp, clever highlights come from the sharp, clever creators you'd expect: Nicholas Gurewitch (The Perry Bible Fellowship), Jonathan Hickman (The Nightly News), and Michael Kupperman (Tales Designed to Thrizzle). But Strange Tales also contains some underwhelming efforts from Jason (Low Moon) and Tony Millionaire (Maakies), along with unnecessary pages from James Kochalka (American Elf) and Johnny Ryan (Blecky Yuckerella).

Uneven as it is, Strange Tales offers plenty of laugh-out-loud moments—especially Gurewitch's take on the romantic dynamics of the X-Men, and Max Cannon's (Red Meat) "shocking original version" of the Fantastic Four. Ultimately, it's impossible not to be charmed by the book's overall tone of goofy, affectionate nostalgia: Much of these creators' work stands in proud opposition to the cliché that comics only deal with superheroes, but Strange Tales proves that Marvel's spandex-clad heroes have had a big influence on even the most lo-fi of comics.