EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE, Marvel Comics lets indie comics creators run amok in their huge, Spandex-filled superhero universe—and the results are always interesting, frequently amusing, and occasionally brilliant. Last year, the Strange Tales anthology collected the first three issues of these weird, chaotic experiments; now, with Strange Tales II, a happily self-deprecating Marvel offers up the latest miniseries' worth of whacked-out adventures. Clever and surprising, Strange Tales II is a significant improvement over its predecessor, thanks in no small part to excellent contributions from Portlanders Farel Dalrymple (whose Spider-Man/Silver Surfer story has Peter Parker losing his shit thanks to superheroic stress) and Shannon Wheeler (who tells the sad tale of Captain America's old nemesis, the Red Skull, who's now a peaceful hippie in the forest... until jerky Cap decides he's an eco-terrorist).
The highlight of Strange Tales II, though—and one of the highlights of any recent comic, actually—is Rafael Grampá, whose sad, creepy, and blood-drenched "Dear Logan," smartly recasts Wolverine as a mopey, masochistic wrestler. Grampá's gorgeous art aside, this story is exactly what one would hope for in a collection like this: a sharp, reinvigorating, wildly entertaining take on a tired character. Throw in stories from The Perry Bible Fellowship's Nick Gurewitch and Hark! A Vagrant's Kate Beaton, plus ones from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Jeff Lemire, James Stokoe, and the late Harvey Pekar, and you've got a book that's well worth your time, regardless of whether you like indie comics, superhero comics, or—gasp!—indie comics and superhero comics.