Strange Adventures (Harvey Kurtzman) - Epic Comics - 1990 - 80 pages

Although this was published as a hardbound book, the seven stories by Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993) could have been placed in any of the Mad comics from the 1950s.  The artists chosen by Kurtzman were competent and their artwork is excellent but, missing from the volume are drawings by the great Will Elder (1921-2008) who collaborated with Kurtzman in Mad, Trump, Humbug, Help!, Little Annie Fanny, and Mad again.  Three of the stories ( "Shmegeggi of the Cave Men," "A Vampire Named Mel," and "The Super Surfer") seem to be perfect for the Elder style.  William Stout and Dave Gibbons did a good job with "Shmegeggi" and "Surfer", respectively, but I have never been a fan of Tom Bunk's art ("Vampire").  He fills the panel with clutter but it lacks the artistic style and clever humor of Elder or Wally Wood (1927-1981).  Bunk seems to think that the funniest thing he can imagine is an eyeball outside of its socket.  In "Shmegeggi," Stout added dinosaurs smoking after dinner, the lead character (who looks like Goodman Beaver) wearing tennis shoes, Alley Oop, Fred Flintstone, Alice the Goon, Lost Boy Foxy, and cavemen wearing tattoos and sports uniforms.  The story by Kurtzman imagines the first man to discover weapons of mass destruction (clubs and rocks).  In "The Super Surfer," Gibbons revives one of the earliest Mad jokes - an 8-ball in space (also shown on the cover by Stout).  This superhero parody places every known superhero comic star in the story about a super planet including the geriatric Justice League of America.  The best joke in the book may be the Braille eye-chart on page 38 (think about it).  An added bonus at the back of the book are copies of the actual storyboards that Kurtzman prepared for the artists, including "Drums Along the Shmohawk" that Kurtzman drew.  These pages show the amount of preparation he did as a comic book editor and how he facilitated the jobs of the final artists.  In addition to seven feature stories, there are two excellent introductory tributes by Art Spiegelman and Robert Crumb, and a full-page action drawing by Jean Giraud (aka Moebius). This book was truly a gift from Mr. Kurtzman as he approached the end of his amazing career. [JAM 12/7/2011]