The Crusty Curmudgeon’s Comic Classics ~ A “Super” Problem

© 2013 Paradox Productions LLC

So what’s the problem with Superman? In a nutshell, it’s this: There isn’t one. But anyone with any creative custodianship over the character for the past forty years has been utterly convinced that there is. Because of this, the powers that be keep trying to change a character that does not need changing. They tweak his powers; they tweak his backstory; they even tweak his costume. And with every tweak, an iconic character and comic book masterpiece is lessened.

Like drawing over the Mona Lisa with crayons in an attempt to make it better, all that is accomplished is the ruination of something perfectly beautiful.

It wasn’t always like this. Superman was the very first comic book super hero and his success launched an entire industry. For his first quarter-century of existence, he was the world’s most famous and beloved super hero—and nearly every other super hero character that came afterward followed his formula almost slavishly. Indeed, the very term “super hero” is derived from the character named Superman.

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The Crusty Curmudgeon’s Comic Classics ~ Thanos Done Right, Part III

Thanos Done Right, Part 3
“The question is: Where would it get you if something that’s a little bit ambiguous in the movie is made clear? It doesn’t get you anywhere.” ~ Joel Coen, Director

© 2013 Paradox Productions LLC

Read Part II exploring the original Thanos comics.

Written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Simone Bianchi, the first issue of 2013’s Thanos Rising origin story starts with three pages of the adult Thanos returning to Titan before slipping into a flashback that takes us all the way back to the day he was born.

Already we’re on shaky ground here, as I’m not sure I like the idea of Thanos ever having been a child. I prefer the idea that a godlike character such as he emerges into the world as a near adult, much like the goddess Athena sprang fully grown from her father Zeus’s skull in ancient myth. But this likely would have been a minor complaint if Aaron could have followed up and written a childhood for Thanos that was suitably strange, alien, and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, he does not. In fact, he doesn’t even appear to try.

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The Crusty Curmudgeon’s Comic Classics ~ Thanos Done Right, Part II

Thanos Done Right, Part 2
“Why, for Death… of course.”

© 2013 Paradox Productions LLC

Read Part I introducing Thanos.

thanos5 (502 x 749)As I mentioned last time, Jim Starlin’s original Thanos saga ran over the course of eight issues of Captain Marvel published bi-monthly, so it took sixteen months of real time to play itself out. I should also mention that several other titles loosely tied in with the saga, including the aforementioned Iron Man, Avengers, Marvel Feature, and, of all things, Daredevil.

Full disclosure here: These comics were originally published a bit before my time. (Hey, I may be old, but I’m not ancient!) So I didn’t have to endure the excruciating sixteen-month wait for it to finally conclude. Still, I had to find back issues at a time before the dawn of the comics specialty shop, and I figure my “comics quest” might be of historical interest to some of you (and a trip down memory lane for others).

I first came across an old copy of Captain Marvel #27 in my barber shop when I was six or seven and the barber let me have it. It was already a couple years old and badly beaten up, the cover barely attached (and falling off completely within a week or two of taking it home).

A couple years later, a New Jersey comics dealer called Quality Comics opened a booth at a local flea market. They had a full complement of Captain Marvel back issues, but the Starlin ones were three bucks a pop. Believe it or not, this was a lot to pay for a comic book at the time. (For perspective, the cover price of a new comic back then was forty cents.) So I could only afford to buy one issue a week. And that’s how I experienced issues 28 through 33, one week at a time, over the course of six weeks—not unlike the old 1940s movie serials Grandpa told me about that used to run one chapter per week over the course of a couple months. I must say it made for a rather rich and dramatic reading experience.

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The Crusty Curmudgeon’s Comic Classics ~ Thanos Done Right, Part I

Thanos Done Right, Part I:
How the classic character should be handled… and how he shouldn’t be.

© 2013 Paradox Productions LLC

Ambiguity can be the most powerful tool in an artist’s toolbox. Remember the series finale of The Sopranos? That abrupt cut to black? Seven years later people still argue about it. One blogger wrote a 30,000-word treatise on it (http://masterofsopranos.wordpress.com/the-sopranos-definitive-explanation-of-the-end/). What the hell did it mean, anyway? Did Tony Soprano die? Or could there be some larger symbolism behind it?

thanos1 (600 x 897)One thing is certain: writer/director/producer David Chase is not about to spell out his intentions for us. Which is probably smart because, really, there’d be nothing left to debate if he did. The uncertainty is what keeps everyone talking—lending the ending more depth in the process; making it feel much scarier and far more compelling. This is the power of ambiguity. A little mystery can go a long, long way.

Which brings me to the topic of this week’s column. Marvel recently released the first issue of a five-issue miniseries called Thanos Rising. Its purpose is to fill in the backstory of one of the greatest antagonists in the history of the Marvel Universe, Thanos.

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The Crusty Curmudgeon’s Comic Classics ~ When Batman Met Captain Beefheart

© 2013 Paradox Productions LLC

Detective587-00 About a year and a half ago, around the time the Arkham City video game was released, a gamer friend asked me to recommend some Batman comics, as the game had stirred a bit of a thirst in him. My first thought was (obviously) the Frank Miller stuff; then (naturally) the work of Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams; and (of course) the Steve Englehart-Marshall Rogers run. Then I added a more personal recommendation, one that I’m not sure many are aware of: The John Wagner-Alan Grant-Norm Breyfogle run that got its start in Detective Comics in 1988.

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