Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett examines the reemergence of the anti-hero in comic books.

Last time I wrote, a bit tongue in cheek, about the reemergence of the edgy dopplegangers of brand  name superheroes that used to populate comics back in the 1990s*, you know, the “badass” versions of Iron Man (War Machine), Spider-Man (Venom), Batman (Azrael), etc.  These anti-heroes (though once you check out their dictionary definitions I think you’ll find the term ‘anti-villains’ more appropriate) were popular because they could do all the morally reprehensible things the regular guys couldn’t and still keep their children’s vitamin endorsement deals.

It’s occurred to me these guys have been back for a while now, I mean, what else is the Red Hulk (I realize “Rulk” is shorter but, “Rulk”?  Really?) if not the Hulk’s “shadowy other” (which is really saying something, considering the whole World War Hulk deal).  And I’d even call the new Captain America one; with the dark stain on his soul he’s definitely more in keeping with damaged television characters like Gregory House than Steve Rogers.

This is interesting seeing as how in the television section of this week’s Newsweek has a piece by Joshua Alston called “Too Much of a Bad Thing” which carries the tagline “No one on TV can be merely good or evil anymore.  That’s why we’re suffering from Antihero Overload.”  It suggests the era of the televised anti-hero which began with Tony Soprano is coming to an end, not because of anything as noble as America deciding to embrace hope over fear or that we’re entering some kind of new age.

Rather Alston asks “has this so-called golden age gone too gray?  In the quest to avoid the old black-and-white archetypes, has the pendulum swung too far toward morally ambiguous characters?” later adding “as these characters are transformed from innovative to imitative, viewers will inevitably tire of them, if they haven’t already.”

As previously established the comic book world isn’t necessarily the same as the mainstream one, but given the current uncertain conditions Marvel is betting quite heavily on “dark.”  Yes, I know just last week I was praising the variety of their current output and if people want different kinds of superheroes there’s always the Marvel Adventures line (or even Marvel Super Squad).  But those are intended for niche audiences and as the publisher has had to find out the hard way too many times in the past too much of anything gets old after a while.

Likely to be filed under the category of “No One Cares but Me” they’ve released images of the re-imagined Astro Boy from the upcoming GCI movie of the same name and old-time fans (like me) will no doubt be disappointed to discover the producers seem to have the tween market in mind.  At least that’s what I have to assume considering they’ve made their version of the character taller, leaner, older and fully clothed.  It’s this last alteration that renders Astro Boy almost unrecognizable but it’s no doubt an attempt to avoid controversy (though as an android he has license to be 90% naked I imagine he could be accused of ‘immodesty’ in the Muslim world).

There is a part of me that wonders if you have to change a character this much for modern audiences why bother adapting him at all--it seems you could save a lot of time and money by just coming up with your own original character.  But I’ve seen the teaser-trailer and it looks good enough for me to give the movie the benefit of the doubt, and if it can help spread Tezuka’s message (“love all living things that inhabit this earth.  I want to take care of life.  I want to bequeath this love to the new generation”), so much the better.

And finally to start the New Year off right I’d like to reaffirm that though some of my comments might sometimes suggest otherwise I love comics and as jaded I am thanks to the internet I’m always discovering something about them that’s strange and wonderful.  For instance take this Indian Mandrake the Magician comic; on the inside there’s just the usual collection of eccentrically colored reprints of Mandrake comic strips, but for no apparent reason on the cover he’s fighting Deathstroke the Terminator.

* Though this is hardly a new concept; Bizarro Superman was the original superhero doppelganger.  He’s been shown as a goof and figure of pathos but attempts to make him genuinely scary have fallen short.  But while watching (heaven help me) Celebrity Rehab it occurred to me there’s one way to make him absolutely terrifying; model him after profoundly damaged actor Gary Busey.  What makes Busey so fascinating (and frightening) is he’s completely unaware there’s anything wrong with him, a quality that would be especially creepy given to Bizarro.

The opinions expressed in this Talk Back column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of