Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett talks about the spate of "dark" comics hitting stores:

Ok, fair warning, I'll again be writing about 'dark' comics, but instead of complaining about how comics aren't the way the way they used to be this time I'm more concerned with what's behind the current audience's fascination with pain and death.

I already covered Marvel's Dark Reign (column dated 2/25/2009--"Fear For Sale") but this was before villains started dressing up like heroes.  It's bad enough when Norman Osborn indiscriminately opens fire on Franklin and Valeria Richards (as he does in Dark Reign: Fantastic Four) but when Venom eats some guy's arm then casually kills a stripper it's done dressed as Spider-Man in a comic titled Dark Reign: Sinister Spider-Man.  Now if Marvel wants to show their bread and butter character up to these sorts of antics it's ok by me, but no one should act surprised six months from now if someone picks this comic up at a library sale, reads only the last half of the title and gets upset.

Is this the Marvel/DC dark doppelganger effect (Spider-Man/Venom, Batman/Azrael etc.) taken to the Nth Degree?  Or, is Dark Reign Marvel's attempt at trying to get the accumulated poison of the last eight years out, a metaphor for everything we didn't know or didn't want to know about how the war on terror was being waged.  I'd very much like to hope this fictional do-over will give us a conclusion more satisfying than the one we've been given in life (so far), but then Marvel rarely gives events like these anything like a proper denouement.

Then there's DC's Darkest Night #1 (a.k.a. Challenge of the Super-Dead) which finally ships this week and if last week's extremely grisly Green Lantern #43 is any indication, gosh, this is going to be one grim event.  I really don't know which one I'm looking forward to more, getting my very own free Black Lantern ring (available today at participating comic shops) or seeing the dire visage of Black Lantern Golden Age Lois Lane.

Super Zombies from Dynamite surprised me by being far worse than I ever could have imagined, the title isn't even accurate as our painfully blank superhero protagonists aren't zombies but rather victims of a disease that has rendered them highly articulate cannibals.  It's the sort of thing that could have easily been done as a darkly satiric rebuke of the genre ala Martial Law but Super Zombies manages to pull off the difficult trick of being both dull (the stories abound in clichéd brawls and petty resentments) and appalling (cuts of human flesh are left out on tables, etc.).  

Maybe these comics are just a reflection of our dark times, the way the violent and frequently 'spicy' pulp magazines of the 1930's were, but there could be another answer.  I finally got around to reading Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator Joe Shuster (soon to be a major motion picture -- seriously?) by Craig Yoe.  It was there I learned about something I probably should have known for decades; The Superman Complex, conceived by Dr. Frederick Wertham in Seduction of the Innocent.  It can refer to someone with an unhealthy sense of responsibility but Wertham also applied it to kids who read Superman comics who he believed experienced "phantasies (sic) of sadistic joy in seeing other people punished over and over again while you yourself remain immune".

So could this just be a simple matter of old fashioned sadism on the part of creators, readers and publishers?  I'm not accusing anyone, just asking, honest.

Or maybe I'm just getting old* because it's pretty clear from talking to Tad and Tony at Super-Fly Comics & Games most of our customers have been actively looking forward to Darkest Night.  So instead of making insightful social commentary perhaps I've just reached that point in my life when I start to deeply resent it when the world changes on me without my express written permission.

In short, I'm the perfect audience for X-Men Forever, the X-Title specifically intended for men in their 50's.  Anyone who wants to read superhero comics the way they used to be back during their own personal heyday will be happy to know X-Men Forever is a living time capsule; it's neither a pastiche or homage but the actual article.  If nothing else it gives one an idea of just how much has changed in comics in relatively little time.

* Well, there's no 'maybe' about it, the 50th anniversary of me takes place this Saturday.  Plus I know I'm officially old because those unnervingly aware web ads (they know I live in Cincinnati, that I like comics, etc.) that pop up every time I access my Yahoo mail account now keep telling me about the "young girls who want to meet older men!"

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