Thursday, September 29, 2016

This comic, this collection.

It started with a Richie Rich comic.

When I was a little kid, it took me a while to stop thinking about comic books as totally disposable, and the first one I ever held on to for longer than a week was a Richie Rich comic when I was six. It had a spunky yellow cover, and the story inside was so funny and clever, with a robot named Trebor, and I just wanted to hold onto it forever. It was the first comic I ever properly collected.

Thirty-five years later, and that collection is a sprawling mess of a thing, with a solid core of comics I’ll never get rid of, and uncertain borders, where I still don’t know if comics I’ve had for 20 years are really a definite part of it. It’s a fair indication of personality, looking at the choices that make up that collection. It can be a pain in the fucking arse to haul about, but it’s all me.

I’m certainly more of a hoarder than a collector. My comics frequently get scrunched up, or ripped, or damp. I stuff them into big banana boxes and shove them under the bed. It’s the stories that matter, not the things they come in.

But I still love the actual physical objects in a way I never could with digital, and I still file away the latest additions to the collections, somewhere in the vast archives of the collection. I put a lot of thought into the maintenance of it. I put way too much thought into it.

Comics have always been so fucking expensive, so a couple of years after Richie Rich stuck around, I was holding on to every comic I could get my grubby little hands on, and I planned to hold onto them forever. The parents were naturally concerned once they started spilling out of the single box I was allowed to keep them in, but I got good at the art of bullshit pretty early, and justified the swelling by pointing out that some of these comics would be worth something one day. (They probably still think I’m paying for my retirement with Ghost Rider #1 from 1990.)

There was always a bit of slippage. Some comics were lost to that lazyiness about protecting them – a decent chunk of Battle Action Force comics ended up in the mud, and favourite comics would literally be read until they fell to pieces - and there would always be swaps going on, giving up a bunch of Archie comics for some Alan Moore Swamp Thing. And there were even a few rare comics that were too rubbish to hold onto, like the awful Charlton horror comics of the seventies, or the terrible Commando comics that were everywhere.

But in general, the collection kept growing. And growing. And growing.

It all reached a peak somewhere around the turn of the century, when I had about 40,000 comics, including hundreds and hundreds didn’t give a shit about – bland, post-death Superman comics and almost an entire run of the thuddingly average Fantastic Four run by Defalco and Ryan. I used to make an actual list of all the comics I had, and briefly considered transferring it to a database, but I haven’t worried about that kind of shit for 20 years now.

It’s all in my head, where it belongs. There is a filing system to it all that makes perfect sense to me, although I never expect anybody to understand. Everything in its right place.

But 40,000 was too much, and a massive purge about 10 years ago saw that limp reduced by three-quarters. The collection slimmed, became more focused, more refined. It looks better. The personality starts to shine through, once the excess nonsense has been pruned.

Once things got settled down to a reasonable amount, the collection has been relatively stable. There are nine bookcases in the house, and about two dozen boxes of various sizes, stashed under bed and in cupboards, and it all stays roughly the same size, as vicious purges run rampant over sentimentality and nostalgia. It’s always a matter of sharpening at the edges.

The only part that keeps growing is the substantial 2000ad subsection of the collection, which gets bigger by 52 new issues (and 12 Megazines) ever year, without fail.That’s the bedrock of the collection, the solid core. I would get rid of every DC and Marvel comic I own before I would start chipping away at the Tooth.

There are some stable things that are almost as solid as that 2000ad infatuation - the Vertigo comics I accumulated in the nineties like Preacher and Invisibles would be the last to go, but the first four issues of John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers will also be there until the end, because those comics mean more to me personally than almost anything else I have. The collection is varied, and not exclusive. It's my party, I get to choose the guests.

Then there are things that are right on the edge. Things that are not quite part of the collection and probably never really will be - Alan Davis comics and random issues of Trencher and more modern Vertigo titles like Sweet Tooth and all the Fables spin-offs are slipping out, even as they are still filed away. It’s still changing, always changing.

But the Richie Rich comic is long gone. The oldest comic I still hold from the first few faltering years of the collection is X-Men #151, which is now missing its cover and first few pages and I’m never throwing it out. There are still some 2000ads I got off the shelf in 1983, and I can tell which ones they are because they’re also falling apart.

Some parts of the collection are as old as I am. Some of them are as new as last week.

There are other collections in the house, of course. Tonnes of novels and bookshelves full of movies and boxes of music that everybody tells me I should just get rid of because you can trust the Cloud. (I don’t fucking trust the Cloud.)

But for a pure and unfiltered snapshot of personality, it’s in the comics. It’s in this collection.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

X-Ray spex don't do shit

It took me a long, long time to realise that the advertisements in my comic books were lying to me about everything.

Sometimes I wish I was still that ignorant, and that those x-ray spex really did work, and that you really did get a whole army in a footlocker.

Still, once you get past the musty stench of bronze-age comics, the ads are priceless. They almost always get lost for the reprints, cut out to keep the page count down, and certainly not important enough to worry about now.

But some of the biggest thrills I get from old comics is the adverts. Even another crushingly dull 1970s Flash comic has some exciting and propositioning marketing going on inside, and it only took me a couple of decades before I realised they were pretty much all full of shit.

They looked so pretty and some of them felt like ghosts, and some of them were lovely pieces of art on their own merits, but were almost all lies.

There was always a  history of bullshit to advertisements in comic books. Everybody knew comics were only for dumb kids and mental defectives, so you could get away with selling them any old crap.

The x-ray specs were the biggest tease, with tiny ads offering the possibility of seeing the bones in your hand (the more sordid use of such an ability never occurred to me as a kid, but became painfully obvious as I grew into a dorky adolescent), only to be cheap little plastic and cardboard things that produced a minor optical effect. Which is probably just as well, since we'd probably have a generation of people whose faces were falling off from eye cancer if real x-rays were involved.

It was a history of cheap gags and rip offs, dollar-making machines that seemed like the answer to all my financial woes when I was eight, and produced bitter disappoint when I discovered it was all a sleight of hand trick, or Charles Atlas promising you that could beat up people who kicked sand in your face, with the astounding observation that exercise may make you stronger.

It all reached a high water mark of bullshit with the goddamned sea monkeys, which are just a buch of microscopic bugs. There is still something intriguing about the way these tiny little bastards can sit there in suspended animation, and spring into life when introduced to water, but none of them are wearing any goddamned bows in their hair.

By the 1970s, the biggest rip-offs in advertising lies were the ads for movies like Orca, Meteor and King Kong, where unnaturally talented artists made these cheap and flimsy films look like absolute goddamn epics, with towering monsters and total carnage.

Orca has a giant beast of a killer whale, which looked like it was devastating a whole bloody town, with a mushroom cloud of destruction blowing up behind the monster rips apart a boat, Meteor promised mega-destruction of a kind unparalleled in cinema, and an enormous, angry and thrusting King Kong stands astride the twin towers.

None of these films delivered on the promise of those paintings, but at least we have these great images still sitting on the page, even if they never came close to that kind of grandeur on screen.

Another great disappointment was the comics that promised armies of toy soldiers, for the low, low price of a couple of bucks.

And the ads were really gorgeous, with massive crowds of Roman Centurions or WW2 marines facing off against a giant enemy, with a list of a huge variety of cavalry, infantry, tanks, planes and artillery. You could stage entire campaigns with the number of toys that these footlockers promised.

I never even thought about actually getting them from overseas, because the US was a world away when I was a kid, and that was a relief when I found out in recent years that they were completely dogshit, and mainly just cardboard cutouts. Even entire armies could be pathetic.

I still held some hope that those bloody Hostess ads, which filled almost every superhero comic, would deliver, but then I had my first ever Twinkie from a store full of imported US junk food, and it was revolting, and I knew there was no way the Penguin would give up riches, freedom or revenge for a rubbery bun full of fake cream, or some gross chocolate muffin.  

It was astonishing how fucking many there were of these tiny, one-page morality tales, and some of them were quite well done, but the gastronomical delights they promised didn't actually taste much better than the paper the ads were printed upon.

The only ads that ever really delivered were the in-house beauties for other comic books, with tantalising covers for all the other titles DC and Marvel were putting out at the time.

These were the only ones that really delivered, even if I usually had a hell of a time actually finding the comics the publishers were boasting about. Even now, when I snap up cheap, tatty and wonderful old comics, it's the ads for other comics that stand out, and still inspire me to find more.

The ad game has changed a lot since those days, and not always for the better, especially when they interrupt the flow of the comic they're in (I genuinely got confused by Thor's sudden dramatic appearance in a recent Avengers comic, before realising it was just another ad), or when they're lacking even the basic charms of the Hostess one-pagers (all the DC comics I've seen recently have a shitty three-panel thing for Snickers bars that are ugly and clumsy, with the fading stench of a stale Twinkie).

People do have a higher bullshit detector, so the adver-lying has to be more subtle. It remains to be seen if the current crop will ever still match the utter brilliance of Jack Davis' ad for Spalding basketballs. I have no idea if the balls they were advertising were any good, but the way Dr J slams the basket, while Rick Barry stretches out for his '30-footer', is still wonderful.

Sometimes the movies and toys were complete ratshit, but the ads were goddamn gorgeous.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2000ad: Back to covers from the future

Last year, this blog took an unnecessarily snide and sneering look at the recent covers for 2000ad. While the comic remains my favourite piece of entertainment ever, the covers were getting sludgy and drab, sitting on the shelves of my local newsagent like a damp slab of moss.

But to give credit where it's due, things have been looking a lot more fabulous lately.

In the past six months, there have been some scorching covers on the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, with dynamic design and eye-catching colour work. Even as the comic approaches its 2000th issue, it can still stand out and produce a fresh, fascinating face.

There is still the odd washed out piece of blue-grey-green sludge, with characters milling about uselessly, but there is also lots of really nice work.

Even old hands like Simon Davis has been producing some of the best covers of his 2000ad career with his current Slaine run, with art that is full of brutal efficiency and huge slabs of paint -

- while Tom Foster brings the unashamedly Bolland classicism to his covers -

Things do get dark sometimes, but keeping it stark and simple, with striking spot colour, has paid off for artists like Paul Davidson and Jon Davis Hunt -

Judge Anderson remains one of the most popular cover stars of the comic - the harsh efficiency of the judge's life slamming nicely into the psychedelic swirls of her mind-bending powers. The character is pushing 60 in the comic, and has been struggling with the system for decades, but is as strong and sensitive as ever -

It's been a pretty strong run of covers all around. Nearly every week there is a lovely piece of art on the cover of the comic, like D'Israeli's thrusting Victorian/1970s spaceships, bursting off the pages of Scarlet Traces -

- or the classic bright, burned oranges of the always-wonderful Carlos Ezquerra's celebratory Prog 1977 -

- or some new McCarthy thrills (because the McCarthy Dredd is always good) - 

or some of Clint Langley's blood-red, metal-shearing ABC Warriors -

The stories beneath these covers are as rock-solid as ever, and Dredd in particular has been absolutely excellent lately. That much never changes.

But the face of the comic is always changing, and goes through highs and lows. It's been on a high lately as it builds to the big #2000, and it frequently has a beautiful face to gaze upon.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Adding it all to the list

Every day I have somebody telling me I should be watching some TV show or reading some book or comic, because it’s brilliant and will make my life better and it’s a goddamn crime I haven’t got around to it yet. But there isn’t time for everything, so like everybody else, I say I’ll add it to the list of things I’m planning to get to soon.

It’s not a metaphor. It’s an actual list of books, movies, TV and comics I want to get stuck into next, once I’ve finished watching and reading the things I’m currently on. It’s usually got a dozen items on it. And this is it, as it stands right now.

1. Read Nightmare Movies

I’ve read Kim Newman’s typically encyclopedic book about modern  horror films half a dozen times since I first found a fading copy in the Dunedin library in the early nineties, and I even have three different versions of the thing, from three different publishers. But I’ve only got through the most recent 600-page behemoth, published in 2009, the one time, soon after it came out, and I'm keen to get through it again.

Newman's film writing is always concise, knowledgeable and witty as hell, so it'll take me less than a week to get through it, even though it’s fucking massive. Although, I’ve already got the first couple of chapters, and I keep getting distracted to see if some of the obscure shit he is talking about is on YouTube, so I can add it to the bottom of this list.

And a lot of it is! Weird, barely professional Euro-horror from the seventies is dead easy to find now, and in far better quality than the 10-generation video dub I would have killed for 20 years ago. What a world.

2. Watch the latest season of Ray Donovan

I always like the bit where Ray, after hours and hours and hours of trying to be reasonable, cracks when they threaten his family and kills every motherfucker in his way.

I also love it whenever Terry gets a rare happy moment, and the whole world shines.

3. Get through all these bloody library books.

I somehow got more than 40 hardcovers and trade paperbacks out from the library at once. There’s the usual catch-up with things like the latest Wolverine and Batman and Spider-Man comics, but all those Secret Wars spin-offs that Marvel put out have all been dumped on the shelves at once.

They’re actually fairly addictive, because they’re all only four or five  issues long, and are pretty simple little stories, with some lovely art. I have no idea how it all ties together, and I spend way too long wondering how pop culture works in this patchwork world, or how many versions of the same character there on this same planet, but it’s best not to think about it too hard.

It'll probably only take me a bit longer to get through giant book Drawn and Quarterly put out to celebrate their 25th anniversary, which I also just got from the library, but it promises to be way more rewarding.

4. Read BPRD. All of it.

I wanted to burn through every issue of BPRD I had before Hell On Earth wraps up, (and to get the taste of all those weightless Secret Wars comics out of my mouth), but that's a huge goddamn pile. And I gotta include all the side-things like the 1940s issues, or the Frankenstein or Sledgehammer 44, and if I'm doing that, I might as well get through the Hellboy as well, and suddenly it's a massive goddamn pile.

It's all so beautiful, but it comes in such huge portions.

5. Watch Hap and Leonard

I had no idea this was even a thing until it popped up on the TV a few weeks ago, and I’ve never seen any reviews or anything, and I’m sure there are much, much better shows I could be watching soon, but shitfire, Joe R Lansdale's work is always all right by me.

6. Catch up with the movies on the magic box under the telly

There are a couple of dozen movies on the DVR there - recent movies I haven't seen yet like the latest Paranormal Activity, Black Mass, the three latest dumb Will Ferrall comedies, and things I'm watching again, like all six original Star Trek movies, The Martian and Creed.

I know none of these films I’m seeing for the first time are particularly great, which is why it’s taken so long to get to them, but how the hell am I ever going to be able to sneer at them if I haven’t actually seen them?

7. Do a prog slog

I really need to give the last decade of 2000ad a good re-read through, and firm up some opinions on some of the comic's recent serials, but it's still like 500 comics to get through.

That’s only 16,000 pages or so.

And I thought BPRD was bad….

8. Watch all that shit that people tell me will be good for me, like Mr Robot or Stranger Things or The Night Off…, but there are loads of contrary opinions and I don’t know where to start, or whether I should even bother starting, and there is something new every day and SO MUCH good stuff.

This part of the list is a large one, and the one that is constantly growing as more and more people tell me what I should be watching.

There is a whole sublist of these shows, but it’s like a hundred programmes long. We’re getting into the realm of ‘might not actually get around to’ on the list now.

9. Watch all the Doctor Whos

I was making great progress on a rewatch of every single Doctor Who episode recently starting with the Hartnell, and then I got bogged down in some of the horrifically unwatchable reconstructed episodes. I’ve been stuck on episode four of The Ice Warriors since March.

So when one of the local TV stations started playing all the modern episodes, with a new episode every day, I cheated and started watching them again instead.

Maybe by the time I get back to the old stuff, they will have done more of the animated reconstructions, like the shiny new Power of the Daleks release, but it's not like anybody is going to be in a rush to one for something like the Space Pirates.

10. Read all the Ellroy books again

I read Perfida, the latest Ellroy doorstop, last year. It's the start of a whole new series of books by the razor-sharp author, but ties into the other series he's done, in quite significant ways.

But I haven't read the early books in his LA Quartet for years now, so I didn't get most of the references or in-jokes. Might be worth going through the whole series again, and if I'm going to do that, it's worth giving the American Tabloid series a go again, and wonder why they still haven't made a TV show out of it.

11. Read old Empires

When there is absolutely nothing else at hand to read in the house, I read old Empire movie magazines.

I’ve got just about every issue, and I’ve been trawling through them on and off for months now, and even though I skim most of the breathless preview articles for films we all now are shit, I’m still only up to the late nineties. At this rate, I should be caught up to the current issues by around 2022.

12. All the music in the world

I just want to listen to all the music in the world, in every genre and with every artist, and figure out what I’m missing. That shouldn’t be too hard.

13. All that horror that Kim Newman was talking about

I mean, I know it will probably be an interesting thing to watch, it’s not like I’m actually in a rush to see Lèvres de Sang, you know?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

A week of recycling: Boldly going forward

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was just on the telly, and it's still a cracking movie, with some of the best editing in the entire series, but the bit where Spock dies still gets me right there.

Star Trekking (Across My Universe)
Originally posted April 2, 2013
There are a lot of good films that I’m looking forward to in 2013, from esoteric arthouse nonsense to big budget blockbusting bullshit, but there is undoubtedly one movie I’m craving to see more than any other – the new Star Trek.

My love of all things Trek has its up and downs over the years. There have been periods when I’ve been ultra-fascinated with that whole universe, and other times I couldn’t even be bothered to watch entire series.

Right now, I’m on a high from the new movie coming out, and because I’ve been re-watching selected bursts of the Next Generation over the past few weeks. It’s a love that can last a long, long time, but it doesn’t last forever.

I didn’t exist when the original series was on television, which is a pretty good excuse for not being into it at that stage, although I can’t remember a time when Star Trek wasn’t being repeated on TV screens. And I was only four when the first motion picture came out, and I never got to see that until years and years later (I did have some Kirk, Spock and Ilia action figures from the first film and, against all odds, I still all have in one piece, more than three decades later. They probably only survived because when I was a kid, I thought the Star Wars figures were waaaay cooler.)

But I was seven when the Wrath of Khan came out, so I was primed for it. It was the first film I ever took a girl on a date to, and I can’t remember her name (Angela? Lisa?), but I still remember my excitement at seeing the film on the big screen at the State Theatre in Timaru, that long-ago Saturday afternoon.

I still think it’s the best Trek film by far – it certainly has the greatest score of any of them (which I’m listening to on YouTube right this second), the editing in the action scenes is still breathtaking, I love the timeframe fake-out and the Kobiyahi Maru cheating, and I still bawl like a little girl when Spock stands up in the radiation room and straightens his uniform, and the way Shatner chokes on his words during the funeral, even though I know it all turns out okay.

And even though nothing has ever matched that original experience of that first date, I’ve still seen all the Trek films at the cinema, including the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Sometimes I had to go to elaborate lengths to see them – I had to literally beg my big sister to take me to see The Voyage Home, and I had to hike more than 20 kays to see Star Trek VI – and sometimes it totally wasn’t worth it. I still remember trying to justify the Final Frontier to a dubious cousin after we walked out of the cinema, and all I could come up with was that the bit where the shuttle jumped on board the ship was pretty sharp.

But even though I roughly adhere to the general idea that the odd-numbered ones were the rubbish, I still enjoyed them all, even number five. There was always something about that cast, in that world, racing around the universe to save worlds and to rescue their best mates, beating all the odds to save the day. 

The films could be slow, and all of them still have their cringe-worthy moments when you realise these guys are getting just a bit old for this shit. But each of them had brilliant parts – Spock in his spacesuit, blasting forward into the unknown; the theft of the Enterprise, and its necessary sacrifice; the crew’s literalism bouncing up against a thoroughly ironic modern-day San Francisco.

The Undiscovered Country is my second favourite of all of them, and makes me despair Nicholas Meyer didn’t do more, but is a lovely send-off, giving everybody something to do, and it’s Shatner’s best Kirk performance of all of them, from the nakedly ugly hatred of the Klingons at the start, to his old man resignation on the prison planet, right up to his single best delivery of ‘Fire!’ in the entire series.

I was still buzzing from the last original crew movie when I got into the Next Generation, and again, Star Trek was tied to a big personal first in my life – the first proper thing I bought with my first ever proper paycheque was a fancy TV aerial, because the Next Generation was switching to a channel that didn’t broadcast in our part of the country.

That aerial was shit, but I still managed to see every Next Generation episode that screened after that, if I was willing to put up with a shedload of static. A lot of the Next Generation episodes don’t hold up well – especially all the touchy-feely emoting and the dubious attempts at outright humour – but the series could still be wonderful. Patrick Stewart was always giving goofy stories unexpected gravitas, and was often strikingly vunerable, and the supporting cast of solid, unspectacular actors could also prove unexpectedly interesting at various times.

The stories were often formulaic, but every now and then, there would be a perfect little slice of Star Trek, like the first time the Borg came calling, or the episode where Picard lives out a whole life as an average man on a faraway planet, or any of episodes that got up to time-travel shenanigans. The final episode – which I watched in the first flat I moved into, two weeks after leaving home - included many of the elements that made the series so worthwhile, and the catharsis of seeing Picard finally settled down to play cards with his friends was earned.

When it wrapped up, there were diminishing returns afterwards. Deep Space Nine managed to remain relatively interesting by becoming a war story, but I only managed a couple of seasons of Voyager, and by the time Enterprise came out, the whole thing was trapped in inert and boring formula, and I didn’t even make it through the first season. I thought my love for Trek had completely atrophied.

It hadn’t. It was just lying dormant. Like Spock on the Genesis planet.

I know a lot of Trekkies were shattered by the JJ Abrams reboot, seeing it as a travesty that feeds off the original concept like a vampire, but screw those guys. I thought the new film was fucking excellent.

Sucessful reinvention of 20th century entertainment icons for the 21st century often involves going right back to the original concept, and telling those kind of stories with a modern sensibility. It’s how Bond managed to stay fresh after fifty years, and how superheroes like Spider-Man and Batman remain phenomenally successful at the box office.

I loved the sexy swagger and the shiny new tech. I loved the way the actors channelled the original cast, but all brought something on their own, and the way the film still found room for the magnificent Leonard Nimoy (the bit where he recognises Kirk on the ice planet is only moving because of Nimoy’s performamce).

Needless to say, I’m looking forward greatly to the second film in this series, especially when I’ve half-convinced myself that they’re going to invert things and kill off Kirk, instead of Spock, in this one.

Even some of the innumerable Star Trek spin-offs led to short-lived obsessions. I actually thought the terrible Star Trekking song by the Firm was the greatest tune in history at one point, and I still know all the words, and… Oh bollocks, I’m going to have to listen to it again:

Outside that, I never really got into the novels - out of the hundreds produced, I probably only got through about a dozen of them, and most of those were by Peter David. But there were periodic love affairs with the comic adaptations.

Again, I was too young for the Marvel series that came out of the first motion picture, but was the ideal age for the DC series in the eighties. I’m still slightly impressed by the way they worked around the tight continuity of the eighties films, but I also liked them on their own merits, especially when they had the lovely Tom Sutton art (he could never quite get the technology looking right, but his figurework and caricatures were excellent).

There was a terrific Mirror Universe saga at the end of the DC series’ first year, and some lovely work from that man David again at the very end of that whole volume which again shadowed an important note in my life – I remember buying the second to last issue of that series on the same day I first kissed a girl.

But, once again, any interest I had in the comic adaptions dried up by the time other companies took over the license, and I haven’t even glanced at any of IDW’s increasingly large body of Trek comics.

But maybe I’ll check out some more, because I’m feeling a fever for Star Trek again. There is a new movie coming up, and I’m feeling that urge again to check out strange new worlds, and new life, and new civilisations.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A week of recycling: These men are nihilists, there's nothing to be afraid of.

He's big and purple and likes to sit down.

Originally posted November 15, 2012

Like a lot of teenagers who wear too much black and brood too much about death, I had a fling with nihilism as a lifestyle choice. This belief in nothing was fun while it lasted, but only lasted about a week.

And like a lot of teenagers who wore too much black and spent too much time reading Marvel comic books, the first time I ever actually heard of the concept of nihilism was in a comic about Jim Starlin’s Thanos. And a love of this character has lasted a lot longer than a week.

I can not overstate how much I was blown away by Infinity Gauntlet #1 when it suddenly showed up on the comic shelf at Temuka Stationery in 1991, nestled between the expected issues of the deluxe Marvel Handbook and the Savage Sword of Conan.

A lot of that powerful impact was due to the fact that I’d never even heard of it, and had no idea it was coming. I was vaguely familiar with Warlock and Thanos from the few issues of the old seventies stuff I had seen, (and, somewhat ironically, their Marvel Handbook entries, usually in the ‘Book of the Dead’ section), but hadn’t been reading the Silver Surfer comic since the first couple of Englehart/Rogers issues. I also had no access to comic industry magazines, and there was certainly no internet. I got most of my upcoming series news from the Bullpen Bulletins and the subscription pages, and I had no idea the Infinity Gauntlet even existed until I saw #1..

But even though I knew nothing about, and even though it cost twice as much as a regular comic, I fell hard for the Infinity Gauntlet. There was something unusually moody in George Perez’s art, and Jim Starlin’s script skated a deft line between intense introspection and events on an unimaginably cosmic scale.

My tastes were a little less refined at this stage of my comic reading life – I’d never read any Crumb or Spiegelman or Clowes, and I still hadn’t even read Sandman or Watchmen. But the storytelling in the Infinity Gauntlet was so perfect, and full of such epic despair and larger-than-life characters.

Especially when it came to its main character, because this comic shows Thanos at his glorious, monstrous best.

After all, this is a character who wipes out half of all life in the universe with a snap of the fingers and a sly grin in Infinity Gauntlet #1. Using a scientist’s dedication and an artist’s improvisation, he has clawed his way to the very top of all things – as the absolute ruler of all reality, Thanos shows no remorse or pity as he bends the universe to his will.

Thanos is one of the great Marvel villains. He has the dispassionate cruelty of the Red Skull, the powerful and justified arrogance of Doctor Doom and Magneto’s unwillingness to fit neatly inside any ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ box. But while he shares these traits – and while he may be a thinly-veiled counterpart to Jack Kirby’s mighty Darkseid – Thanos is a unique character.

Because, unlike these other megalomaniacs, Thanos is not a personality built around a vivid design. While he often appears appropriately menacing, he still has a pretty goofy look – a stubbly chin is Marvel Generic Alien Feature #4 – and his blue and gold outfit is an absolutely average 1970s costume.

Thanos’ charms aren’t in his looks, it’s in his smarts, in the way he is a bit more clever and devious than anybody else seeking to stop him. In the Gauntlet prelude series Thanos Quest – which I only finally got to read last month when Marvel put out a welcomed reprint – he beats the oldest beings in the universe with guile and sophistication. He identifies a source of untapped power, and nothing in the universe can stop him from getting there.

He’s also quite polite and his brutal honesty is often funny. He wouldn’t destroy you if you had nothing to do with him, unless it suited his purpose, and then he’d wipe out all of existence, without a second thought.

(There is a solar eclipse happening right now outside, as I write these words. The light is ALL WRONG, with dark blue skies and sharp shadows on everything. It’s weirdly fitting to be thinking about Thanos in these circumstances.)

Despite his (well-earned) reputation as the ultimate nihilist, Thanos does always have goals, and always believes in something, even if it is just his own superiority. He is a big softie at heart, literally in love with Death, and willing to do anything for a female anthropomorphic representation of her.

And when he couldn’t please her, Thanos moved on. His life has become dedicated to the collection of knowledge – something that would certainly be a worthy goal if innocent people didn’t keep getting mowed down in his quest.

The fact that Thanos usually has clear and concise goals is impressive enough, but he also manages to actually achieve them. He does climb to the top of reality and becomes the supreme being. Of course, the great dichotomy of Thanos is that he craves ultimate power, and is good enough to attain it over and over again, only to lose it, usually due to his own actions.

This is what keeps him from ever being a total hero or villain – Thanos is always his own worst enemy.

The appearance of Thanos in the credits of The Avengers was a good sign that the film series was taking off into a cosmic arena, which has always been one of Marvel comic’s core strengths. Out there, among the stars, there have been some wonderful Marvel stories – doses of brilliance in the Guardians of The Galaxy or Silver Surfer or Warlock.

Still, I’d be surprised if 10 per cent of the people who saw The Avengers recognised the character (although there is a good 20 per cent who will claim they did recognise him all along, after some quick wiki-work). A two-second glimpse in a big Hollywood blockbuster exposed the character to a bigger audience than 40 years of comics.

That kind of attention is bound to mess up the character somehow. It always does. But I don’t mind, because I got mine. The most obvious benefit to me from all this renewed attention is that I finally got that Thanos Quest comic, which I’ve been after ever since I read the first issue of the Infinity Gauntlet, all those years ago, and had no fucking idea what was going on, but knew I wanted more.

And even though that obsession with all things Thanos died out two issues into the Infinity War, I always look forward to more Thanos comics. A bit of nihilism can be all right, in small doses.