Comic book showcase: The creators of Thanos.

So I saw Avengers: Infinity War over the weekend.

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The only thing I will say about it is that it’s one heck of a turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and an epic way to cap off this giant experiment that Marvel and Disney have been running for the past ten years.

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Other than that, I’m not saying anything else about the movie.  The internet is filled with enough spoilers as it is.

No, today I want to do something different and talk about the behind the scenes history of big bad guy of the film, the villain who has been teased for the past five years: Thanos.

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The character is pretty simple.  He’s in love with the Marvel Universe’s personification of death and he attempts to prove his love by killing off half of the universe using the Infinity Gauntlet.

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He’s one of Marvel’s most powerful bad guys and a big part of the strange and weird cosmic stories that Marvel produced in the 70’s and 80’s.

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Sadly, Marvel’s cosmic stories were never a big seller for the company when you compare them to their mega hits like Spider Man and the X-Men.  Stories about characters like Ronan the Accuser and Adam Strange weren’t very popular, even though they’ve been getting more attention nowadays with the smash success of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

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This is really sad since these are some of the weirdest, most bizarre, and high concept storytelling the company has ever produced, and most of this insanity was created by the other legend working at Marvel, and a long time favorite of this blog series: Jack Kirby.

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You know him, you love him, he helped create nearly every single superhero on the big screen right now, and he loved him some crazy far out aliens and space stuff.

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You can see a lot of his

design aesthetic on display in Thor: Ragnarok.

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While Marvel had Kirby to thank for some of the most fascinating and bizarre aspects of their superhero universe, he didn’t create Thanos.

Thanos was created by writer Mike Friedrich,

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and writer/artist Jim Starlin.

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Both of these artists have had long and storied careers at both Marvel and DC and came into their own in the 70’s and 80’s, reinventing what comics could do and giving us some of the greatest characters and stories today.

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Starlin in particular is the prince of the Marvel cosmic universe, and his resume is only dwarfed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby themselves.

He helped create Thanos,

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Drax the Destroyer,

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Gamora,

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and he reinvented other heroes which will probably be making appearances in future Marvel movies like Adam Warlock,

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and Captain Marvel (who has a long and interesting story that I’m not going to talk about here, but long story short he was created in the 70’s and was reinvented as a lady in the present day).

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Yes people like Kirby, Friedrich, and Starlin were some of the most prominent and successful names in comics in the 70’s and 80’s, and were responsible for many of our childhood favorites.

And they all hated Marvel with a burning passion.

Long story short, the mega publisher decided to continue the long and sordid history of comic book publishers screwing authors and artists over.  Kirby followed in the footsteps of hundreds of his Golden Age co workers and was famously screwed out of most of the credit and royalties of his work, watching as his co creator Stan Lee would go on to become the biggest name in comics.

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Starlin in particular hates Marvel with the burning passion of a neutron star.

 

So they decided to quit Marvel and move on to greener pastures.  Kirby would move to DC Comics and create the characters of New Genesis and Apokalips, the latter being home to one of DC’s most powerful villains: Darkseid.

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Starlin and Friedrich decided to create their own comic, an anthology series known as Star Reach.

Star Reach is an interesting bit of comic book history.  It may seem like the comic book scene is dominated by Marvel and DC, and for the most part that’s true, but there has been a long running independent comic book scene that really took off in the 1970’s with the work of underground super stars like Harvey Pekar,

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Art Spiegelman,

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and Robert Crumb.

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The independent “comix” scene has its own separate and unique history and you could write books about it,  but for the sake of time and simplicity all you need to know is that it was characterized by its own unique art styles, adult themes, and subject matter that was absolutely NOT for children.

Star Reach was a comic anthology that collected short science fiction and fantasy stories and shared and helped bridge the gap between mainstream comics and the independent comix of the time.

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The first issue was published in 1974 and fans described the book as a “ground level publication”, sharing the distinction and aesthetic with a similar European publication we know today as Heavy Metal.

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Perhaps it was the lurid material, or the crossover appeal bridging the gap between mainstream comic books and the underground comix scene, or maybe it was the famous names attached to the book.  Either way, Star Reach was a hit and had a pretty solid five year run.

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Also, it helped set off a boom of independent comic books published in the late 70’s and early 80’s which helped shape the pop culture landscape we know and love today.

You know what?  I think this might be the perfect segue into a new age for this blog.  Sure, the 40’s were a fantastic time for comic books and produced some of comics’ most endearing characters and crazy stories, but the late 70’s and 80’s had some pretty insane characters and were a pretty fascinating time for the comic industry as well.

All good things must evolve, and I think now might be the time to change it up a bit.

This’ll be fun.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Heroes of the Public Domain.

Today we’re going to talk about a Kickstarter comic called Heroes of the Public Domain.

Regular Edition Cover

This project is seeking funding to create a catalog of superheroes that are in the public domain.  This means most of them are from the Golden Age of Comics, a time period that many historians place between 1938-1952 where comic books exploded onto the pop culture scene and superheroes became incredibly popular.

The project is being led by a Canadian group called Temporal Comics and is seeking $1,776 USD in funding.  At the time of writing the project has reached $1,432 with 23 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1973136011/heroes-of-the-public-domain-golden-age-guide-issue?ref=discovery

Why I like it

If you’re a fan of this site than you know that we at Cambrian Comics love writing about Golden Age superheroes.

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For anyone who doesn’t know, over the past three years we’ve been running a blog series entitled “Golden Age Showcase”, where we talk about old school heroes from a time when comic books were new and superheroes were somehow even more popular than they are now.

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While it’s fun to study the absolutely ridiculous characters from the Golden Age of Comics,

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it’s also important.

The Golden Age gave us many of comics’ most important and recognizable heroes.  Characters like Batman,

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Wonder Woman,

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Namor the Submariner,

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and the one who started it all, the one who inspired every modern superhero in existence, and the one who just turned 80 years old this year: Superman.

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But it wasn’t just a time where every superhero became a pop culture icon.  After the success of Action Comics #1 it seemed that every two bit publisher and pulp magazine auteur thought they could make it big by creating a superhero of their own.

The results were ridiculous and hilarious with heroes such as Dynamite Thor,

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Lady Satan,

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and The Fin.

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Sure, many of these heroes were silly, poorly written, or even blatant clones of Superman,  But there is not denying that the Golden Age of Comics was a time of exploration, experimentation, and glorious cheese that built the industry we know and love today.  A lot of people worked very hard to bring us these characters and their legacy is worth remembering and studying.

Also, full disclosure: We’re probably going to use the list provided in the Kickstarter description as a resource for more names.  It really is amazing that we’ve been doing this for over three years and still haven’t run out of heroes to talk about.

Why you should donate

Because the culture of the past informs the culture of the future, mostly by ripping off stories from the past and using our familiarity to open our wallets and giving artists our money.

At some point, I’m sure many of you have expressed your frustration at the endless sequels, reboots, and adaptations that make their way into our movie theaters and Netflix queues every year.

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I know because I am one of those people, but I also understand that one of the most prominent and important aspects of art is the ability to emulate and expand upon past works.

We may complain that Hollywood lacks originality when it comes to making movies, but it’s not a modern issue.  Over half of the movies that Hollywood has ever made are adaptations of some sort.  And let’s not forget that the most successful movie of all time,

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was adapted from a book.

In a way it makes sense, movies cost a lot of money so producers would want something that already has enough mass appeal to get people into the theaters.

What’s funny is that this isn’t even a modern thing, artists have been doing this for centuries.  The Renaissance artists were avid lovers of Classical art and blatantly ripped off the style and practices of the ancients.

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Michelangelo once tried to scam the Catholic Church by carving a statue and trying to sell it off as an antique.

Even the great William Shakespeare ripped off the work of his contemporaries.

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It’s true, Romeo and Juliet was inspired by the works of Italian author. Masuccio Salernitano and his two doomed lovers Mariotto and Giannoza.

Yeah, copyright laws didn’t really exist back then.

While we can moan and complain about how originality in art is dead the simple fact of the matter is that it works.  The unfortunate truth is that, at the end of the day, most artists are looking for the kind of success that allows them to get paid, and borrowing from what is familiar can be an incredibly lucrative option.

Don’t believe me?  Just look at Disney, the current owners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the empire they built with stories and characters from the past.

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Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Alice and Wonderland, Robin Hood…the list goes on.  All of are well known, all of them were borrowed and revamped by the Disney company, and I’m willing to bet that most of these stories made up a healthy portion of your childhood.

Even though comic books are a relatively new medium, it hasn’t stopped companies like Marvel from taking one of their earliest characters.

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and giving him a modern update.

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So if giant corporations and famous artists can do it, why can’t we?

There are thousands of fantastic superheroes out there who are free to use and have so much potential.  This Kickstarter gives us a head start by giving us a list of some of the best.

 

All-Art Variant Edition

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1973136011/heroes-of-the-public-domain-golden-age-guide-issue?ref=discovery

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross

WARNING: This article contains a frank description of the history and politics of the American hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan. This group has a long and ugly history of racist violence that unfortunately continues today.  Also, this article contains images and descriptions that many people will find offensive.  If this bothers you, it is perfectly okay to not read this article.

Superman is 80 years old today!

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Today I want to talk about one of Superman’s greatest, and most important, stories.  It’s not a comic book, it’s a radio show, and it is one of the most important pieces of superhero media ever produced.

It’s Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross, the story where Superman literally, not figuratively but LITERALLY, helped bring down one of the most vile and awful hate groups in American history.

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Background and History

The KKK was a white nationalist group that was initially founded just after the American Civil War in 1865 by a group of former Confederate soldiers.

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Their goal was to intimidate newly freed black slaves and prevent them from voting and trying to improve their lives.

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The Federal Government cracked down on them, declaring them a paramilitary terrorist organization and forbade them from assembling.

While this version of the group was crippled, they would make a comeback in the 1920’s with the premiere of D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation: a fictionalized and highly romanticized account of the original klan.

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Unfortunately, the movie was an incredibly effective recruiting tool and the new version of the klan exploded in popularity.  They adjusted their message slightly, instead of targeting black people they became anti immigrant and for the prohibition of alcohol.

They even managed to become involved in politics.

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By the 1940’s the Klan returned to form, campaigning against equal rights for black people across the American South through violence.

One of the people who saw all these horrible things happen was a man named Stetson Kennedy,

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Kennedy was a writer and activist from Florida who saw what was going around him and decided that he didn’t like the KKK very much.  So he decided to do something about it by infiltrating the organization and finding out as much as he could.

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He discovered that the Klan was less intimidating and had some really stupid customs and rituals, not really surprising considering that it’s a bunch of guys dressed in sheets, and decided to make them look as ridiculous as he could.

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Sadly, there was a problem: how was Stetson going to share his information with the public?  What could he use to reach as many people as possible?

This is where The Adventures of Superman radio show came in.

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The show was produced and syndicated by the New York radio station WOR and starred a man named Bud Collyer as Superman and Joan Alexander as Lois Lane.

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In 1946, Mr. Kennedy approached the radio show and asked them if he could use Superman to share his findings about the Klan with the world.  DC comics was more than happy to oblige since the Second World War was over and Superman couldn’t fight German Nazis anymore.  Now he would fight the American version.

Here’s the first part of the radio special for your listening pleasure.  I skipped the first two minutes of the video because it’s an add for a discontinued breakfast cereal called Kellogg Pep, but it’s still pretty good and I highly recommend tracking down the rest of the series and giving it a listen.

So what was the impact?

The effects of the radio broadcast were immediate and massive.  Within two weeks recruitment into the Klan was down, and by 1948 people were openly mocking its members at their rallies.

Kennedy would go on to share the rest of what he learned about the Klan with the authorities, and even wrote several books which led to arrests and prosecutions for several chapters.

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So the Klan was substantially weakened, thanks to Superman.

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Sadly, while the Klan was substantially weakened it wasn’t killed off completely.  The organization maintains a violent anti immigrant and white nationalist stance and holds rallies to this day,

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and there’s a former low level politician named David Duke who is a member of Klan who has gained an unfortunately large amount of attention.

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It’s worth mentioning that the FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes and hate groups in America over the past couple of years, it’s not a very large rise and can be attributed to a small number of very vocal fringe groups.

A lot of people say that Superman is boring, too powerful, and too much of a goody two shoes to be interesting in the modern world.  But in a world that is filled with some awful people and vile ideologies,

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it’s good to know that we have characters like Superman who stand for what is true and just.

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Here’s to 80 more years.

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Brainwave

Well, that was a nice Easter break, what can we talk about that’ll grab peoples attention again?

How about the first villain dangerous enough to pose a threat to the first superhero team in comics?  He goes by the name of Brainwave.

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Sure, that sounds fun.

Origin and Career

The first group of superheroes to join together as a group in modern American comics was the Justice Society of America, who made their first appearance in All Star Comics #3 in 1940.

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While the official reason for bringing the group together was to help protect America and stand for democracy against the forces of evil, the reality was that the sales figures for each of the characters were flagging on their own and they were brought together to make more money.

Thankfully, the book was a hit.  For the first couple of issues the heroes fought your standard collection of gangsters or went on their own separate adventures with their own villains to fight.  However, in March of 1943, super writer Garner Fox wrote All Star Comics #15,

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each of the members is stumped by a case they’re working on and can’t make it to the meeting.  It’s alright though, because they’ve each written an apology letter to the league  explaining their actions and each of the letters is read by the team’s secretary: Wonder Woman.

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Ah the 1940’s…sigh.

Anyway, Wonder Woman figures out that each crime that each member of the JSA is trying to solve is being masterminded by a single individual.

So what does she do?  She finds all of the girlfriends of each of the JSA members and tells them to dress up in their costumes.

Wonder Woman seems to not understand the idea behind a secret identity, either that or these ladies are some of the most clueless human beings in existence.

It turns out that the crimes are being committed by a man named Henry King, a tiny little man who has the power to create very realistic illusions.

King’s backstory is actually pretty tragic.  As a boy he was lonely and didn’t have many friends and when he discovered his ability to create images out of thin air he used them to create a group of friends and historical figures for him to play with.

Unfortunately, his newfound power corrupted him to the point where he simply decided that he wanted money and used his powers to coerce gangsters into working for him and to convince people they were going crazy.

Anyway, the girls arrive at Brainwave’s hideout but are fooled by his illusions and captured by people who look just like their boyfriends.

This was  time when Wonder Woman could be stopped if you tied her up.

The boyfriends arrive soon after and while Brainwave attempts to threaten them with the deaths of their beloveds,

Wonder Woman breaks free and manages to free them.

The ensuing fight is short and Brainwave falling to his death.

The JSA was terrifyingly nonchalant about it.

However, the villain was saved at the last minute by his clothing and the design of his villainous hideout.

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He would later appear as a member of the Injustice Society, a gang of super villains who formed as a direct counter to the Justice Society.

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But that’s a story for another couple of blog posts.

So what happened?

They say a hero is only as good as the villains they fight, but unfortunately a villain’s fate is directly tied to how well the hero can sell books.

The Justice Society was shut down in the early 1950’s when American parents thought that comic books and superheroes were corrupting their children.

Image result for comic book burningsFortunately, Brainwave was able to make a comeback, and he actually got even more interesting.

He wound up getting married to a woman named Merry Pemberton, a super heroine known as “Gimmick Girl”.

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She was a good guy, he was a bad guy.  She didn’t know at first and was sad when she found out.

What makes this even better is that they had a kid together: Henry King Jr.

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He became Brainwave number 2, after his father saved him from a villain known as the Ultra Humanite and gave his powers to his son.

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Junior was part of a group called Infinity Inc., but eventually went crazy over his father’s villainous legacy, but it was eventually discovered that he was being controlled by a parasitic worm and Captain Marvel villain named Mr. Mind.

Boy, family drama is a killer.

The elder villain’s final appearance was in DC’s Blackest Night crossover where he appeared as an undead corpse, reanimated by the mysterious black power rings.

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Brainwave was one of the original super villains of the early days of comics.  In a time when super heroes fought gangsters and Nazis, he was one of the first threats that the heroes had to face that had powers rivaling their own.  He was a formidable threat, a capable villain, and wound up having one of the most interesting and fulfilling story arcs in the long history of the Justice Society of America.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Dulce: The New Guy

Today we’re looking at a comic book Kickstarter project entitled “Dulce: The New Guy”.

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The comic takes place in Dulce, New Mexico, a place that is allegedly home to a joint U.S military and alien base.

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The story follows the adventures of Marcus as he begins his first day working at the base and promises that Marcus will come face to face with “reptilians, fear deities, chimera, monsters, and a variety of races of aliens…”

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The comic itself was created by Eric J. Cockrell and Gene Hoyle with artwork by Greg Woronchak, colors by Avery Ferdinand, lettering by Michael Waggoner, and editing by Chuck Pineau.

At the time of writing the project has raised $1,150 of its $3,300 goal with 22 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1410875579/dulce-the-new-guy-comic-book/description

Why I like it

I’m a sucker for comedies that take big, grand, and potentially Earth shattering revelations and treat them as ordinary mundane things.

Marcus is an ordinary human, thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and forced to deal with things that no human has probably ever had to deal with.

For God’s sake, his co workers are a lizard man and a human sized fly.

they’re dealing with time travel like it’s no big deal,

the comic has GIANT KILLER BUNNIES!

Isn’t that awesome!?

For me, the best comedy takes place when you have the extraordinary happening in a mundane and boring way.  The more indifferent people are to the crazy things happening around them, the funnier it gets.

Come to think of it, wasn’t there a movie that was released a little over a decade ago that treated cosmic, earth shattering events with casual interest?

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Also, come to think of it, wasn’t there an incredibly popular television comedy in an office setting that dealt with the everyday lives of office drones?

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Huh, neat.

I bring this up because this comic makes me think of The Office with a healthy dose of Men in Black thrown in.  Now, Men in Black is one of my favorite films of all time, and while I’m not the biggest fan of The Office (I know it’s sacrilege, but let’s just say that I’ve had too many people compare me to Dwight to get into the show) I understand its appeal and believe it deserves the praise it gets.

Now, I admit I could be wrong in this comparison,  but it is my honest to God opinion that a comic that combines some of the best elements of a very good movie like Men in Black  and a very good TV show like The Office deserves my attention and respect.

Why you should donate

For starters, the rewards that these guys are offering are fantastic.

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This is not the first tango these guys have had with Kickstarter created comics, and they certainly know how to take care of the people who give them money.

But there’s another, deeper reason why this comic is worth your time, and dare I say…important.

We can always use a good laugh at the expense of those in power.

Let’s face it, for the longest time places like Area 51,

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occupied a lighthearted and almost jovial place in American pop culture.

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I think it’s pretty cool that that United States government has taken the reputation of one of their testing grounds for top secret aircraft and embraced it.

Unfortunately, while places like Area 51 have given “Top Secret” a lighthearted spin, there have been times when secret government programs have taken on a much more sinister meaning.

Over the past decade the United States government, which is supposed to be accountable to the people, has tried to keep the following things secret from the public:

kidnapping and torturing people suspected of terrorism against the United States,

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launched mass surveillance programs on the American citizens,

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and we’re currently trying to figure out if our current President has been the willing/unwilling participant in election rigging conducted by a foreign power.

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It’s all really scary stuff, but you know what really helps in times of trouble?

Laughter…and fantastic stories about crazy monsters and strange science.

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Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1410875579/dulce-the-new-guy-comic-book/description