I'll take comic books any time
WE ARE closing in fast on the end of another frenzied season of movies spun from comic books.
And if you have gamely squirmed through the portentous gloom and doom of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days Of Future Past - with Guardians Of The Galaxy just open (more on that irreverent wild card later) - I want to let you in on a dirty little secret: The comic books are usually better than the movies. Much better.
Sure, the Gollum-like fanboys at my local comics hole feel somehow canonised by these movies, as if Hollywood had sanctified their geek love with a big, wet CGI kiss. But those guys are all about the craving for mainstream approval, not real cultural pleasure.
To be fair, the mind-blowing animation and bombastic action in most of these flicks are impressive. But they lack the spark and sparkle of the very best comic books. The main problem is that they suffer from a heightened case of Dark Knight Syndrome - readily diagnosed in director Christopher Nolan's recent Stygian run on Batman.
These movies tend towards the funereal and end up buried beneath their sense of self-important apocalypse.
Literally, it is the end of the world! As one Rocket J. Squirrel might ask: "Again?"
When Marvel humanised superhero comics in the 1960s, humour was a crucial staple; a couple of well-placed laughs leavened the drama and menace. Peter Parker was amazing, but he was also your smart-alecky friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
And the Thing, before he (and the rest of the Fantastic Four) once again saved the world/galaxy/universe, always took a moment to collect himself and bellow: "It's clobberin' time!"
The one often (and unintentionally) hilarious element in superhero movies is the costumes. Captain America and Batman in their manly-man tight-tights make me giggle.
They look a bit stiff, ill at ease, like the unlucky kid picked to play the Christmas tree in the second-grade holiday pageant. Heroes and villains almost always look more convincing, more organic, on the printed page.
The exquisite thing about the page is that comic books are both a reading experience and a lesson in art appreciation. Most comic-book films just do not leave room for the viewer. They are a blitz: Each frame is crammed pandemonium - exploding androids, cartwheeling bodies, cascading skyscrapers - all pumped up by quasi-operatic music. The dazed viewer is left spluttering: "Wow! What was that?!"
Which brings us to the new Guardians Of The Galaxy movie. It is not subtle, either. The PG-rated carnage transcends over-the-topness, the plot is obligingly apocalyptic. And there is nothing understated about the bloodthirsty, gun-toting critter Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), who just lives for Cagneyesque top-of-the-world-Ma! mayhem.
But the movie does not take itself too seriously. Chris Pratt's Star-Lord (aka Peter Quill) even throws down the toeshoe gauntlet and challenges the evil Ronan the Accuser to a dance-off. It is satirical space opera that brings to mind Harrison Ford's take on Han Solo in the very first Star Wars film.
It is easy to imagine Ford's Solo hanging out at his favourite intergalactic dive with Pratt's Quill, who's more surfer dude than hero dude; Zoe Saldana's green-skinned assassin, Gamora, the deadliest woman in the universe; and David Bautista's Drax the Destroyer, who looks like he smacked a few thousand homers during baseball's Steroid Era.
And when Rocket Raccoon says - on being asked to help save the world/galaxy/universe - "Oh, what the hell, I don't got that long a life span anyway", I laughed.
That is a genuine, old-fashioned Marvel moment up there on the screen. A comic book brought to life.