With all the chatter about DC's "Brightest Day" and Marvel's "Heroic Age" coming up this spring, it's looking like mainstream super hero comics' comparatively darker days could be trending downward. But aside from Conan O'Brien's ending his "Tonight Show" run with remarks denouncing cynicism, where should creators and fans look for inspiration as they enter this new phase of optimistic storytelling?

Would you believe "Speedball" #2? Sunday's "Funky Winkerbean" strip would.

The strip's argument comes across like this: Speedball's 10-issue series that started in 1988 - two years after the generalized granddaddy's of the "grim 'n gritty" movement "Watchmen" and "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" saw release - is somehow a shining example of comics' good 'ol days.

Super heroes used to be real heroes, you see? They may have been a little eccentric, but they weren't deeply disturbed and borderline psychotic.

Sure, there's room for commentary if you're comparing Speedball's goofy New Warriors days to his present Penance incarnation, but the generalization made by this aging fictional fan is the kind of thing you'd only find in the dustiest and most misguided Internet forum...or, you know, in "Funky Winkerbean."

In the words of the ever-wise Comics Curmudgeon:

"Yeah, you kids today and your moral ambiguity! In our days, heroes were heroic, like Speedball, who's named after an awesome combination of heroin and cocaine!"