Comic Art Friday: Lords of Atlantis

Posted September 23, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hawaii, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

I read today that Atlantis Resorts, the company whose commercials for its rather awesome-looking tourist destination in the Bahamas run frequently on TV here, is planning its first U.S. property in Hawaii. The new resort will be built in Ko Olina, the beachfront community on the northwest point of Oahu where Disney’s Aulani Hotel and the popular Paradise Cove luau reside.

None of which means anything, really, except as an excuse to feature this Atlantis-themed Common Elements commission by artist Stephen Sadowski. (Like Captain Sternn in Heavy Metal, I’ve always got an angle.)

Namor the Sub-Mariner and Arion, Lord of Atlantis, pencils and inks by Stephen Sadowski

When I first had the idea for a “Kings of Atlantis” Common Elements matchup, I was determined to avoid the obvious pairing of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and Aquaman — mostly because that connection is such a no-brainer I was sure that a lot of other people had thought of it already. And I was correct — searches on Comic Art Fans for “Namor and Aquaman” or “Sub-Mariner and Aquaman” reveal more than a dozen existing artworks featuring those two heroes together.

So, in the immortal words of Robert Frost, I chose the road less traveled by. Which, in this instance, has made all the difference.

Although he’s far less well-known than Aquaman, DC Comics has another Atlantean ruler in its arsenal. Arion, Lord of Atlantis, debuted in his eponymous series in 1982, toward the tail end of comics’ decade-long fascination with the sword-and-sorcery genre. Unlike the Atlantises (Atlantii?) of both Aquaman and his Marvel Comics opposite number Namor, Arion’s homeland was still very much above water, being set in a time period millennia before recorded history. Arion himself was a powerful sorcerer who used his magic to protect his fellow Atlanteans from enemies, chief among which was his own brother.

Perhaps Arion’s major claim to enduring fame derives from the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths, during which Arion was retconned as an ancestor of Power Girl — heretofore always a Kryptonian, as the alternate-universe version of Supergirl. Like so many comics retcons, this one didn’t last, and Power Girl went back to being one of the last survivors of Krypton after a while. Thus, Arion faded back into the depths of obscurity, from which we’ve plucked him in order to provide him his Common Elements spotlight moment.

As for Namor, I always liked this stylish costume he wore for a brief (no pun intended) stretch in the ’70s, more than the green swimming trunks in which he’s most frequently been seen. You’d think the Lord of Atlantis would be able to afford a proper suit of clothes.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Full circle

Posted September 16, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, Reminiscing, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

Given the scope of commissioned artworks in my collection today, it’s almost unfathomable to think that as recently as 12 years ago this month, I’d never commissioned a single piece of art. In fact, there was a time exactly that recently when I wasn’t even aware that it was possible to commission an artwork directly from a professional comic book artist. Or perhaps more accurately, I was vaguely aware that such a thing was possible, but not at such a level that I myself might do it.

All of that changed with a single artwork.

Black Panther, pencils and inks by Bob McLeod

I don’t remember at this late date exactly how I ended up at Bob McLeod‘s website in September 2004. What I do recall is that I had been reading interviews online with various Silver and Bronze Age comic artists, and a couple of them mentioned doing commissions. I presume one of those artists was Bob McLeod, because he was the first artist I approached. Bob had been the inker on a classic run of Black Panther stories in the early 1970s, so I asked him to draw the King of Wakanda for me. My experience with Bob — and my delight in the artwork he created — was such that I quickly commissioned more pieces from other artists.

And, as you know by now, friend reader, the rest is history.

You can understand why I was thrilled to learn that Bob would be a guest at the inaugural San Francisco Comic Con. Here came the opportunity to meet not only a favorite artist, but indeed, the artist whose work sparked my entire commission collection.

It also occurred to me that even though Bob has done a few other commissions for me over the years, I’d never asked him to contribute to my signature theme, Common Elements. To be honest, I don’t quite know how Common Elements grew to its present volume of more than 130 pieces without Bob drawing at least one. I think it’s most likely that I simply forgot that there wasn’t a McLeod in there somewhere. But SFCC presented the chance to rectify this long-standing omission, and Bob filled the gap with his customary aplomb.

Cannonball and Thunderbolt, pencils and inks by Bob McLeod

As with my very first commission, I chose for Bob’s Common Elements assignment a character with whom he was previously associated. Sam Guthrie — code name Cannonball — was a founding member of the New Mutants, the third-generation X-Men squad that Bob co-created with writer Chris Claremont. The New Mutants marked the first of several attempts by Marvel — Generation X and Excalibur were others — to rekindle the fire unleashed by the original (Cyclops, Angel, Marvel Girl, Beast, and Iceman) and second-generation (Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, et al.) X-Men.

Sam’s unique power set combined the ability to fly with missile-like propulsion and an impenetrable force field that protected him from anything he might run into while flying. Indeed, he might have been known as the Human Rocket if… well… Marvel didn’t already have a character like that. (See: Nova, the Human Rocket.) A kindhearted country boy from rural Kentucky, Cannonball gradually overcame his shy, aw-shucks persona to become the leader of the New Mutant team.

Paired with Cannonball here is the vintage Charlton Comics hero, Peter Cannon… Thunderbolt. No, seriously — that’s how his name appeared on the masthead of his eponymous comic book back in 1966. (Marvel may have been inspired by that title years later, when they debuted the second Spider-Man series: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man.) Thunderbolt’s gimmick was that he had been trained by Tibetian monks in the exercise of mind over matter, basically a twist on the old trope about humans only using a small percentage of our potential brainpower. He didn’t, therefore, have true superpowers, but he could operate at the absolute maximum level of human ability (sort of like Captain America, without the super-soldier serum).

Like all of the former Charlton characters, Thunderbolt eventually got absorbed into the DC Comics universe. DC never did much with him, aside from a few scattered supporting appearances (most notably in Crisis on Infinite Earths) and a short-run solo series. However, Alan Moore famously used Thunderbolt and several other former Charlton heroes as inspirational jumping-off points for the main characters in Watchmen; the villain in that series, Ozymandias, was partially based on Peter Cannon. Like Thunderbolt, Adrian Veidt had no superhuman abilities, but had trained himself to exploit 100% of his mind and body’s natural capacity.

It was a genuine treat to meet Bob McLeod in person and pick up his latest creation from him directly. Almost as great: reuniting him with the very first piece he ever created for me, almost exactly a dozen years after it was originally commissioned.

Bob McLeod and his 2004 Black Panther, SFCC 2016

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Omakase

Posted July 29, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

I rarely commission an artist with the words, “Draw whatever you want.”

Now, I don’t script my commissions the way some collectors do — I know several people who provide excruciatingly detailed scenarios for artists to work from — but I’m just enough of a control freak that I don’t want to risk handing someone a fistful of cash and getting back a drawing of a character I detest. The rare instance when I’ve given an artist absolute free rein has occurred at a convention, usually with a talent I’ve commissioned before and have at least some rapport with.

Phoenix, pencils and inks by Tom Raney

This past spring at Silicon Valley Comic Con, I took one such flier with Tom Raney. Tom had done a terrific piece for my Common Elements gallery some time back, and I really like his work. On this occasion, I had several possible ideas for him, but couldn’t settle on one particular character. So I just said, “Draw whatever you want,” and hoped for the best.

Tom did not disappoint, rewarding my trust with this lovely pinup of X-Man Jean Grey in her Phoenix phase. Given that Tom was the regular X-Men penciler for a stretch, I’m thinking that he has an affinity for Jean that comes through in his work. I love Tom’s delicate linework here, and the beautiful manner in which he incorporates the Phoenix Force that Jean manifests.

Of course, my comics-reading tenure trails back well before Jean acquired the code name Phoenix. I can recall when she was the only female member of the original X-Men lineup, and used the moniker Marvel Girl. (Geof Isherwood paired Jean in Marvel Girl garb alongside Mary Marvel in this early Common Elements commission.)

Mary Marvel and Marvel Girl, pencils by Geof Isherwood

Jean was far less powerful in her Marvel Girl incarnation than she eventually became, transforming over time from a simple telepath/telekinetic to an almost godlike being capable of destroying an entire planet, as she did at the climax of the Dark Phoenix saga. Since her death at the end of that storyline, and subsequent resurrection some years later (because no one ever stays dead in comics), Jean’s powers and prominence have fluctuated. She remains, however, a landmark character in the Marvel pantheon.

Raney and Isherwood draw her very nicely, too.

As for the title of this post: Omakase is a Japanese word that translates roughly into English as “I trust you.” In sushi restaurants and other eateries featuring Japanese cuisine, omakase signifies that the diner will eat whatever the chef wants to serve. The idea is that the itamae (chef) knows what ingredients are freshest and of the highest quality on that particular day, and will present the patron with the very best the kitchen has to offer.

Perhaps I should order omakase more often.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: You’re my best friend

Posted July 22, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, Soundtrack of My Life, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

Throughout the long history of my Common Elements commission theme, the overwhelming majority of its concepts have sprung from my own fevered imagination. Not to be all egocentric about it, but it’s my theme, after all. There’s a certain undeniable kick that comes from looking at an artwork and knowing that the scenario depicted therein only exists because I thought of it. It’s for that reason that, although numerous people have suggested Common Elements ideas to me over the years, only three pieces in the gallery represent someone’s combination of characters other than my own.

This is the second one that someone else even paid for.

Green Arrow, Captain Marvel Jr. and Max Mercury, pencils by John Heebink

Damon Owens is a fellow comic art collector residing in the Houston area. (Yeah, I know — unfortunate. But I can’t get him to move.) As is true of my own collection, Damon’s focuses primarily on commissioned pieces (the majority of comic art collectors hone in on published pages). And, also like my own, Damon’s galleries often revolve around themes. He’s probably best known in the collecting community for The Brotherhood, a series of artworks depicting various African and African-American superheroes as an Avengers-style team of Damon’s own devising. Damon’s other themes include teamups involving (in separate themes) Black Panther and Juggernaut; Cage Matches, a series of reenactments of great battles in the career of Luke Cage; and perhaps most notably, two themes centered around obscure heroes from comic book history: Operation Obscura (mostly solo pinups) and The Dead Universes Project (in which characters from various comics publishers that no longer exist find themselves inhabiting the same fictional universe). All clever, all amazing in scope, and all well worth a look.

In addition to being an inventive and prolific collector, Damon is also well known as a genuinely nice guy, revered by artists and fellow collectors alike for his generous, supportive nature. Proof of his generosity stands before you in this incredible Common Elements artwork that Damon commissioned from comic artist John Heebink and gave to me, for no other reason than… well… Damon’s just like that.

Best of all, Damon totally nailed my Common Elements theme. It took me a few minutes of puzzled staring before I tumbled onto the common element: Freddie (Freeman, a.k.a. Captain Marvel Jr.); Mercury (speedster Max Mercury); and Queen (Oliver Queen, that is; better known as Green Arrow). So it’s both a perfect — and perfectly sly — example of my signature concept, and a tribute to one of my all-time favorite musical acts.

Damon, when it comes to the many good folks I’ve come to know through my collecting hobby, in the immortal words of Freddie Mercury and Queen — you’re my best friend. Seriously.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Tigra, Tigra, burning bright

Posted July 15, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

Within the superhero community, there’s a tiny subset of characters who’ve had the unique opportunity to be two different superheroes at various stages of their careers.

I’m not speaking here of, say, founding Avengers member Henry “Hank” Pym, who’s been essentially the same superhero for decades, but has periodically changed his code name, costume, and the manner in which he used his powers — going from Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Goliath to Yellowjacket, and even becoming the Wasp (a nom de guerre more closely associated with his wife/partner Janet van Dyne) for a time.

No, I’m specifically thinking of someone like Greer Grant Nelson, who began her crimefighting career with one identity and skill-set, and later transformed into something else entirely.

When first we meet Greer, she’s a neophyte vigilante calling herself the Cat. Debuting in Beware! The Claws of the Cat #1 in November 1972, Greer was among the first Marvel Comics heroines to headline her own eponymous series, beating Shanna the She-Devil to the spinner racks by a month. As the Cat, Greer possessed superhuman strength and agility, plus heightened senses and intuition (all as the result of a laboratory experiment), and wore a yellow and blue bodysuit with built-in claws on the fingers and toes.

The Cat #1, cover art by Wally Wood

Alas, the Cat’s campaign against evil ended abruptly, a victim of the most powerful enemy in comics: lackluster sales. Her title was cancelled after a mere four issues. A fifth issue was written (by series scribe Linda Fite) and penciled (by legendary artist Ramona Fradon, one of only two projects she ever worked on for Marvel), but never completed (a handful of pages were inked by Jim Mooney) or published. (An excellent article by Dewey Cassell in Back Issue #46 chronicles the trials and tribulations of the “lost” The Cat #5.)

The fact that Greer’s adventures were written and drawn by women (Marvel stalwart Marie Severin penciled the first two published issues; Paty Greer Cockrum drew the third) was supposed to be the series’ marketing hook, with special appeal to young female readers. Sadly, that hook proved insufficiently hook-y, and the Cat fell into the Marvel background for a year or so.

Tigra, pencil art by Edgar Tadeo

Then, in the summer of 1974, Greer resurfaced, transmogrified by sorcery (or maybe some kind of arcane science — in the Marvel Universe, it’s not always easy to distinguish the two) into a part-human, part-feline hybrid known as Tigra the Were-Woman. (That moniker never made sense to me. If a werewolf is a man who transforms into a wolf, shouldn’t a werewoman be a man who transforms into a woman?) In her newfound condition, Greer’s body was covered with striped fur, and equipped with razor-sharp teeth, retractable claws, enhanced night vision and other senses, and a catlike tail. Abandoning her Cat costume, she opted instead for a scanty black bikini… you know, like you would. (Tigra appears above, in pencil art created by the talented Edgar Tadeo.)

Following a short run in her own series in an anthology horror book entitled Marvel Chillers, Tigra (who eventually ditched the silly “Were-Woman” business) embarked on a career as an itinerant team player. She hung out with the Fantastic Four for a while, joined the Avengers briefly (a rite of passage for pretty much every Marvel character), then became a charter member of the West Coast Avengers (later Avengers West Coast). In recent years, Tigra served for a stretch as an instructor at Avengers Academy, a training facility for up-and-coming superheroes.

Incidentally, Greer’s old Cat suit didn’t go to waste when she abandoned it for perpetual swimwear. Patsy Walker, formerly the star of her own teen-romance title, eventually picked up the yellow and blue threads and began her own crimebusting career using the name Hellcat (seen below in a Common Elements scenario drawn by Star Wars artist Thomas Hodges). Patsy — or Trish, as she’s known on television — makes a noncostumed appearance in a supporting role in the Marvel/Netflix series Jessica Jones.

Hellboy and Hellcat, pencils and inks by Thomas Hodges

A few years ago, I was loitering about at a local comics convention when I overheard two male fans arguing about the proper pronunciation of “Tigra.” One guy insisted that the name should be spoken “TIE-gra,” while the other insisted that it was “TEE-gra.”

Of course, the former was correct. After all, she’s a human tiger, not a human teeger.

Because teegers? Not a thing.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Oh, Bombshell! My Bombshell!

Posted July 8, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

Way back in 2008 — two entire election cycles ago, if we’re counting — I started a new commission theme designed to combine a pair of my favorite interests: superheroines, and aircraft nose art. (Longtime readers know that I grew up in a U.S. Air Force family, so I saw numerous displays of vintage military aircraft during my formative years.) The concept is simple: nose art-style pinups featuring classic comic book heroines.

I titled my theme Bombshells! — yes, with an exclamation point, just like Jeopardy! — as a play on both the pinup-girl motif and the other key design element in each image… a bomb. (Actually, there’s a third item in each Bombshells! piece: a tagline that in some way references the featured heroine. I often explain the concept to artists as “The Three B’s”: a babe, a bomb, and a bad pun.)

Superwoman aka Lois Lane, pencils and inks by Pete Woods

By arbitrary fiat, I decided that Bombshells! would depict only characters from the real-world nose art era — World War II through the Korean conflict (the late 1930s to the mid-1950s, for the history-challenged). I extended the range forward into the early Silver Age to encompass a few more favorites, making December 31, 1959 the cutoff line for a character’s first published appearance in comics. Basically, in order to be a Bombshell!, a heroine has to be at least a couple of years older than I am… which makes sense, in a weird way.

The fun of Bombshells! for me derives from showcasing the history of women in comics, and in the superhero genre in particular. It’s an opportunity to spotlight characters who represent historic milestones in the medium — Wonder Woman and the original Black Cat, for example — as well as nearly forgotten heroines of yesteryear (the Purple Tigress, anyone?). There are also several Bombshells! that might surprise the viewer who didn’t realize those characters had been around for quite so many years.

Yes, we’re using the motif of the nose art pinup to highlight that history. The artists I’ve commissioned have been uniformly excellent in depicting our heroines in a respectful manner — we don’t do salacious or overtly sexualized poses, or nudity. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the presentation of sexuality and/or nudity in art — it just isn’t what Bombshells! is about.) Our heroines are always shown in a way that’s either playful or powerful, and often is a celebratory blend of both.

All of which brings us to our newest Bombshell!, seen at the top of this post. She might be familiar, and yet not quite familiar, to the average reader. Lois Lane — yep, that’s her — first imagined herself as Superwoman in Action Comics #60, in May 1943. In a dream sequence, Lois saw herself receiving a blood transfusion from Superman that invested her with Kryptonian powers. Sure, it was only a dream, but it fits well within the Bombshells! timeline. Therefore, I’m thrilled to add Lois to our pantheon of historic heroines, courtesy of the tremendously talented Pete Woods.

By the way…

About a year ago, DC Comics debuted a new series entitled — wait for it — Bombshells. Set in the 1940s in an alternate universe, Bombshells the comic depicts several well-known DC heroines, including Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Supergirl, battling evildoers against a wartime backdrop. All of the characters wear retro-designed costumes that give the book a cool, nostalgic, quasi-Rosie the Riveter feel.

DC_Comics_Bombshells_Vol_1_1_Variant

Hmm…

WWII-vintage heroines in a series called Bombshells? Wonder where anyone might have gotten that idea.

All I know is, unless I inherited a time machine, I didn’t swipe it from them.

Bombshells! — established 2008. You can look it up.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Even an android can fly

Posted June 17, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, Reminiscing, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

Listing all of the comic book stories that left a lasting impression on the nascent Uncle Swan would prove an impossible task. But one of the tales from my youth that I recall most vividly, and that still resonates with me today, nearly half a century later, is the two-part introduction of the Vision in Avengers #57-58 (October-November 1968).

Part of that resonance is the iconic cover image from Avengers #57, drawn by the legendary John Buscema:

Avengers #57 (October 1968), cover art by John Buscema

Another part is this equally iconic image that concludes Avengers #58, as the android Vision sheds tears of humble joy at being welcomed into membership among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes:

From Avengers #58 (November 1968), art by John Buscema and George Roussos

Mostly, I think, the Vision appealed to me because here was a character whose identity was defined by his alienness. As a young person, I always felt “different.” Being biracial, I looked different from other kids, no matter what group of classmates I found myself in. (Even though my adoptive parents withheld the nature of my genetic heritage from me for many years, I always knew there had to be a reason for my ethnically ambiguous appearance.) Because I was usually — all right, pretty much always — the most intelligent kid in every class, I was often regarded as a curiosity by fellow students and teachers alike. Plus, my most obsessive interests were subjects of niche appeal — comics, for example.

The synthetic being Vision embodied all of those weirdnesses I felt. He looked, spoke, and even thought differently from his Avengers counterparts. He struggled to find acceptance among other heroes who couldn’t totally grok him — not necessarily because the other Avengers didn’t accept him, but more because he could never quite accept himself as one of them. When, some time later, he embarked upon a romantic connection with Wanda Maximoff — the superheroine known as the Scarlet Witch — their affair served as a metaphor for every loving relationship that challenged then-existing societal norms, whether interracial, interfaith, or gay/lesbian/queer.

I related to the Vision. Man, did I relate.

All of those thoughts flooded back to me as I welcomed the Vision, at long last, into the annals of my Common Elements theme. Michael L. Peters, an artist with a style as unique as the Vision himself, depicts the ethereal Avenger in an encounter with comics’ other well-known android superhero, Red Tornado.

Vision and Red Tornado, pencils and inks by Michael L. Peters

Michael’s previous Common Elements entry, featuring Adam Strange and the Rocketeer, hung for many years in the living room at the old Casa de Swan. I have no earthly idea why it took more than a decade for me to commission another piece from him, but I’m certain that the next one won’t be quite that long in the making. (If you dig Michael’s work, he’s always accepting commissions. You’ll find all the details at his website.)

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.