Comic Art Friday: Who’s your Goblin King now?

Posted October 14, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

We’re having our first truly grim, gray October day here in the Bay Area, which makes it the perfect time to continue the pre-Halloween theme we began with last week’s Comic Art Friday. Since our post on “Spectres” covered the traditional All Hallows’ Eve trope of ghosts, we’ll turn today to another staple of the season — goblins.

Kobalt and the Green Goblin, pencils by Arvell Malcolm Jones

Even the most casual comics fan will recognize the fellow about to get clobbered in the scrap depicted here. That’s the Green Goblin (a.k.a. Norman Osborn, although several other individuals, most notably Norman’s son Harry, have donned the costume), probably Spider-Man’s best-known foe. The Goblin and the Web-Slinger share a lengthy history, going all the way to the former’s debut appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964). Over the years, the Green Goblin has become to Spider-Man what the Joker is to Batman — his most frightening opponent, both because he’s the most mentally unhinged (and thus the least predictable) and because he’s the one who seems to know and understand his superheroic nemesis the most intimately.

The guy wielding the razor-spiked bat, however, is likely less identifiable, even to hardcore comics aficionados. He’s Kobalt, antihero and star of an eponymous series published by Milestone Media (under the auspices of DC Comics) in the mid-1990s. (Ah, the ’90s. A time when everyone in comics had a grimace on his or her face, a huge gun in his or her hand, and lots and lots of pouches on his or her costume.)

Typical of ’90s characters, Kobalt was a vicious, violent tough guy with attitude to burn. He was also a man of mystery — his true name was never revealed during his book’s 16-issue run, although readers did discover that he was of Cuban ancestry. (Milestone made a name for itself by developing an ethnically diverse range of characters. Its most successful creation was the teenage African-American hero Static, who went on to star in the popular animated TV series Static Shock.) Despite his aggressively antisocial personality, Kobalt often shared his adventures with a sidekick/partner, first a woman code-named Clover, then later a Robinesque boy wonder known as Page.

In case you’ve not yet tumbled to the Common Elements connection between Kobalt and the Goblin, it’ll help to know that the word cobalt (as in the chemical element most recognized for its vivid blue color) derives from the German kobold, meaning “goblin” (as veteran Dungeons & Dragons players are well aware).

Don’t feel badly if you missed that. I even had to remind Kobalt’s co-creator and the author of today’s featured artwork, Arvell Jones, where the name came from. (Arvell’s most familiar co-creation is super-detective Misty Knight, currently being brought to life by actress Simone Missick in the Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage.) Arvell got a kick from revisiting his old friend in this commissioned drawing — it had probably been a couple of decades since he’d last drawn Kobalt. When I proposed this scenario to him at San Francisco Comic-Con 2016, Arvell grinned and said, “You know who’s going to get the best of that fight, now don’t you?”

I wouldn’t have planned it any other way.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: How do YOU spell Spectre?

Posted October 7, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Halloween, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

With Halloween rapidly approaching — how did it get to be October already? — I thought it apropos to delve into the Common Elements catalog for this ghostly offering, beautifully designed and rendered by Mike Bowden.

"Spectres," pencil art by Mike Bowden

The commonality between these characters will become evident as we identify the dramatis personae, working clockwise from upper left:

  • Moon Knight, known in civilian guise as Marc Spector.
  • The Spectre, the spirit of vengeance-turned-superhero created by Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman.
  • Sally Jupiter, a.k.a. the first Silk Spectre, from the seminal graphic novel Watchmen.
  • Dr. Adam Spektor, the paranormal investigator who headlined the fondly remembered series, The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor.
  • Laurie Juspeczek, the second-generation Silk Spectre and daughter of Sally.

What I like best about this particular Common Elements commission — aside from Mike Bowden’s outstanding design and execution — is the fact that it unites heroes not only from different comics publishers and universes, but also from different eras. The Spectre debuted in early 1940, making him among the oldest continuing characters in the industry. Doctor Spektor’s original run spanned most of the 1970s. The mother-and-daughter Silk Spectres feature in one of the most important comics of the 1980s. And Moon Knight, although he first appeared in a 1975 issue of Marvel’s Werewolf By Night before graduating to his own book in the early ’80s, is probably best known to current readers from his ongoing series that ran from 2006 to 2009.

I’m especially pleased to have Doctor Spektor making his Common Elements debut here. The good doctor’s series was among a number of classic titles released by Gold Key Comics, the comic book subsidiary of Western Publishing — the people who brought you those Little Golden Books you probably read as a child if you’re of a certain age. Gold Key mostly specialized in comics based on existing properties licensed from other sources. They were the first company, for example, to publish Star Trek comics (among a seemingly endless horde of books based on then-current or then-recent TV series, everything from The Twilight Zone to Adam-12), as well as cornering the market on Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters for quite a few years. But Gold Key also maintained a nice stable of original properties, the best-remembered of which today is probably the science-fiction epic Magnus, Robot Fighter. Gold Key’s comics stood out on the newsstand because many of them — particularly those not licensed from animation studios — featured painted covers, decades before such artists as Alex Ross brought that style back into vogue.

The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor was co-conceived (with artist Dan Spiegle) and written by Don Glut, a screenwriter who contributed scripts to numerous TV series aimed at youth audiences. Glut also worked extensively for Marvel Comics in the latter half of the 1970s, including runs on Captain America, The Invaders, What If?, and Marvel’s various sword-and-sorcery titles. Prior to this, Glut wrote for Warren Publishing’s line of horror comics (Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella… who really needs to turn up in a Common Elements commission some day soon). All of the issues of Spektor’s regular series were drawn by the prolific Jesse Santos, who also worked on such Gold Key originals as Brothers of the Spear, Dagon the Invincible, and Tragg and the Sky Gods.

Like several other contemporary titles, Doctor Spektor seized upon the Comics Code Authority’s early-1970s loosening of its restrictions on horror elements in mainstream comics. (This same rules change ushered in such series as DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula and Ghost Rider.) Spektor busied himself battling every kind of monstrous foe you might imagine, from vampires and reanimated mummies to Frankenstein’s monster and werewolves. The doctor even became a lycanthrope himself for a couple of issues in the middle of his book’s run. In most of his adventures, Spektor benefited from the support (I’ll leave it to you, friend reader, to speculate on exactly what that entailed) of his personal assistant, a comely Native American woman named Lakota Rainflower, as well as other aides who appeared with less regularity.

In contrast to the similarly named Doctor, neither Silk Spectre has an occult connection — nor indeed, any supernatural or superhuman ability. Both mother Sally, whom Watchmen presents as having battled crime in its universe’s 1940s, and daughter Laurie, who assumes her parent’s legacy in the 1960s and ’70s, are merely skilled hand-to-hand fighters and martial artists. Most comics-savvy readers know the Watchmen backstory: writer Alan Moore intended to use superheroes from the then-defunct Charlton Comics canon (characters whose trademarks had been purchased by DC Comics, which published Watchmen) as the leads in his opus. When DC editorial balked at Moore using these characters (for which they’d paid good money, and hoped to use in the future) for the dark tale he intended to tell, Moore instead devised new heroes to replace those from Charlton, incorporating attributes of the originals. The two Silk Spectres combined elements of Charlton’s Nightshade with aspects of other nonpowered heroines, including Black Canary, Phantom Lady, and the original Black Cat.

Both Silk Spectres are depicted here in costumes matching those used by artist Dave Gibbons in the Watchmen graphic novel, as opposed to the redesigned versions seen in the motion picture. Comics is comics, and movies is movies.

As for Moon Knight and The Spectre… well, they’ve each appeared in a previous Common Elements scenario. Moon Knight was featured alongside Moon Girl in Common Elements #18, drawn by James E. Lyle. The Spectre can be seen in tandem with Ghost in Common Elements #67, drawn by Greg LaRocque. You can follow the links to check out those pieces, if you’re inclined.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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.