Comic Art Friday: Three is a magic number

How many characters are depicted in this Common Elements commission, the latest masterwork by veteran Marvel Comics artist MC Wyman? Your answer will depend on how little you rely on your eyes, and how much you know about the characters. (Click the image for a better view.)

3-D Man, Triathlon, and Triplicate Girl, pencils and inks by comics artist MC Wyman

First, let’s introduce the players. The stony-faced gent at upper left is the 3-D Man, Technicolor hero of 1950s America. The smiling fellow in the center of the frame is Triathlon, fleet-footed member of the Avengers and later, recruit of the 50 States Initiative. The three identical women are the separated selves of Triplicate Girl, from the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The original 3-D Man was NASA test pilot Chuck Chandler, who, though a typically comic-booky sequence of events, found himself transformed by alien invaders into twin images embedded in the lenses of a pair of glasses worn by his younger brother Hal. (Hey, I said it was comic-booky, didn’t I?) When Hal donned the glasses and focused his concentration, Chuck would reassemble in three-dimensional form, with triple the strength, speed, and endurance of a man in his physical condition, and with the merged consciousness of both brothers, with Chuck’s mind predominant. Although the 3-D Man’s adventures took place in the 1950s — the heyday of 3-D movies — his first run of stories (scripted by veteran Marvel writer-editor Roy Thomas) actually appeared in 1977, in the pages of the anthology comic Marvel Premiere.

Twenty years after the Chandler brothers made their published debut, Marvel introduced another character with similar powers. Like the 3-D Man, Delroy Garrett — known in superhero guise as Triathlon — also possessed three times the abilities of a normal man. This similarity was no coincidence. Delroy’s powers came from a shadowy, quasi-religious organization called the Triune Understanding, which — unknown to Delroy — had stolen these powers from the 3-D Man. As Triathlon, Delroy served a hitch as a member of the Avengers, and years later participated in Marvel’s mega-events Civil War and Secret Invasion. By the time of the latter storyline, Delroy had become aware of the origins of his powers, and had adopted the name and costume of the 3-D Man, in which role he continues to this day.

Triplicate Girl — real name, Luornu Durgo — boasts a longer and more complex history than either of her male counterparts here. Luornu joined the 30th century Legion of Super-Heroes way back in Action Comics #276 (May 1961) as the first addition to that historic team (with founding members Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy). She has continued as a stalwart throughout the numerous permutations of the Legion between that day and this. During a key period, one of Luornu’s selves was killed in action, resulting in a recasting of her hero identity as Duo Damsel. In other Legion continuity reboots, she has also used the names Triad, Una, and Duplicate Damsel.

So, back to the original question: How many characters do you see? If you imagine that the 3-D Man you’re seeing is merely an image of Delroy “Triathlon” Garrett, you might say only two. If that 3-D Man is Chuck Chandler, then you’d say three… unless you consider that the original 3-D Man is, on some level, both Chuck and his brother Hal, in which case you might say four. But are Luornu Durgo’s separated selves one character, or three? Either answer is correct, depending on your point of view, as well as the particular Legion continuity you embrace.

You see? Schoolhouse Rock had it right. Three really is a magic number.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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