Archive for May 2011

Comic Art Friday: Command(ette) performance

May 20, 2011

It’s been quite some time since I’ve featured an image from my Bombshells! collection, so let’s rectify that omission today, shall we?

For the newbies in the crowd, Bombshells! is my commission theme featuring pinups modeled after vintage bomber nose art, only with comics heroines from the classic period instead of bathing beauties. For a heroine to qualify for inclusion among my Bombshells!, she must have made her first appearance in a comic published before 1960. (Why? Because it’s my gallery, so my rules. That’s why.)

Today’s Bombshell! not only made her debut well before 1960, that debut (in Star-Studded Comics #1, dated 1945) was — so far as I can determine — her one and only appearance.

Meet Commandette, the Female Commando.

Commandette, pencils and inks by comics artist Mike DeCarlo

From her single adventure, we learn that Commandette is, in real life, a Hollywood stuntwoman named Betty Babble (hey, I don’t make this stuff up…), with no paranormal powers to speak of. Stuntmen and stuntwomen were common secret identities for comics heroes and heroines in the Golden Age, which makes sense. Movie stunt workers are athletic, physically skilled (for example, Ms. Babble is an expert in jiu jitsu), given to laboring in anonymity, and accustomed to pain — all solid prerequisites for practitioners of costumed derring-do.

Now, I’m not entirely certain how a white dress, a cape, pumps, and a befeathered Robin Hood hat suggest “female commando.” (Unless maybe she’s not wearing underwear underneath. In which case, one would have to question the wisdom of the short skirt.) Then again, comic book creators concerned themselves far less with passing the credulity sniff test back in the Golden Age.

Veteran artist Mike DeCarlo did a bang-up job bringing Commandette back to life. Mike’s clean, retro-modern style makes him an excellent fit for Bombshell! duty.

Speaking of female commandos, The Daughter graduates from university this weekend, with a four-year degree in criminal justice. Given the obstacles she’s had to overcome during her collegiate career — including the loss of both her mother and her grandfather within less than a year — the academic success she’s had seems all the more superhuman. I don’t know whether she’ll put her studies toward actual crimefighting, but if she decides to do so… I pity the underworld. Congratulations, Supergirl!

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: Preying M.A.N.T.I.S.

May 13, 2011

Once upon a time — after he’d found fame as a horrormeister by way of his Evil Dead franchise, but before he’d earned megamillion box office as the director of the Spider-Man trilogy — Sam Raimi produced a series for FOX Television, called M.A.N.T.I.S.

M.A.N.T.I.S. and Mantis, pencils and inks by comics artist Darryl Banks

Carl Lumbly starred as paraplegic scientist Dr. Miles Hawkins, who invented an exoskeleton that not only restored his ability to walk, but also provided him superhuman strength and other abilities. This being popular media, Miles did what anyone who invented an exoskeleton like that would do — he became a superhero. With support from his friend and colleague, John Stonebrake (played by the sublime Roger Rees), Miles donned his M.A.N.T.I.S. suit (the acronym stood for “Mechanically Augmented Neuro-Transmitter Interception System,” and you totally understand what that means), flew off in his armored hovercraft, the Chrysalid — because, once you’ve invented a superpowered exoskeleton, a flying battle wagon is the next logical step — and went mano a mano with the forces of evil.

Although, so far as I’m aware, M.A.N.T.I.S. was never licensed for a comic book, the character does possess a comic book connection beyond his obvious superhero origins. Comics artist Denys Cowan — best known for his work on such series as DC’s The Question and Marvel’s Power Man and Iron Fist, as well as for being one of the cofounders of Milestone Media — designed the M.A.N.T.I.S. costume.

M.A.N.T.I.S. was an intriguing series for a number of reasons. It represented one of the relatively few opportunities in mainstream media for a black superhero to headline his own property. (Anyone remember Marvel’s abortive Black Panther animation project? Yeah, that’s what I thought.) M.A.N.T.I.S. was also one of a handful of TV series that ended with the death of its protagonist. (The only other one that comes immediately to mind is Nichols, a short-lived Western starring James Garner, in which the title character gets gunned down in the final episode, only to have his identical twin brother — also played by Garner — arrive on the scene at the conclusion to avenge his sibling’s murder. You know… just in case the network changed its mind about that whole cancellation thing.)

Like many TV shows, M.A.N.T.I.S. changed radically between its original pilot concept to the series version. In the pilot movie — which still pops up now and again on independent TV stations — M.A.N.T.I.S. had a gritter, more realistic tone, and almost the entire cast was African-American. When greenlighting the series, FOX ordered Raimi to lighten up the show both figuratively (it went from a dark, urban crime drama to focusing more on the science fictional elements) and literally (several Caucasian actors, including Rees, were added to the supporting cast). The resulting show remained fun and entertaining, but wasn’t nearly as fresh or original as Raimi’s initial vision. Then again, this is FOX we’re talking about — not an organization renowned for its embrace of diversity.

Sadly, M.A.N.T.I.S. lasted only a single season, and is largely forgotten today. Fortunately for us, one of the other people who recalls the show as vividly and as fondly as I do — perhaps the only other such person — is artist Darryl (Green Lantern, Doc Savage) Banks, who lit up when I proposed using M.A.N.T.I.S. in a Common Elements scenario. Darryl and I combed the Internet for reference images of Dr. Miles Hawkins’s costume (no easy task), which Darryl has painstakingly recreated here. I don’t know whether this is the first comic art commission ever to feature M.A.N.T.I.S., but it’s the first I’ve seen.

Dr. Hawkins’s companion here is no stranger to Comic Art Fridays, or to my Common Elements theme. The barefoot Avenger known only as Mantis (no periods, please) previously appeared in the series alongside Gypsy of the Justice League, in an artwork created by Robb Phipps. “This One” is glad to welcome her back for a return engagement.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Common Elements turns 100… with a story

May 6, 2011

I believe it was Rod Stewart who once said, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?”

Rod’s tenuous grasp on English grammar aside, he has a point. Every picture does indeed tell a story, especially in the realm of comic art. And often, the story being told isn’t in the picture itself. That’s the case with today’s featured artwork. (Be sure to click the image below, and get a closer look.) This superlative creation marks a significant milestone in my comic art collection: It’s the 100th entry in my Common Elements theme.*

But that isn’t the real story.

Ghost Rider and Batgirl, pencils and inks by comics artists Bob Budiansky

Back in September 2008, I received an e-mail from Dave Simons, a veteran comic book artist who worked most notably for Marvel, but also found his way into various DC and Disney comics. Dave had seen my Common Elements galleries on Comic Art Fans, and proposed an addition to the theme that would feature Ghost Rider, the character with whom he was most closely associated. I told Dave that my art budget was low at that juncture (I actually used the phrase “tapped out”), but that I would gladly consider him for a future project.

In February of the following year, I became aware, as did many other comics fans, that Dave was in perilously ill health due to cancer. I also learned that Dave, like many freelance creative professionals, had no health insurance, and was experiencing difficulty in paying for the medical care he needed. Recalling our earlier correspondence, I contacted Dave and asked whether he would be interested in drawing the Common Elements commission we had talked about months before. He was indeed interested, and we quickly came to an arrangement for him to draw a piece pitting Ghost Rider against the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, in a motorcycle race.

Dave — an avid motorcycle enthusiast in real life — immediately went to work, searching the Internet for reference images he could use to draft Batgirl’s custom bike. After conferring with me, he decided to use a design based on the cycle ridden by actress Yvonne Craig in the 1960s Batman TV series.

Sad to tell, Dave’s cancer took a serious turn almost simultaneously with our renewed correspondence. The news that filtered out from people close to Dave over the next several weeks grew increasingly grim. For a brief period that April, it seemed that Dave had turned a corner somewhat. The improvement didn’t last.

On June 9, 2009, Dave Simons passed away at the age of 54.

From the day of Dave’s death, I knew that in time, I would commission another artist to complete the work that Dave had barely begun. The perfect opportunity surfaced more than a year later, when I received a note from art representative Jeff Jaworski announcing that Bob Budiansky was available for commissions. Recalling that Dave Simons had inked Bob’s pencils on a fondly remembered run of Ghost Rider issues, I immediately contacted Jeff to ask whether Bob would like the opportunity to take over Dave’s uncompleted commission. A series of e-mails between Jeff, Bob, and me sealed the deal, and Bob set to work.

Bob decided — with my complete agreement — to start the artwork from scratch, rather than attempting to recreate Dave’s original concept. Bob noted that a recent vacation trip had taken him through the Vermillion Cliffs of southern Utah, and he chose to use that dramatic setting as the backdrop for his drawing. Bob also elected to use a more modern style of motorcycle for Batgirl than the ’60s-vintage vehicle Dave intended as his model.

When I saw Bob’s completed artwork, the first thought that came to my mind was, “I’ll bet Dave Simons would have loved this.” Bob Budiansky loves it, too — he confessed in an e-mail that of all the commissions he’s done in recent years, he’s the most pleased with this one. As well he should be.

For my part, I can’t envision a more powerful image — or a more powerful story — with which my Common Elements theme could reach the century mark.

Thanks to the prodigiously talented Bob Budiansky for an incredible creation, and to his art rep Jeff Jaworski, who kept me regularly informed of Bob’s progress as the project took shape.

Thanks also to the late, great Dave Simons, who started it all. I’ll always be a little sad that Dave never had the chance to complete his drawing, but in his absence, Bob pulled off a stunner that would be tough for any artist to match.

Oh, one more thing… I hate cancer. I’ve said that before in this space, but it bears repeating.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

*To clarify, this isn’t the 100th piece I commissioned for Common Elements. It’s actually the 92nd in commission order — and the original commission (see the above story) was issued well before that. But it’s the 100th Common Elements artwork to be completed and delivered by the pencil artist.