Comic Art Friday: Somebody scream!

You ever have one of those days when you just wanna scream?

Tyroc and Songbird have those all the time.

Tyroc and Songbird, pencils by comics artist Peter Vale

A hypersonic scream seems like such a bizarre superpower that it’s actually rather amazing how many comic book characters possess it. In addition to the subjects of the dazzling panel above — commissioned from the pencil of Brazilian artist Peter Vale, whose work has graced such series as Superman, She-Hulk, and X-Men Forever — I can think of several others off the top of my head: Banshee, Silver Banshee (no relation), Angar the Screamer, and at least one version of Black Canary.

Of course, Tyroc had ample reason to scream. The creation of writer Cary Bates and artist Mike Grell, Tyroc’s 1976 debut in Legion of Super-Heroes marked one of the earliest introductions of a black superhero into the DC Comics pantheon. Both Grell and longtime Legion scribe Jim Shooter had lobbied to add a black character to the Legion for several years previously, but DC’s notoriously conservative editorial staff had prevented them from doing so. When DC management finally greenlighted a Legionnaire of African descent, “they did it in the worst way possible,” according to Shooter. Tyroc was assigned a lame superpower, a code name straight out of a blaxploitation film, a racially insensitive origin (a descendant of a black isolationist sect, Tyroc carved a niche as the Marcus Garvey of comics), a stereotypical “angry black man” persona (his debut story was entitled “The Hero Who Hated the Legion”), and (courtesy of Grell, who designed it in protest of everything else he didn’t like about DC’s vision for the character) one of the most ludicrous costumes of the time period — “somewhere between Elvis’s Las Vegas costume and something you would imagine a pimp on the street corner wearing,” as Grell bluntly described it.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Tyroc’s tenure in the Legion proved relatively brief. He resurfaced only on rare occasion in the Legion’s periodic rebootings over the next several decades. Although I haven’t sampled the current version of the Legion, I understand that Tyroc is back as a full-fledged member. Hopefully, with a more competent tailor.

Songbird began her career on the wrong side of justice. Originally code-named Screaming Mimi, she debuted as a member of the Grapplers, a cadre of female wrestlers turned supervillains. Mimi and her cohorts battled Ben Grimm — a.k.a. The Thing — in a couple of fondly remembered issues of Marvel Two-in-One. After a subsequent stint in another team of criminals, the Masters of Evil, Mimi joined yet a third sinister enterprise, the Thunderbolts, and adopted her new fighting identity as Songbird. Over time, the Thunderbolts transitioned from bad guys to underground heroes, and they remain on the straight and narrow (more or less) to this day.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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