Archive for March 2012

Comic Art Friday: Children of the atom

March 23, 2012

I’ll get to the subject at hand momentarily, but first, I’m going to vent just a tad. (If you wish to avoid my angst-ridden screed, feel welcome to scroll down to the big picture, and start reading beneath it.)

Usually, around this time of year, I spend a joyous and fun-filled weekend at WonderCon, here in San Francisco. As many of you know, Comic-Con International — presenters of both WonderCon and the industry’s biggest annual event, San Diego Comic-Con — moved WonderCon 2012 from the Moscone Center (which is currently undergoing renovation) to Anaheim Convention Center, 400 miles to the south. I have been vocal, both online and in person among my comics-aficionado associates, in contending that this move was (a) unnecessary, as there are other facilities in the Bay Area to which WonderCon could have been relocated for one year; and (b) permanent, because the real reason CCI moved the con to Anaheim in the first place is to get the event into a larger, more lucrative media market — especially one closer to the hub of the motion picture/television/video gaming industry, toward which CCI’s events have become increasingly geared.

I’ve told anyone who’d listen over the past several months since the move was announced that I believe CCI will keep WonderCon in SoCal from here on out. I’ve heard nothing from CCI’s leadership that contradicts that view. In fact, the rather vague assertions of CCI’s spokespeople to the effect that, “Well, we’d like to keep WonderCon in San Francisco, but gee, we don’t know what’s going to happen…” have only served to reinforce my perspective.

So, earlier this week, when the popular comics news blog The Beat published its latest article promoting the CCI party line, I dropped in the following comment:

Believe the misdirection ploy (“It’s everyone else’s fault”) if you choose. The bottom line is that this is about money, pure and simple. [CCI head David] Glanzer and his crew think there’s more money in relocating WonderCon to SoCal. Every other excuse is a canard.

Maybe they’re right. But SoCal already has SDCC. Now, thanks to abject greed, it has our Bay Area con, too.

If Glanzer was sincere about keeping WonderCon in the Bay Area, there were and are several alternatives.

And, if he were sincere now, all it would take is an unequivocal statement: “WonderCon will be held in the Bay Area in 2013, and in the foreseeable future. If the Moscone Center doesn’t work out, we’ll stage it at another Bay Area venue. Period. End of conversation.”

But he won’t. He’s too busy counting those SoCal dollars.

I guess the thousands I’ve spent at WonderCon over the years — along with the millions spent by countless other Bay Area and Northern California fans — just don’t smell as sweet.

Having apparently offended the delicate sensibilities of The Beat‘s editor-in-chief, Heidi MacDonald, I was promptly placed on moderation and told that my comments were “insulting.” Never mind, of course, whether they’re accurate.

I recognize that CCI is a major advertiser on The Beat — you can’t go to the site without seeing a huge banner ad for CCI’s upcoming events. So, I understand that Heidi’s simply protecting that revenue stream, as well as her sources for information and stories from within the CCI organization. I totally get it.

But if you still think this isn’t about money, take note of what happens when you try to speak truth to power.

Now that I have that out of my system, let’s look at today’s featured artwork, shall we?

Atom Eve and Doctor Solar, pencils and inks by comics artist Carlo Barberi

When we think of comics today — to be more narrowly specific, superhero comics — we’re often thinking in terms of the Big Two publishers of such fare: Marvel Comics (now an arm of the Walt Disney Company) and DC Comics (owned for the past few decades by Warner Bros., a division of Time Warner). Several other entities — including Image, Dark Horse, and Dynamic Entertainment — also put out superhero and related science fiction and fantasy comics, but with a far smaller footprint in the marketplace.

Although DC and Marvel have dominated the field since the early 1960s (both companies, of course, trace their histories back much further in time than that, all the way to the late 1930s), they’ve always had competitors, even as they do at present. In fact, when I was a comics-reading kid in the mid-to-late 1960s, I regularly picked up books published by Charlton, Tower, Dell, and Western Publishing (which issued its comics under the Gold Key imprint), among others. All of these minor (relatively speaking) players have faded from the scene over time, but many of their characters live on in the memories of fans — and occasionally, in licensed revivals by publishers active in the business today.

Which brings us to Doctor Solar. (That’s him sporting the wicked-looking visor in the drawing above. Credit the talented Carlo Barberi with the pencils and inks.)

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, first published in 1962, was one of Western/Gold Key’s more successful superhero ventures. Its lead character, Dr. Raymond Solar (a name born for superhero-dom), was a nuclear physicist who gained his superpowers from a reactor meltdown. (Radiation-spawned abilities were all the rage in the early 1960s — see Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk, to name but a few.) The newly irradiated Solar could transform himself into all kinds of energy at will, as well as fly, teleport, and generate powerful energy bursts. All of which made him a formidable opponent, as you might imagine. Oddly enough, considering his name, Doctor Solar’s powers had nothing to do with the sun, which doubtless led to the clarifying subtitle “Man of the Atom.”

Solar’s adventures ran in his own comic until 1969, right about the time Gold Key was beginning to phase itself out of the original action-adventure genre (most of the company’s output was licensed comics based on TV series and cartoons). In the 1990s, Jim Shooter’s upstart Valiant Comics picked up the character and revamped him — the good doctor’s true identity was now Phil Seleski, and he demonstrated significantly enhanced power over the previous iteration (the new Solar could travel through time, and was apparently immortal) — for a run that lasted about as long as Valiant itself… which is to say, not all that long. Valiant’s successor, Acclaim Comics, continued the feature. Finally, Dark Horse brought back Doctor Solar for another brief run just a few years ago. Who knows? He may pop up yet again, given time.

Accompanying the Man of the Atom in this Common Elements tableau is Atom Eve, the on-again, off-again girlfriend of the teenage superhero Invincible. Created by writer Robert Kirkman — perhaps best known as the auteur responsible for The Walking Dead — and original Invincible penciler Cory Walker, Samantha Eve Wilkins possesses the power to manipulate matter at the atomic level, which basically means she can change anything into anything else. (Her powers don’t work on living creatures, though, so the people around Eve are safe from being transmogrified into toads or furniture.) She can also use her abilities to alter the density of the air around her, enabling her to fly.

If you’re not already familiar with Invincible, I recommend it as one of the more enjoyable reads in present-day comics. It also features one of the few successful superhero universes outside of the Big Two. Kirkman has been cranking out Invincible on a more or less regular basis since 2003 — artist Ryan Ottley (who frequently signs his work “Wya,” infant-speak for “Ryan”) having replaced Walker eight issues into the run — and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Although the series occasionally overindulges in graphic violence (what do you expect from the Walking Dead guy?), at its core Invincible retains a good deal of the rollicking fun that characterized Silver Age Marvel, albeit with a razor-sharp modern sensibility. If the Big Two’s product isn’t floating your boat these days, or even if you’re just looking for something a little fresher and hipper in your superhero reading, give Invincible a try.

That’s a totally free recommendation, by the way. My opinion is never for sale to the highest bidder.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Ty and Tandy, sitting in a tree

March 2, 2012

Somehow, when I posted the art I picked up at WonderCon last spring, I absent-mindedly missed a piece. (What can I say? Senior moment.)

Well… better late than never.

Cloak and Dagger, marker sketch by comics artist Ian D. Walker

This nifty sketch (and yes, I am old enough to still say “nifty”) of Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger came my way courtesy of Ian D. Walker, a talented local artist whose work was unknown to me before this drawing caught my attention. I have no idea what the D. in Ian D. Walker stands for, but I’m thinking it might be “Darned good.”

Cloak and Dagger first showed up in a Spider-Man story in the early 1980s (Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #64, March 1982, to be precise). Originally, Ty Johnson and Tandy Bowen were just a couple of teenage runaways from opposite sides of the tracks, until forced injections of a synthetic opiate unleashed their superhuman powers. Ty became Cloak, who can create an opening into a “dark dimension” — an opening through which he can teleport himself and his allies, or banish his enemies. Tandy became Dagger, who generates (wait for it…) daggers made of luminous energy. As representatives of darkness and light respectively, Cloak and Dagger enjoy a symbiotic relationship — Tandy’s ability to create light feeds Ty’s craving for it.

As superhero teams go, Cloak and Dagger have always been an intriguing one, even though Marvel’s repeated efforts to kick them up to a higher profile have mostly been met with underwhelming enthusiasm on the part of the comics-buying public. A couple of years ago, Marvel announced that a Cloak and Dagger TV series was being developed for the ABC Family cable channel, but so far, nothing tangible (pun intended) has come of that.

In the meantime, there’s a Common Elements commission in the works featuring the duo. You’ll see it in a future post here, once it’s ready for public view.

For now, that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Oh, wait… one more thing.

Ian D. Walker with Cloak and Dagger sketch, at WonderCon 2011

If you check out Ian Walker’s website (not-so-subtle hint) and you like his work, shoot him a line and order up a commission. I’m sure Ian would be delighted to hook you up with some funk of your own. (You can tell him your Uncle Swan sent you.)