Comic Art Friday: Raiders of the lost archaeology

And… we’re back.

Sorry about the dearth of activity for the last little while. The Pirate Queen and I jetted off Down Under from late March into mid-April for an extended tour of Australia and New Zealand. As we chat, I’m pulling together my notes and photographs for a series of posts showcasing the highlights of the trip. Check back here next week for the first fun-filled romp.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Comic Art Friday.

Lara Croft and Hawkgirl, pencils by comics artist Drew Edward Johnson

Longtime readers know that I keep lengthy lists of potential concepts for my two signature commission themes, Common Elements and Bombshells! That way, when the opportunity to commission an artist presents itself, I have several ideas ready to roll. I also keep a “wish list” of artists whose availability I monitor, in hope that I might jump on the chance to add their talents to my theme galleries.

I love it when the cosmos aligns, and the two lists intersect.

Drew Edward Johnson found his way onto my radar as one of a handful of artists who’ve been regulars on both of my favorite DC headline heroines, Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Drew’s commission list had been closed for some time, so when he began taking assignments again, I couldn’t wait to get on his list. I had the perfect Common Elements scenario in mind: a pairing of two of comics’ greatest archaeologists — Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, and Shiera Hall, the Silver Age version of Hawkgirl (or Hawkwoman, if you prefer… more on that in a moment).

Lara Croft is familiar to most as the lead character from the Tomb Raider video game franchise, as well as a pair of live-action feature films starring Angelina Jolie in the title role. Lara, however, has also enjoyed a successful history as a comic book heroine. She starred in a monthly series published by Top Cow Productions from 1999 to 2005, as well as several miniseries and one-shot specials during that period. Most of these comics presented Lara in different storylines from either the video games or films. (Drew Johnson was one of the pencil artists on Tomb Raider: Journeys, a 12-issue limited series that began in 2001.)

Although Lara began life as little more than a distaff Indiana Jones knockoff, I find that her comics capers have developed her into a vital, unique, and compelling character — a tough, resourceful, and brilliant scientist-adventurer who fearlessly engages any foe. Most of the writers who’ve scripted her books have attempted to give her a quirky British sensibility, which provides an interesting texture. Much is made of Lara’s appearance — she’s an attractive, athletic woman, usually drawn with a prominent bustline — but in the main, her stories in the comics don’t focus on exploitation. I think she’s a terrific heroine, one who’d make a great lead for a weekly TV series.

Hawkgirl suffers from the same insanely convoluted continuity that has plagued Hawkman, her frequent partner in life and combat, over the decades. In fact, it’s more accurate to speak about Hawkgirl in the plural than in the singular, because there have been several versions (often conflicting in origin, backstory, and name) since the character debuted in 1940. At times, she’s been presented as Shiera Hall, a reincarnated princess/goddess from ancient Egypt; at others, she’s been Shayera Hol, a police officer from the planet Thanagar; in still other versions, she’s been Kendra Saunders, a tormented young woman possessed by the spirit of a previous Hawkgirl. Umm… yeah. I won’t even attempt to untangle all of that twisted history in this space.

In recent years, Hawkgirl underwent yet another revision, this time as a member of the Justice League of America as shown in the animated TV series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Her television persona possessed organic wings — historically, Hawkgirl’s wings have generally been explained as prosthetics, fashioned from the mysterious Nth Metal — and developed a complex, realistic romantic relationship with Green Lantern John Stewart. In my opinion, this Hawkgirl combined the best elements of the character’s potential, allowing her to flourish as an independent entity freed of her status as Hawkman’s significant other and sidekick.

Back to our earlier point: Depending on which iteration of the female Hawk we’re discussing, the character has employed both Hawkgirl and Hawkwoman as her code name at various times. Throughout most of her history, however, she’s been Hawkgirl — which, sexism aside, does roll more trippingly off the tongue. Since Hawkgirl is her most familiar nom de guerre, and the one most fans would associate with the uniform she wears here, that’s what we’ve used. I hope this doesn’t cost me decades of feminist street cred.

Uniting these two heroines is, for me, a chance to extol the virtues of the multidimensional superheroine. Neither Lara Croft or Hawkgirl is just a hot chick in abbreviated attire. They’re scientific explorers with expertise in an academically rigorous field. I believe it’s important that we have female role models in our culture who embrace a broad array of skills and disciplines. Young girls need to see that women can be smart and talented, and not mere eye candy. If heroes are crack shots and expert fighters, why not have heroines — such as Lara Croft — who can outshoot and outfight the best of them? And if a hero can swing a medieval mace, why can’t a heroine — a heroine who also can explain the historical significance and context of that weapon? If there’s an Indiana Jones, there ought to be a Lara Croft. If there’s a Justice League, there ought to be a Hawkgirl (okay, okay… Hawkwoman) in it.

As for the argument, “But do they have to be gorgeous?” well, that’s how we like our heroes, regardless of gender. There’s a reason why Harrison Ford nabbed the Indiana Jones role (which was originally intended for Tom Selleck, by the way; he couldn’t get out of his Magnum P.I. contract fast enough to make Raiders of the Lost Ark) and, say, Steve Buscemi or Rick Moranis didn’t. If masculine heroism is going to be typified by Harrison Ford, it’s hard to say that the ladies shouldn’t be represented by the likes of Angelina Jolie.

For this commission, Drew Johnson decided to create a look for Lara Croft that differs from her classic image — no braid, no sunglasses, no cargo shorts — yet keeps her clearly identifiable. I like Drew’s approach a great deal — retrospective yet sleekly modern, and beautifully heroic. I also appreciate that he gives her a more naturally athletic frame, without the exaggerated proportions (read: mammary appendages) that people sometimes associate with Ms. Croft. Together, we decided to use Hawkgirl’s Silver Age costume — both of us favored that particular look among the multiple designs she’s worn during her decades-spanning tenure.

The scenario portrayed here, incidentally, is all Drew — with a single exception that he revealed on his blog. After he originally sketched the layout, Drew showed his rough draft to his studio mate, Chris Moreno. Chris thought Drew’s first take on Hawkgirl felt a mite too static, so he suggested a different pose. Drew liked Chris’s retooling, and used the alternate Hawkgirl positioning in his final pencils. Nothing like a little collaboration between two titanic talents.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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