Archive for June 2013

Comic Art Friday: There’s no “I” in “Superteam”

June 28, 2013

I’ve commented a few times recently about the inventory I’m conducting. I’m roughly a third of the way through the process: Common Elements and the book dedicated to Supergirl art are completely done, as is the book in which I keep miscellaneous odd-sized pieces that don’t fit well into the 14″ x 17″ Itoya Profolios I use for storage. At the moment, I’m halfway into the Bombshells! theme group, and will probably work on the Wonder Woman portfolio next.

Two Fridays ago, we considered a piece I rediscovered as I delved through that miscellaneous stack. Here’s another I’d forgotten was in there.

Justice League preliminary pencil sketch by Barry Kitson

It’s a preliminary sketch by Barry Kitson, the British superstar who first made his mark in the UK on Judge Dredd. On this side of the Pond, Kitson’s pencils have elevated numerous properties for both major comics publishers, including noteworthy runs on Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man and The Order, and DC’s Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes, Batman: Shadow of the Bat, and Adventures of Superman.

When I bought this sketch a few years back — and still more recently, when I stumbled upon it again — I had no idea why Kitson had drawn it. Thanks to another collector who posts to Comic Art Fans, however, I now know that it was a preliminary study for a mini-poster Kitson created for the late, more-or-less-lamented Wizard Magazine to promote DC’s then-upcoming JLA: Year One series, which Barry penciled. I found this image of the finished piece online, so you can see how it turned out once fully penciled, inked, and colored.

JLA: Year One mini-poster by Barry Kitson, published in Wizard Magazine

I still don’t know who “Pete” is, to whom Kitson inscribed the prelim. Based only on the note, I’m guessing that “Pete” was a collector who bought some of Kitson’s JLA: Year One pages, and Kitson included the sketch as a bonus. Unfortunately, I didn’t record the identity of the person from whom I bought the piece, and given that I’ve slept several hundred times since then, I no longer remember. Somehow, I don’t think that person’s name was Pete, but I could be wrong.

On the other hand, I remember quite well why I wanted the item in the first place, aside from the obvious fact that I don’t own anything else by Barry Kitson. My favorite comic series have always been supergroup and team-up books. I always felt I was getting more for my money when multiple heroes and/or heroines appeared on the cover of a comic. Thus, I gravitated toward books offering that benefit.

Which leads me into a bit of Listology…

Uncle Swan’s Top 12 Favorite Superhero Teams of All Time

12. Metal Men. This unusual bunch consisted of six sentient robots invented by the brilliant scientist Will Magnus. Each robot was constructed primarily from a different chemical element, and manifested the unique properties of — and personality traits suggested by — his or her constituent metal. Gold, the team leader, was brave and noble, and could stretch his robot body into any imaginable shape. Iron was strong, both in physical power and in attitude. Lead was dense, literally and figuratively. Tin was weak and emotionally unstable. Mercury was — wait for it — mercurial. Platinum, usually called Tina, was a beautiful female robot with a passionate crush on her creator Dr. Magnus. (More recent reboots added a second female member, the sharp-tongued Copper.) The Metal Men’s adventures played as much for comedy as for drama, which was probably why I enjoyed them so much back in the day.

11. The Champions. Remember when you were a kid, and you had access to a self-service soda fountain? There was always the temptation to mix all the different flavors together in one cup, just to see what it tasted like. If you did that same thing with superheroes, you’d get the Champions. In the mid-1970s, Marvel writer Tony Isabella had the idea of putting together a bunch of second-tier characters who had nothing in common, just to see what would happen. Thus, we had Angel and Iceman from the original X-Men lineup, teamed with the demigod Hercules, the demonic motorcyclist Ghost Rider, and the Russian spy turned superheroine Black Widow. Yeah, that made no sense at all. And ultimately, it didn’t work — the Champions folded after just 17 issues. They were fun while they lasted, though.

10. New Warriors. Despite the name, there was never an “Old Warriors” or “Original Warriors” team. Which begs the question, Why not simply call this group “Warriors”? I dunno. Maybe they wanted to distinguish themselves from the street gang in Walter Hill’s classic movie, or from my favorite basketball team. And how long can you call yourselves “New Warriors” before you stop being “new”? Whatever the case, the New Warriors came together as a band of rebellious young heroes under the leadership of high-tech urban ninja Night Thrasher. Founding members included human rocket Nova, flame-wielding Firestar, aquatic Namorita, energetic Speedball, and Marvel Boy, who quickly realized how lame his code name sounded and started calling himself Justice instead. Today, the New Warriors are best known as the catalysts for Marvel’s epic Civil War crossover event.

9. Heroes for Hire. As is typical of Marvel’s superteams, the all-about-the-Benjamins Heroes for Hire have undergone more lineup changes than you can shake a no-prize at. Originally, the team consisted of Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man, and his martial artist pal Iron Fist. The Daughters of the Dragon — Misty Knight and Colleen Wing — often worked alongside the duo. Over the decades, the ever-shifting roster has mostly centered around Misty as de facto leader — sometimes in partnership with Colleen, but lately without — with support from a variety of morally ambiguous types, including most frequently the mercenary Paladin. Shang-Chi (Master of Kung Fu), the Black Cat, Silver Sable, and the Punisher are among the more prominent characters who’ve wandered onto and off the team at various times. Always an entertaining assemblage.

8. Suicide Squad. Similarly to Heroes for Hire, Suicide Squad has served as a focal point around which to gather some of DC’s more questionably heroic characters. As originally conceived, the Squad consisted mostly of former supervillains who agree to serve as covert government agents in exchange for clemency. At the head of the organization is the powerful and ambitious Amanda “The Wall” Waller, who manipulates the team to further her own shadowy objectives. In addition to out-and-out baddies as Deadshot and Captain Boomerang, the Squad also enlisted more typically heroic members, including Bronze Tiger, Nightshade, and Vixen. A noteworthy event in the Squad’s early history involved the death of its field leader, Rick Flag.

7. Legion of Super-Heroes. My comics-reading friends and I often referred to these far-future Superhero Scouts as “the Legion of Stupid Heroes,” for their propensity toward juvenile code names (male members were typically designated as “Boy,” “Lad,” or “Kid,” while females were “Girl,” “Lass,” or some similarly ridiculous feminine identifier) and ludicrous powers (illustrated most notoriously by Bouncing Boy, who was basically a human Spaldeen, and Matter-Eater Lad, who… well… I’m killing brain cells just thinking about him). But I loved the Legion in spite of their silliness, because their adventures were fun, their youthful enthusiasm and camaraderie were endearing, and you could tell that the writers didn’t take the whole business too seriously. Hey, remember that? When superheroes didn’t always have to be so depressingly serious? Man, I miss those days.

6. Justice League of America. DC’s all-star super-squad raised the bar for all who would follow their 1960 debut. I still like the expanded original lineup the best: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, the Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, plus early additions Green Arrow, Hawkman, and the Atom. Basically, all the major superhero food groups are covered right there. (Don’t get me started on the proliferation of random spinoffs — Justice League International, Justice League Detroit, Justice League Dark, Justice League of Their Own… okay, I made that last one up. But you get the idea.) The JLA always seemed a bit superfluous — if you have Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, do you really need any of the others? — and its stories worked best when the Triumvirate were marginalized or absent altogether. Still, I have to give them credit for being the first superteam of the Silver Age and beyond. Which brings us to the original superhero conglomerate…

5. Justice Society of America. From the day I first discovered the JSA, I liked them better than their modern-day counterparts. For one thing, the original constituent characters are just so weird and loopy in that retro sort of way that you can’t help but dig them. I mean, come on — Hourman? A superhero whose powers run out in an hour? Who advertises that weakness to every villain he faces by making it HIS NAME? How do you not love that guy? Put him alongside the Spectre (a reanimated corpse who loves killing people in bizarre ways), the Sandman (“I’ll put you to sleep with my gas gun!”), the original Atom (who had no powers at all, aside from a heavy-duty case of Short Man Syndrome), and Doctor Fate (basically, Mandrake the Magician with a cool helmet), and you’ve got a recipe for comic greatness. The JSA’s present-day incarnation, with its ginormous cast featuring such stalwarts as Power Girl and the current Mister Terrific alongside holdover founders such as the original Flash and Green Lantern Alan Scott, has been fun too.

4. The Defenders. Billed as Marvel’s “non-team,” the defenders started with an unbeatable three-star core: the Hulk, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Doctor Strange. The big three were soon joined by the cosmically powered Silver Surfer, plus a motley array of supporting players — most notably Valkyrie, Nighthawk, and Hellcat — who eventually came to dominate the stories. Unlike the aforementioned Champions, a cut-and-paste crew that never quite gelled, the Defenders’ nonsensical admixture of heroes pretty much always worked, even as the roster evolved to include such ill-fitting pieces as the Gargoyle and Damian Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. The former Justice League creative team of writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and artist Kevin Maguire reconvened the first four Defenders for a hilarious seriocomic miniseries in the mid-2000s.

3. X-Men. I still have a soft spot for the original roster: Angel, Cyclops, Beast (pre-blue fur), Iceman, and Marvel Girl (the not-yet-Phoenix Jean Grey), plus the wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier. The first tears I ever shed over a comic book came with “The Death of Professor X” in Uncanny X-Men #42 (March 1968). I remember how sad I was when Marvel relegated the team to reprint stories for several years in the early 1970s. However, I remember with equal vividness seeing the cover of Giant-Size X-Men #1 on the comic rack at Subic Bay Naval Base in 1975, and being introduced to the second-generation team starring Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and former villain Banshee alongside returnee Cyclops. The early issues of the revived run, written by Chris Claremont and drawn first by Dave Cockrum, then by John Byrne, remain among my favorite comics of all time. (I’ve enjoyed the various animated series and live-action films, too, though not as much as those amazing comics.)

2. The Fantastic Four. A squabbling family of superheroes — super-intelligent, emotionally distant dad; romantic but exasperated mom; brash kid brother; and gruff-but-lovable uncle — unlike anything that preceded them. The first comic book I can recall reading was a hand-me-down copy of Fantastic Four Annual #3. I was immediately addicted, as though the ink on the pages was suffused with crack cocaine. And it was the FF (quickly followed by Spider-Man) who sealed that addiction. They seemed so much like real people — unlike most heroes in juvenile fiction of the time, they fought and argued and teased and lovingly poked fun at each other, all while saving the world from galactic menaces. I wanted to be Reed Richards more than I wanted to be any other comic book hero until the arrival of the Black Panther: he was a super-genius with an insufferable ego and an answer for everything (hmm… know thyself?), who saddled himself with the lamest code name in comics (“Mister Fantastic”? Really?) and got stuck with the least useful superpower on the team.

1. The Avengers. For me, the Avengers really came to life once the founding lineup — Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man (who soon changed code names to the more impressive Giant-Man), and the Wasp, plus the Hulk, who took off after the first issue — dissolved. Captain America, thawed from his icy suspended animation in Avengers #4 and granted “founding member” status in the Hulk’s stead, was tasked with rebuilding the team from scratch, and made what seemed like incomprehensible choices for “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”: Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch, all reformed villains. The new mix of quirky, often conflicting personalities gave the stories more emotional heft. With the return of ex-Ant/Giant-Man Hank Pym (now called Goliath, and eventually Yellowjacket) and the Wasp, and the additions of Hercules, the android Vision (who married the Scarlet Witch) and the Black Panther, the Avengers developed into a premier team. The roster would change almost constantly from then on — I think practically every hero and heroine in the Marvel Universe has been an Avenger at some point or other — but the tradition was now firmly established.

And that, superteam members, is your Comic Art Friday.

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A is for Eighth (phonetically, anyway)

June 18, 2013

Until the 57th season of LearnedLeague concluded yesterday evening, it hadn’t occurred to me that I had completely neglected to update here, not only about the season just ended, but the outcome of the previous season as well. Permit me herewith to remedy these omissions.

In LL56 — my debut season as a LLama (that is, a member of LearnedLeague) — I managed to narrowly win my rookie Rundle (read: bracket) with a record of 21-3-1. By finishing in the top three, I earned advancement for the next season to a “B” level Rundle, the second highest division aside from Championship level. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that I had instead been bumped all the way up to Rundle A West, the top tier in my region. Apparently, a Rookie Rundle winner can qualify for a “battlefield promotion” to “A” level given an arcane combination of scoring and circumstances, and my first-season stats met the necessary criteria.

Thus, I was thrown into one of the toughest groupings in the entire League for LL57. To give you an idea of just how tough, this season’s A West competitors included at least six Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions veterans (including four of my colleagues from the Ultimate Tournament of Champions in 2005), a million-dollar winner from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, several high finishers in the World Quizzing Championships, and a guy who writes trivia questions for a living.

In a word… yikes.

Needless to say, I did not match sheer-beginner’s-luck success from the prior season. I spent most of the 25-game run languishing at or slightly below the middle of the pack — falling as far as 20th on Match Day 17 — before rallying to win my final three games to finish in 8th place. The last game of the season could easily have gone the other way, as my opponent and I both got four of the day’s six questions correct. I just happened to assign defensive points in a fortuitous (read: blindly lucky) manner, eking out a one-point victory. If I’d lost the match, I’d have ended up 14th. My final record: A far more down-to-earth 11-9-5.

Here were the questions from the concluding match of LL57.

  • Question 1: Give the last name of the man who was a pioneer in the development of sound effect techniques used in the production of motion pictures — and after whom the art of post-production sound effect creation is now named.
  • Question 2: Bob Wills and Milton Brown, with their bands The Lightcrust Doughboys, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, were pioneers in a musical style, a subgenre of country music, that is known today by what name? It was born in the Texas-Oklahoma region in the 1920s, was popularized in a second wave in California in the late 1940s, and reintroduced in the 1970s in bands such as Asleep at the Wheel.
  • Question 3: What was the name of the official proclamation, issued in April of 1598 by King Henry IV, which granted historic concessions to the Protestant Huguenots of France?
  • Question 4: Which is the only element in the halogen group on the periodic table which presents as a liquid at room temperature and pressure?
  • Question 5: Kaizen (“continuous improvement”), Genchi Genbutsu (“go and see yourself”), and Nemawashi (“laying behind-the-scenes groundwork”) are among the management principles first made famous by what manufacturer?
  • Question 6: What is the best-known and most critically acclaimed novel written in the English language centered on the subject of hebephilia (it’s fourth on Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century)?

Got your answers ready?

Are you sure?

Okay, then. Here come the correct responses.

Answer 1. As an actor, there’s no way I’d better miss this one. The talented people who create ambient sound effects in movies and television — everything from footsteps to rustling leaves and shattering glass — are known as Foley artists. FOLEY is the last name of the fellow who pioneered the art form. (For bonus points, his first name was Jack.)

Answer 2. I’d never heard of Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, much less the Lightcrust Doughboys. Heck, I might have thought the latter was the house band at the Pillsbury Bake-Off. I did, however, know that Bob Wills is considered the father of WESTERN SWING. (Hey, the fact that I detest country music doesn’t mean I’ve never heard of it. I nearly ran an entire category about Willie Nelson on Jeopardy! back in the day.)

Answer 3. I had no clue on this one. The minutiae of European history has never been my strongest suit. And apparently, there was no such item as the Magna Huguenota, which is the facetious answer I submitted. My opponent, on the other hand, scored three huge points for knowing all about the EDICT OF NANTES.

Answer 4. This is one of those little science factoids that pops up in trivia quizzes fairly frequently. BROMINE is the lone member of the halogen group that’s liquid at normal room temperatures and pressures. If you can remember the five halogens in periodic table order from top to bottom, it helps: the top two (chlorine and fluorine) are gasses, so they rise; the bottom two (iodine and astatine) are solids, so they sink; bromine is liquid, so it floats in the middle. If that gets you points at your next pub quiz night, you’re welcome.

Answer 5. I thought about this long and hard, and still muffed it. As soon as I submitted my answers, I remembered the movie Gung Ho, about a Japanese company that takes over a vacated automobile plant in the U.S. Had I flashed on that sooner, I might have gotten my brain around to TOYOTA. Or I might have said Nissan or Mitsubishi, and still been wrong. For the record, I put down Sony — that was the Most Common Wrong Answer, so at least I wasn’t alone.

Answer 6. It probably helps if you know that hebephilia is the sexual fetish for children at the age of pubescence (say, 11 to 14 years old — as distinguished from pedophilia, the fetish for prepubescent children, or ephebophilia, the fetish for postpuberty adolescents). It would also help if you’d been in my English literature class at San Francisco State, in which we studied Vladimir Nabokov’s LOLITA. Or maybe you just like The Police.

LearnedLeague Season 58 begins on August 19. I’ll be back in A West for that one.

Let’s hope I survive.

Comic Art Friday: Off the cliff

June 14, 2013

In last week’s Comic Art Friday post, I noted several theme commission collectors whose galleries continue to inspire my own efforts. With today’s featured artwork, I’m reaching back to one of the first theme collections of which I ever took serious notice.

Tesla Strong, pencils, inks, and markers by comics artist Phil Noto

Walt Parrish is revered in comic art collecting circles as “The Cliff Guy.” As you look at Phil Noto‘s drawing of Tesla Strong (daughter of Tom Strong, hero of Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse’s eponymous series for America’s Best Comics), which moved from Walt’s collection to mine about three years ago, you can appreciate where the nickname came from. Walt’s theme was “comics characters on a cliff.” That’s it — simple, elegant, evocative. His online galleries once held hundreds of artworks, from rough sketches to elaborately finished pieces, built around that concept.

Artists always seemed particularly inspired by the “Cliffs” theme, perhaps because it challenged them to come up with some unique way to depict a character on a cliff. So they played around with perspectives, angles, and poses. Characters stood on cliffs, fell off cliffs, dangled from cliffs, or even looked up at cliffs. Quite a number of the “Cliffs” drawings were intensely dramatic. Almost as many were humorous. All were unique.

About three years ago, Walt sold a large portion of his art collection. At the same time, he took down all the images from his “The Cliff Guy” website. His remaining galleries at Comic Art Fans, last updated in December 2010, showcase a smattering of pieces marked as “Art I Used to Have.” I don’t know whether Walt stopped collecting altogether, or if he merely decided to downsize his holdings and forgo a public presence for the remainder. I certainly don’t know his reasons for doing whatever he did, and it would be unfair for me to speculate.

All I know is, I miss the Cliffs.

I’m glad to own a reminder of Walt’s terrific theme. But I have to admit — it makes me more than a trifle sad to look at it, thinking of the once-inspiring collection whence it came.

Tesla seems sad, too.

At the moment, I’m engaged in a massive project: a comprehensive inventory and catalog of my comic art collection. It’s a ton of work, but it’s also been great fun, as I reconnect “up close and personal” with every single piece of art I own. I’m forced to recall how I acquired each item — both those I’ve commissioned, and the many others I’ve purchased that existed before they came my way — and the reasons for each acquisition. I’ve rediscovered a few pieces I’d completely forgotten that I owned — today’s feature being one example. I’ve certainly encountered some that made me question my judgment at the time of purchase. For the most part, I’ve experienced profound joy at seeing these creations again, at holding the paper in my hands and admiring each pencil line, pen mark, and brush stroke. The scans you see here never reveal the complete extent of the artist’s mastery. Only when observing the physical artwork directly can you truly drink in all of the magic.

Yet, with all of the laughter and wonder I draw from this exercise, there’s a darker undercurrent. I ask myself whether the day will come when these images no longer impart any pleasure to me, and I will find myself with endless stacks of paper that afford no value, tangible or intangible. Will there come a time when my galleries lie empty, save for a sorrowful sampling of “Art I Used to Have”?

I thought I might have reached that point three years ago, when KJ died. (For the benefit of any newcomers in the crowd, my first wife — referred to herein as KJ — passed away in 2010 at the far-too-young age of 44, following a 10-year battle with breast cancer.) To say that KJ tolerated my art collection is to understate the mystery that said collection — and my obsession with it — presented for her. Never having been a comics reader, she felt neither attraction nor attachment to images of fictional characters in outlandish costumes, and never really comprehended why I felt both. She certainly distressed at times over the fiscal investment that fueled my predilection. Yet, she graciously (or at the very least, mostly silently) went along as I filled ever-increasing numbers of portfolios and frames with superheroes and superheroines, with little more than a head shake and heavy sigh.

Amid the crushing, debilitating sadness that accompanied KJ’s final months, and the aftermath of her passing, I often asked myself whether she was right.

Indeed, I contemplated at more than one juncture selling off the entire lot that would sell, and destroying the rest in a bonfire. I thought perhaps that would be a fitting tribute, given her disdain for all of it. I could not see, at times, that even I would ever find happiness in these admittedly temporal, juvenile pictures again.

But eventually, the darkness parted.

And I stepped back from the cliff.

I have always been, and fear that I always will be, an insular creature. That I have lived so much in the fields of my own imagination stems largely from childhood circumstances that I’ll sketch in the briefest terms — I grew up an adoptive child, and an only child, in a family that moved constantly (my dad was career Air Force) and loved sparingly. Always a highly intelligent (I could show you the test scores) yet socially awkward kid, my closest friends were often the characters in fantasy novels and stories I read, in science fiction films and TV shows I watched — and especially, in my omnipresent comic books.

These heroes and heroines became an essential, inextricable component of my inner self. They gave the childhood and adolescent me the power to soar, to strive, to subdue, and to survive.

I’m an infinitely more complete person as an adult. These days, I read precious little fantasy literature, even comics. (Most comics being published today aren’t being written for me, anyway.) But the images in my comic art collection are like talismans, of times when I treasured the company of superheroes. I still see my would-be self in these characters. Just as I now see my daughter in, say, Tesla Strong.

These days, I just enjoy the pictures. I feel a tickle of nostalgic happiness when I look at every drawing in my collection, especially the ones I’ve commissioned. So I guess I’ll keep looking, at least for the time being.

Sure, I know they’re just fantasy. But also I remember all the times when they kept me off the cliff.

And to some extent, they still do. Even now.

Thanks, superheroes.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Do you feel lucky, punk?

June 7, 2013

As proud as I am of the way my primary commission theme, Common Elements, has evolved over the years, I still find myself looking at the themes of other collectors and thinking, “Man, I wish I had more stuff like THAT.”

Every time I browse the galleries of such theme commission powerhouses as these —

  • Michael Finn (who specializes in reimagining classic comics covers in a concept appropriately called “One Minute Later…”);
  • Brian Sagar (whose collection extrapolates upon his favorite comic series from the Bronze Age, Marvel Two-in-One);
  • Chris Caira (he of the wickedly inventive “Trophy Wall” theme);
  • And especially my good friend Damon Owens (best known in collecting circles for his commissions featuring The Brotherhood, a cross-publisher superteam of African-American heroes and heroines, Damon keeps creating new themes all the time, each one more eye-openingly clever than the last) —

I realize that my own efforts merely scrape the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Specifically, I marvel at how these other collectors pack so many characters into their commission projects. Most artists charge for commissions based on the number of figures they have to draw, which means that an artwork featuring multiple characters can get pricey in a jiffy. For that reason, more than 90% of my Common Elements projects feature only two characters, and most of the handful featuring three or more were drawn by artists who quoted a set page rate as opposed to a per-figure upcharge.

All of this means that when I get the opportunity to commission a Common Elements scenario with more than two heroes, I thank my lucky stars.

Speaking of lucky…

…”luck” is the theme for today’s featured artwork, rendered with painstaking detail by Brazilian artist Allan Goldman. (Be sure to click on the image below to get a closer look. Trust me — you really, really want to. This is one I wish I could invite you all over to see in person, because the scan just can’t show you every nuance.)

Lady Luck, Jack of Hearts, and Gambit, pencils by comics artist Allan Goldman

From left to right, that’s…

Lady Luck. Created in 1940 by the legendary Will Eisner (The Spirit), Lady Luck was one of the earliest costumed heroines to headline her own comics feature.

Jack of Hearts. The brainchild of writer Bill Mantlo and artist Keith Giffen, the half-human, half-alien Jack has appeared mostly as a secondary character in the Marvel Universe since the mid-1970s.

Gambit. Familiar as a member of the X-Men, the sweet-talking, staff-wielding Cajun Remy LeBeau has the power to imbue objects with kinetic energy — most frequently, the playing cards he uses as throwing weapons.

What I love most about Common Elements — aside, of course, from the incredible images these concepts evoke from the artists who draw them — is the fact that every Common Elements scenario implies a story that in most cases would never be told in an actual comic. Because the heroes featured in a given scene are often the intellectual property of competing comics publishers — and sometimes, of comics publishers that no longer exist, as in the case of Lady Luck — there’s no way these characters would ever come together, outside of this theme.

Part of the fun is imagining what menace would unite this specific combination. In the piece we’re looking at today, for instance, why might this rooftop meeting take place? What foe might either Lady Luck, Jack of Hearts, and Gambit be confronting that would cause one of them to reach out to the other two and say, “We need to talk”? What challenge might require these three unusual and varied skillsets, and specifically, why these? And who is the implied fourth person who’s just entered the scene, from whose point of view we’re observing?

I have my own thoughts about the answers to the above questions. Allan Goldman had his, as he was conceiving and drawing the piece. You likely have yours as well. All of these thoughts are probably very different. Each of us is making up our own individual, personal, unique story as we go.

Isn’t that awesome?

That’s the hidden beauty of Common Elements. It’s one reason why my answer to Dirty Harry Callahan’s infamous query is, “Why, yes… yes, I do.”

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.