Archive for June 2016

Comic Art Friday: Even an android can fly

June 17, 2016

Listing all of the comic book stories that left a lasting impression on the nascent Uncle Swan would prove an impossible task. But one of the tales from my youth that I recall most vividly, and that still resonates with me today, nearly half a century later, is the two-part introduction of the Vision in Avengers #57-58 (October-November 1968).

Part of that resonance is the iconic cover image from Avengers #57, drawn by the legendary John Buscema:

Avengers #57 (October 1968), cover art by John Buscema

Another part is this equally iconic image that concludes Avengers #58, as the android Vision sheds tears of humble joy at being welcomed into membership among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes:

From Avengers #58 (November 1968), art by John Buscema and George Roussos

Mostly, I think, the Vision appealed to me because here was a character whose identity was defined by his alienness. As a young person, I always felt “different.” Being biracial, I looked different from other kids, no matter what group of classmates I found myself in. (Even though my adoptive parents withheld the nature of my genetic heritage from me for many years, I always knew there had to be a reason for my ethnically ambiguous appearance.) Because I was usually — all right, pretty much always — the most intelligent kid in every class, I was often regarded as a curiosity by fellow students and teachers alike. Plus, my most obsessive interests were subjects of niche appeal — comics, for example.

The synthetic being Vision embodied all of those weirdnesses I felt. He looked, spoke, and even thought differently from his Avengers counterparts. He struggled to find acceptance among other heroes who couldn’t totally grok him — not necessarily because the other Avengers didn’t accept him, but more because he could never quite accept himself as one of them. When, some time later, he embarked upon a romantic connection with Wanda Maximoff — the superheroine known as the Scarlet Witch — their affair served as a metaphor for every loving relationship that challenged then-existing societal norms, whether interracial, interfaith, or gay/lesbian/queer.

I related to the Vision. Man, did I relate.

All of those thoughts flooded back to me as I welcomed the Vision, at long last, into the annals of my Common Elements theme. Michael L. Peters, an artist with a style as unique as the Vision himself, depicts the ethereal Avenger in an encounter with comics’ other well-known android superhero, Red Tornado.

Vision and Red Tornado, pencils and inks by Michael L. Peters

Michael’s previous Common Elements entry, featuring Adam Strange and the Rocketeer, hung for many years in the living room at the old Casa de Swan. I have no earthly idea why it took more than a decade for me to commission another piece from him, but I’m certain that the next one won’t be quite that long in the making. (If you dig Michael’s work, he’s always accepting commissions. You’ll find all the details at his website.)

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: Uncaged in Vegas

June 10, 2016

If you know me well at all, then you know this: I loves me some Las Vegas.

Which might seem a trifle odd if you do indeed know me, because then you also know that I’m not much of a gambler (I enjoy playing poker and blackjack, but I enjoy them as games, not as vehicles for fiscal risk-taking) and I’m definitely not a partier (in any sense of the word), while Vegas is more or less the universal nexus for both activities. But I am a huge fan of over-the-top glitz and kitsch, particularly when it comes to decor and architecture (we should discuss my googie obsession sometime), and Vegas is the universal nexus for all of that as well.

It’s also one of the greatest people-observing venues on the planet. Every time I go to Las Vegas, I see something I’ve never seen before and would never have thought I’d see. That’s not always a good thing, but it’s usually interesting.

Interesting also is this Vegas-themed Common Elements commission by veteran comics artist Larry Stroman, who has illustrated such series as Marvel’s Alien Legion and X-Men.

Luke Cage, Power Man and Ghost Rider, pencils and inks by Larry Stroman

The idea for a Sin City setting for this piece came from Larry’s art representative, Jerry Livengood at Serendipity Art Sales. Jerry’s suggestion made perfect sense, given that the connection between our heroes, Luke Cage and Ghost Rider, is the actor Nicolas Cage, who famously chose his professional surname in honor of the comics’ Power Man, and also portrayed a version of Ghost Rider in two (execrable, in this critic’s opinion) films. Cage also starred in a pair of movies with “Vegas” in their titles: the cult comedy Honeymoon in Vegas (fondly remembered for its sequence involving skydiving Elvis Presley impersonators) and Leaving Las Vegas, the 1995 drama for which Cage won the Best Actor Oscar. (My fingers feel all weird typing “Cage” and “Best Actor Oscar” in the same sentence. But you can look it up.)

Cage and Ghost Rider each makes his second Common Elements appearance here. I’m a little bit surprised, frankly, to see that Cage hasn’t shown up in the series more often, given that he was a favorite of mine during my comics-reading youth. In fact, I can vividly recall the first time I saw him, in the summer of 1972. My family had stopped in the midst of a cross-country journey — we had just returned from two years in Greece, and were on our way to California — to visit relatives in Kokomo, Indiana. On a trip to the grocery store, I paused — as was my wont — to check out the spinner rack where the comic books resided. And there, resplendent in his open-chested yellow shirt and chain-link belt, was the man himself, on the cover of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1. I had never seen a black superhero with his own self-titled comic before. (Marvel was still a year away from installing the Black Panther as lead feature in Jungle Action, which even then was not quite the same thing. Because… Jungle Action? Seriously?)

These days, Luke Cage has burst out into the cultural mainstream, courtesy of his co-starring role in Marvel’s hit Netflix series, Jessica Jones. Played by actor Mike Colter, Cage made a powerful impression as Jessica’s off-and-on love interest and fellow crimebuster. Colter will again assume the role in Cage’s upcoming eponymous series this fall, as well as 2017’s The Defenders, which will band together all of Marvel’s Netflix stars — Cage, Jessica, Daredevil, and the yet-to-be-seen Iron Fist.

I don’t know whether there’s ever been a comics storyline in which Cage took on Bright Light City. But if there hasn’t, doggone it, someone needs to write that.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday. Viva Las Vegas!

Comic Art Friday: Sisters are doin’ it for themselves

June 3, 2016

The tricky part of developing my Common Elements themed commissions is rarely the concepts themselves. My brain just naturally takes the bizarre twists and turns that uncovers previously unseen linkages between otherwise unconnected comic book characters.

No, the difficulty often lies in finding the right artist for each concept — particularly when the concept screams out for an artist of specific style, or personal background.

Take today’s featured artwork. I came up with the idea of bringing these three ladies together several years ago. Let’s introduce them, from left to right:

Gogo Yubari, Nico Minoru, and Vixen, pencils by Adriana Melo

Gogo Yubari, the schoolgirl-bodyguard-assassin played by Chiaki Kuriyama in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Volume 1. When Gogo first appears on camera, Beatrix Kiddo, a.k.a. The Bride (QT’s muse Uma Thurman), introduces her with this ominous observation: “Gogo may be young, but what she lacks in age, she makes up for in madness.” The Bride’s battle with Gogo and her meteor hammer (a chain with a spiked ball on either end) is one of the highlights of the movie. (If you have to ask why a character from a Tarantino film is being lumped in with comic book characters, you haven’t seen enough Tarantino films.)

Nico Minoru, sorceress leader of the team of superpowered youths known as The Runaways. Nico, who for a while went by the superhero sobriquet Sister Grimm (no relation), inherited the ability to wield magic from her villainous parents. In the Runaways, Nico partners with other offspring of evil metahumans to help right the wrongs done by the preceding generation.

Vixen, longtime member of various Justice League permutations, and before that, of Suicide Squad. The first black superheroine in the DC Comics canon, Vixen’s a longtime personal favorite of mine. She possesses the power to tap into a mysterious force called the Red, through which she can utilize the abilities of any animal on Earth. Her code name comes from the fox-headed Tantu totem she wears.

Okay, so you’re thinking, three butt-kicking women you wouldn’t want to trifle with — but what’s their common element? Those of you old enough to remember the popular culture of the 1970s and ’80s will recall these three all-female rock bands: The Go-Go’s (yes, I know; never use an apostrophe to create a plural noun — but that’s how they spell it), hitmakers behind such classics as “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat”; The Runaways, the “Queens of Noise” who introduced the world to future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joan Jett; and Vixen, the glam-metal rockers best known for their 1988 hit “Edge of a Broken Heart.”

The perceptive among you now understand the challenge I faced with this Common Elements concept: I couldn’t very well assign a piece featuring three female characters who share names with all-female rock bands to a male artist. That just wouldn’t do. But it also wouldn’t do to assign it to a female artist just because she was female. It had to be someone whose drawing style fit with the bold, tough, take-no-prisoners attitudes and attributes of the trio being depicted. And for the longest time, I couldn’t come up with an artist who seemed right for the role.

Then one day, Adriana Melo‘s commission list opened up.

Clouds parted. Trumpets blared. Angels sang. I knew I’d found the perfect artist at last.

Adriana is no stranger to drawing powerful women in action. She’s been, at various times, the regular artist on Birds of Prey and Rose and Thorn for DC, Witchblade for Top Cow/Image, and Ms. Marvel for… well… the other guys. I’d have been hard-pressed to come up with a talent better matched to this concept — and her finished creation proves it.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.