Archive for October 2016

Comic Art Friday: Who’s your Goblin King now?

October 14, 2016

We’re having our first truly grim, gray October day here in the Bay Area, which makes it the perfect time to continue the pre-Halloween theme we began with last week’s Comic Art Friday. Since our post on “Spectres” covered the traditional All Hallows’ Eve trope of ghosts, we’ll turn today to another staple of the season — goblins.

Kobalt and the Green Goblin, pencils by Arvell Malcolm Jones

Even the most casual comics fan will recognize the fellow about to get clobbered in the scrap depicted here. That’s the Green Goblin (a.k.a. Norman Osborn, although several other individuals, most notably Norman’s son Harry, have donned the costume), probably Spider-Man’s best-known foe. The Goblin and the Web-Slinger share a lengthy history, going all the way to the former’s debut appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964). Over the years, the Green Goblin has become to Spider-Man what the Joker is to Batman — his most frightening opponent, both because he’s the most mentally unhinged (and thus the least predictable) and because he’s the one who seems to know and understand his superheroic nemesis the most intimately.

The guy wielding the razor-spiked bat, however, is likely less identifiable, even to hardcore comics aficionados. He’s Kobalt, antihero and star of an eponymous series published by Milestone Media (under the auspices of DC Comics) in the mid-1990s. (Ah, the ’90s. A time when everyone in comics had a grimace on his or her face, a huge gun in his or her hand, and lots and lots of pouches on his or her costume.)

Typical of ’90s characters, Kobalt was a vicious, violent tough guy with attitude to burn. He was also a man of mystery — his true name was never revealed during his book’s 16-issue run, although readers did discover that he was of Cuban ancestry. (Milestone made a name for itself by developing an ethnically diverse range of characters. Its most successful creation was the teenage African-American hero Static, who went on to star in the popular animated TV series Static Shock.) Despite his aggressively antisocial personality, Kobalt often shared his adventures with a sidekick/partner, first a woman code-named Clover, then later a Robinesque boy wonder known as Page.

In case you’ve not yet tumbled to the Common Elements connection between Kobalt and the Goblin, it’ll help to know that the word cobalt (as in the chemical element most recognized for its vivid blue color) derives from the German kobold, meaning “goblin” (as veteran Dungeons & Dragons players are well aware).

Don’t feel badly if you missed that. I even had to remind Kobalt’s co-creator and the author of today’s featured artwork, Arvell Jones, where the name came from. (Arvell’s most familiar co-creation is super-detective Misty Knight, currently being brought to life by actress Simone Missick in the Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage.) Arvell got a kick from revisiting his old friend in this commissioned drawing — it had probably been a couple of decades since he’d last drawn Kobalt. When I proposed this scenario to him at San Francisco Comic-Con 2016, Arvell grinned and said, “You know who’s going to get the best of that fight, now don’t you?”

I wouldn’t have planned it any other way.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: How do YOU spell Spectre?

October 7, 2016

With Halloween rapidly approaching — how did it get to be October already? — I thought it apropos to delve into the Common Elements catalog for this ghostly offering, beautifully designed and rendered by Mike Bowden.

"Spectres," pencil art by Mike Bowden

The commonality between these characters will become evident as we identify the dramatis personae, working clockwise from upper left:

  • Moon Knight, known in civilian guise as Marc Spector.
  • The Spectre, the spirit of vengeance-turned-superhero created by Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman.
  • Sally Jupiter, a.k.a. the first Silk Spectre, from the seminal graphic novel Watchmen.
  • Dr. Adam Spektor, the paranormal investigator who headlined the fondly remembered series, The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor.
  • Laurie Juspeczek, the second-generation Silk Spectre and daughter of Sally.

What I like best about this particular Common Elements commission — aside from Mike Bowden’s outstanding design and execution — is the fact that it unites heroes not only from different comics publishers and universes, but also from different eras. The Spectre debuted in early 1940, making him among the oldest continuing characters in the industry. Doctor Spektor’s original run spanned most of the 1970s. The mother-and-daughter Silk Spectres feature in one of the most important comics of the 1980s. And Moon Knight, although he first appeared in a 1975 issue of Marvel’s Werewolf By Night before graduating to his own book in the early ’80s, is probably best known to current readers from his ongoing series that ran from 2006 to 2009.

I’m especially pleased to have Doctor Spektor making his Common Elements debut here. The good doctor’s series was among a number of classic titles released by Gold Key Comics, the comic book subsidiary of Western Publishing — the people who brought you those Little Golden Books you probably read as a child if you’re of a certain age. Gold Key mostly specialized in comics based on existing properties licensed from other sources. They were the first company, for example, to publish Star Trek comics (among a seemingly endless horde of books based on then-current or then-recent TV series, everything from The Twilight Zone to Adam-12), as well as cornering the market on Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters for quite a few years. But Gold Key also maintained a nice stable of original properties, the best-remembered of which today is probably the science-fiction epic Magnus, Robot Fighter. Gold Key’s comics stood out on the newsstand because many of them — particularly those not licensed from animation studios — featured painted covers, decades before such artists as Alex Ross brought that style back into vogue.

The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor was co-conceived (with artist Dan Spiegle) and written by Don Glut, a screenwriter who contributed scripts to numerous TV series aimed at youth audiences. Glut also worked extensively for Marvel Comics in the latter half of the 1970s, including runs on Captain America, The Invaders, What If?, and Marvel’s various sword-and-sorcery titles. Prior to this, Glut wrote for Warren Publishing’s line of horror comics (Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella… who really needs to turn up in a Common Elements commission some day soon). All of the issues of Spektor’s regular series were drawn by the prolific Jesse Santos, who also worked on such Gold Key originals as Brothers of the Spear, Dagon the Invincible, and Tragg and the Sky Gods.

Like several other contemporary titles, Doctor Spektor seized upon the Comics Code Authority’s early-1970s loosening of its restrictions on horror elements in mainstream comics. (This same rules change ushered in such series as DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula and Ghost Rider.) Spektor busied himself battling every kind of monstrous foe you might imagine, from vampires and reanimated mummies to Frankenstein’s monster and werewolves. The doctor even became a lycanthrope himself for a couple of issues in the middle of his book’s run. In most of his adventures, Spektor benefited from the support (I’ll leave it to you, friend reader, to speculate on exactly what that entailed) of his personal assistant, a comely Native American woman named Lakota Rainflower, as well as other aides who appeared with less regularity.

In contrast to the similarly named Doctor, neither Silk Spectre has an occult connection — nor indeed, any supernatural or superhuman ability. Both mother Sally, whom Watchmen presents as having battled crime in its universe’s 1940s, and daughter Laurie, who assumes her parent’s legacy in the 1960s and ’70s, are merely skilled hand-to-hand fighters and martial artists. Most comics-savvy readers know the Watchmen backstory: writer Alan Moore intended to use superheroes from the then-defunct Charlton Comics canon (characters whose trademarks had been purchased by DC Comics, which published Watchmen) as the leads in his opus. When DC editorial balked at Moore using these characters (for which they’d paid good money, and hoped to use in the future) for the dark tale he intended to tell, Moore instead devised new heroes to replace those from Charlton, incorporating attributes of the originals. The two Silk Spectres combined elements of Charlton’s Nightshade with aspects of other nonpowered heroines, including Black Canary, Phantom Lady, and the original Black Cat.

Both Silk Spectres are depicted here in costumes matching those used by artist Dave Gibbons in the Watchmen graphic novel, as opposed to the redesigned versions seen in the motion picture. Comics is comics, and movies is movies.

As for Moon Knight and The Spectre… well, they’ve each appeared in a previous Common Elements scenario. Moon Knight was featured alongside Moon Girl in Common Elements #18, drawn by James E. Lyle. The Spectre can be seen in tandem with Ghost in Common Elements #67, drawn by Greg LaRocque. You can follow the links to check out those pieces, if you’re inclined.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.