Archive for July 2018

Comic Art Friday: Death Race Infinity

July 27, 2018

Black Racer and Silver Surfer, pencils by Keith Pollard, inks by Bob Almond

It’s fair to say that no single individual had a greater impact on the medium of comics — specifically, that species of fantasy comics into which superheroes and their related subgenres fall — than Jack Kirby.

As an artist and storyteller, Kirby created the foundation for what we would today call the Marvel Universe. Most of the classic Marvel heroes from the Silver Age — including the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, the original X-Men, Iron Man, Black Panther, Silver Surfer, Ant-Man, and the Wasp, as well as the Avengers and Inhumans — were all created or co-created by Kirby. (Not to mention Captain America, whom Kirby co-created with Joe Simon in 1940 and revived at Marvel in 1964.)

After a falling-out with Stan Lee and Marvel in the early 1970s, Kirby moved on to DC Comics and created a whole raft of new characters in what came to be known as the Fourth World saga. Prominent among these were Mister Miracle, the Forever People, and the New Gods.

I could go on naming characters Kirby dreamed up, but we’d be here all day. The man was that prolific.

Today’s featured artwork spotlights two Kirby creations who are, in a way, different spins on the same general concept. On the right, we have the Silver Surfer, whom Kirby introduced as a minor character in a 1966 Fantastic Four story, but became — due to Stan Lee’s enthusiasm (for years, he refused to allow other writers to use the Surfer in their stories) — one of the icons of classic Marvel. On the left is the Black Racer, who zoomed onto the scene in New Gods #3 (July 1971).

The Surfer began his career as the herald of the planet-eating space giant Galactus; the Racer is the avatar of Death in the Fourth World tales. And, yes, both guys fly through space on what looks like sporting equipment. (I never understood why the Black Racer needed ski poles to steer. In space, what would he dig them into? But I’m not going to argue with The King.)

Black Racer and Silver Surfer, pencils by Keith Pollard

The base image here was penciled by Keith Pollard, one of the finest (and in my opinion, most tragically underappreciated) artists of Marvel’s Bronze Age (the 1970s and early 1980s). Inking superstar Bob Almond took Pollard’s pencil sketch and embellished it to a whole other level, adding a gorgeous deep-space background in addition to enhancing the characters themselves.

About Keith Pollard: During his career with Marvel, he proved himself a workhorse of titanic proportions. Pollard drew lengthy runs on Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four (twice), and Thor — for a time, he was working on all three titles simultaneously — as well as penciling issues of numerous other titles. Frankly, I don’t know how the man slept or ate during those years. Perhaps he didn’t.

In the early 1990s, Pollard penciled (with Joe Rubinstein inking) dozens of character model sheets for the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Master Edition. I own a couple of these, having purchased them from Keith via his art representative more than a decade ago.

Misty Knight model sheet, pencils by Keith Pollard, inks by Joe Rubinstein

Here’s the Misty Knight page. If you’ve watched Luke Cage on Netflix — and if you haven’t, what are you sitting here for? you have two whole seasons to catch up on! — you know all about this hard-hitting police detective who acquires a bionic arm.

Battlestar model sheet, pencils by Keith Pollard, inks by Joe Rubinstein

And this is the profile of Battlestar, who was Captain America’s partner for a short while in the late ’80s. Lemar Hoskins began his career as the newest iteration of Bucky (a sidekick role originally assumed by James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, now better known as the Winter Soldier). When legendary writer Dwayne McDuffie pointed out to Cap scribe Mark Gruenwald that the name “Bucky” took on problematic connotations when applied to an African American man, Gruenwald took a suggestion from artist Kieron Dwyer and renamed the character Battlestar.

Back to the Silver Surfer for just a moment. If you love great comic art — of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t have read this far — you owe it to yourself to check out the two-part Silver Surfer: Parable, a 1988 collaboration between Stan Lee and the iconic French artist Jean Girard, a.k.a. Moebius. The story is classic Lee, and Moebius’s visuals combine beauty, grandeur, and emotion like no other.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: Can’t touch this

July 13, 2018

I’m just going to put this out there:

I don’t think the Human Bomb gets enough love.

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Sure, there are many factors that contribute to the Human Bomb’s unfortunate situation.

  • He’s got a dorky name.
  • He wears what might be the least sexy costume in the history of superheroes.
  • He hearkens back to comics’ Golden Age, when heroes often had gimmicky, poorly thought-out superpowers — like those of the Human Bomb.
  • He was created by a second-rank publisher that went out of business 60 years ago (Quality Comics, also the original home of such characters as Plastic Man, Blackhawk, and Phantom Lady), and has been used only sporadically by the company that now owns his rights (DC Comics).
  • In the modern world, the term “human bomb” conjures up unpleasant associations with terrorist violence.
  • For a while during his original run, the Bomb had a comedic sidekick named Hustace Throckmorton, who made things explode with his bare feet. I kid you not.

Despite all of the above, I always thought the Human Bomb was kind of awesome. After all, who hasn’t fantasized about blowing up everything you touch?

Okay, maybe that was just me.

Anyway, here’s the Bomb’s deal. Roy Lincoln was a scientist who created, alongside his father, the world’s most powerful explosive. To keep the family brainchild out of the hands of Nazis, Roy swallowed the chemical — like you would — and as a result, developed the ability (or incurred the curse, depending on your point of view) of causing everything he touched to explode.

To keep from bursting his environment into smithereens, Roy had to live inside a cumbersome suit made from a special material that prevented his skin from accidental contact with things he didn’t wish to destroy (presumably, most everything). He would remove his gloves when he wanted to lay the smack down with his potent barehanded touch.

It’s easy to see the limitations of a character like the Human Bomb. For one thing, you can’t depict him outside of his costume very often, so he’s not terribly relatable — aside from his eyes, visible through the window in his helmet, what does his face even look like? Plus, it’s difficult to have normal human interactions and relationships when everything (and everyone) you come into contact with detonates like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

These very limitations, however, make the Human Bomb one of comics’ most tragically heroic figures — a man doomed to permanent isolation who finds a way to adapt his horrific personal circumstances to the benefit of others.

I can dig a guy like that.

I don’t know whether longtime X-Men guru Chris Claremont had the Human Bomb in mind when he conceived Rogue back in 1981, but the parallel is undeniable. Like Roy Lincoln, Rogue (who still doesn’t have a full name after all these years; we’ve been told since 2004 that her given name is Anna Marie, but her surname remains a mystery) is forced to cover her body to shield the world from her mutant power — she drains the life force from anyone with whom she makes skin-to-skin contact.

Of course, Rogue being an attractive woman and this being the comics universe, she manages to cover herself usually in clothes far more form-fitting and face-revealing than the Human Bomb’s containment suit.

In recent times, Rogue has either developed some degree of control over her powers or found an effective workaround, given that she’s enjoyed a handful of romantic relationships (most notably with Johnny Storm, better known as the Human Torch of Fantastic Four fame, and her X-Men teammate Gambit, whom she recently married).

If only she could have hooked up with Roy Lincoln.

That would have been — wait for it — the bomb.

Sincere thanks to Tom Derenick, who created today’s featured Common Elements artwork. Tom’s classic style represents everything I love about comic art — it’s clear, easily readable, packed with power and crisp in detail. If I were asked to identify an example of a contemporary comics artist whose approach would have been equally at home in the Silver or Bronze Ages, yet is totally fresh and relevant today, Tom’s art would be one of my first stops.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Between rock and a hard place

July 6, 2018

In my previous Comic Art Friday post about this year’s Silicon Valley Comic Con, I noted that artist Ryan Sook had taken ill during the show and was unable to start the Common Elements commission that he and I had discussed. I also mentioned that I hoped to approach Ryan with the same request at a future convention.

As luck would have it, Ryan was in attendance at San Francisco Comic Con (which is now being staged in Oakland, while retaining the previous name — even though “Golden State Comic Con” is not only available, but comes with reflected cachet) in June. He immediately recalled the project we had talked about previously, and quickly set to work creating it.

You can see for yourself that the end result was well worth the wait.

Tesla Strong and Valda the Iron Maiden, pencils and inks by Ryan Sook

While I always enjoy seeing favorite heroes appear in Common Elements scenarios, some of my favorite pieces in the series involve less prominent characters. Here, Ryan Sook brings together Tesla Strong, the daughter of Alan Moore’s science hero Tom Strong, and Valda the Iron Maiden, the companion of Arak, Son of Thunder.

Okay, so, a little background may help.

A pastiche of pre-superhero pulp characters such as Doc Savage and Craig Kennedy, Tom Strong grew up on the island of Attabar Teru, where he was raised to be the embodiment of human physical and mental perfection. Tom and his wife Dhalua, princess of Attabar Teru, have a daughter, Tesla, named for the famed inventor. Thanks to their partaking of the root of the mysterious Goloka plant, Tom and his family age extremely slowly. Tesla, although in her 60s during the time period in which most of the Tom Strong stories are set, still possesses the appearance and attitudes of a teenager. (Similarly, Tom and Dhalua are both well over a century old, but look as though they’re forty-something.) In addition to participating in a number of her father’s adventures, Tesla also starred in her own one-shot book, The Many Worlds of Tesla Strong.

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

Valda the Iron Maiden was a knight in the service of Charlemagne (and may also have been his daughter) before meeting the Native American hero Arak. Together, they set off on a series of fantastical adventures. Valda and Arak constantly ran afoul of sorcerers and their minions as they battled their way across medieval Europe. Written by Roy Thomas (who was instrumental in bringing Conan to comics) and drawn by Ernie Colon and later by Tony DeZuniga, Arak, Son of Thunder managed to avoid most of the embarrassing tropes assigned to fictional Native American characters, while offering a unique spin on the sword-and-sorcery genre. If you like that sort of thing, Arak is likely to be the sort of thing you like. Check out some back issues in your local comic shop’s discount bin.

Arak and Valda, pencils and inks by Tony DeZuniga

If you’re puzzling over the common element between these two stalwart heroines, both share their names — parts of their names, anyway — with hard rock bands: Tesla and Iron Maiden. I’ve never seen Iron Maiden perform live (they’re not my cup of tea, really), but I’ve experienced Tesla a couple of times, most recently six years ago when they opened for Scorpions. You can read my review of that concert, if you’re inclined.

TeslaBanner

One of the many qualities I appreciate in Ryan Sook’s art is the deftness with which he conveys so much with a few perfectly placed lines. In today’s featured piece, I’m especially pleased with the treatment that Ryan gave Tesla’s hair, and the way her features delicately but clearly denote her biracial heritage. Too often, comic artists draw women of color in exactly the same manner that they draw Caucasian female characters. How many depictions of, say, Storm (to cite one frequently egregious example) have you seen where, if you were looking only at the pencil and ink linework, you’d never know that she’s of African descent?

(Then again, how many comic artists are guilty of drawing nearly all their female characters, regardless of ethnicity, with the exact same facial features? You know who you are.)

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.