Archive for the ‘Celebritiana’ category

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: The Jackie Robinson of comics

April 15, 2016

Allow me to begin today’s festivities by wishing you a happy Jackie Robinson Day.

In the event that you’re not a baseball aficionado — in which case, I might think somewhat less of you, but we can still be friends — I’ll explain that April 15 marks the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first appearance with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, becoming the game’s first black player since baseball banned participation by African Americans in the late 1880s. The integration of the national pastime led not only to revolutionary change in the sporting world, but in society as a whole. No less a civil rights champion than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. credited baseball’s black pioneers with “making my job easy” by demonstrating that people of color could work successfully alongside their white counterparts, and even excel, when provided opportunity.

Variant cover for Black Panther #1 (2016 series), original art by Ryan Sook

It seems appropriate, then, to celebrate Jackie Robinson’s historic accomplishment with an artwork featuring the Black Panther, whose advent in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) represented to mainstream comics what Robinson’s arrival did to baseball. It’s Ryan Sook’s variant cover for Black Panther #1, the first issue of the new Marvel series that hit the stands last week. I acquired the original black-and-white ink art from Ryan last month at Silicon Valley Comic Con. I don’t usually have much interest in buying published covers or pages — my collection largely consists of commissioned pieces, as regular readers can attest — but I couldn’t pass up the chance to own this amazing cover. Thanks, Ryan! (You can see the published version, in full color, below.)

These are good days to be a Black Panther fan, which I’ve been since he began appearing regularly in The Avengers in 1968. Not only are we getting a fresh run of Panther stories in the comics — with scripts by award-winning author and social commentator Ta-Nehesi Coates, and art by the incredible Brian Stelfreeze — but T’Challa is also poised to make his big-screen debut next month in Captain America: Civil War. Portraying the Panther is actor Chadwick Boseman, who coincidentally also played Jackie Robinson in the film 42. Boseman will continue the role in a Black Panther solo film scheduled for release in July 2018. You’d best believe I’ll be among the first in line to see that one.

Black Panther #1 (2016 series), Ryan Sook variant cover

It’s worth mentioning that while the Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first character of African descent to star in his own title. In December 1965, Dell Comics — best known for its licensed comics based on popular TV shows — published Lobo, a Western adventure featuring an African American gunfighter as its titular protagonist. The series, created by writer D.J. Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico, lasted only two issues. Not until Luke Cage, Hero For Hire arrived in June 1972 would a black superhero headline his own book. (The Black Panther took over the lead feature in Marvel’s Jungle Action comic beginning in July 1973. He moved to his own eponymous series in January 1977.)

I still remember the first time I stood in front of the spinner rack at the local supermarket and saw the Black Panther on the cover of a comic book. My younger self could scarcely have envisioned the day when the Panther would stand at the brink of multimedia superstardom, as he does today.

As I said earlier… good days indeed, for us T’Challa fans.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show

November 7, 2014

Gamora and the Black Panther, pencils and inks by MC Wyman

Those of you who have followed the development of my Common Elements commission theme know that I maintain a lengthy to-do list of Common Elements concepts. (And for those of you who are new: Common Elements is a series of themed original artworks, each of which brings together otherwise unrelated comics characters who share some aspect in… wait for it… common.)

Some of these concepts have been on my list for years, awaiting assignment to artists who will bring them to fruition. In fact, there are still a handful of unused ideas that date back to the start of Common Elements, nearly a decade ago.

The concept illustrated in today’s artwork by former Marvel Comics stalwart MC Wyman has been collecting dust for a few years now. Back in February 2011, the Black Panther took over the lead role in the monthly series that had belonged to Daredevil, a.k.a. “The Man Without Fear.” Retitled Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, the series continued — using the existing Daredevil issue numbers, beginning with #513 — for the better part of a year. Then, with issue #523.1 (November 2011, and no, the “.1” is not a typo), the series was again retitled, this time becoming Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive. The book carried on under its new moniker through issue #529, when the run concluded.

At the time the “Most Dangerous Man” title surfaced, it occurred to me that there was already a Marvel character with a similar tagline. Gamora, an interstellar assassin who first turned up in Jim Starlin’s Warlock series in the mid-1970s, then reappeared as a key player in the Infinity Watch/War/Crusade saga in the early 1990s, had long been known as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe.” Recalling that fact, I made an entry in my Common Elements log entitled “Most Dangerous,” that would match the two characters who now had borne that description.

Little did I know that in just a couple of years, Gamora would become a major movie star as one of the leads in Marvel’s cinematic blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. When the film was announced, I didn’t even know that the Guardians in question were not the team I associated with that name from my comics-reading youth.

I’ll explain. Back in 1969, the Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. This team of weirdly mismatched, far-future space rangers was co-created by writer Arnold Drake, who had a penchant for off-kilter characters. (Drake was also responsible for DC Comics’ Deadman and Doom Patrol.) The original Guardians crew consisted of Vance Astro, an Earthman who’d spent a millennium in suspended animation; Charlie-27, a being from Jupiter whose stout, powerful physique reflected his home planet’s intense gravity; Martinex, who hailed from Pluto and whose body was formed out of crystal; and Yondu, a bow-slinging soldier of fortune from Alpha Centauri. The foursome eventually added a fifth member, a mysterious mutant who went by the name Starhawk.

Like many of the peculiar super-teams Marvel cooked up during the Bronze Age (the Champions, anyone?), the Guardians popped up mostly as guest stars in other teams’ ongoing series (in particular, the Avengers and the Defenders) in and around brief runs in their own stories. They pretty much disappeared once the wild and wacky ’70s ended. Marvel resurrected the Guardians for a while in the early 1990s — because no property ever goes away permanently in comics — then once again allowed them to fade from view.

In 2008, Marvel restarted the Guardians, this time with a new collection of characters, including Gamora. Although I was aware that there was a new Guardians series on the market, I never read an issue, and was unaware that the team had been completely reimagined until news of the film began leaking out. And I was as surprised as anyone — except, obviously, the folks at Marvel Studios — when the Guardians movie exploded into theaters as a massive hit. Who’d’a thunk that a flick about a talking raccoon and a sentient tree would make megamillions?

Now, the once-obscure Gamora is a household name, thanks to the Guardians film. Even better, my longtime favorite Black Panther is finally getting his own big-screen presence, with a guest-starring role in the third Avengers movie to be released in 2016, and headlining his own motion picture in 2017. Chadwick Boseman, brilliant as baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson in 42, seems like a near-perfect choice to bring T’Challa of Wakanda to life. I can hardly wait until the aforementioned titles hit the silver screens in my neighborhood.

Until then, we have this pairing of the Most Dangerous Man and Woman Alive… two unlikely cinematic stars.

Ain’t Hollywood grand?

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Invasion Force!

July 25, 2014

Writers of fiction frequently get asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” The obvious answer is, “From my brain, duh.” Most writers not named Harlan Ellison are too polite to respond quite that bluntly.

Since I don’t write much fiction, this question is usually directed toward my Common Elements commission artworks: “Where do you get the ideas for all those bizarre matchups?” To which I reply…

From my brain. Duh. (Take that, Harlan Ellison.)

In humbler truth, I don’t always know where my Common Elements concepts originate. Usually, it’s a random thought, triggered by some equally random event or factoid. But then, if you know me in real life, you understand that’s just me. My brain is constantly kicking out random ideas, some of which spew forth from my lips or keyboard entirely without filter.

The others sometimes end up as Common Elements commissions.

The Fourth Doctor, Cyborg, and Blue Beetle, pencils and inks by Ibrahim Moustafa

The concept behind today’s featured artwork languished on my to-do list for several years, so the impetus for it has long since swirled down the drain of my vanishing memory. I think I might have been watching a TV documentary about the British Invasion of the early 196os when the concept just sort of fell together, as things in my brain often do. Whatever the genesis, that singular era in popular music history spawned this grouping of the Fourth Doctor (because Tom Baker will always be The Doctor to me), Cyborg, and the third incarnation of the Blue Beetle, a.k.a. Jaime Reyes.

You know…

A Be(a)tle, a Stone (Victor, Cyborg’s real identity), and a (Doctor) Who.

***drops mic***

Credit to artist Ibrahim Moustafa, co-creator (with writer Christopher Sebela) of the Eisner-nominated digital comic series High Crimes, for bringing my whacked-out notion to life. A special thanks to my fellow collector Jerry Livengood at Serendipity Art Sales for managing a smooth commission experience.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: A Bettie by any other name

June 20, 2014

In my online gallery at Comic Art Fans, there’s a page I call — for lack of a better term — “The Coed Room.” It’s the place where I file random artworks that feature some combination of male and female characters.

Some of the pieces in this section are group shots — the Barry Kitson Justice League sketch, for example, or my Suicide Squad commission by Geof Isherwood. Others are pairings of related characters — the Superman and Supergirl piece by Al Rio and Bob Almond fits this category, as do the two pinups starring Doc Savage and his cousin Pat, by Darryl Banks and Ernie Chan.

Several of the Coed Room items, however, are what I would term “couples shots” — depictions of male and female characters who have been romantically linked at some point. Here’s the latest addition to this particular category: an action scene showcasing the high-flying Rocketeer and his lovely paramour, as drawn by a talented artist from the Philippines named Brian Balondo.

The Rocketeer and Jenny Blake, pencil art by Brian Balondo

You’ll notice at the top of the page that Brian titled this piece “Rocketeer and Jenny.” If you know the history of these characters, you’ll get a chuckle out of that. Jenny Blake was the name given to the female lead in the 1991 Disney film The Rocketeer; in the movie, she’s played by Jennifer Connelly. In Dave Stevens’s original comic book stories, however, Cliff “Rocketeer” Secord’s girlfriend’s name is Betty — an homage to 1950s pinup queen Bettie Page, whose likeness Stevens used as the model (no pun intended) for the character’s appearance.

When screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo — now familiar to genre buffs as co-creators of such TV series as Viper and the 1990s version of The Flash — pitched the concept to Disney, they changed the name of the main female character to Jenny (and gave her a surname, Blake, which she lacked in the comics), masking the connection to the notorious star of nude postcards and bondage porn… not exactly in line with Disney’s family-friendly image. (Although I can pretty much guarantee that everyone’s family has at least one member who’s a fan of nude postcards, or bondage porn, or both.) The name change was cemented when the film went into production.

I can always tell, when The Rocketeer comes up in conversation, whether people know the character from the comics or the movie — by which name they use for the heroine.

Dave Stevens’s use of Bettie Page’s likeness in the Rocketeer comics helped spark a renewed interest in the legendary model, who by the early 1980s had largely faded from the public consciousness. In the decades since, Ms. Page (who passed away in 2008 at the age of 85) has risen to cult status far above that of her 1950s heyday. There have been two feature films about Bettie — a fictionalized production starring Gretchen Mol in the title role, as well as an award-winning documentary (the Pirate Queen and I attended a screening of the latter last year) — an infinite assortment of Bettie-inspired art (most notably by Jim Silke, creator of the Bettie Page comic series, and internationally recognized pinup artist Olivia De Berardinis), as well as a cottage industry of licensed (and, I suspect, bootleg) Bettie Page paraphernalia.

Until just a few days ago, a nationwide chain of Bettie Page clothing stores (including a location on Haight Street here in San Francisco) featured retro-styled fashions inspired by Ms. Page. As a result of litigation by the firm managing licensing for Ms. Page’s estate, the retail chain lost the right to use the Bettie Page name as well as her likeness, which formerly was splashed all over the store. The Pirate Queen owns several pre-lawsuit Bettie Page dresses and, of course, looks smashing in them.

Brian Balondo’s drawing is rather smashing as well. Although hardly as much so as the Pirate Queen.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: It’s hard out here for a superheroine

December 13, 2013

In case you missed it, the upcoming Batman/Superman feature film just added a Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot, the new face of Wonder Woman

Warner Brothers has cast Israeli actress and model Gal Gadot — that’s her, right above — as mighty Diana, warrior princess of Themyscira. No one knows yet whether Wonder Woman’s role in the movie will be major or tangential. One supposes that the publicity splash over Gadot’s hiring suggests that she’ll contribute something more than a cameo, but that’s purely speculation.

I don’t have a strong opinion about Gadot’s casting one way or the other. So far as I’m aware, I’ve never seen the erstwhile Miss Israel perform on film — she’s costarred in the three most recent iterations of the Fast and Furious franchise, but after sampling the inaugural F&F I never had any hankering for further helpings. I’m told that she can act a little. I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt there. From the photos and video clips I’ve checked out, Ms. Gadot looks a fair bit leaner than I’d envision Wonder Woman, but six weeks in the gym before filming could easily fix that. At five-foot-ten, she’s more than tall enough. (Heck, if Tom Cruise, who’s a few inches shorter than I am, can effectively play the towering Jack Reacher on the silver screen, a 5’10” actress certainly qualifies as Wonder Woman.)

Plus, Gadot served two years in the Israeli Defense Forces, and is an expert on military weaponry. You’re not going to hear me question whether she’s tough enough to play a superhero.

I do appreciate the fact that Warner cast someone of eastern Mediterranean ethnicity, with physical features to match, as the (presumably more or less Grecian) Amazon, rather than Hollywood’s stock northern European type. If I imagine Gadot’s headshot with Diana’s trademark ruby-starred tiara Photoshopped in, I can certainly see the face of Wonder Woman there. She definitely looks closer to my personal impression of Queen Hippolyta’s daughter than did the now-iconic Lynda Carter (who, yes, I know, is not the usual stereotype either — she’s partly of Latina heritage). At least, from the neck up.

But here’s the thing.

Why does Wonder Woman have to be a walk-on in someone else’s movie?

Why doesn’t Wonder Woman — the most prominent female superhero in comics for more than 70 years — rate her own motion picture?

Wonder Woman, pencils by Iago Maia

If you ask the folks at DC/Warner, Wonder Woman is one-third of their “Trinity,” their top tier of characters. Since 1978, the other two members of the DC Trinity — Superman and Batman — have headlined 13 theatrical motion picture releases between them, plus numerous animated TV series and telefilms. Since the cancellation of the mid-1970s Wonder Woman live-action TV program, the Amazing Amazon has appeared in the various Justice League animated series (as one character among a veritable horde of super-doers), a stand-alone animated direct-to-DVD project, and one embarrassing and ill-fated live-action TV pilot (starring Adrienne Palicki, late of Friday Night Lights) that did not result in a series. Despite rumors here and there — including a persistent one involving fan favorite writer-director-producer Joss Whedon — there’s never been a Wonder Woman movie.

And now, she’s relegated to supporting duty in a big-budget Batman/Superman team-up flick.

That’s just pitiful.

Heck, even the Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern got his own terrible movie. And Hal Jordan is lame. (Except in Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which was awesome, and never should have been cancelled.)

Which brings me to the similarly sorry case of Ms. Marvel, who’s the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a Wonder Woman archetype.

Marvel has enjoyed a spate of success in recent years producing its own movies (now as an arm of the Disney entertainment megaconglomerate), churning out one blockbuster after another featuring top-shelf heroes Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, plus their in-house supergroup, The Avengers. [Comics-to-film cognoscenti know that the ongoing Spider-Man (Sony) and X-Men (Fox) movie franchises, as well as the soon-to-be-rebooted Fantastic Four (also Fox) are the licensed product of other studios.] Marvel currently produces the live-action series Agents of SHIELD for ABC television, and has theatrical Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy features in the works. The House of Ideas recently announced that it will, over the next few years, generate four additional series to be distributed via Netflix, starring Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist, plus a miniseries featuring another superteam, The Defenders.

So where’s the love for Ms. Marvel?

Ms. Marvel, pencils by Carlos Silva

Not long ago in the comics, Marvel started a new ongoing series about Carol Danvers — who’s been Ms. Marvel for 35 years — redubbing her Captain Marvel. I know that Marvel editorial viewed this as a promotion, but I did not. Marvel has already had a long-running character named Captain Marvel. Actually, they’ve had a few; most recognizably Mar-Vell, a former soldier of the alien Kree civilization; Mar-Vell’s son, Genis-Vell, who assumed his father’s mantle after Mar-Vell’s death; and Monica Rambeau, whose tenure as Captain Marvel bridged the years between Father-Vell and Son-Vell. There have been at least three more Captain Marvels in the Marvel Universe, but you get the idea. (This of course says nothing about the original Captain Marvel, who’s still alive and kicking over at DC, but now calls himself Shazam. That’s a whole other story.)

Although she falls somewhere in the line of the Kree Captains Marvel (her powers derive from an explosion that infused her with Kree DNA), Carol’s Ms. Marvel identity has existed for the most part independently of that franchise. I would wager that there are plenty of comics fans who didn’t even know that Ms. Marvel had anything at all to do with Marvel’s Captain Marvel, so distinct an entity has she become in her own right. Foisting the Captain Marvel nom de guerre on Carol lessens her, in my opinion, to being just another knockoff of a male superhero, when over the past several decades she had evolved into far, far more than that.

And, like Wonder Woman, she still can’t get a movie deal.

Which I think sucks, quite frankly.

Both of these great heroines and role models deserve better, as do their fans. Your Uncle Swan included.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: A real-life superhero passes

December 6, 2013

In respectful acknowledgment of the passing of former South African president Nelson Mandela — one of the towering figures in human events in my lifetime — today I’m sharing a few choice images from my Black Panther gallery, interspersed with selected quotes from a real-life African-born superhero.

To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Black Panther, pencils and inks by Buzz

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

Black Panther, pencils by Darryl Banks, inks by Bob Almond

A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.

Black Panther, pencils by Paul Boudreaux

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Black Panther, pencils and inks by Steve Rude

We must use time wisely, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

Black Panther and Storm, pencils by Ron Adrian, inks by Bob Almond

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.

Black Panther, pencils and inks by Geof Isherwood

Rest in peace, Mr. Mandela.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.