Archive for the ‘Cinemania’ category

Comic Art Friday: One mask is never enough

April 4, 2014

I’ve been pumping out these Comic Art Friday posts for so long — nearly a decade now — that it’s easy to lose track of when I featured certain pieces from my collection. Today’s premiere of the new film Captain America: The Winter Soldier inspired me to dig back into the archives for these two artworks by Bob Layton that I last showcased together seven years ago.

Heck, iPhones were just barely a thing then.

These two Layton creations stand apart in my Common Elements commission theme because they remain, to date, the only paired pieces in that theme that feature the same two characters — albeit under different guises and in different costumes, and matched together because of entirely different commonalities. In both works, we see the familiar characters Steve Rogers and Michael Jon Carter. Beyond that, things get a teeny bit weird.

Booster Gold and Captain America, pencils and inks by Bob Layton

In this first piece, we see Steve and Michael in their best-known identities — Captain America and Booster Gold, respectively. The title I’ve given this one — “Out of Time” — suggests one common element shared by these heroes: both are men who find themselves in a time-period not their own. Cap, of course, is the hero from the past, having been frozen in suspended animation from World War II until the modern day. Booster comes to the present timeline from the distant future; specifically, the 25th century. Part of the appeal of each character is watching his adaptation to his new temporal location.

Supernova and Nomad, pencils and inks by Bob Layton

The second piece once again presents Steve and Michael, only this time in costumes each wore only briefly. The erstwhile Booster Gold assumed the pseudonym Supernova during the events of DC Comics’ weekly publication, 52. (2006-2007). Steve Rogers, saddened by the political turmoil of the early-to-middle 1970s, temporarily abandoned his role as Captain America, taking on the nationally ambiguous title Nomad for several months (as chronicled in Captain America and the Falcon, issues 180-184). Thus, I’ve titled this drawing “By Any Other Name” to highlight the fact that its subjects were better known by… well… other names.

Needless to say — but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway — Bob Layton did some stellar work on both of these pieces, which he completed in June and October 2007. For me, Layton is one of the quintessential Marvel inkers of the late 1970s through the 1980s, most notably for his two lengthy runs on Iron Man during that period. You can see here that he’s also an outstanding penciler. Bob went on to pivotal roles in three comics publishers that he co-founded: Valiant, Acclaim, and Future Comics. Most recently, he’s been involved with several film projects as a writer and producer.

These two artworks remind me that none of us are just one person. We are each several differing personalities, or at least facets of personality,wrestling for control of a common body. I don’t mean that in a pathological sense. It’s simply that we’re all more than a single identifier can describe. Inside every Steve Rogers, there resides both a Captain America and a Nomad. Inside every Michael Carter, there lives both a Booster Gold and a Supernova. Every Jean Grey is both a Marvel Girl and a Phoenix. Every Janet Van Dyne Pym owns several dozen Wasp costumes, but is always uniquely herself no matter which outfit she wears.

If you ask me who I am, I’m many things. Professionally, I’m a writer, a voice actor, and a  public speaker. Personally, I’m both a husband and a widower; both a father and a bastard child; an American, and an ethnically diverse citizen of the greater Planet Earth. I’m a Jeopardy! champion, a pop culture geek, a sports fanatic, and a collector of comic art.

And even that multifaceted list is merely the tip of the all-too-human iceberg that is me. You have a myriad list yourself, I’ll imagine.

All of which keeps life –and ourselves — in continuous reevaluation and evolution.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Getting to the bottom of things

March 21, 2014

It’s often noted — and correctly so — that superhero costumes as depicted on the comic book page rarely work if translated exactly to a live-action medium.

Even though some fans howled when director Bryan Singer completely retooled those characters’ iconic outfits for the first X-Men film, it was without question the right choice. Yellow-and-blue spandex just isn’t a good look in live action, while black leather pretty much always looks awesome.

In the same way, most of the Marvel Studios-produced films (in contrast to X-Men, which is a Fox property) have tweaked the heroes’ haberdashery in ways that make perfect sense — Thor, Iron Man, and especially Captain America look quite different on camera than in print, but remain instantly recognizable even as they adopt more realistic colors and materials. Seriously, did anyone really need to see a purple-clad Hawkeye sporting a harlequin mask in The Avengers? Didn’t think so.

Here’s a more subtle example of that principle.

Wonder Woman, pencils and inks by Ben Dunn

I’ve always been fond of superheroine costume designs that incorporate a skirt. To my eye, a skirt reflects grace and ease of movement. Artist Ben Dunn, best known as the creator of Ninja High School, illustrates that quality to perfection in this drawing of Wonder Woman.

But now, try to imagine this costume being worn by a real-life Diana. Every time she flew, she’d be offering a display of her nether regions — or at the very least, her underwear, assuming that Amazons wear underwear — to friend and foe below. Not exactly what “in her satin tights, fighting for our rights” is supposed to imply.

That’s a good part of the reason why I’ve always liked Supergirl’s costume from the mid-1970s, seen here in a lovely drawing by Michael Dooney of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame.

Supergirl, pencils by comics artist Michael Dooney

Yes, to the 21st century viewer, Kara’s hot pants appear dated. They are, however, practical from both the visual and combat perspectives. She can move in them with complete freedom, while keeping her business out of everyone’s noses, so to speak.

(Before you argue that long pants would be even more practical in battle, I will remind you that Supergirl is Kryptonian, and therefore invulnerable. Unlike a human heroine, her legs do not require protection from the elements, or from an opponent’s weaponry. Wonder Woman’s current powers also include invulnerability — her original skill set did not, hence her bullet-deflecting bracelets — which is among several reasons why her recent experiment with full-leg trousers simply didn’t make sense.)

A lot of folks mistakenly believe that Wonder Woman’s original costume, recalled most famously from H. G. Peter’s cover art for Sensation Comics #1, included a star-spangled skirt.

Sensation Comics no. 1, art by H. G. Peter

It’s hard to tell in this particular drawing, but in fact, the lower half of this costume is a voluminous pair of culottes — what we often call “skorts” in today’s fashion parlance. They combined the visual appeal of a flowing skirt with reduced potential for inadvertent overexposure.

Either Peter got tired of drawing the culottes or the All-American Comics editorial staff dictated against them, because a very brief (no pun intended) time later, they evolved into the form-fitting bicycle-style shorts that Wonder Woman wore throughout the remainder of the Golden Age and into the 1950s — also a fine practical option.

Aesthetically, though, you’ve got to admit that Diana really rocks a good skirt.

Maybe another time we can address the bustier.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Mourning (over comics) becomes Elektra

January 31, 2014

I’ve long been on record as opining that Frank Miller singlehandedly ruined three of my boyhood comics heroes.

Miller ruined both Batman and Daredevil by forcing both characters down the road to inky-black insanity, a path that pretty much every writer who’s scripted either character since has felt compelled to continue. (And yes, I do understand that Batman — the 1960s TV series notwithstanding — has always been a “dark” character. But he wasn’t a psychopathic nutjob until Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns rendered him that way.)

Miller ruined Will Eisner’s The Spirit by shoehorning him into what stands as one of the most embarrassingly inept comics-to-film adaptations ever devised. Seriously, what WAS that movie?

And, through his potent influence, Miller shoved the entire superhero comics genre into the depths of grim-grittiness — a fall from which the medium has yet to recover.

Basically, with a few strokes of his pen, Frank Miller drained the fun out of comics.

Elektra, pencils by comics artist Noah Salonga

But he did create Elektra.

And for that, I have to give Frank Miller credit.

But not forgiveness.

Interpolation: SSTOL reader and Friend o’ Swan Ben Herman wanted some background on Noah Salonga, the artist responsible for the Elektra drawing seen above. I’ll share what I know.

Noah is among the veritable plethora of talented artists creating comics (or, as they’re known there, komiks) in the Philippines. His work has appeared in the U.S. in such titles as Dynamite Entertainment’s Red Sonja and Xena: Warrior Princess; Harris Comics’ Vampirella; and Marvel’s Mighty Avengers and Agents of Atlas.

Some years back, I owned another beautiful example of Noah’s art, that one featuring Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. I’ve always regretted selling that piece. I was thrilled recently to replace it at long last with this amazing artwork.

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.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: 10th Anniversary Edition

November 28, 2013

If you do something ten years in a row, it’s definitely a thing.

Every Thanksgiving beginning in 2004, I’ve paused here in my little corner of the World Wide Wackiness to express my appreciation for 26 people, places, and/or things, one for each letter of the English alphabet. Truth to tell, there are so many people, places, and/or things sharing my universe for which I am grateful, that if I seriously attempted to make an exhaustive list, I’d be typing from now until next Thanksgiving, by which time my fingers would long since have snapped off. Therefore, this has become my yearly exercise in gratitude, with its arbitrary format allowing me both room to range and boundaries at which to stop.

The list you’re about to read marks my 10th annual Thanksgiving post. (You are going to read it, aren’t you? You might as well; you’re here already.) Much has changed in my life during the decade since I composed the first one. No doubt, much more will change if I’m privileged to write others in Novembers yet to come. If I’m granted those opportunities, I promise to be as grateful — for everyone and everything listed, and for so much more — as I am on this Thanksgiving Day.

On this particular Festival of Turkey, I am thankful for…

Auditions. I have a weird job. The overwhelming majority of my working life is spent performing for free, in hope that someone will pay me money instead. Most workdays, I spend hours standing or seated (I switch it up a lot) in front of a microphone, auditioning for voiceover projects. Once in a while, I book one. As much I live for those latter moments, I also can’t help but appreciate how cool it is that for a few hours every day, it’s my task to just play.

Bay Bridge. We got a new one this year, finally — nearly a quarter-century after the original was horrifically damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and three years after the not-yet-in-existence suspension span became the logo of the Golden State Warriors. The upgraded Bay Bridge will probably always play second fiddle to its more famous younger cousin around the corner, but it’s a beauty — and a treat to drive — nonetheless.

Crustaceans. Tasty giant insectoids that live underwater. I’m fond of all the edible species — lobsters, crabs, shrimp, langostines, crawfish, you name it. During our spring vacation in Australia,  the Pirate Queen and I dined on yet another variety that neither of us had ever tried: Moreton Bay bugs, prehistoric-looking creatures that resemble lobsters whose claws were snapped off, then were run over by a truck. Like their relatives worldwide, they sure were delicious.

Down Under. Speaking of Australia, we spent three incredible weeks touring the Island Continent and its next-door neighbor, the North Island of New Zealand. We saw a play at the Sydney Opera House, marveled at the mysterious sandstone monolith known as Uluru, explored a tropical rain forest north of Cairns, watched tiny penguins scurry ashore on St. Philip Island, enjoyed the view from two of the tallest towers in the Southern Hemisphere, and saw where the hobbits live. A spectacular adventure, and one that I should write much more about.

Enter the Dragon. The only motion picture to which I ever memorized every single line of dialogue. Throughout my teenage years, a poster depicting Bruce Lee in the film’s climactic fight scene graced my bedroom wall. In 2013, we lost Jim Kelly, who costarred alongside Lee as the irrepressible Williams. When Han, the villain of the piece, insists that Williams must prepare for defeat as well as victory, Williams replies with consummate cool, “I don’t waste my time with it. When it comes, I won’t even notice. I’ll be too busy looking good.”

Fountains of Wayne. When I need a quick pick-me-up, I throw on a tune by this power pop quartet from the Big Apple. Songs like “Denise,” “Maureen,” “Hey Julie” (my personal favorite), and the ubiquitous “Stacy’s Mom” never fail to put a grin on my face and some extra pizzazz in my step. The band’s name, incidentally, was cribbed from a garden ornaments store in Wayne, New Jersey.

Grandma. Not my Grandma, but The Daughter’s. With boundless patience and good humor, she shares her home with KM and her hyperactive canine companion Maddie. She graciously lets me drop in for visits, keeps me posted on goings-on in The Daughter’s life, and even hems a pair of pants for me on occasion. She’s not my mom, but after many years of dutiful service as my mother-in-law (she was my late first wife’s mother), she might as well be.

Heroes and heroines. Regular visitors here know that I own an extensive collection of original comic book superhero art. I started reading comics at age five, and from that time forward, the costumed characters who starred within those colorful pages became my fantasy friends. If you ask me why I love superheroes and superheroines, I can rattle off a litany of reasons. But the one that trumps all the others is this: It just feels good to be reminded that there are heroes in the world. The real ones don’t usually wear costumes. You know who you are.

iPad. It’s the device that serves up my VO scripts, delivers the news, keeps me in touch with friends and colleagues, and provides the occasional stress-alleviating game of virtual pinball. Thanks, Steve Jobs, wherever you are.

Jupiter Jones. The leader of the Three Investigators proved to my boyhood self that a smart chubby kid could be a hero. He proved it to Alfred Hitchcock, too. You could look it up.

KM, referred to more often here as The Daughter. The brightest, funniest, most thoughtful offspring any father could ever ask. I continue to be shocked and awed by the young woman she’s become. It’s unfathomable to me that she’ll be 25 next year. That’s the same number of years that I spent married to her mother KJ, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2010, but left an indelible legacy in the daughter she birthed, raised, and continues to inspire.

LearnedLeague. It’s described by its creator and Commissioner, the honorable Thorsten A. Integrity, as “a creed, an ideal, a Weltanschauung.” I call it the universe’s greatest online trivia league, where some of the finest quizzers on Earth —  from Jeopardy! champions and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire winners to The Beast and The Governess from both the American and original UK versions of The Chase — assemble to do daily battle. An experience of knowledge warfare both adrenaline-pumping and humbling. Lately, more the latter.

Monterey Bay Aquarium. Endlessly fascinating and dazzlingly educational, it’s one of my favorite spaces to wander. Filled to bursting with phenomenal displays of ocean life, it’s as though Aquaman invited you to hang out at his house for the day.

Navigation apps. How did the directionally challenged among us get around before GPS? Maybe we didn’t. Some of us might still be out there, lost in the boondocks without a clue how to get home.

Oracle Arena, or as we like to call it during the NBA season, Warriors Ground. The oldest active arena in the Association is also the loudest, wildest, and — thanks to a long-overdue ownership change, leading to an influx of top-flight talent over the past couple of years — most exciting home court in basketball. With Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson bombing away from downtown Oakland, All-Star David Lee maintaining a seemingly nonstop streak of double-doubles, center Andrew Bogut finally healthy to anchor the middle, and key acquisition Andre Iguodala completing the puzzle, the boys in blue and gold come ready to rock the house.

PayPal, for making it quick and easy to do business online, and for keeping the Pirate Queen gainfully employed.

Speaking of whom… all hail the Queen of Pirates, who shivers my timbers without ever threatening to make me walk the plank. (I think she’s thought about it, though.) We are at once the classic Odd Couple and a perfect match. It would be impossible to envision the second chapter of my adult life without her.

Renaissance Faire. Seriously, who doesn’t love spending a day surrounded by merry folk in Elizabethan drag, spouting in pseudo-Shakespearean patois like the mighty Thor? (Which raises the age-old question: Why did a supposed Norse quasi-demigod talk as though he’d wandered in from a road company of Hamlet? Discuss.) I totally get into the RenFaire atmosphere — it’s among the best venues for people-watching to be found anywhere. Park me on a hay bale while blackguards and wenches regale me with sea chanteys and bawdy songs, and I’m as giddy as Puck on a midsummer’s night.

Solvang. Remember: Copenhagen is Danish. Solvang is Dane-ish.

Tropicana Las Vegas. After burial in the bowels of the cavernous MGM Grand, followed by drowning in the screaming miasma of Circus Circus, TCONA — that’s the Trivia Championships of North America, for the uninitiated — finally found a fitting home in its third year, at the Tropicana. Laid-back, comfortable, user-friendly, and conveniently located, the Trop provided the best experience yet for our annual Continental Congress of quiz nuts. I was thrilled to hear earlier this month that we’ll be back there again next summer.

Uluru. The emotional highlight of our Australian expedition, nothing prepared me for the power and majesty of what Westerners formerly dubbed Ayers Rock. Scientists describe it as an inselberg — Uluru is to the Australian Outback what an iceberg is to the Arctic Ocean, albeit on a far more imposing scale. As immense as the rock we can see is, there’s a good 80% more of it under the desert surface. It’s as though God were holding this ginormous stone at the creation of the world, set it down in the center of Australia while He busied Himself with other creative tasks, then left it there. You should go see it. But be warned — billions (and I do mean billions) of obnoxious flies share the site.

Vermeer, Johannes. The legendary painter’s masterwork, Girl with a Pearl Earring — sometimes referred to as “the Dutch Mona Lisa” — made a tour stop in our fair city this summer. I’ve seen the image dozens of times, but standing before the actual canvas in all its luminous wonder shook me to my shoes. I literally had tears welling in my eyes as I looked upon this sublime beauty. A true representation of the power of art.

The Walking Dead. Both the TV series that the Pirate Queen and I have grown to love, and the video game series that keeps many of my talented voice acting friends employed. I haven’t scored a role yet. But I’ll keep trying.

Xhosa. How can you not love a language that sounds like humankind communicating with dolphins?

Yams… because it’s Thanksgiving, and they’re yummy.

Zite, the news aggregation app that puts all the cool stuff right at my fingertips. What’s great about Zite is that you can give it feedback on every article it offers — I like this or I don’t like that — and it adjusts future filtering based on your input. You can also set specific subject categories, from ocean-broad (“Politics”) to pinpoint-narrow (“Hunter Pence”), and the app will make sure you get a bounty of content on that topic. There are plenty of apps that function similarly, but I’ve yet to find one that does the job as efficiently and as effectively as Zite.

And as always, friend reader, I’m thankful for you, who take the time to stop in here from time to time and peruse my drivel. I don’t use that word “friend” lightly. I appreciate your kind attention, and hope that my words continue to prove worthy.

May you and the people you love have much to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day… and may we all be here for the next one.

Comic Art Friday: O Captain, my Captain!

September 13, 2013

Ms. Marvel, pencils and inks by Aaron Lopresti

In the entertainment world, rumors are a dime a dozen. With the advent of social media, that value has plummeted to, say, about a dime per quadrillion.

Still, I was intrigued to note earlier this week the rumor that actress Katee Sackhoff — best known to genre fans as Starbuck on the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and currently costarring on A&E’s modern-day Western-slash-police-drama Longmire — is being touted for a film role as one of my favorite superheroines, Ms. Marvel.

Except… okay… she’s not Ms. Marvel any more. She’s Captain Marvel now.

But not the guy in the red union suit with the lightning bolt on the chest. Then again, he’s not Captain Marvel any more.

I’ll explain.

Marvels vs. Marvels, pencils by Luke McDonnell

The original Captain Marvel first appeared in Fawcett Publications’ Whiz Comics #1 way back in February 1940. Enormously popular from the get-go — comics featuring Captain Marvel routinely outsold those starring Superman — the Big Red Cheese (as he was lovingly nicknamed) spawned an entire family of spinoff characters, including his sister Mary Marvel, his protege Captain Marvel Jr., and numerous Lieutenant Marvels. The publishing concern today known as DC Comics — National at the time — took Fawcett to court, arguing that Captain Marvel was a ripoff of their Man of Steel. (Never mind that Superman was himself, in some respects, a ripoff of Doc Savage and other characters who preceded him. But that’s an essay for another day.)

After years of legal wrangling, National/DC forced Fawcett to stop publishing the adventures of Captain Marvel and his cohorts, effectively pushing Fawcett out of the comics business. By the early 1970s, DC had won all rights to the Fawcett characters, and began putting out their own Marvel Family comics.

Only they couldn’t use “Captain Marvel” in the title of any of those books.

Why? Because in the intervening period when Captain Marvel lay fallow, the entity today known as Marvel Comics (who’d operated under various names, including Timely and Atlas, before settling on Marvel in the early 1960s) had created a new character named Captain Marvel, thus seizing claim to the then-inactive trademark. Marvel’s hero, unrelated to the Fawcett character other than in name, was a former soldier from a distant planet who embarked on a series of increasingly cosmic exploits. The real-world upshot meant that as long as Marvel kept a comic in active publication (that is, within a three-year window) with “Captain Marvel” in the title, DC couldn’t use that trademarked phrase in marketing any of its comics. Thus, DC resorted to “SHAZAM!” — their Captain Marvel’s transformational magic word — as the umbrella title for books featuring Cap and company.

Ms. Marvel, pencils by Michael Dooney

In 1977, Marvel debuted Ms. Marvel, a distaff version of their Captain Marvel. (As both audience-expanding and trademark-grabbing moves, Marvel generated a host of female spinoffs during this period, including Spider-Woman and She-Hulk.) Ms. Marvel was the freshly superpowered incarnation of Carol Danvers, a supporting character who had floated around in the Marvel Universe background for several years prior. An officer in the U.S. Air Force, Carol’s new abilities (mainly super-strength, invulnerability, and flight) and costumed identity made her essentially Marvel’s equivalent to DC’s Wonder Woman, another powerhouse who likewise had a military career in her past.

Following the cancellation of her eponymous series after a two-year run, Carol (who flirted briefly with other codenames, including Binary and Warbird, but always returned to calling herself Ms. Marvel) moved on to a stint in the Avengers and occasional guest appearances in other Marvel books. She didn’t regain her own title until 2006, when writer Brian Reed and a revolving door of artists (Roberto de la Torre and Aaron Lopresti notched the longest tenures on the series) chronicled Ms. Marvel’s adventures until the book folded after four years. Last year, Carol ditched her longtime nom de guerre in favor of Captain Marvel (a name that had bounced around between a couple of different characters over the previous two decades), and began a new self-titled series under that banner.

Meanwhile, back at DC, the original Captain Marvel — who, as noted above, had headlined a variety of books with “SHAZAM!” in the title since the ’70s — finally gave up on the marketing nightmare a couple of years ago, and changed his own codename to Shazam (the name by which many readers called the character anyway, given the cover designation).

Ms. Marvel, pencils and inks by the comics artist Buzz

I’ve always really liked Ms. Marvel — I haven’t quite gotten the hang of calling her “Captain” yet — because from the time of her debut, she represented the kind of heroine that Marvel hadn’t had previously; an immensely powerful fighter who could battle mano a mano with any villain in the Marvel Universe. Plus, having grown up in a Air Force family, I felt a special connection to Carol due to her history in that service.

She remains one of my all-time favorites. I’d love to see her on the big screen someday. Katee Sackhoff, who exudes a kind of scrappy toughness, wouldn’t be a bad choice to portray her.

Of course, given how many decades I’ve been waiting for a Wonder Woman motion picture, I’m not holding my breath.

Ms. Marvel, pencils by Matthew Clark, inks by Bob Almond

A few notes on the art we’re presenting today, starting at the top of this post:

Ms. Marvel in her original (and still my favorite) costume by Aaron Lopresti, who at the time this piece was drawn (at WonderCon 2007) was the regular penciler on the Ms. Marvel comic.

A battle of the two Marvel Families, penciled by Luke McDonnell (JLA, Suicide Squad). On the left, from top to bottom: Mary Marvel; the original Captain Marvel; Captain Marvel Jr. On the right: Marvel’s first Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell of the Kree); Ms. Marvel; Marvel’s second Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau).

Ms. Marvel, again in her original costume, penciled by Michael Dooney (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). This piece was my very first Ms. Marvel commission, and also the first of my many commissions from Dooney.

Ms. Marvel in her second and longest-tenured costume (which I refer to snarkily as the Warbird Swimsuit), in beautiful brushed ink by the comics artist known as Buzz. (Buzz was supposed to draw Carol in her original costume, but forgot. I love this piece anyway… in spite of the Warbird Swimsuit.)

And back to the original — see how much better that looks? — with pencils by Matthew Clark (Adventures of Superman) and inks by Bob Almond (Black Panther, Infinity Gauntlet).

Finally, below: Ms. Marvel in battle against the sometime-villainous, sometime-heroic Moonstone; pencils by Scott Rosema (Space Ghost), inks again by Bob Almond.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Ms. Marvel and Moonstone, pencils by Scott Rosema, inks by Bob Almond

Comic Art Friday: The tao of Steve

May 31, 2013

Big Wow ComicFest… the gift that keeps on giving.

In last week’s Comic Art Friday, we checked out the superfluity of goodness that came home with me from the Bay Area’s favorite comics confab earlier this month. That abundance did not yet include an additional item that I commissioned during the con for completion afterward.

Now it does.

Valkyrie and Taarna, mixed media art by Steven E. Gordon

When I first rolled up on Steven E. Gordon‘s table in Artist’s Alley on Saturday, his name did not immediately register with me. I did, however, admire the samples of his art that were on display. After chatting for a bit with Steve and his wife, I told him I’d return on Sunday with a commission project for him. Steve advised me that he probably wouldn’t be able to start the piece before the con ended, but that he would gladly take my information and send me the art when it was done.

At home on Saturday night, I Googled Steve to get a better idea of his style, with a view to choosing a Common Elements concept appropriate to his talents. I was astounded to discover that I actually knew Steve’s previous work quite well — I just didn’t realize who he was.

As it turns out, Steve Gordon possesses one of the most extensive and impressive resumes in the animation business. In film, he’s worked as an animator, designer, and animation director on numerous projects, ranging from Disney classics (The Black Cauldron; The Great Mouse Detective; Oliver and Company) to several directed by the legendary Ralph Bakshi (Lord of the Rings; American Pop; Cool World). In television, Steve has contributed his talents to a host of series, from Mighty Mouse to The Avengers.

With the light of giddy anticipation breaking over my mental horizon, I realized that I just met a key contributor to one of my all-time favorite animated features: Ralph Bakshi’s sword-and-sorcery epic, Fire and Ice — the product of Bakshi’s collaboration with the dean of fantasy illustrators, the late, lamented Frank Frazetta. Sometimes described (not altogether inaccurately) as “Conan the Animated Barbarian,” Fire and Ice melds Frazetta’s unmistakable design aesthetic with Bakshi’s storytelling and unique cinematic style, including ample use of the latter’s trademark rotoscoping technique. From a narrative perspective, it’s not the most original film Bakshi ever directed, what with veteran comics scribes Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway importing a bucketload of tropes they’d each previously employed writing Conan’s adventures for Marvel. But without question, Fire and Ice stands among Bakshi’s most visually appealing creations, thanks in large part to Frazetta’s input, along with background artists James Gurney (Dinotopia) and Thomas Kinkade (yes, that Thomas Kinkade), as well as Peter Chung, who would go on to create Aeon Flux for MTV. And of course, the work of animation director Steven E. Gordon.

Having made the Fire and Ice connection, I knew what Steve’s Common Elements assignment would be — two characters who would fit perfectly into Bakshi and Frazetta’s world of swordplay and mystical mayhem: Marvel’s Viking vixen, Valkyrie, and Taarna, the iconic heroine from my beloved Heavy Metal: The Animated Film.

Aside from the obvious “blade-slinging beauty” angle, Val and Taarna share two other, more subtle commonalities. Both have real monomymic real names — Valkyrie’s true identity is simply called Brunnhilde — and both are seen to be reincarnated in multiple persons. Over her career in comics, the spirit of Brunnhilde has been reborn in several women, most notably Barbara Norriss and Samantha Parrington. At the conclusion of Heavy Metal, we find Taarna’s spirit alive new in the young girl seen previously in the linking segments (titled “Grimaldi”) throughout the film.

Steve’s sensibility as an animation designer fits these heroines like an armored gauntlet. Who wouldn’t want to watch an entire movie of Taarna and Val wading into pitched battle against hordes of hostile foes? Sign me up!

Not only did Steve turn out his take-home commission assignment beautifully and speedily — I received a scan of the finished piece less than a week after Big Wow concluded — he also graciously autographed the cover of my Fire and Ice DVD. (He did seem a touch surprised that someone actually owned one.) Now if only I could run into Ralph Bakshi one of these days…

And that, friend reader, is your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Avengers assemble!

May 4, 2012

Unless you’ve been living in an underwater grotto for the past year or so, you know what today is: the U.S. premiere of Marvel Studios’ summer blockbuster, The Avengers. (Also known as Avengers Assemble, if you happen to live in the U.K. In which case, you already saw the movie a week ago.) While I didn’t feel compelled to queue up for a midnight showing, I do have the flick on my weekend to-do list.

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to revisit a few pieces from my galleries featuring the heroes from the film’s roster of Avengers. It’s a much shorter list than the slate of current and past Avengers in the Marvel Comics universe, which, the last time I counted, has included more than 80 heroes and heroines over the superteam’s half-century of history.

Interestingly, there’s never been an incarnation of Avengers in the comics that included the movie’s Big Six — Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Hulk — at the same time. The Hulk, a founding member of the team, ditched the others by the second issue of the original run. He made guest appearances in a couple more early stories, but was gone entirely by issue #6. To the best of my knowledge, ol’ Greenskin hasn’t been an active Avenger at any time since early 1964, a year before Hawkeye signed on, and nearly a decade before the Widow became a permanent member.

Let’s start with one of the first drawings I acquired when I began collecting original art. Thor faces off with his not-so-jolly green compadre in this scene penciled by Dan Jurgens and inked by Bob Almond.

Thor vs. the Hulk, pencils by Dan Jurgens, inks by Bob Almond

Next up, here’s the Incredible One again, this time doing battle with yet another fellow founding Avenger, Iron Man. The late, great George Tuska — the definitive Iron Man artist of the 1970s — lent his potent pencil and imagination to this one.

Iron Man vs. the Hulk, pencils by George Tuska

People who don’t follow comics closely might assume that Captain America was an original Avenger, so identified is he with the team. In fact, Cap didn’t join until Avengers #4 — he was busy being frozen in ice prior to that. No sooner had the Star-Spangled Super-Soldier thawed out, though, that he became the heart and soul of the ever-changing ensemble, assuming his longtime leadership role in Avengers #16 when the remaining founding members — Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man (who’d changed his code name to Giant-Man by then), and the Wasp — departed en masse. Cap’s been the center of the Avengers most of the time since. Here he is with his doppelganger and one-time fellow Avenger, the U.S. Agent (or USAgent, if you prefer), as drawn by Ron Lim and embellished by Bob Almond.

Captain America and the U.S. Agent, pencils by Ron Lim, inks by Bob Almond

The Black Widow didn’t become a full-fledged Avenger until 1973, though she made periodic guest shots before then. At the time she joined the team, the Widow was probably best known as the partner (both in and out of costume) of the blind crimefighter Daredevil, whose comic she co-headlined for four years. Readers of a certain age, however, will recall that before she settled in with the Man Without Fear, the spy formerly known as Natasha Romanoff starred in her own year-long series in Marvel’s Amazing Adventures in 1970 and ’71. In this Common Elements commission by Ty Romsa, the Widow chills with Silver Sable, one of the very few Marvel heroes who has never been an Avenger. (At least, not yet.)

Silver Sable and Black Widow, pencils by Ty Romsa

Alas, I don’t have a solo drawing of Hawkeye in my collection. Which surprises me, because I’ve always liked the guy. (I’m tempted to throw up my Mike Grell Green Arrow instead, just to see whether anyone would even notice the difference.) He does, however, make an appearance in my Common Elements series, in a terrific piece drawn by the legendary Ernie Chan.

Go see The Avengers. But wait a day or two until the crowds thin out. It’ll still be the same movie, but you’ll be able to get a better seat.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: In which Uncle Swan does you a patriotic solid

July 22, 2011

In case you were planning to see Captain America: The First Avenger, which premieres in theaters nationwide today…

Here’s how it ends.

Captain America smacks down the Red Skull, pencils by  Kevin Maguire, inks by Joe Rubinstein

I just saved you the price of a ticket.

You’re welcome.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: The chauffeur’s daughters

March 4, 2011

I’ll be honest — sometimes, the only reason for a new Common Elements commission is that the idea made me grin from ear to ear when I thought of it.

Well, not literally from ear to ear in that Julia Roberts / Cameron Diaz sort of way. My mouth is not that enormous. More like from mid-cheek to mid-cheek.

First, the art. (As always, you can click the image for a better view.)

Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Fairchild, pencils and inks by comics artist Mike DeCarlo

Comics veteran Mike DeCarlo, who has drawn and/or inked everything from Spider-Man to The Simpsons during his quarter-century-plus in the industry, teams Sabrina, the Teenage Witch — star of comics, animation, and live-action TV, and responsible for extending the acting career of Melissa Joan Hart well beyond her teens (and, some might opine, beyond the limits of her talent) — with Caitlin Fairchild, leader of the youthful superhero team Gen13, who’s often known simply by her surname.

Next, the concept.

As an aficionado of old-school Hollywood, one of my favorite classic films is Sabrina. (That’s Billy Wilder’s 1954 original, starring Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, and a luminous Audrey Hepburn in the title role, not the tepid 1995 remake with Harrison Ford, Greg Kinnear, and Julia Ormond, directed by Sydney Pollack.)

Bogie and Holden portray two wealthy brothers — David, a good-for-nothing playboy (Holden), and Linus, who’s older and more serious (Bogart) — competing for the affections of a young woman (Hepburn) who happens to be the daughter of their family’s chauffeur. It’s sort of a reverse spin on Cyrano de Bergerac, with Linus working to sabotage the budding romance between his brother and the chauffeur’s daughter in order to score a huge business deal with the family of another woman, to whom David is engaged. And of course, Linus ends up falling in love with the girl himself. (Who wouldn’t? It’s Audrey Hepburn, for crying out loud.)

Okay, you’re thinking — that explains Sabrina. But what’s the Fairchild connection? If you’ve seen the movie, you know: the character Sabrina’s last name is Fairchild.

That makes me smile. Doesn’t it you?

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.