Archive for the ‘Taking Umbrage’ category

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.

Comic Art Friday: I’m not saying I’m Batman, but you’ve never seen us together

October 18, 2013

Batman and Catwoman, pencils by Ron Adrian, inks by Di Amorim

When I was a young comics-reading lad, I always liked Batman.

Superman never really appealed to me because he was too… well… super. I mean, the guy could fly so fast he could travel through time, and so strong he could carry a planet out of its orbit. Who can identify with someone who can basically do anything he wants?

Batman, on the other hand, was just a really smart guy with lots of cool toys. He wasn’t inhumanly strong or fast, and he couldn’t fly. He was, however, the world’s greatest detective, and a supremely well-trained athlete — like Sherlock Holmes and a pre-plastic-surgery Bruce Jenner rolled into one. Or, to put it another way, he was Iron Man, without the armor, but with a host of other gadgets to accomplish most of the same tasks.

The Caped Crusader ruled in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially when his adventures were chronicled by inventive creative teams: writer Denny O’Neil (and later, Steve Englehart) and artist Neal Adams (and in partnership with Englehart, Marshall Rogers) in Detective Comics, and writer Bob Haney and artist Jim Aparo in the Batman team-up series, The Brave and the Bold. (To this day, Aparo remains the definitive Batman artist to my eye. When I close my eyes and think, “Batman,” it’s Aparo’s rendering that I envision.)

I loved that Batman.

Then along came Frank Miller.

And the love died.

Batman and Catwoman, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Geof Isherwood

Frank Miller — a tremendously talented cartoonist (that’s the technical term for a comics creator who who both writes and draws, regardless of whether the material is comedic or dramatic), by the way — holds the unique distinction of single-handedly ruining two of my favorite superheroes — Batman and Daredevil. He did this by making both characters dark and hyper-violent, to the point of psychopathy: Batman, in Miller’s landmark 1986 miniseries The Dark Knight Returns; Daredevil, in Miller’s lengthy run (1979-1983) as first artist, then writer-artist, on the character’s eponymous series. Ironically, it was Denny O’Neil, whose Batman stories I so admired, who hired Miller for both jobs, in his capacity as editor, first at Marvel, then later at DC.

(More recently, Miller decided to become a film director so that he could destroy yet another of my boyhood idols: Will Eisner’s The Spirit. But that’s a rant for another day.)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t oppose Batman being what he was originally intended to be — the grim avenger of the night. Let’s face it, he dresses in a bat costume for a reason. But Miller’s perspective robbed Batman of the features that made him so fascinating — his brilliant intellect; his investigative skills; his technical wizardry — and turned him into a thug in a bat suit. Someone could create great comics about a thug in a bat suit — in fact, Frank Miller did. But that character isn’t Batman. At least, not the Batman of whom I was once so enamored.

Some historian might well note that when Batman first appeared in comics in 1939, he was a much darker character. In his earliest issues, Batman even carried a handgun — and used it, frequently. (The same could be said of a number of Golden Age heroes; the Spectre, for example, took eerie delight in killing off evildoers using grotesque, often graphic, methods.) So, true enough.

But the Caped Crusader evolved away from that initial “gunslinging vigilante” image fairly quickly, just as Superman evolved away from “faster than a speeding bullet; more powerful than a locomotive; able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” into the almost godlike power-set with which we’re more familiar. For my money, the Batman who was the world’s foremost investigator and inventor — and a reasonably functional human being — is infinitely more interesting than the twisted, tortured, bloodthirsty antihero he is now.

But maybe that’s just me.

Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman. Then, always be Batman.

In an effort to reconnect with the more human (and more humane) side of the Dark Knight, today’s dynamic duo of artworks depicts Batman paired with his longtime nemesis-slash-paramour Selina Kyle, better known to the world as Catwoman. The piece at the top of the post features the pencils of former Supergirl artist Ron Adrian, embellished by his fellow Brazilian, Di Amorim. The scene in the center was penciled by the late, lamented Al Rio, with inks by the thankfully neither late nor lamented Geof Isherwood.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: I say Martin, you say McDaniel

September 27, 2013

A while back, I was randomly browsing the comic art listings on eBay — you know, like you do — and I stumbled upon this drawing by artist Michael McDaniel of one of my favorite heroines, Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch.

The Scarlet Witch, pencils and inks by Matt Martin

Except… this isn’t a drawing by Michael McDaniel.

It’s a drawing by another artist, Matt Martin.

I can understand how the eBay seller, who I will presume is not terribly familiar with either artist’s work, could make that mistake. Both Matt Martin, who’s probably best known as a cover artist for Avatar Press (Lady Death, Crossed) and for his creator-owned series Snowman and Vortex, and Michael McDaniel, a popular pinup artist, sign their work with only their initials, MM.

Matt Martin’s signature, however, is unique in that he always surrounds it with a word balloon, as you can see in the Scarlet Witch piece above. Martin also stylizes his initials in an immediately recognizable fashion, as though the letters were dripping inky blood. (He’s primarily a horror artist, so that makes perfect sense.)

Conversely, McDaniel’s signature is clean and very linear, as shown in his own rendition of the Scarlet Witch, below.

The Scarlet Witch, pencils by Michael McDaniel

Having commissioned both artists on multiple occasions, I immediately recognized the mislabeled drawing as a Martin, rather than a McDaniel. That worked out fine for me. Now, I’m glad to have a Wanda in my collection by each of these talented gentlemen.

If you’d like to see another same-character comparison, take a gander at these two images from my Taarna gallery, both of which I commissioned directly from the artists in question.

First, here’s Michael McDaniel’s take on our Taraakian avenger.

Taarna, pencils by Michael McDaniel

Now, here’s Taarna, as envisioned by Matt Martin.

Taarna, pencils and inks by Matt Martin

Would you confuse the styles of these two creators, friend reader? I’m confident that you would not. But then, you’re probably not selling comic art on eBay.

In the above-cited instance, we’re talking about what I’m positive was an unintentional error on the part of the seller. (I want to make that clear. I’ve done business with this person numerous times over the years, and have never found him to be dishonest.) It underscores, however, the old maxim: Caveat emptor.

Stories abound of unscrupulous sellers misrepresenting art in order to increase its price tag. It’s not at all uncommon to find pieces in eBay’s comic art listings that are blatant copies of works by established name artists, or worse, outright forgeries. (In fact, I personally know a collector who unwittingly bought a forged version of an original drawing that I own, by an extremely popular artist.)

And I have no doubt that there are as many — perhaps more — cases like my Scarlet Witch, where the seller simply doesn’t know what he or she has. A buyer who is equally ill-informed might well end up purchasing something he or she will be disappointed to learn isn’t what it was represented to be.

Consider yourself warned.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

If I had a ballot…

January 8, 2013

…I’d ballot in the morning. I’d ballot in the evening, all over this land.

And assuming that ballot were for the National Baseball Hall of Fame (“the Hall” for the remainder of this post, because I’m not typing that entire name over and over again), here’s who’d be on mine this year.

  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Mike Piazza
  • Jack Morris
  • Lee Smith

Tomorrow, the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (hereafter “the BBWAA,” because, well, see above) will announce their selections. I fully expect, based on the electors who’ve already publicized their votes, that Bonds and Clemens will not make the Hall in this, their first year of eligibility. Indeed, I would not be surprised if Bagwell doesn’t make it either, though the case for his election or omission is more easily argued from either side, in my opinion. (I doubt that Morris, who’s on the ballot for the 14th year, and Smith, who’s on year 11, will ever be elected, for different reasons than the aforementioned players.) Piazza? Hard to predict.

But let’s get this on the table right now: If Bonds and Clemens — the greatest offensive player and pitcher, respectively, of their generation — are not elected to the Hall tomorrow, as I suspect they will not be, it’s a travesty.

Most, if not indeed all, of the electors who left Bonds and Clemens (and possibly Bagwell and Piazza) off their ballots will say it’s because they cheated the game by using performance-enhancing drugs (“PEDs,” because… you know). Here’s the first problem with that: We don’t know whether they did or didn’t.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: We do know. Game of Shadows, and all that. Well, I read Game of Shadows right after it came out, and it impressed me at the time as the work of two muckrakers trying to make a name for themselves. There’s a ton of speculation in the book, and a lot of “he said, they said” scuttlebutt from sources the writers declined to identify, but not a great deal of what folks in the legal profession call “evidence.” The fact remains that we’ve never seen the results of a positive test for PEDs that Bonds failed, and I’m not sure we ever saw one from Clemens either. Bonds was tried in federal court, and was not convicted of perjury regarding PED use. (He was convicted on a single count of obstruction of justice, which may yet collapse on appeal.) The last time I checked, our legal system still operated on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

But what about the evidence of our own eyes? Bonds grew from Bill Bixby (or Eric Bana, Edward Norton, or Mark Ruffalo, take your pick) into the Incredible Hulk right practically in front of us. Don’t get me wrong — I think he used PEDs. I don’t know whether he took anabolic steroids, but I’d guess he at least took human growth hormone (HGH). But what I think and guess is essentially irrelevant. My inferences, deductions, and suppositions are not proof. Like most people, I believe in a lot of things I can’t prove, and I’m entitled to those beliefs. I can’t, however, prove that someone is guilty of something simply because I believe it to be so. Two years ago, I was the foreman on a jury that convicted a man of murder. My fellow jurors and I convicted the defendant on the basis of evidence, not because we looked at the guy and said, “Yeah, I think he did it.” I believe Bonds, Clemens, and every other player suspected of PED use deserves the same consideration.

There’s another factor in this that frequently gets brushed aside. PED use, while clearly contrary to the spirit of fair play and integrity, was not against the rules of baseball during most of what today gets referred to as “the Steroid Era.” Make no mistake, using those substances was against federal and state laws. But unlike, say, cycling or the Olympics, baseball itself did not explicitly prohibit their use, nor test for said use, until well after PEDs were epidemic in the sport. Was that a loophole? Sure. But you can’t penalize people for taking advantage of a loophole if one exists. All you can do is close the loophole, and say, “No more.” Baseball has now done that — we might argue about how effectively — but that creates no retroactive license to go back and slap the wrists of players who might have engaged in activity that was not prohibited by the rules of the sport that then stood. If San Francisco starts metering parking on Sundays (which, not coincidentally, the city did on January 1), the meter reader can’t send me a ticket for not feeding the meter on a Sunday before the law changed.

One more point, and I’ll stop the ranting. People inside the game, whose expert opinions I respect, have estimated that at the height of the Steroid Era, as many as 75 to 80 percent of MLB players may have used PEDs to some degree. That means guys like Bonds and Clemens — and what the heck, throw Bagwell and Piazza in there too — were not outliers if indeed they used. They were part of the flow of traffic, just as you or I are when we nudge our cars upward of the posted speed limit to keep pace with the cars around us. (And we do. Let’s not be all sanctimonious here.) Does that make it right, if they did it? No. But it does mean there was a clear majority of players who were equally in the wrong. Which, to my mind, levels the playing field. It’s no longer “cheating” — and again, as noted above, it actually wasn’t cheating under the then-prevailing rules of the game — if everyone, or nearly everyone, is cheating. Ask the NFL Players Association, which turns a consistent blind eye to the widely intimated idea that perhaps 75 to 80 percent of its membership uses HGH to this very day, even though such usage is currently against the rules of their sport.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love baseball. It has been part of my life for more than 40 years, a part that I now love sharing with my daughter. And I consider myself a purist in a lot of ways — I prefer the National League style of play in which pitchers came to bat, and I enjoy seeing the fundamentals of the game practiced at the highest level. It makes me sad that we had a Steroid Era (assuming we’re not still having a PED Era in some fashion, which may be another example of assuming facts not in evidence). But let’s not kid ourselves: We did have such an era. We did not have a period in which a random handful of players — Bonds and Clemens included — used PEDs. We had a period, probably 20 years or more, during which the majority of major league players “juiced.” The idea that “everyone did it” doesn’t make it right, but it does need to influence how we view those who might have done it, and especially how we evaluate them within the timespan in which they played. Are we going to pretend, from the standpoint of the Hall, that those 20 years didn’t happen? That the statistics don’t count? That the games weren’t played? Ridiculous. We watched, even attended the games. We saw the achievements. They happened. And what’s more, we as fans of the game supported them, with our ticket-buying dollars, with our eyes on the television set, and with our ears to the radio. Let’s not act as though we didn’t. It’s hypocritical to harass the prostitute after we’ve paid for the services.

To those writers who take the holier-than-thou position that Bonds and Clemens, and others of their generation, don’t belong in the Hall because of the PED scandal, I say, “Take a good look in the mirror.” If you covered the game during the PED Era, and made your living by doing so, you were part of the problem too. You could have washed your hands and walked away. But you didn’t. You continued to draw a paycheck from a sport filled with guys dosing up with whatever BALCO and other pharmaceutical factories cranked out. You kept telling the stories, and selling the game. And don’t say you didn’t suspect, because if you didn’t then, why do you now? If you closed your eyes and held your nose all of those years, why can’t you do the same now, and acknowledge the accomplishments — within the context of the game as it was being played during their careers — of the men who provided you the means of your livelihood? Don’t act as though you’re better than they are. You are not.

If I had a ballot for the Hall of Fame, I’d check the boxes next to the six names listed above. Barry Bonds was the most amazing hitter I ever saw. Roger Clemens was one of the game’s most dominant pitchers. Mike Piazza ranks among the best to ever play behind the plate, both defensively and offensively… even if he was a Dodger for a lot of that time. Jeff Bagwell is a borderline call for me, but I’d vote for him. As for Jack Morris and Lee Smith, the former was the best starting pitcher in the American League for an entire decade, and the latter was one of baseball’s first and finest true closers.

In case you’re wondering, my exclusion of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire has nothing to do with whether I think they did or didn’t use PEDs. McGwire was a one-trick pony — a player whose only tool was power. He rarely hit for average, had no speed, and for most of his career was a subpar defensive player. He was a beefed-up Dave Kingman or Dick Stuart, to put it another way. Sammy Sosa wasn’t even that good — a pretty solid mid-level star who had a couple of spectacular seasons. I wouldn’t vote for either of them, not because of PEDs, but because to my mind, they weren’t Hall of Fame-caliber players. (Craig Biggio? Tim Raines? Please. Very good, but not great players, whose stats are at least partially inflated by longevity, especially in Biggio’s case.)

You’re welcome to disagree. I won’t argue with your opinion, or your right thereto. But this is my ballot, and I’m sticking to it.

Comic Art Friday: Children of the atom

March 23, 2012

I’ll get to the subject at hand momentarily, but first, I’m going to vent just a tad. (If you wish to avoid my angst-ridden screed, feel welcome to scroll down to the big picture, and start reading beneath it.)

Usually, around this time of year, I spend a joyous and fun-filled weekend at WonderCon, here in San Francisco. As many of you know, Comic-Con International — presenters of both WonderCon and the industry’s biggest annual event, San Diego Comic-Con — moved WonderCon 2012 from the Moscone Center (which is currently undergoing renovation) to Anaheim Convention Center, 400 miles to the south. I have been vocal, both online and in person among my comics-aficionado associates, in contending that this move was (a) unnecessary, as there are other facilities in the Bay Area to which WonderCon could have been relocated for one year; and (b) permanent, because the real reason CCI moved the con to Anaheim in the first place is to get the event into a larger, more lucrative media market — especially one closer to the hub of the motion picture/television/video gaming industry, toward which CCI’s events have become increasingly geared.

I’ve told anyone who’d listen over the past several months since the move was announced that I believe CCI will keep WonderCon in SoCal from here on out. I’ve heard nothing from CCI’s leadership that contradicts that view. In fact, the rather vague assertions of CCI’s spokespeople to the effect that, “Well, we’d like to keep WonderCon in San Francisco, but gee, we don’t know what’s going to happen…” have only served to reinforce my perspective.

So, earlier this week, when the popular comics news blog The Beat published its latest article promoting the CCI party line, I dropped in the following comment:

Believe the misdirection ploy (“It’s everyone else’s fault”) if you choose. The bottom line is that this is about money, pure and simple. [CCI head David] Glanzer and his crew think there’s more money in relocating WonderCon to SoCal. Every other excuse is a canard.

Maybe they’re right. But SoCal already has SDCC. Now, thanks to abject greed, it has our Bay Area con, too.

If Glanzer was sincere about keeping WonderCon in the Bay Area, there were and are several alternatives.

And, if he were sincere now, all it would take is an unequivocal statement: “WonderCon will be held in the Bay Area in 2013, and in the foreseeable future. If the Moscone Center doesn’t work out, we’ll stage it at another Bay Area venue. Period. End of conversation.”

But he won’t. He’s too busy counting those SoCal dollars.

I guess the thousands I’ve spent at WonderCon over the years — along with the millions spent by countless other Bay Area and Northern California fans — just don’t smell as sweet.

Having apparently offended the delicate sensibilities of The Beat‘s editor-in-chief, Heidi MacDonald, I was promptly placed on moderation and told that my comments were “insulting.” Never mind, of course, whether they’re accurate.

I recognize that CCI is a major advertiser on The Beat — you can’t go to the site without seeing a huge banner ad for CCI’s upcoming events. So, I understand that Heidi’s simply protecting that revenue stream, as well as her sources for information and stories from within the CCI organization. I totally get it.

But if you still think this isn’t about money, take note of what happens when you try to speak truth to power.

Now that I have that out of my system, let’s look at today’s featured artwork, shall we?

Atom Eve and Doctor Solar, pencils and inks by comics artist Carlo Barberi

When we think of comics today — to be more narrowly specific, superhero comics — we’re often thinking in terms of the Big Two publishers of such fare: Marvel Comics (now an arm of the Walt Disney Company) and DC Comics (owned for the past few decades by Warner Bros., a division of Time Warner). Several other entities — including Image, Dark Horse, and Dynamic Entertainment — also put out superhero and related science fiction and fantasy comics, but with a far smaller footprint in the marketplace.

Although DC and Marvel have dominated the field since the early 1960s (both companies, of course, trace their histories back much further in time than that, all the way to the late 1930s), they’ve always had competitors, even as they do at present. In fact, when I was a comics-reading kid in the mid-to-late 1960s, I regularly picked up books published by Charlton, Tower, Dell, and Western Publishing (which issued its comics under the Gold Key imprint), among others. All of these minor (relatively speaking) players have faded from the scene over time, but many of their characters live on in the memories of fans — and occasionally, in licensed revivals by publishers active in the business today.

Which brings us to Doctor Solar. (That’s him sporting the wicked-looking visor in the drawing above. Credit the talented Carlo Barberi with the pencils and inks.)

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, first published in 1962, was one of Western/Gold Key’s more successful superhero ventures. Its lead character, Dr. Raymond Solar (a name born for superhero-dom), was a nuclear physicist who gained his superpowers from a reactor meltdown. (Radiation-spawned abilities were all the rage in the early 1960s — see Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk, to name but a few.) The newly irradiated Solar could transform himself into all kinds of energy at will, as well as fly, teleport, and generate powerful energy bursts. All of which made him a formidable opponent, as you might imagine. Oddly enough, considering his name, Doctor Solar’s powers had nothing to do with the sun, which doubtless led to the clarifying subtitle “Man of the Atom.”

Solar’s adventures ran in his own comic until 1969, right about the time Gold Key was beginning to phase itself out of the original action-adventure genre (most of the company’s output was licensed comics based on TV series and cartoons). In the 1990s, Jim Shooter’s upstart Valiant Comics picked up the character and revamped him — the good doctor’s true identity was now Phil Seleski, and he demonstrated significantly enhanced power over the previous iteration (the new Solar could travel through time, and was apparently immortal) — for a run that lasted about as long as Valiant itself… which is to say, not all that long. Valiant’s successor, Acclaim Comics, continued the feature. Finally, Dark Horse brought back Doctor Solar for another brief run just a few years ago. Who knows? He may pop up yet again, given time.

Accompanying the Man of the Atom in this Common Elements tableau is Atom Eve, the on-again, off-again girlfriend of the teenage superhero Invincible. Created by writer Robert Kirkman — perhaps best known as the auteur responsible for The Walking Dead — and original Invincible penciler Cory Walker, Samantha Eve Wilkins possesses the power to manipulate matter at the atomic level, which basically means she can change anything into anything else. (Her powers don’t work on living creatures, though, so the people around Eve are safe from being transmogrified into toads or furniture.) She can also use her abilities to alter the density of the air around her, enabling her to fly.

If you’re not already familiar with Invincible, I recommend it as one of the more enjoyable reads in present-day comics. It also features one of the few successful superhero universes outside of the Big Two. Kirkman has been cranking out Invincible on a more or less regular basis since 2003 — artist Ryan Ottley (who frequently signs his work “Wya,” infant-speak for “Ryan”) having replaced Walker eight issues into the run — and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Although the series occasionally overindulges in graphic violence (what do you expect from the Walking Dead guy?), at its core Invincible retains a good deal of the rollicking fun that characterized Silver Age Marvel, albeit with a razor-sharp modern sensibility. If the Big Two’s product isn’t floating your boat these days, or even if you’re just looking for something a little fresher and hipper in your superhero reading, give Invincible a try.

That’s a totally free recommendation, by the way. My opinion is never for sale to the highest bidder.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

This one’s for the boobies

October 3, 2011

It hardly seems as though it’s been a year, but it’s October again. You know what that means: It’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Pink ribbon

Those of you who’ve visited here and at our previous location know that I’m not big on causes, but I champion this one for a powerful personal reason: KJ, my wife of 25 years — and life partner of 29 years total — lost her decade-long battle with breast cancer in July 2010. This disease cost KJ’s parents their only remaining child (KJ’s brother died from Ewing’s sarcoma 22 years ago), my daughter her mother, and me the woman I’d loved my entire adult life.

So yeah — breast cancer made itself a lifelong enemy here.

If you’re a woman, know your risk factors. Talk with your doctor about those risks. Learn to examine your own breasts, and conduct those exams religiously. Don’t think that breast cancer is just a disease for older women — KJ was 34 when she was first diagnosed. If you’re 40 or older, by all means get annual mammograms.

If you’re not a woman, pass the preceding paragraph along to every woman you know.

Regardless of your gender, if you have a few spare dollars in your pocket or purse this month, consider making a contribution to the breast cancer awareness/research nonprofit of your choice. (KJ’s favorite was Susan G. Komen for the Cure.) I know things are tough economically for a lot of you, but every little contribution helps.

Breast cancer will affect one woman in eight — too many precious lives. That’s your wife or partner, your daughter, your sister, your mother, your grandmother, your aunt, your neighbor… maybe you.

Let’s hunt this beast down, and kill it for good.

One Hall step forward, one step back

January 5, 2011

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar, one of the greatest second basemen in the history of the game, on his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, Robbie is well deserving of enshrinement. The only reason he wasn’t chosen in his first year of eligibility was the incident in which Alomar spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck. One single moment of stupidity — and it was stupid, no question — in an otherwise exemplary career shouldn’t keep the guy out of the Hall. Now, it won’t.

As for Bert Blyleven, I’m glad he finally made the Hall on his 13th attempt for one reason, and one reason only: We won’t have to listen to him whine anymore about not being elected.

Here’s the bottom line on Blyleven. He played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball, during which time he racked up 287 wins and 3701 strikeouts. But we’re talking about the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Hung Around Forever. If we’re going by longevity, Jim Kaat and Jamie Moyer should be in the Hall (at least, Moyer should be if he ever retires), and no one who knows anything about baseball is going to make either of those arguments.

The fact is that Blyleven was a good pitcher, but nowhere near a great one. He won 20 games only once in 22 seasons, even though he played in an era when 20 wins was the gold standard of excellence for top starting pitchers. Heck, Mike Krukow won 20 for the Giants once — should Kruk be in the Hall? Blyleven only won as many as 19 once. At the same time, he posted seven — count ’em, seven — sub-.500 seasons. That’s seven years in which he lost more games than he won. That’s nearly one-third of his career. Does that sound like a Hall of Famer to you?

No one who ever saw Blyleven pitch — aside from a handful of snow-blinded Minnesotans — thought he was the best pitcher of his time, or even one of the best. He never won a Cy Young Award. He never placed higher than third in the Cy Young voting. He was chosen as an All-Star twice. Twice — in 22 seasons. Again… does that sound like a Hall of Famer to you?

It’s no accident that the most statistically similar pitcher to Bert Blyleven was Don Sutton, another somewhat-better-than-average pitcher who rolled up deceptive numbers simply by virtue of avoiding career-ending injury for more than two decades. The Hall of Fame should not be rewarding players just for being lucky. Don Sutton — who, like Blyleven, won 20 or more games only once, and was never a Cy Young front-runner — doesn’t belong in the Hall, even though the baseball writers saw fit to enshrine him.

Bert Blyleven doesn’t belong in the Hall either.

Roberto Alomar does.

I have a power ring; I’m just wearing it as a belt

November 17, 2010

Once again, I get robbed.

This year, People Magazine passes me over for its annual Sexiest Man Alive honor in favor of Ryan Reynolds, whose chief claims to fame include (a) portraying comic book superhero Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, for those of you sufficiently comics-savvy to know that the title of Green Lantern applies to literally dozens of characters in the DC Comics universe) in the upcoming motion picture; and (b) being Mr. Scarlett Johansson.

Okay, so I’m not an alien-tech-equipped superhero, and frankly, I don’t think Ms. Johansson is my type. (Nor, doubtless, I hers.) But just once, you’d think People Magazine could show a little love to those millions of portly middle-aged gentlemen whose sexiness derives, not from matinee-idol looks which, let’s be honest, will need to be propped up with surgery and Botox in a decade or so, but from that most potent of sexual engines: the brain.

Experience and cunning trump chiseled cheekbones and washboard abdominals any time, ladies. Just sayin’.

Can I get a witness?

Sometimes, I feel like the Morton Salt girl

September 9, 2010

When it rains, it pours.

Oh, don’t cry for me, Argentina. My problems — at least those of which I’m speaking here — are strictly of the First World variety.

For most of this week, I’ve been without Internet access here at Casa de Swan. After a few pointless calls to AT&T DSL tech support, I figured out a workaround that has restored my connection. I still am without wireless hookup, so I’ve resigned myself to being chained to my office for the nonce, but at least I can communicate with the universe.

I also had jury duty this week. A duty which resulted in my being selected to serve in a trial that begins next week. So if postings are sparse here for the next little while, I know you’ll understand.

And… boom goes the dynamite.