Friday, March 11, 2005

"So shines a good deed in a weary world"

Today's Comic Art Friday, boys and girls, is a testament to the power of the Internet to enlighten our lives, expand our horizons, bring distant people together, and, I believe, foster harmony and brotherhood between us and our fellow man, woman, and metahuman.

Before I get to those lofty sentiments, though, feast your work-week-weary gaze upon this striking portrait:

The grinning gent with the lead-spitting .45 is not — contrary to what your initial impulse may have led you to believe — the Shadow of "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" fame, nor the Spirit, Will Eisner's cemetery-dwelling masked detective, despite his passing resemblance to those two worthy crimebusters. No, friends, this is the Crimson Avenger, who holds a hallowed place in comics history as the first masked superhero published by the company then known as National Periodicals, today more familiarly called DC Comics (a division of Time-Warner Communications, Inc.).

Although supplanted in popularity by his later-arriving stablemate, the upstart Batman, the Crimson Avenger was indeed DC's first foray into the masked-hero sweepstakes. (Superman, DC's premier property and initiator of the superhero comics boom, wears no mask. But then, he doesn't need one, because he lives in an alternate universe where people — even your lovers and closest friends — do not recognize you when you put on eyeglasses.) The Crimson Avenger made his first appearance in October 1938, more than six months before Bruce Wayne donned his cape and cowl. C.A. never rose to the heights of stardom of Supes and Bats — maybe because he was suspiciously reminiscent of too many other characters, such as the aforementioned Shadow and the Green Hornet, but he cut a dramatic figure. And besides, being first always counts for something. Unless you're Native American. But I digress.

The artist who created this bullet-blazing representation is Mike Grell, most familiar to longtime comics fans for his lengthy runs on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series in the '70s, and as the creator of such characters as sword-and-sandal stalwart Travis Morgan, aka the Warlord, and the mysterious Jon Sable, Freelance. Grell is one of the few pencilers still active in comics today whose style is so distinctive that his work can almost never be mistaken for that of another artist. This Crimson Avenger (which, by the way, was stylishly inked by artist Terry Staats) is the second Grell entry in my collection — I also own a sharp Green Arrow pinup veteran SSTOL readers have seen before.

But the real story of this picture is the manner in which it came to me — as a surprise gift from a fellow collector I met through this blog. One of the joys of any hobby is connecting with others who share your interest. (This is always a challenge in the face of the 99.9 percent of humans you know who couldn't give less of a rip about this weird thing for which you have developed an all-consuming passion.)

Some time back, I received an e-mail from a guy in the Houston area who had found his way, by the power of high-speed Internet, to this humble weblog. That e-mail initiated a conversation that continues to this day. As it turns out, Damon also is a comic art collector, which was the drawing card for him coming to SSTOL originally. Like mine, his collection focuses on commissioned pinup art instead of published page or cover art, which makes us fellows in a microscopic subregion of an already microcosmic hobby. Beyond that, we share a number of other interests and experiences in common.

Due to an odd series of circumstances only Damon himself could relate, this drawing was languishing in the nether regions of his art collection. When I recently mentioned that an upcoming commission project of mine would feature the Crimson Avenger, Damon thought I would give his Grell C.A. a good home, and he — unbeknownst to me — shipped it off to me. When it arrived today, I was dumbfounded that someone who knows me only as an unseen typist halfway across the continent would show me such a kindness. But that's been the nature of our friendship -- a word I don't use casually, but that I use unreservedly in reference to Damon.

I will, of course, have to plot a way to return the favor. But that will be a story for another time.

By the way, there is another, more recent character in the DC Comics universe named the Crimson Avenger. Like the original C.A., the modern Crimson Avenger packs a mean pair of pistols. Unlike the original, the new C.A. is female. And young. And African American. And wears a costume with a bare midriff. Just in case that's whom you envisioned when you heard the name, and were confused by the picture above.

As for the title of this post, Willy Wonka said that. Not the Crimson Avenger. Either one.

0 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Post a Comment

<< Home