Friday, June 10, 2005

There's something about Mary (Marvel)

In honor of the last day of school for this academic year, Comic Art Friday is sponsored today by Vacation, the classic 1982 album by the Go-Go's. Retro chic for summer — trés cool.

Speaking of cute girls and summertime...

In those long-ago days when superhero comics were fun, and kids of all ages could enjoy them without feeling the need to shower or take antidepressants afterward, there was Mary Marvel.

Our younger readers may be surprised to know that, for most of the 1940s — the core of comics' Golden Age, Fawcett Publications' Captain Marvel was the most successful costumed hero in the business, outselling DC stalwarts Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman almost every month. That is, until DC's protracted legal machinations against Fawcett finally resulted in the Captain Marvel purveyors losing a copyright battle to the Superman folks, and the Big Red Cheese and his associates vanished from the newsstands until DC began reintroducing their adventures in the early '70s.

Part of the appeal of Captain Marvel in his heyday was his coterie of cohorts, collectively known as the Marvel Family. Crippled newsboy Freddy Freeman transformed into Captain Marvel Jr. whenever he shouted the good Captain's name. (Readers in the '40s never seemed mystified by the fact that a handicapped kid who could zap himself into a superpowered body would willingly change back into his ambulatorily challenged real self at the end of each adventure. Seriously...would you?) And Mary Batson Bromfield, the long-lost sister of Captain Marvel's alter ego Billy Batson, would cry "Shazam!" just like her sibling, and magically become Mary Marvel, the World's Most Powerful Girl.

As was true of the Captain, Mary's special code word represented the mythological figures from whom her powers derived. Mary possessed...
  • the grace of Selena, goddess of the moon
  • the strength of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons (and mother of Wonder Woman, for those of you keeping score at home)
  • the skill of Ariadne, who helped Theseus solve the riddle of the labyrinth
  • the speed of Zephyrus, the West Wind
  • the beauty of Aurora, goddess of the dawn (which appeared to mean that the goddess of the dawn looked like a 15-year-old girl)
  • the wisdom of Minerva, the goddess of (you're way ahead of me) wisdom.
The interesting thing about Mary Marvel was that, unlike her brother Billy, who became a broad-shouldered, muscular adult when he powered up, or Freddy, who as Captain Marvel Jr. regained the use of his lame leg, Mary's Shazam-ing changed only her clothes. She remained, to all appearances, a cherub-faced teenage girl — a cherub-faced teenage girl who could layeth the smacketh down as well as the big boys, of course.

I've been commissioning a lot of Mary Marvel art lately, I think because I'm becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that my daughter, who's just about Mary's age, is now just two years away from graduating from high school. Like Mary Marvel, she's on the verge of flying off to exercise her powers for good in the real world.

Thus, for your Comic Art Friday viewing enjoyment, consider these two distinctive takes on one of my favorite superheroines. First up, this gorgeous pencil portrait done in the classic style of the Golden Age by artist Steve Mannion:

Mannion, whose specialty is drawing buxom and sexy superwomen, was a bit perplexed when I commissioned him to recreate Mary Marvel. According to his art representative, the redoubtable Scott Kress at Catskill Comics, Steve actually thought the assignment sounded "boring." But when he got into the character, he found that she was in fact fun to draw, and he was reportedly delighted with his final creation. I am, too — it's a beautiful example of period-style pinup art. I can easily envision this version of Mary painted on the nose of a B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II.

For a striking contrast, here's Mary powerfully portrayed in the bold black inks of artist Cully Hamner of Gaijin Studios:

I love the way Hamner retained Mary's youthful innocence, but surrounds her with a dark, lightning-streaked background that underscores her mythic might. Cully's fresh, vibrant take on the character is one of the best I've seen.

Mannion and Hamner slam back-to-back home runs in the Mary Marvel department this week.


3 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Robert K S offered these pearls of wisdom...

Sorry, Michael, I haven't been a regular reader of your blog for that long, so forgive my naïvité when I ask--is commissioning pop art really something any old Jeopardy! superchampion can do? Do you see it as hobby or investment?

8:01 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

It's strictly a hobby for me, Robert. There are some pieces in my collection that might have some small legacy value someday, but mostly I just buy what I enjoy looking at.

And yes, the art I commission is well within my means. Though I was able to splurge a bit this year, thanks to my good friends at Sony Pictures!

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Tom Galloway (tyg) offered these pearls of wisdom...

Robert, if you've not been to a comics convention, it's surprisingly easy and relatively inexpensive to commission sketches from artist guests (the cost does vary based on how popular/in-demand an artist is, and how much time/detail/characters you want them to put into the sketch). It's not something I've ever gotten into heavily, but there are quite a few comics fans with pretty extensive sketch collections, often themed around a particular character or concept.

3:44 PM  

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