Friday, July 08, 2005

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Today's Comic Art Friday comes to you in the name of peace. Goodness knows we could use some right about now.

Comic Art Friday fans are familiar with my "Common Elements" series of artworks, wherein I invite artists to team otherwise unrelated superheroes who share some particular feature. One of the first Common Elements concepts I came up with was a "War and Peace" theme featuring Marvel Comics' War Machine and a Silver Age Charlton Comics hero, the Peacemaker. That concept lingered on my to-do list for months, waiting for the right artist to come along.

Then recently, my friend and fellow collector Damon introduced me to the amazing talents of artist Jean-Paul Mavinga. When I read Jean-Paul's biography on his Web site, I immediately knew that the "War and Peace" theme would resonate with him. With Damon's kind assistance, I contacted Jean-Paul and arranged this commission. In the wee small hours of this morning, Mr. Mavinga e-mailed me this scan of the completed artwork. I'm still picking myself up from the floor.

The Peacemaker was one of a handful of "Action Heroes" published by Charlton in the mid-1960s, right around the time I first began reading comics. The novel concept of the Peacemaker was that of a man so devoted to the ideal of peace that he would willingly use force to achieve it. Using non-lethal weaponry and technology, the Peacemaker battled tyranny and injustice around the globe, until the Charlton folks ditched their superhero titles for such funny-animal animated characters as Underdog, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Yogi Bear.

Years later, DC Comics acquired the trademarks to Charlton's Action Heroes (which also included Steve Ditko's the Question and Blue Beetle, and a character called Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt) and made half-hearted attempts at integrating them into its existing universe. When noted comics scribe Alan Moore developed the concept for a graphic novel entitled Watchmen, his original intent was to resurrect the Charlton heroes and to use them to deconstruct the superhero mythology. DC's editorial staff greenlighted the Watchmen idea, but insisted (in order to preserve existing DC Universe continuity) that Moore create his own characters for the series, which he did — using the Charlton heroes as templates. The Watchmen character known as the Comedian is based on the Peacemaker.

James "Rhodey" Rhodes, the man inside War Machine's armor, began his life in comics as the close friend and personal pilot of Tony Stark, better known as the invincible Iron Man. Rhodes was one of several individuals who at various times assumed the Iron Man identity temporarily, either because of some incapacity on Stark's part (as during his lengthy battle with alcoholism) or simply to further the illusion that Stark and Iron Man were not the same person.

Eventually, Rhodes received his own tricked-out battle armor from Stark Enterprises, and adopted the new identity of War Machine (an allusion to the fact that Stark's primary industry was military weaponry). As War Machine, Rhodes fought evil as a member of the Avengers' West Coast spinoff (later called Force Works), and eventually on his own.

To my way of thinking, these two characters — Peacemaker and War Machine — symbolize the essential dichotomy of the superhero: good men and women seeking peace, yet compelled to utilize combative means to foster it.

Jean-Paul Mavinga's depiction of these two great heroes displays his brilliant sense of dynamic composition, as well as a shading technique as subtle and skillful as that of any comics artist I've seen. His style reminds me somewhat of Mike Grell, although with much greater smoothness and fluidity than is typical of Grell's usual work. Jean-Paul is another of those unsung artists in the industry who ought to be working regularly for one of the major comics publishers, but whose talents are — at least to date — being seriously underused. As you can see from the scan above, he creates outstanding art that perfectly balances beauty and power. JP's also a fellow blogger, whose insightful, often poignant, posts are well worth reading.

That's your Comic Art Friday. All we are saying is, "Give peace a chance."

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

Wonder Woman also exemplifies (sp?) the dicotomy (sp?): advocating peace but a member of a warrior culture.

9:39 PM  

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