Friday, November 11, 2005

Read a comic, kiss a veteran

Today being Veterans' Day, we dedicate this week's Comic Art Friday to the fine men and women of the American armed services, past and present. If you're a veteran, thank you for your contribution to the cause of liberty. If you're not a veteran, maybe you could find one and give his or her hand a firm shake in gratitude.

In celebration of our vets, SSTOL is proud to present this gorgeous pinup of everyone's favorite star-spangled Amazon, Wonder Woman, rendered with patriotic splendiferosity by artist Darryl Banks. (And yes, we know that Wonder Woman is supposed to be of Greek origin, not American, but it's the costume and attitude that count.)

The military and comic books are inextricably intertwined in my childhood memories. As the son of an Air Force sergeant, I bought most of my comics in base exchanges around the world (and read many I couldn't afford to buy at the newsracks in those exchanges).

But to bring us into the modern day, here's a shout-out to five current comic series that are providing me nearly as much entertainment value as the comics of my youth:

Conan (Dark Horse Comics). My affection for the works of Robert E. Howard goes back almost as far as my love of comics. In the early 1970s, when the Conan phenomenon first hit comics via Marvel's Conan the Barbarian series, those two reading interests joined in wonderful synchronicity. The current Dark Horse book, written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Cary Nord, comes as close to capturing the flavor of Howard's work as any adaptation I've seen.

Thor: Blood Oath (Marvel Comics). Thor has never been among my favorite Marvel characters, though he's the one whose adventures I would most enjoy having the opportunity to write someday. (I'd be great at composing Thor's pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue.) Scripter Michael Avon Oeming seems to be having the degree of fun with Thor in this miniseries that I would have. Artist Scott Kolins is a practitioner of the kind of sketchy linework that usually turns me off, but oddly enough, he's well suited to Thor. I'll be quite sorry when this miniseries ends.

Invincible (Image Comics). I discovered Invincible when the character appeared alongside Spider-Man in the latest issue of Marvel Team-Up, a series written by Invincible co-creator Robert Kirkman. I was so taken with the young hero — who combines the personality of the early Spidey with the powers of Superboy — that on my next trip to my local comics shop, I bought every back issue of Invincible they had in stock. A great read, with Kirkman mixing in a healthy dose of Silver Age fun.

Defenders (Marvel Comics). The eccentric, dialogue-heavy, tongue-firmly-in-cheek style of writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis won't suit every taste — or every character — but they've taken this miniseries through some enjoyable turns. I miss frequent collaborator Joe Rubinstein's clarifying inks over Kevin Maguire's pencils — Joe tells me this book is being photographed directly from Maguire's pencil art, with no inking beforehand — but Maguire's deft and subtle character acting is still some of the best in the business.

Green Arrow (DC Comics). I still think of writer Judd Winick as the struggling cartoonist from The Real World's San Francisco season a dozen years ago, but if Green Arrow is any indication, he's developed into a first-rate comics creator. (Judd's also doing a terrific job scripting the current Superman/Shazam! team-up miniseries, First Thunder.) Green Arrow has been one of my favorite DC heroes since the iconic Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics of the early '70s, written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Neal Adams and, later, Mike Grell. I'm pleased to see that under Winick's direction, strident, self-righteous Ollie Queen still has some of the old fire.

Speaking of Mike Grell and Joe Rubinstein — and I was — this sharp (no pun intended) portrait of the Emerald Archer was penciled by the former and recently inked by the latter.

Grell's distinctive style strikes me as being rather difficult for an inker to match, but Rubinstein may well be the most chameleonic embellisher in comics, able to meld his personal approach with just about any penciler's. Both artists display the peak of their craft here.

And that's our Veterans' Day edition of Comic Art Friday. Semper fi, be all that you can be, it's not just a job — it's an adventure, and... umm... up in the air, junior birdmen.

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