Friday, August 18, 2006

Oh, hot moo!

I had to chuckle earlier this week when I read the furor online over Marvel Comics' announcement that the remaining issues of its currently running blockbuster series, Civil War, will be delayed due to missed deadlines on the part of the series' creative team (specifically artist Steve McNiven).

Man, are the Marvel Zombies ever irate over this!

For cryin' out loud, people, we've got soldiers fighting and dying in an ill-advised, unwinnable war in Iraq; terrorists trying to blow up planes with baby bottles and hand lotion; missiles flying between Israel and Lebanon; an AIDS pandemic in Africa; Kate Hudson and Chris Robinson breaking up; and the Giants in last place in the National League West. And you're up in arms because a comic book is shipping late?

Get a grip, geeks.

Speaking of geeks, for comics trivia geeks such as myself, Official Handbooks are like manna from heaven. No story to dredge through, just page after page of delicious esoterica.

I'll explain. Official Handbooks of the Marvel Universe — that's what Marvel Comics calls their version; the DC Comics equivalent is Who's Who in the DC Universe — are special edition comics published solely for the purpose of providing readers with background data on the various characters featured in a particular comics line.

Usually, Handbooks are produced as a series of regular-sized comic books, internally alphabetized like a mini-encyclopedia. Each book contains a series of brief individual articles summarizing the histories of several superheroes and supervillains, often accompanied by statistical and demographic information about each character. (For a better idea of what I'm describing, check out the Marvel Directory, an excellent — albeit unofficial — online knockoff of the Handbook.)

Way back in the early '90s, Marvel published the grandpappy of Official Handbooks — the unequalled end-all and be-all of superhero trivia — formally titled Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Master Edition. OHOTMU:ME, as it came to be known in comics fandom, dispensed with the articles altogether, in favor of tables of stats and three-way (front, side, back) views of each character. Some 300 different good guys and bad guys, good girls and bad girls, were pictured over the 36 issues of OHOTMU:ME. Best of all, the loose pages were hole-punched for storage in a ring binder, rather than bound into comic book format.

The most remarkable element of this astounding monument to geekocity is that a single pair of artists drew all 300-plus character pages: Keith Pollard — one of the most underappreciated talents in comics history, in my never-humble opinion — laid down the pencil art, while industry veteran Joe Rubinstein contributed the finished inks. The end result was a cherished document that Marvel artists could use as a reference for years to come, and that fanatics willing to shell out a serious chunk of change could slaver over to their hearts' content.

A while ago, I was privileged to obtain three of the original pages from OHOTMU:ME when Keith Pollard liquidated his stockpile. Let's check out the haul.

First up: the controversial Battlestar (published in OHOTMU:ME, Volume 19).

I say that Battlestar was controversial because... well... because he was. Originally introduced as a sidekick for Captain America (as one might guess from his Cap-inspired costume), Lemar Hoskins was first given the superhero code name Bucky, in honor of Bucky Barnes, the teenager who accompanied Cap on his adventures during World War II.

Unfortunately, writer Mark Gruenwald, who created the character, was apparently unaware that the word "buck" is an insulting slur when applied to an African American male. Gruenwald (who passed away in 1996, not that I think that's connected or anything) promptly backtracked, renaming the character Battlestar — and even addressing the nomenclatural faux pas directly in the Captain America storyline — but the damage was already done. Poor Lemar never caught on in popularity, and he mostly disappeared from view. He popped up some time later as a member of Silver Sable's crew of mercenaries, the Wild Pack, before vanishing completely for several years. Battlestar recently resurfaced as one of Cap's operatives in the aforementioned Civil War.

Next, here's the beautiful but dangerous Misty Knight (published in OHOTMU:ME, Volume 10).

One of the rare noncostumed superdoers in the Marvel Universe, gunslinging Misty pairs with fellow detective Colleen Wing, a martial arts specialist, as the Daughters of the Dragon, known professionally as Knightwing Restorations Ltd.

Misty, whose right arm is bionic (courtesy of Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man), has been romantically associated with both Iron Fist (not to be confused with Iron Man) and Luke Cage (sometimes known as Power Man) over the years. She and partner Colleen recently starred in a short-run series entitled (not surprisingly) Daughters of the Dragon. The duo is set to team up with several other Marvel second-stringers in an upcoming series called Heroes for Hire.

Finally, all hail the fearsome Drax the Destroyer (published in OHOTMU:ME, Volume 24). Note that this page is pencils by Keith Pollard only — Joe Rubinstein inked a photocopy for publication. One of these days, I plan to have Joe ink the original to completion.

Another C-list hero who exists perpetually on the fringe of big-time doings in the Marvel Universe (i.e., Infinity Watch; Infinity Crusade; Infinity Gauntlet; Infinity 2: Electric Boogaloo), Drax began life as a normal human being, until the day he was shanghaied by a couple of cosmic types from Out There Somewhere and transformed into a superpowered avenger consumed with bloodlust for Thanos, one of Marvel's major supervillains. Typically, Drax hung out with such spacefaring types as Captain Marvel (the Marvel Comics version, not the "Shazam!" guy) and Adam Warlock.

Last year, Drax was featured in a Marvel miniseries. (Which I didn't read. Sorry.) Lately, he's shown up in the Annihilation crossover event. (Which I also didn't read. Again, sorry.)

In case you're wondering how Pollard managed to keep over 300 figures in perfect proportion, I'll let you in on a little secret: He had help. A series of basic body-type templates were developed, then copied onto the blank comic art pages in non-photocopy blue ink. (You can see faint traces of these templates in the finished art above, in particular the rear view of the Drax model sheet.) According to Pollard's notes on the pages themselves, Battlestar and Drax were both body type "C" (as in "Criminentlies, those are huge muscles"), while Misty was body type "H" (for "Hottie," perhaps?).

And that's your Comic Art Friday. Don't stress out waiting for your next issue of Civil War, all right? I worry about your blood pressure.

[Additional note: I understand that Keith Pollard will be attending the Baltimore Comicon September 9 and 10 — his first convention appearance in many years. If you're a fan of Keith's work — and who isn't? — and you happen to live in the Baltimore/Washington area, stop over and tell Keith hello. Another great "classic Marvel" artist, Ron Wilson, will be seated at the table next to Keith's. Tell Ron I said hi, too.]


3 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Mr. Fabulous offered these pearls of wisdom...

This Marvel news is all well and good, but what about what most of us really want to know?

Is Archie going to end up with Betty or Veronica? What is Mr. Weatherbee's damage, anyway? And what is the deal with Jughead's stupid hat?

6:02 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

You're way behind the times, Mr. Fab.

1. Archie isn't going to end up with either Betty or Veronica. Betty and Veronica are going to end up with each other. Archie will end up with Reggie.

2. Mr. Weatherbee will be fired from Riverdale High after he is apprehended while drilling a peephole into the girls' locker room.

3. Jughead's "stupid hat," as you so cavalierly referred to it, is actually the royal crown of the kingdom of Rectocrania, to which Jughead is the as-yet-unrevealed heir to the throne. What appears to be a red circle on the crown is the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto, which embues the wearer with supernatural wisdom and perception. The rectangular white object is a strip of microfiche containing the secret plans for a doomsday device that could destroy the world if the information ever fell into nefarious hands.

And don't even get me started on Josie and the Pussycats.

6:19 PM  
Blogger MCF offered these pearls of wisdom...

I am so getting that issue of Betty + Veronica, but if its delayed there will be hell to pay. ;)

When I collected comics in the late 80s and early 90s, books were never late. BUT I'd occasionally get a dreaded "fill-in" issue with a different creative team and a stand-alone story, often interupting an arc. I had one Transformers issue that adapted an episode of the show, and another X-Factor that told a decent Archangel solo story--set on Earth as a flashback smack in the middle of a multipart arc that had the whole team separated on an alien world. I guess now the same creative team stays with a book and if they're late, the book is late. I'd rather have a quality book than one on time. Since I only buy the occasional TPB these days, I'm happy with the end result. I like that the story arc is solid and the art is consistent throughout the Ultimates. These kids(?) have no idea what its like to work in an office and have deadlines to juggle, often with a multiple issue workload.

And I loved those OHOTMU binder sheets; still have all my binders too.

10:25 PM  

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