Friday, August 25, 2006

Wherever a people cry out for justice

How appropriate that on Comic Art Friday, San Francisco Chronicle pop culture scribe Peter Hartlaub publishes this intriguing article about comic book writer Orlando Harding, who has created a new superhero series based here in the Bay Area. I won't be at all offended if you go check it out before we get started.

Back now? Excellent.

One of the signal events in the comics world this week was the relaunch of DC's venerable Justice League of America title. The JLA's 1960 debut popularized the concept of superhero teams, an inescapable trope in modern comics. The JLA wasn't the first collaborative effort on the part of superheroes — that distinction goes to the JLA's 1940s predecessor, the Justice Society of America, now enjoying a renaissance in one of my favorite current reads, JSA Classified. However, it took the JLA's all-star cast and kinetic style to take the superteam theme to the next level. The JLA's Silver Age success helped inspire rival Marvel Comics's top writer-artist duo, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, to create a whole slew of super-squads in the early '60s, including the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and those uncanny X-Men.

As Justice League's relaunch approached, the fandom buzz centered around which heroes would be members of the new League. Practically every character in the DC Universe pantheon has been a JLA member at some point in the last 45 years, so the list of candidates was lengthy. But now we know that the revamped roster includes (no surprise here) DC's Big Three — Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman — charter member Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan version), plus Arsenal (the character who used to be Green Arrow's sidekick, Speedy), Black Canary, Black Lightning, Hawkgirl (a popular member of the Justice League's various animated incarnations), the Red Tornado, and the Vixen.

Looks like a pretty interesting Justice League. I'm a mite surprised that there isn't a character with mystical powers (i.e., Zatanna) in the group, but overall, these are solid choices. I'm especially pleased to see both Black Lightning and Vixen — the latter being one of my favorite DC characters — in the mix. DC has always lagged behind Marvel in both its creation and promotion of non-Caucasian superheroes — the reason the John Stewart version of Green Lantern appears in the animated Justice League is that DC really doesn't have any prominent black heroes, and Stewart was the most recognizable concession the series producers could make toward diversity. Thus, it's encouraging to see DC's first marquee African American hero, alongside the character who almost became the company's first black heroine to headline a series (a planned Vixen book was canceled, along with a slew of other DC titles, in a late '70s cost-cutting measure historically known as the DC Implosion), as key elements of DC's most recognizable superteam.

In celebration, let's take a second look at some Comic Art Friday classics featuring Vixen and Black Lightning.

First up, supermodel Mari Jiwe McCabe — better known to the crimefighting world as the vexing Vixen — as depicted in the inimitable style of the artist known as Buzz.

In this dynamic artwork from my Common Elements gallery — which Comic Art Friday veterans know showcases team-ups of unrelated superheroes who share some feature in common — Black Lightning partners with the sai-swinging assassin Elektra. The artist is longtime Green Lantern stalwart Darryl Banks.

Back to our gal Mari, seen here with her teammates Bronze Tiger, Nightshade, and Deadshot from the classic, much-missed series Suicide Squad. The sumptuous tonal rendering leaps from the pencil of Geof Isherwood, who illustrated the Squad during the latter half of their run.

The new Justice League of America series is being written by accomplished crime novelist Brad Meltzer, and illustrated by the talented Brazilian artist Ed Benes, most recently the penciler of DC's Birds of Prey. Based on the first issue, the book looks like a worthwhile read. Your Uncle Swan says check it out.

And that's your Comic Art Friday. (Kudos available to the first reader who identifies the source of today's headline.)


1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Bruce England offered these pearls of wisdom...

JLA was the only comic I ever subscribed to. I took it for maybe a year, back during the Crisis on Earths 1, & 2 period. I haven't looked up the ages for those stories, so I'm guessing it was 1963 or 64. A year or 2 later I discovered the world of Jack Kirby et al. and D.C. was lost to me forever.

1:51 PM  

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