Friday, November 24, 2006

Reindeer games

This being the Comic Art Friday that coincides with the unofficial opening of the Christmas shopping season, it's only appropriate that we debut an artwork with a vaguely Christmas-related theme.

The latest entry in my Common Elements series — you know the drill; pairings of otherwise unrelated superheroes who share some factoid in common — depicts a pitched battle in an urban alleyway between a Golden Age hero called the Comet, and the Vixen, best known as a member of DC Comics' Suicide Squad and, more recently, Justice League of America. Suicide Squad penciler Luke McDonnell, also known for his long run on Marvel Comics' Invincible Iron Man, created this action-packed scenario.

What do Comet and Vixen have in common? By now, you should have guessed: They're the only superheroes who share their fighting names with two of Santa Claus's reindeer.

The Comet dates back to 1940, a fertile time for the creation of superheroes. He sprang from the inventive mind of writer-artist Jack Cole, who's best remembered today as the creator of Plastic Man. The Comet's superpowers will be familiar to anyone who's ever read an X-Men comic or seen any of the X-Men movies: He emitted destructive rays from his eyes, much like the much later — but today much better known — X-character Cyclops. The Comet also holds a unique position in comics history, in that he was the first (though certainly far from the last) superhero to be killed in action. Interestingly, the late hero's brother was spurred by the Comet's murder to become a superhero himself, as the Hangman.

The Comet's original adventures were published by MLJ Comics, more familiar today under the name Archie Comics. Archie has revived the Comet a few times over the years, most notably as a member of the Mighty Crusaders, its 1960s takeoff on the Justice League.

As for Vixen, she also merits a special distinction, as the first black superheroine created by DC Comics, which for years lagged behind competitor Marvel in the introduction and promotion of heroes of color. Vixen very nearly became the first character of her ethnicity and gender to headline a comic series in 1978; her book, unfortunately, was canceled before the premiere issue was published — a casualty of a barrage of draconian cutbacks today remembered as the DC Implosion.

Like Marvel's Black Panther, Vixen — real name: Mari Jiwe McCabe — is African-born. She came to America as a young woman, gaining fame and fortune as a successful fashion model. Her powers derive from a mystical totem (shaped like the head of a fox, hence her nom de guerre) that enables her to imitate the abilities of any animal. Following stints in DC superteams Checkmate and Birds of Prey, Vixen recently rejoined the roster of the Justice League of America, to which she belonged once previously in the mid-1980s.

Artist Geof Isherwood, who first inked Luke McDonnell's pencils on Suicide Squad, then followed McDonnell as penciler on the series, places Mari front and center of the Squad's actitivies in this tension-filled scene. Joining Vixen are Suicide Squadders Bronze Tiger, Nightshade, and Deadshot.

The artist known as Buzz captures Vixen's feral temperament in this ink sketch, created at WonderCon 2005.

With that, we send you off into the seething masses of holiday shoppers. You may need both the concussive blasts of the Comet and the raw animal power of the Vixen if you're planning to purchase, say, a PlayStation 3. Stay safe out there, friend reader.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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