Friday, October 12, 2007

Shoeless Jills

We're in the midst of the second torrential downpour of our surprisingly early rainy season on this Comic Art Friday. (The first, wouldn't you know, arrived on Tuesday night — just in time for the 95-mile drive home from chorus rehearsal. It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature... or Al Gore.)

It's not the sort of day on which you'd want to go running around outdoors in your bare feet. If you did, however, it would probably mean that you were one of the two superheroines featured in this Common Elements pinup by comic book artist Robb Phipps, best known for his work on the series Mantra and Maze Agency.

On the left, that's Mantis, a staple of Marvel Comics' Avengers during the 1970s. On the right, that's Gypsy (real name: Cindy Reynolds), who began her crimefighting career with the Justice League of America, and more recently served with the all-female superteam Birds of Prey. As your discerning eye has no doubt already perceived, the Common Element between these two heroines is their utter disdain of footwear.

From my armchair perspective, it would appear that dashing into the heat of superheroic battle with unshod tootsies would be the height of folly. All an enemy would need to disable a barefoot opponent would be a few shards of broken glass (think Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard movie), a fistful of thumbtacks (available for a less than a buck at any convenient discount retailer), or just a well-aimed boot heel. But for Mantis and Gypsy, the feeling of hot asphalt beneath their soles must be worth the tactical disadvantage.

Mantis was one of the features that made reading Avengers so much fun back in that halcyon Disco Age. For one thing, she possessed one of comicdom's most unique speech patterns, always referring to herself in the third person as "This One." She also had a complex and intriguing backstory — the half-German, half-Vietnamese daughter of a supervillain named Libra, Mantis (who never, so far as I can recall, had a real name) was raised by aliens from outer space, rigorously trained to excel in every form of martial arts, spent most of her pre-superheroine adulthood selling sexual favors on the streets of Hanoi (silly rabbit — comic books are for kids!), and had been designated as the Celestial Madonna, destined to give birth to the savior of the universe.

Besides all that, Mantis was cute, provocatively dressed, and kicked evildoer butt in her bare feet. How could you not love her?

Mantis's creator, writer Steve Englehart, was so enamored of her that he reinvented new versions of her at practically every comics company for whom he later worked. At DC Comics, Englehart's Mantis avatar went by the name Willow; at Eclipse and Image, she was known as Lorelei. This is probably just an urban legend, but I've heard tell that Englehart keeps a RealDoll dressed like Mantis in his bedroom closet. (Okay, I just made that up. But it wouldn't surprise me if it were true. The man's obsessed, I tell you.)

For her part, Gypsy — whom I liked mainly because she was a frequent comrade-in-arms to one of my favorite heroines, Vixen — later sold out on the barefoot ideal, exchanging her ragtag fortune-teller costume for an armored outfit complete with boots. (Say it ain't so, Cindy!) I believe she's since gone back to the sans-shoesy style. You can take the girl out of the barefoot, but you can't take the barefoot out of the girl.

Being proactive and thoughtful superheroines, both Mantis and Gypsy asked me to remind you once again that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Early detection is your best friend.

I'm going to go dabble my pedal digits in a rain puddle. And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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3 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Dr. Ding offered these pearls of wisdom...

Dear Swan Shadow:
I love this blog. I really do need to check back here more often. Also, I am walking in the second Avon breast cancer walk this year, and I appreciate the shout out for the boobies.

Save the boobies, save the world.

Dr. Ding

9:23 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Dr. Ding: Thanks for the kind words, Doc. Good for you for hoofing it for the boobies. We're all about the boobies around here.

Don't be a stranger!

9:40 PM  
Blogger MCF offered these pearls of wisdom...

I had to look it up to refresh my memory, but for a while Mantis went by the name "Mandy Celestine", a play on Mantis and "Celestial Madonna". A bit of useless info from my days reading West Coast Avengers. :)

The Wikipedia entry I read also mentioned Steve Englehart using different versions of the same character through two other companies, though I doubt Marvel considers that canon anymore than DC accepts that Barry Allen popped up in Mark Gruenwald's Quasar as a super fast amnesiac going by "Buried Alien".

Ohhhh, I've wasted my life. :)

7:07 PM  

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