Friday, April 18, 2008

Free your mind, and your spirit will follow

It's Common Elements time again, here on Comic Art Friday.

For the benefit of any newbies in the audience, Common Elements is my series of commissioned drawings spotlighting unrelated comic book characters who are connected by some — you're way ahead of me — common element.

Today's featured item brings together a couple of comics' favorite redheads: Jean Grey (originally codenamed Marvel Girl, later called Phoenix) of the X-Men, and Emily "Lia" Briggs, better known by the superhero handle Looker. The artist charged with depicting this tempting twosome is Dave Hoover, one of the industry's most adept practitioners of "good girl" art.

Beyond their striking red tresses, Jean and Lia share a pair of more significant commonalities:
  • Both Phoenix and Looker possess psionic powers — comic-book-speak for a skill-set that includes telepathy (the ability to read others' thoughts) and psychokinesis (the ability to affect matter using the power of the mind).

  • Each also underwent a dramatic metaphysical transformation. In a now-legendary 1980 X-Men storyline, Jean morphed into the psychotic, supremely powerful Dark Phoenix (as anyone who saw the film X-Men: The Last Stand knows, although the events surrounding the Dark Phoenix were altered significantly for the movie). Emily, in a 1993 Outsiders tale, was bitten by a vampire and ultimately became one herself.
As for our artist, Dave Hoover has penciled dozens of comics since the mid-1980s. He's most closely identified with runs on DC's Wanderers and Starman, and Marvel's Excalibur, Night Thrasher, and Captain America. He's also worked extensively in the animation field.

During his two-year hitch on Captain America, Dave cocreated Cathy Webster, also known as Free Spirit, Cap's female protégé. I always enjoyed the character, and I keep hoping that someday someone at Marvel will revive her and give her a major plotline in which to develop.

While I'm waiting, I can admire this terrific Dave Hoover-drawn page from Captain America #438, which features Free Spirit and her partner, Jack Flag, in action. Check out Dave's splendid figure work in the top panel, and that gorgeous close-up of Cathy at bottom right.

As it happens, Free Spirit also makes an appearance in one of my Common Elements commissions, alongside Mister Miracle (whose real name is Scott Free — see the connection?).

This dynamic duo is magnificently rendered in tonal pencil by the incredible Geof Isherwood.

Here's a smidgen of historical trivia: Free Spirit was not Captain America's first woman partner.

Everyone remembers Cap's skein of male backups, including James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes (who in current Marvel continuity has become the new Captain America); Sam Wilson, a.k.a. The Falcon; Lemar Hoskins, a.k.a. Battlestar; and the aforementioned Jack Flag. In the late 1940s, however, Bucky was replaced at Cap's side by a young woman called Golden Girl (whose real name was Betty Ross, not to be confused with the Hulk's longtime paramour). One of these days, I'll work her into a Common Elements scenario, too.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Tom Galloway offered these pearls of wisdom...

Of course, Battlestar was the partner of a different Cap than "Cap Classic". The other significant male Cap Classic partner you didn't mention was Nomad (who was originally the Bucky of the Cap of the 1950s and took on the name Cap Classic adopted in the 70s when he quit being Cap for a while).

And while I don't think it's ever been established in continuity (Roy Thomas must have dozed off one afternoon before he did so), I've always liked the idea that the 40s Betty Ross was either the sister or mother of Thunderbolt Ross, depending on how many years it's been since WWII.

4:21 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Tom: I remembered "Nomad II," as I like to call him, but I didn't count him because of the whole '50s Cap fraud. Not that I was necessarily shooting for completeness... :)

I like your idea of connecting the Rosses. I guess that in "my" continuity (the one that starts in the early '60s) Betty Ross/Golden Girl could have been the General's younger sister -- assuming that Thunderbolt was in his, what, late '50s in those original Hulk stories (making him 30-ish in WWII). She'd definitely have to be his mother in current continuity.

5:43 PM  

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