Friday, November 07, 2008


Back in the 1980s, when the San Francisco 49ers were the baddest football team on the planet, the team's offense was led by a former third-round draft pick from Notre Dame named Joe Montana.

Every team in the NFL passed on Montana at least once — some, two or three times — because he didn't look like much. He was short (the 49ers' roster always listed him as six feet even, but I can call dozens of eyewitnesses to the stand who've seen Montana up close and personal, and who would testify that he's a couple of inches shy of that mark), boyish-looking, scrawny as a meth addict (spare me the e-mails, people; that's a simile, not an accusation), and didn't possess the kind of catapult arm that football scouts salivate over.

In 1979 the 49ers, a team that had just finished a 2-14 season and was about to start another, selected Montana. The rest, if you know your football, is the stuff of legend.

What made the unlikely-appearing Montana so awesome?

The late Bill Walsh, who coached those Niners of the '80s to multiple Super Bowl victories, might use the word "intangibles."

Today's Comic Art Friday featured artwork, drawn by the talented Gene Gonzales, has absolutely nothing to do with football. It is, however, all about intangibles.

The smiling young superheroine at upper left bears the code name Shadowcat, though she is more familiarly known to comics aficionados by her given name, Katherine "Kitty" Pryde. Her ponytailed companion at bottom right is Tinya Wazzo, whose comrades in the Legion of Super-Heroes call her Phantom Girl. Given that this is another of my Common Elements commissions, I'll wager that you've already figured out the commonality between Kitty and Tinya — they share the power of intangibility.

If you've seen any of the X-Men movie trilogy, you know Kitty as "the girl who can walk through walls" who appears in each of the three films. She's played by a different actress each time — Sumela Kay in X-Men; Katie Stuart in X2; and 2008 Academy Award nominee Ellen Page (Juno) in X-Men: The Last Stand. Although she's a perpetual adolescent in both comics and films (she actually begins the movie franchise as a preteen), Kitty has been a key component of Marvel's X-Men books for nearly three decades, having debuted in Uncanny X-Men #129 in 1980.

Phantom Girl's history extends back even farther. Although she wasn't one of the three charter members of the Legion (for the record: Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and Lightning Lad), Tinya joined the far-future super-teen supergroup early on. She made her premiere appearance in Action Comics #276 (May 1961), soon becoming the Legion's fifth inductee — Triplicate Girl managed to sneak in just ahead of her. Like most of her fellow Legionnaires, Phantom Girl changed her costume on several occasions during her long career. The one shown here — my favorite of Tinya's styles — originated during artist Dave Cockrum's sartorial makeover of the entire team in the early '70s.

At the end of a week when we all watched the intangible become concrete, this joyful match-up of two ephemeral yet genuine heroines seemed like the perfect coda.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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