Friday, February 13, 2009

The devil you say!

Triskaidekaphobes beware...

Today is Friday the 13th.

How better to celebrate this fearsome caprice of the calendar than with a couple of real devils?

The fetching lass wielding the sharp objects is Lady Shanna O'Hara Plunder, known more familiarly as Shanna the She-Devil. The horn-headed gent with the glowing trident is Dan Cassidy, also known by his fighting moniker, Blue Devil. The pencils, inks, and potent imagination on display here are supplied by talented veteran John Lucas.

Since comic books first exploded into American popular culture in the late 1930s, almost every publisher who's had a hand in the business has taken a shot at jungle-based heroes and heroines. The prototype for the men has always been Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs's English lord raised by apes in the African rain forests. For the women, the model is Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, co-created by legendary writer-artist Will (The Spirit) Eisner.

Shanna the She-Devil, Marvel Comics' spin on the Sheena archetype, swung onto the scene in 1972, part of a trio of "feminist" heroines (Night Nurse and The Cat — today known as Tigra — were the other two) designed to appeal to a female audience that typically shunned action comics.

African-born Shanna O'Hara grew up to become a veterinarian and Olympic athlete (she medaled in both aquatics and track and field) in America, but her heart remained in the jungle. As an adult, Shanna returned to her native continent, where she battled poachers and other miscreants.

Eventually, the She-Devil moved to the Savage Land, a mysterious hidden world (in Antarctica, of all places) where dinosaurs, saber-toothed tigers, and other prehistoric creatures dwell. There, Shanna married Lord Kevin Plunder, a Tarzanesque hero called Ka-Zar. The leather loincloth-clad duo continue to live and adventure in their secluded tropical wonderland.

A few years ago, writer-artist Frank Cho created an alternate version of Shanna the She-Devil. The new Shanna, a genetically engineered human abandoned by her creators, is unrelated to the original. However, when she is discovered in a Savage Land-like locale by a scientific exploration team, the jungle maiden is dubbed with Lady Plunder's given and code names by one of her rescuers.

Like Shanna, Dan Cassidy never planned to become a superhero. He was perfectly happy with his life as a motion picture stuntman and special effects technician, until a bolt of eldritch energy permanently bonded a high-tech horror movie costume (Dan was portraying a character called — not surprisingly — Blue Devil) to Dan's body.

Unable to return to his natural appearance, Dan decides to employ his outré exterior and his SFX genius in a crusade for justice. As time passes, Dan gains actual demonic powers, which he uses — of course — for good. (It's a paradox, I know, but in the comic book universe, we learn to roll with this sort of thing.)

John Lucas, the artist who created today's devilish scenario, has been contributing steadily to comics since the 1990s. John penciled several series for DC and its affiliated imprints, including Detective Comics, Codename: Knockout, and Howard Chaykin's Forever Maelstrom. Switching his focus to inking, John worked on Marvel's Generation M and Civil War: Front Line, in both instances inking over the pencils of Ramon Bachs. His most recent long-term gig was inking (and occasionally penciling) The Exterminators for DC/Vertigo.

He's also drawn Scooby-Doo. I admire versatility.

"Joltin' Johnny," as Lucas calls himself, admits to being a big fan of both Blue Devil and the Savage Land. Lucky for us that Common Elements gave him the chance to blend his two interests into pulse-pounding art.

Who said that Friday the 13th was unlucky?

Speaking of Common Elements, Shanna "the She-Devil" O'Hara and Dan "Blue Devil" Cassidy share another feature besides the obvious quirk of nomenclature: Both are Americans of Irish descent. I just couldn't wait until St. Patrick's Day to mention that.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


4 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Scott offered these pearls of wisdom...

Loved some Blue Devil back in the day.

11:39 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Scott: I enjoyed the character more when he was just a regular guy stuck in a weird costume, than when DC took him down the "real demon" road. The original premise was a lot more fun, IMHO.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Gene Gonzales offered these pearls of wisdom...

Sweet artwork and great addition to your theme!

3:43 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Gene: Thanks for the kind words. All credit goes to Joltin' Johnny.

5:15 PM  

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