Friday, May 16, 2008

Playing dress-up with the DCU

Hey, remember this?

That’s the lovely promotional poster by Adam Hughes in which he gathered many of the DC Universe’s most recognizable super-women and dressed them up like they were going to a wedding (or a Vanity Fair fold-out cover shoot).

It’s a nice image.

I’ne always liked Adam Hughes’ art, far too little of which seems to be inside comics books any more, as he’s sort of transitioned into a cover artist over the year. He’s not perfect—he showed an odd inclination unzipping Catwoman’s top on the covers of her book, for example, and the way he used to draw Wonder Woman’s baggy boots always drove me crazy—but he’s a hell of an artist, and this piece is a nice demonstration of why.

He knows human anatomy and he knows drapery, two things that put him lightyears ahead of plenty of comics artists who like drawing sexy women (And whom DC seems to like to pay to draw sexy women for them).

More importantly, his women all look different. It seems like such a simple, obvious thing, but it’s so damn rare in superhero comics that when you see an artist doing it, it actually seems precious.

Many of the women in the piece are easily identifiable by their props. Catwoman’s the woman with the cat, Barbra Gordon’s the one in the wheel chair, Zatanna’s the one with the top hat, Wonder Woman’s the one wearing the Wonder Woman tiara and bracelets.

But man, how refreshing to see an image of 11 DC heroines in which they’re all different heights and weights; in which they all have different hair cuts and fashion sense; in which they have different bust sizes and different postures and expressions.

Like I said, I like this piece. Hell, I love it. I like the way Supergirl and Power Girl’s dresses reflect their costumes; I like the fact that Catwoman’s wearing black while all the good girls are in white; I like the way Hughes teases the closeness of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn’s friendship.

The one thing I don’t like is Batwoman, if that is Batwoman in the chair (My eyes tell me its Lois Lane; the Internet tells me its Batwoman). In part because what the hell is Batwoman, whom I don’t think has ever met any of these characters or even appeared in a half-dozen stories yet, doing at a wedding/fashion shoot/Oscar Night party with the rest of them?

Additionally, Batwoman’s an out lesbian, and, well, Hughes put her in pants and has her sitting…well, less than naturally (I don’t know why, but if that was Lois Lane, the pants and weird posture seem less weird to me).

But anyway, a great piece.

It gave Johanna Draper Carlson of a great idea: How about a male version, with the heroes “in tuxes, classy and attractive?"

I can’t imagine DC hiring Hughes to make one for them, since they seem to only hire him to draw images of sexy super-women (although he is really good at super-men too), but I’m sure Amanda Conner or J. Bone could do something awesome.

Heck, I think Conner was already actually in the ball park during her work on the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special, when she drew the superheroes all in their casual wear:
(Scan ganked from Living Between Wednesdays).

Sure, most of those guys aren’t actually friends with Green Arrow, and I’m not even sure if some of them have ever even met him, but Judd Winick had them all attending GA’s bachelor party, and Conner sure draws the hell out of them, doesn’t she? And you can pretty much tell who they all are, just by their clothes.

Well, Carlson put out an open call for submissions, and I watched with delight as they trickled in. And sadly, trickle they did, as there were only a handful by the point I’m tying this (Thursday afternoon, the day of the deadline).

I really like the one by Johnny Zito; he gives all of the characters an awful lot of personality, to a rather incredible degree in some cases. I really dig his Bruce Wayne, who seems a little uncharacteristically friendly at first, but then, he’s being Bruce Wayne, not Batman.

I also like how different his Oliver Queen looks from most Oliver Queens (the thin moustache looking much more Golden Age Hollywood swashbuckler than usual). And that Clark Kent’s wearing a dress version of the sort of stuff he used to wear to work in the Golden and Silver Ages. And the ambiguous nature of Aquman’s right hand. And that Steel looks like Steel even though there are no identifiers letting you know what his superhero identity is.

For continuity purposes, however, Ryan “Atom III” Choi and Tim “Robin III” Drake shouldn’t be in the same group as Barry “Flash II” Allen.

Here’s one by Paul Savi. It’s of a pre-Crisis grouping, and it looks really great. His Dick and Bruce are exceptional, and good job putting Hal Jordan in a uniform and making Captain Marvel uncomfortable in formal wear. The only one I don’t much care for is the Superman. The pose is nice (as is the suit), but the face just doesn’t really look like Superman in the way that the other faces look like they belong to the heroes wearing them.

Jeff Hebert probably did the best job of them all on the clothes (even the shoes look great!) and of making many of these guys still look totally badass while in their formal wear.

I’m not sure that Jason Todd and John Stewart should be in the same picture, though. The logo on Todd’d boots is Tim Drake’s Robin logo, and his hair looks a lot like Tom Lyle used to draw Tim Drake’s hair in the first few Robin miniseries.

The first entry was an all-Lego one by David Oakes, which allows for a “boy toys” gag. Zatara and Red Arrow…in the same image? Impossible!

Zatara looks sweet though. Too few good guys wear top hats anymore.

Now, looking at these, as well as the original Hughes piece got me thinking about who would be in a male equivalent, and, well, you know where this is going, right?

The thing is, it’s really, really hard coming up with the male equivalents of the characters in that Hughes picture. Some are easier than others, of course. Going by their respective Q ratings, who’s the male Wonder Woman? Superman? Or Batman? Or Superman and Batman? Power Girl is just kind of a random character most associated with the JSA; you could just plot Wildcat in there, I guess.

But who’s the male Catwoman? Is she there as the DCU’s #1 female villain (in which case her male equivalent would probably be The Joker), or because she’s a villain who’s kinda sorta sometimes a hero (in which case it would be…I don’t know, these days. Ten years ago, maybe Deathstroke. Now? Black Adam, maybe?).

Who’s the male Barbara Gordon, former sidekick turned leader-hero-in her own right…Dick Grayson, or is he a level above Babs in that respect? What about Poison Ivy and Harley? They’re both villain-villains, but not all that well known; who are their male equivalents?

Anyway, you see how hard this is? I still can’t determine any real pattern/criteria in Hughes’ piece, beyond the fact that those are the eleven DCU characters he most wanted to draw.

So, here’s what I came up with:

It didn’t turn out too great, but hopefully it’s clear who everyone is supposed to be.

If anyone cares, I used Rags Morales’ current Nightwing issues as a guide for the hairstyles for Superman and the Bat-family, as Morales puts a great deal of effort in distinguishing his characters from one another, and Kevin Maguire’s version of J’onn for a guide on his face (though he got the current all-red eyeballs). The rest are from memory.

And yes, Aquaman’s one water bottle is extremely unfortunately placed. Sorry about that.

Please note I didn’t draw anyone’s feet. I agree with Michael Turner’s body of work—feet are hard to draw.

You may also note that that is an awful lot white dudes. I honestly couldn’t think of a black dude who seemed to fit in the picture. Hughes threw in Vixen, whose current status as a member of the Justice League kinda sorta makes her fit in there. She’s also an original black superhero—i.e. she’s not a derivation of a white hero—and fits on those grounds as well.

I couldn’t think of a male equivalent for her. Black Lightning’s the closest to a male Vixen—on the Justice League at the moment, not a black version of a white character—but I wasn’t sure how one would communicate that he was actually Black Lightning visually, outside of his costume or using his powers (In a tux, he could be an off-model John Henry Irons or John Stewart).

Steel almost works, but is to a large degree just the black Superman (Due in part to the way he was introduced; I believe Jon Bogdanove had the starts of a Steel character in his sketchbook before the Superman office of the early ‘90s decided to use four replacement Supermen after the original’s temporary death).

Green Lantern John Stewart and the current Mr. Terrific are similarly black versions of white characters.

I didn’t want to put both Hal and John in, as their identifier would be the same—the green rings on their hands—although Mr. T. might have worked as a JSA representative, the male equivalent to Power Girl in Hughes’ piece. A couple floating “T-spheres” above him would identify him out of costume, I think.

The best black hero to go with would probably have been Cyborg, who, even in a tux, would have half a robot face and clearly be Cyborg. But Hughes didn’t put any Titans into his piece, so they seemed kind of out-of bounds. If he’d had Starfire in his, then Cyborg would have been a good candidate for the male Starfire, I guess (Him or Beast Boy, both of whom would still look like themselves in tuxes).

The black hero I cam closest to including was Jakeem Thunder, who I figured would be easy to identify by being a) a kid and b) in the company of a sentient purple thunderbolt. Here’s a sketch of Jakeem, the Thunderbolt and Jaime “Blue Beetle III” Reyes:

Jaime is also a non-white version of a white hero too, but the fact that he is carrying his own title at the moment indicates a certain level of status among DCU character, I think.

I was trying out markers instead of colored-pencils on the sketches. I think I prefer how low-tech the pencils looks. Hell, maybe I should transition into crayons. Jaime’s hair is too light there. Also, he shaved his chin due to the formal occasion; that’s why there’s no scruff.

Here are two characters I had intended to include, but didn’t have room for:

That’s Green Arrow Oliver Queen and Hawkman Carter Hall; GA should be easy to pick out of a line-up, but I guess the only clue to that being Hawkman is that he’s giving GA a dirty look. I thought about drawing a flag pin on his lapel, but it seemed too weird on a tux lapel. If he were in a suit jacket, it would look more appropriate. In my original sketch, they were on the far right of the page, and Plas and Cap were where Hal Jordan was, but I ran out of room.

Finally, here’s Ted Grant:

For a while, I was considering putting the JSA old men on the far left, and some younger characters like Jaime and Jakeem walking on page from the far right.

I ultimately didn’t do any villains in that piece, despite the fact that Hughes drew three—although I guess Catwoman and Harley kind of go back and forth between being anti-heroines and outright villains, huh?—but thinking about their DCU equivalents ultimately lead to this:

This time around I used some pretty diminutive characters, and was this time able to get a full eleven in there.

Again, hopefully they’re all self-explanatory. The little guy with black hair on the far right is supposed to be Dr. Psycho. I used the Golden Age H.G. Peter version (i.e. the awesome version) as a guide, and threw him in at the last minute. He turned out pretty fucked-up looking. Sorry, Dr. Psycho.

The original plan was to put Deathstroke between Sinestro and Bizarro, but, as in the heroes piece, I didn’t plan the spacing right and ran out of room. He was going to be wearing a tux like Aquaman’s in the hero version, a white eye-patch, and be holding a .45 at his side.

Oh, and Mxy’s supposed to be floating in the air, although I realize now it looks almost like he’s balancing on top of Manta’s harpoon.

Man, composing images is a tough business; I don’t know how artists do it.

UPDATED TO ADD: Carlson posted all the entries on Friday. Go check 'em out. I think Philip Rice's is by far the best, in that in addition to being very well drawn and defining the characters quite thoroughly in that drawing, he gets 11 in, including a couple of villains who occassionally straddle the line between villains and anti-heroes. There are a lot of nice little touches in it, like the identifying rings on some of the heroes' fingers, and he even makes Mr. Terrific work quite well, having the tux echo the costume, and using T's for cufflinks.

His Booster Gold is great. I like the out-of-style tux. It may seem like decades out of style to us, but I imagine if you're from 500 years in the future, that's gotta seem close enough for "turn of the 21st century men's formal wear."

Bill Roundy's piece has an aesthetic similar to the new Superfriends comic and line of toys. I love the fact that his Aquaman is bare foot and has left a puddle trail.

UPDATED AGAIN JUST TO POINT OUT: That it is still a few weeks before Memorial Day, and that the Hughes peice was unveiled months ago, and yet ten of the eleven women pictured in it are wearing white. Tsk tsk tsk.


Anonymous said...

And thanks to Brad Meltzer, we now know the real reason Carter and Oliver don't like each other.

Fucking Meltzer.

Shana Jean Hausman said...

I love the expressions on your Bats.

Jacob T. Levy said...

I love the barrel.

SallyP said...

These are all lovely. I think that yours has the best expressions of course, but I DO like the one with Booster, because it's so darned cute.

And nobody used Guy, which breaks my heart.

B.G. Christensen said...

I like how the villains piece is centered around that most terrifying DCU villain of all, J. Caleb Mozzocco.

John Cochrane said...

The one with Booster wins, though they've all got good points.

Caleb said...

I like how the villains piece is centered around that most terrifying DCU villain of all, J. Caleb Mozzocco.

Oh, so all us bald guys look a like to you, do we?

B.G. Christensen said...

Not all of you. Jakeem has darker skin coloring.

Anonymous said...

The Bill Roundy one is great simply because it includes Jay Garrick. Wearing a hat with a feather in the brim.

The male equivalent of Harley and Ivy, maybe Trickster and Piper?