Sunday, February 20, 2011

A not-too-terribly-focused post about Bill Walko, Titans and some Super Friends sidekicks

Depending on how long and with what intensity you've been reading DC comics, you may or may not know what the above image depicts, exactly. That's actually a Titans line-up, featuring, clockwise from 11 o' clock, Supergirl, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Darkstar Donna Troy, Damage, Impulse, Rose Wilson, Terra, Arsenal, Mirage and Minion.

The team was actually sort of short-lived, being introduced in New Titans #0 right after DC's big 1994 Zero Hour event, and lasting until the end of the already in-progress New Titans series, with 1996's New Titans #130. About 16 issues and an annual, all together. And all of those characters weren't in all 16 issues; they were quite gradually introduced, with some of them coming and going, throughout the course of that time.

I really liked that particular line-up, and that particular point in the franchise's history. It was still being written by Marv Wolfman at that point, and he did quite an admirable job of assembling a team of heroes that blended the various approaches a Titans title could have taken in the mid-90s. There were a couple of original teen sidekick characters in their grown-up personas (Arsenal, Darkstar), a couple of hold-overs from Wolfman's own attempt at an all-new Titans spin-off (Team Titans's Mirage and Terra), actual pre-existing teenage superheroes of the era (Supergirl, Damage, Impulse) and an honest-to-God new character, Minion. Plus, having Green Lantern on the team was just kind of weird and exciting, like, I don't know, having Aquaman on The Doom Patrol or something.

I liked the characters so much because so few of them were the traditional Wolfman/Perez Titans, and I didn't feel like I'd walked into a 30-year-long movie 25 hours too late, the way I too often do with some of those characters (Most of them do appear in this run, however, generally as bad guys or at the "ends" of their stories...although other writers would naturally un-end their ends).

Part of it was likely my youth and enthusiasm for the medium, the genre and the potential I would see in characters and settings like these and the DCU back-then, but I enjoyed those 16 issues an awful lot, despite knowing that they weren't exactly great comics.

Wolfman was Wolfman, and was doing what he's always been doing—I imagine he could write series of Titans comics in his sleep at this point, and they'd always be at least pretty decent. The artwork was pretty poor, mostly provided by pencil art William Rosada and a few others, but hey, it was 1994, and it seems deeply unfair to hold 1994 against any artist.

It always looked a lot better, and a lot less 1994, than this, at least:Unfortunately, it never, ever looked as good as it does in the image at the top of this post, which was drawn by artist Bill Walko, who is apparently quite a Titans fan.

Walko's stripped down, simplified, only-the-necessary-lines approach highlights how strong an awful lot of those costumes are (Tell me Rose Wilson didn't look cooler back then than she does now!), and even makes the gaudier, more over-adorned ones like Donna's or Minion's look pretty cool (of course, he drew Minion in the act of putting on his big, goofy liquid metal battle suit that made him look a bit like the Hulk wearing the Silver Surfer's skin).

Walko, of course, has the advantage that comes with this amount of distance from the year 1994, but none of his characters suffer from steroidal, tree trunk + Liefeld anatomies, the all look pretty human, if exaggerated to show off the fact that they are idealized humans. Plus, the teens look like teens and their expressions vary to the extend that you can tell that, say, Mirage and Terra have pretty different outlooks on life and being Titans, and that Impulse and Damage probably don't agree on all that much.

The art boasts a sense of style, of youth, of energy and, well, coolness that was lacking in covers like that of the sole New Titans Annual featuring these characters. Certainly, the art was produced in two different eras, but even in the '90s, covers like that one were things I had to look past in order to read New Titans; artwork like Walko's makes me want to read...whatever he's drawing.

Okay, that's the one that grabbed me, simply because I have a spot of affection for that particular Titan line-up, and it's so rare to see it anywhere other than in a few issues in back issue bins.

Walkos' art, in general, is great. I first encountered it at Project: Rooftop, the indispensable superhero design site where Walko has contributed pretty frequently. I had pulled his redesigns for the two groups teenage sidekicks the Superfriends had on their shows, The Wonder Twins and Marvin and Wendy, ages ago, saved 'em on my desktop, and have been meaning to post something about Walko's versions vs. DC's published redesigns for...well, for months now, I guess (Not years, I hope!) A recent Comics Alliance Walko appreciation by Brian Warmouth ("Classic Teen Heroes Boogie Down in the Art of Bill Walko") reminded me that I had been planning on doing that (Be sure to click on the link to that CA post; it includes Walko drawings of a couple different Titans line-ups, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, the "First Class" X-Men and more).

So let's get to it.

These are the Wonder Twins, and their blue space monkey pet/partner Gleek, which you already know if you've watched cartoons at all in the last 30 years or so:Wikipedia says they first appeared on The All-New Super Friends Hour and remained on the Justice League of the various Super Friends cartoons through multiple iterations of the show.

The purple-clad pair were Zan and Jayna, humanoid aliens from the planet Exor who could change shape upon touching one another and announcing their catchphrase. Zan could transform into any type of water, solid, liquid or gas, while Jayna could transform into any kind of animal, real or imaginary. (Zan got gypped pretty hardcore in the power department, didn't he?).

DC would eventually introduce the characters into the DCU proper, in a 1995 issue of Extreme Justice (Which was one of three Justice League comics being published at the time; the most extreeeeeeeeeme one). They appeared in a couple of issues, and they looked like this:
They didn't seem much different from the original, Super Friends version (beyond their difference in appearance, of course), although their back story was a lot more fleshed out and and they were much more powerful.

Extreme Justice didn't last too long, no doubt buckling under the weight of the word "Extreme" in the title (Sadly, the book actually got much better the longer it went on, and had a decent cast, although it was hard to see past the adjective in the title and the usually terrible, Image-inspired artwork*). The Wonder Twins went into character limbo after its cancellation; the only place I can recall seeing them since was cameo-ing among the many other teenage superheroes in an arc of the original Young Justice series.

Okay, so you've seen how the characters were redesigned for inclusion in the DCU, presumably by the first ones to draw them,pencil artist Al Rio and inker Ken Branch (although others would draw them as well) in the pages of Extreme Justice.

Here's what Walko did with the characters: Costume-wise, Walko seems to be taking cues from their Young Justice appearance (drawn by Todd Nauck), in which they had on more casual-looking clothes:Walko took it even further, making the clothes look even more casual and more personalized. The two look like pretty cool-looking teenagers, and the only clue they are the Wonder Twins is the fact that they have their logos on their shirts. (Well, that and their elf-ears and blue monkey companion).

This look is also in keeping with the modern DCU teen trend of forgoing a formal spandex, mask and cape costume for something much more casual, like Superboy's S-shield t shirt or a couple of Wonder Girl's similar logo-on-her-top, street clothes looks.

If this were a Wonder Twin redesigning contest, than Walko won it hands-down. The Extreme Justice Wonder Twins just look like two generic aliens or super-folks; the Walko Twins look like cool kids I want to read more about.

Of course, Walko again had the advantage of "competing" against work done in the prominent style of the nineties ("shitty," I believe the term is). So let's compare and contrast what he did with some decades old Superfriends characters versus what DC did with them just a few years ago.

Okay, here are Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog: They first appeared as the viewer-identification characters on 1973's Super Friends (Hey, I thought that was what Robin was for!), and provided comedic relief (Relief of any kind was sorely needed for anyone watching Super Friends; after that theme song it was all downhill).

I don't remember knowing or liking anything about them, but you should check out their entry on Wikipedia, just to see how incredibly complicated their potential origins are. Like, Wendy was either the niece of one of Batman's trainers or the Earth-1 version of Hourman I's wife? And Marvin was the original Diana Prince's son? What the fuck?

Okay, so, naturally they appeared in the Super Friends comic (a good thing to Showcase Present, DC!)and in 2006 the pair were introduced into the DCU proper, as part of then-writer Geoff Johns' post-Infinite Crisis, "One Year Later" story arc of Teen Titans. This Wendy and Marvin were twins and computer geniuses, and they had joined the Titans team as something between an IT staff and HQ caretakers. Design-wise, they just look like two average kids—at least the way the various Teen Titans artists drew average kids. Marvin didn't wear a cape, and looked kind of like a greaser sometimes. Wendy wore the super-tight, flesh-exposing outfits that all the girls on the team wore when they weren't in costume.

They didn't last all that long. In 2008's Teen Titans #62, "Wonder Dog," a dog in a green cape like their mascot from the cartoon series, is introduced. They let him into the tower and, that night, he transforms into a giant hellhound that eats Marvin alive and, after stalking Wendy through the tower in a scene that seemed heavily indebted to bad horror movies, he mauls Wendy**. She lived, although she was in a coma for a while and is now paralyzed and in a wheelchair.

So, uh, that's what DC did with Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog. (In terms of who did what, Marvin and Wendy's first appearance was in Teen Titans #34, by Johns and artists Tony Daniel, Kevin Conrad and Art Thibert. The demon-dog-eats-'em issue was written by Sean McKeever and drawn by Eddy Barrows and Ruy Jose; Barrows is responsible for the above cover, featuring Marvin, Wendy, whatever the hell Wendy's wearing (denim panties and a skintight tube-top with sleeves...?), and Wonder Dog.

Now, here's what Walko did with the characters:Again, they look like normal teenagers (so I guess they would have been way out of place in Teen Titans). Their clothing is quite similar to what they wore in their original medium, although it looks modernized; even their hairstyles seem true to the early '70s and the '00s simultaneously. It's also clear from the image which of them is the more competent and serious of them, and which is the goofy one who causes more trouble. And note Wonder Dog, about to get into a scrape, like the rascal he is.

Walko wins again!

Now here's hoping the good people at DC have seen the same Project: Rooftop and Comics Alliance posts I have, come to conclusions similar to my own—This Walko fellow is awesome, Jim Lee should declare to Dan DiDio, We should pay him lots of money to do comics for us, preferably ones where we let him design his own characters, since his designs are vastly superior to our own versions of the same characters!—and we get to see more Walko art with much greater frequency...

*For much, much more on Extreme Justice, I'd recommend the series of posts entitled "Darling, I Don't Know Why I Go to Extremes" on Part one, part two and part three. Hundreds of words! At least a dozen scans! All about Extreme Justice!

**If you're interested, this issue is discussed at greater length as part of this post, surveying two of the collections that came out of that particular run on the title

1 comment:

Laplace Zombie said...

I am ready to give Bill Walko my money if he keeps doing these