Thursday, July 26, 2012


As I mentioned at the end of our previous post, here’s another look at the bludgeoning Bearcat--and his human form, Dr. Russell Lockhart.
I wanted to do another “take” on the character after considering the initial design because it made me think perhaps I had done a little better rendering the “cat” aspect of him than the “bear”.  So I decided to do another sheet focusing on just headshots of the reluctant Russ’s alter ego, and work a little more with the human Russ himself.  My friend Martin in Edinburgh, Scotland wonders if it would be a better look to shave or shed the Bearcat’s mane.  What do you think?

Also last time I was talking about a particular character in a Major Comics Universe, whom I won’t mention by name.  I’ll just identify him as The Ugly, Brutal, Vulgar, Violent Canadian With the Metal Claws Whom I Don’t Like.  This character, as I said, has become one of the standard bearers for everything that is considered heroic in that universe, even though he represents the opposite of what attracted me to comics and made me want to be a fan and a part of the profession.  To me he stands for things that have repelled me from comics and has at times made me want to flee the medium completely as both a fan and a professional interest.  Characters like that, who are among the darlings of the industry and beloved of so many fans, are not at all why I wanted to be in it, and I have long resented their popularization.  
I was talking in E-mails with my brother about this once and he brought up a very interesting point.  My brother suggested I think of the Metal Clawed Canadian as the comic book equivalent of the Wolf Man.  That is, the original movie Wolf Man, the one played in the Universal films of the 1940s by Lon Chaney Jr.  In my immediate family, my siblings and I and most of my nieces are devotees of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and this one particular brother and I are comic-book guys.  My brothers and older sister introduced me to classic Hollywood science fiction and horror and it became part of my identity.  My brother made the analogy between the Metal Clawed Canadian and the Wolf Man because they are both “tortured monsters”.  My problem with the Metal Clawed Canadian--well, one of my problems--is that he seems to have grown to accept and embrace the creature that he is instead of resisting it.  How many times have we read about him thinking that he is “the best at what he does, and what he does isn’t nice”?  He seems to embrace his monstrous, homicidal nature where poor Larry “The Wolf Man” Talbot never did that of his werewolf self.  I see that as the critical difference between them.
Perhaps, then, the Bearcat is my personal redemption of characters like old Edward Talon Hands from Canada.  Perhaps he is my way of taking the whole mentality of such characters and turning it to better thinking and better ends, civilizing that which is uncivilized, if you will.  Russ Lockhart doesn’t like being his other self, and he holds firm to his true, “core” self, a man of science and reason (and the kind of person I most respect).  In that way, I think, Russ resembles another anti-hero I brought up, the Scientist With the Raging Green Monster Alter Ego in Purple Pants.  This character, I’ll admit, is one of the favorite characters of my boyhood, and one to whom I’ve retained an attachment through later life.  (Though my actual favorite characters include the Four Astronauts With Cosmic Ray-Induced Powers, the Super-Soldier Patriot From the 1940s, the Kid Who Climbs Walls and Shoots Webs, and the Mythological Thunder God Who Protects Earth as a Super-Hero.)  Russ Lockhart, like the nuclear physicist who becomes Green Skin Purple Pants, will never embrace being a monster.  Russ will, however, use it--and live with the terrifyingly volatile danger of being the Bearcat--for the good of humanity.  And using power for the good of humanity, after all--not the wallowing in violence and ugliness--is really what super-heroes are all about.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012


A long time ago I heard the name of an old car called a Stutz Bearcat.  I’m not really a “car” person except that I love cars that I think are beautiful (as I love anything that I think is beautiful), but I just thought that was a cool name:  “Bearcat.”  There ought to be a character in comics by that name, I thought, and mentally filed away that name for years and years.  So at last, here he is.
The Bearcat is my take on the archetype of the “raging, rampaging berserker fury” hero.  You know, the kind of hero who in a certain comics universe would turn green with rage and have a predilection for purple pants.  I once had a universe of characters that I had started building in high school.  Most of it is in mothballs now, but a few of its characters and ideas in updated form are part of Quantum Comics.  In that reality the Bearcat was a villain:  an axe murderer who turned into a literal monster.  For Quantum I decided to bring him back as a dangerous, conflicted hero--an anti-hero, if you like.  Such characters have a following, as we know.  You know that other place, the one with the green guy with anger issues and purple pants?  Over there they have an animalistic, murderous anti-hero with metal claws who’s been held up as the poster boy for everything that is considered heroic in a way that I don’t think such a character ought to be, whom I don’t like.  Perhaps, I thought, I could do a better one.

The Bearcat is Russell Lockhart, a genetic engineer by profession.  He works for the government on a project to try to unlock at will the latent super-powers that people carry around in their genes.  In Quantum Comics, in the origin of the Environauts that is the starting point for all super-heroes and super-villains, Earth’s oceans are seeded with alien “xenosomes” that get into the planet’s water cycle and thus into people, making everyone a potential superhuman, but allowing only a few people to hit the super-lottery, so to speak.  The US government and military, as you can well guess, would just love to be able to weaponize the xenosomes, and Russell here is part of the top-secret project to figure out how to do it.  
Now Russell is really not the militaristic aggressor type.  In fact all he really wants to do is make good money, live a quiet life, stay out of people’s way, and keep other people out of his way.   Unfortunately, as Mr. Spock in Star Trek once pointed out, humans are very good at getting things that they don’t want.  Russell is an escapee from a toxic home filled with family members a lot like the people for whom we find him working, “Type A” men pumped up on testosterone, aggression, and archaic perceptions of manhood who all became cops and soldiers and firefighters--and womanizers, and frequently alcoholics.  Russell was “the runt of the litter” who was quiet and introverted, intellectual, and bisexual, ignored by his father and taunted and picked on by his brothers.  He couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and his interest in science was his ticket.  When the Army came calling on Russell’s gift for biotechnology, he wasn’t exactly keen to do it, except that he imagined the money he could earn working for them would buy him a very comfortable, very quiet and stress-free early retirement.  And besides, with his mind, he could play in the arena of the soldier boys and pumped-up authority figures like his father and brothers and show them the superiority of intellect over brute force.  Hold that thought, Russell; here comes the twist.
There is a (fictitious) foreign country that I call Toraq.  I won’t tell you exactly where Toraq is.  Just picture a place in the Eastern Hemisphere where it’s really hot, they have a lot of sand and a lot of oil, it’s rife with religious fundamentalism and they’re not at all enlightened about women, and they really don’t like Americans.  (See?  Pure fiction, right?)  The rulers of Toraq have gotten wind of the US military’s secret superhuman project and they feel very threatened; after all, these Americans have a way of stomping all over countries like theirs to get what they want.  So into our country they’ve sent operatives who are part of Toraq’s own project to tap the xenosomes.  (Of course ours would not be the only country trying this.)  The Toraqi xenosome formula is unstable and dangerous; the people on whom they’ve tried it were the genetic equivalent of suicide bombers, sacrificing their lives in exchange for a promised reward in the next life.  (There were a lot of imaginary virgins in the deal, no doubt.)  Their formula either kills the subject or produces a super-power so volatile that it destroys the subject and everyone else around him.  The Toraqi’s evil plan is to abduct Americans, inject them with the formula, and use them as living weapons.  And one American they’ve targeted is Russell Lockhart.  Their reasoning:  If he dies, good; that’s one less American scientist.  If he dies and destroys or cripples the Americans’ superhuman project, also good; it’s a setback for us.  Win/win.  The trouble is, Russell doesn’t die.  He hits the super-lottery and draws a power that doesn’t kill him, but it does make him very angry, as strong and invulnerable as a superhuman can get, and very, very dangerous.  It makes Russell everything he never wanted to be.  He becomes aggressive and violent to the point that he’s on the razor’s edge of going totally berserk, with the strength to lift or press 90-100 tons and invulnerability in direct proportion.  He becomes the Bearcat.
To cut to the chase here, it takes the World Champion and the new hero team that he’s just formed, the Wonders (one of whom is the Satellite, whom we met in the previous post) to get the Bearcat (mostly) under control.  This has the benefit for the Wonders of giving them another immensely strong and powerful member and a relationship with the government that is to their mutual advantage, with high-level privileges and clearances.  To the government, having the Bearcat in the Wonders relieves them of most of the responsibility for controlling him, though there’s always the possible complication of military intervention if the Bearcat proves impossible to restrain.  And for Russell, who really doesn’t want to be a superhuman or a hero at all, being in the Wonders means keeping the military’s hands off him.  It’s a better thing, he decides, to throw in his lot with the other super types than with the Army.  The one silver lining in the whole setup for poor Russ is that he isn’t constantly stuck in the form of the Bearcat; unwilling as he is, he can summon his monstrous self when it’s needed.  So the reluctant scientist becomes a dangerous hero (and a handful for his teammates), and a startled and awestruck world must behold the Bearcat!
Watch for more of the Bearcat in the next post!

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Illustration--a craft of which comic book art is a subset--is a profession in which you are encouraged and paid to steal.  We call it "swiping," to be nice about it, or "using reference," but it's stealing, it's allowed, and we're taught to do it.  We steal images for our use to make our work look more convincing.

However, there are some things you can't steal or swipe, even for reference, because there are very good laws against appropriating people's registered trademarks.  In that case we employ another trick:  Reworking something so that it is not a recognizable trademark, but if you're savvy enough you can still figure out where it came from.  I always envied the logo of the defunct Saturn automobile company.  I always thought that design should be the symbol or emblem of a super-hero, not a car.  But I couldn't just lift the logo from Saturn as it was designed:

To use it for my own character-design purposes, I had to transform it a bit.  And that's how I came up with the costume of this Quantum hero--The Satellite!

The Satellite is not a character that I created just to steal (or adapt) someone else's ingenious graphic.  For a long time I have searched for just the right character with whom to do an African-American version of my most prevailing hero archetype:  the Prince.  Quantum Comics will be full of Princes.  They're as common to my work as Princesses are to Disney movies.  The Prince may be defined as the most exceptional of men (even by the standards of Quantum Comics heroes), the man you most want as a champion, a rescuer, a leader, and a lover.  Lucky Vega, who will become Lucky Star, leader of the Environauts, is the most prominent of the Princes.  Wild Jon is another.  It was important to me to bring on a Prince who's black.  I put a great deal of time and thought into coming up with exactly the right character with which to do this.  I wanted him to be a character who would reflect all of my hopes for blacks in America to see all the beauty and greatness in themselves, to see themselves as not just rappers and basketball players and gangsters.  I took extra care in creating the Satellite--and his civilian identity, Max Thoroughgood.

My concept for Max is that he is a life-loving playboy from the richest African-American family in the country.  The secret of his family's wealth is that long ago they discovered a massive meteorite laden with extraterrestrial gold ore, and have used the sale of portions of the alien gold to build their fortune.  However, some of them have also resorted to less than scrupulous means to maintain and grow their empire, rather like an African-American version of the Ewings of Dallas, and when young Max finds some of the skeletons in the family closet, he's ashamed.  Not so ashamed that he completely gives up his hedonistic ways and his prolific pursuit of women (yes, he's one of the straight ones), but ashamed enough to want to find ways to redeem his family honor and turn his fortune to something good.  To that end he uses his genius with material science and engineering to create a super-suit and become a hero!  And he has an even loftier ambition:  to use some future upgrade of his suit to become the first man to orbit the Earth without a spaceship!

The Satellite's suit contains a technology that works in much the same way as the powers of another hero, the Quantum.  It is lined with an array of transducers that can store and process energy from any source and use it for a variety of effects, including flight, and has musculoskeletal enhancers to give Max superhuman strength when he's wearing it.  The suit is made of a diamond fibre and boron carbide combination with self-sealing resins that also makes Max invulnerable like a suit of super-armor.  Max's genius makes the Satellite one of the major players and heavy hitters in the Quantum Comics universe.  The Satellite:  a hero sure to put you in orbit!