How About The Mana Bird…?

In the earl nineties, I imagine this was a common sidekick/ mentor talk.

It has been about a week of Adam West/Batman’66 style flashback goodness, but the schtick that I have on that, at least for now, is drawing to a close. I felt like foreshadowing the disputes that would cause Cap and Batman to part company, for her to steal a Batmobile and leave Gotham, pretty much for good. All of that was depressing, so I went with a “growing up” gag, mixed in with what the changing times of the late eighties and early nineties were like in comics.

Always, always willing to take a cheap shot at Rob Liefeld.

That said…I’m actually going to take a little bit of time to be fair to Rob. In the late eighties, early nineties, when he took over the art on “New Mutants” and turned it into “X-Force”…my friends and I looked forward to every issue. His character designs were new and different, his panel compositions dynamic….there was a whole lot going on about Rob Liefeld that was actually good. Sure…now he’s one of the most polarizing people in comics…but then, he was one of the most popular comic artists in the world, if not THE most popular artist.

The AV Club has this to say about Rob, which is pretty much summative: “…he’s also the man who defined what the 1990s looked like in superhero books, so he’s crying all the way to the bank. For every detractor who thinks he’s the worst thing to happen to comic books since Fredric Wertham, there are a dozen ravenous fanboys ready to snatch up whatever he does next.” That’s beyond accurate…Rob signing on to a book, or doing a variant cover, moves units hand over fist, even now.

I have to admit, looking back at the early nineties, and Rob’s work, I wind up agreeing with The Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman, who defends Liefeld, saying: “Every figure that Rob draws has a certain energy to it, a certain excitement. Every character Rob drew had seven knives and six guns and shoulder pads and pouches and belts and straps and ammunition. It was an aesthetic that as a kid absolutely blew me away. I idolized the guy…Everything he draws is interesting, whether it’s accurate or not.” That’s pretty much how we felt in the waning days of high school, and in college. Everything that Rob drew was new, was weird, was something that no one else was doing, but pretty soon, everyone else was copying. Although even Rob admits that the pouches, guns and bionics of the time became cliche, and quickly…at the rime it was ALL THAT.

To be sure, most of Rob’s costume designs for woman had french cut one piece swimsuits with “Pretty Woman” boots and some asymmetrical design element. The spiky razor wings and capes were all part of it, but to be honest, sort of predate Rob himself. They just were folded into the aesthetic.

The art here happened in part because of a relatively new friend’s interest in Magic: The Gathering. She frowns at cards like Naga Vitalist, or the far better Birds of Paradise. These are cheap to bring out creatures that generate mana when you tap them, and as a result, accelerate your deck by giving you more mana sources, faster. The Birds of Paradise can generate mana of any color, which is a massive advantage. The cards are kind of boring, in that they don’t do anything interesting, but in a strong design, let you bring out the interesting cards faster.

The initial printings of the Birds of Paradise listed their creature types as “mana birds”, which has since gone by the wayside. However…the Liefeldization of the mana birds resulted in the costume that Cap has above, and that Batman ’66 seems bewildered by.

All sidekicks grow up, and leave the house…or mansion, or cave, as it were. At least you don’t have Green Arrow’s problems, Bruce.


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