Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Artful Obsessions: Meeting the Challenge

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 22nd, 2017

The Challengers of the Unknown have been with us for 60 years (!), having debuted in Showcase #6 (cover dated February 1957). The characters enjoyed a few more appearances in Showcase before moving onto their own title the following year. It’s noteworthy in that it’s one of the many long-lasting creations of the King, the late Jack Kirby. It’s actually such a beloved DC property, I’m surprised a Challengers one-shot wasn’t listed among the planned comics DC is publishing in August to mark what would have been the legendary writer/artist’s 100th birthday.

Now while a Kirby page (of any description) isn’t with my budget when it comes to comic-art collecting, I did manage to acquire a Challengers page recently for an affordable price on eBay. And it was from my favorite incarnation of the Challengers: the 1997-98, Steven Grant-penned series featuring a new lineup of Challengers. It boasts a cool X-Files vibe, featuring paranormal investigations against the backdrop of the DC Universe.

This new addition to my art collection is Page 6 from issue #16 of that series. While much of the art for this series was rendered in the appropriately noir style of John Paul Leon, this particular issue also featured the work of Mike Zeck, best known for his work in the 1980s on Captain America, Secret Wars and The Punisher. When I saw this Zeck piece at such a low price on eBay, I knew I had to grab it. Sure, it’s not from one of the works for which he’s better known, but it’s a great representation of his distinct style.

Zeck was tapped for flashback scenes in this issue that depicted a past adventure of the original Challengers, as relayed to the new Challs in the present by original member Rocky Davis. It was a great device by which to introduce a significantly different (and more traditional) comic art style to the book.

There are a lot of features to enjoy here (on top of Zeck’s sharp style). One can see some of the faint pencil marks on the page (click on the image by a larger, higher-resolution scan), especially in the “bunching up” of the fabric on the characters’ clothing. I’m also particularly impressed with how well inker Denis Rodier conveyed the shadows being cast by Klingsor’s figure and the rippling reflections on the smooth boardroom table.

Also of interest is the fact Zeck roughed out one face — the dominant character in the foreground of Panel 5 — on the reverse of the board (see image at right), presumably to lightbox it.

This page also boasts a load vintage traits, such as whiteout corrections, a copyright stamp on the reverse and Ken Lopez’s lettering right on the board (no paste-ups, save for the page number at the middle of the bottom of the page). The page is also signed by Rodier at the bottom right.

To see my entire original art collection, visit my gallery at ComicArtFans.com.

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