Pipeline #1077: Which Artists Defined "Your" Superheroes?

In watching the latest "Avengers: Infinity War" movie trailer this week, I got back to thinking about the idea of there being one version of a long-lasting character who gets stuck in your mind.

I've written about this before, and it's different for everybody. It's likely a very generational thing. But who is "your" Spider-Man or "your" Iron Man?

That is, when I mention a character's name, which artist's drawing of that character do you think about first?

I looked at the cast of the Avengers movie and started to play the game. Keep in mind that I started reading comics in 1989. For those of you who started even five years later, your answers will be wildly different. And that's OK.

Todd McFarlane Spider-Man
(Photo: Todd McFarlane, Marvel Entertainment)

Spider-Man: Todd McFarlane. That was an easy answer. Sure, I've read more Spider-Man comics drawn by Mark Bagley and probably even Erik Larsen. But McFarlane designed Spider-Man for my generation of readers, and it was his Spider-Man that I was first most excited about.

Black Panther by Sal Velluto
(Photo: Sal Velluto, Marvel Entertainment)

Black Panther: Sal Velluto and Bob Almond. Yes, the Christopher Priest run on the title is the Black Panther run in my mind. It's a great series and it holds up incredibly well to this day. Mark Texiera is a close second on this, and only because he was the previous artist on the book.

Iron Man: I don't know, honestly. I've never read an extended run on the title. I've read decent runs by Sean Chen and Salvador Larroca, but it's not their renditions I think of. Honestly, I think the Iron Man I always picture in my mind was probably a product of the licensing division.

Doctor Strange: Jackson Guice. I'm not sure why, honestly. I think I saw promo pics of Guice's Strange in "Marvel Age" magazine when I first started reading comics. If I had ever read a run of "Doctor Strange" comics I really liked, maybe the answer would be different.

That said, I've enjoyed the first few issues of the Jason Aaron/Chris Bachalo series, but it hasn't cemented itself in my mind yet. I also wonder if it's even possible anymore to latch onto a new version of a character to that degree after reading comics for this long.

Ron Lim Captain America
(Photo: Ron Lim, Marvel Entertainment)

Captain America: Ron Lim. This makes perfect sense now, with the movie tying into all of Lim's "Infinity" and "Thanos" and "Silver Surfer" work. I thought that maybe Steve Epting would edge him out, but you can't beat those earliest memories of your comics fandom.

Thor: George Perez. Think "Ultron, we would have words with thee!" There's something so good and pure about that Busiek/Perez era of Avengers. It's classic, and I'm glad we got as many issues of it as we did. John Romita Jr. comes a close second here for his run with Dan Jurgens, but Perez is still the first that comes to mind.

Hulk: Dale Keown. I knew it would come from Peter David's run somewhere, but I wasn't sure if McFarlane, maybe, or Gary Frank or even Adam Kubert would edge everyone else out. For me, though, those issues that Keown drew were the perfect Hulk art samples. Keown is a monster artist specialist, so this makes sense.

Black Widow: Jim Lee's legendary "Uncanny X-Men" issue (#268) with Wolverine, Captain America, and Black Widow takes the cake. That cover is seared into my mind.

Hawkeye: I'm going back to "The West Coast Avengers", circa 1990 or so. That was a John Byrne run, wasn't it?


Other Strong Images

Not movie related, but there are a few more characters where there are creators who immediately jump to mind:

Norm Breyfogle Batman and Robin
(Photo: Norm Breyfogle, DC Entertainment)

Batman: Norm Breyfogle. My first Batman comics were drawn by him, which I'm sure helps tilt this in his favor. But you know what? He drew a very iconic and unique version of Batman that played to all of the characters' strengths. I have no shame here.

Superman: Dan Jurgens. Again, my earliest Superman reading experiences were in that post-Byrne era, with Jurgens, Ordway, Grummett, and Bogdanove in charge. For me, Jurgens always drew the most iconic version. Shortly after that generation came the likes of Immonen and Guice (him again!) that also come quickly to mind. But, still, my default Superman is Jurgens'.

Daredevil: Frank Miller. I read those books much later, but it instantly replaced every other version of the character in my mind. The weird thing, as I look back on it now, is that my second choice wouldn't be Alex Maleev. It would be John Romita Jr., from the great mini-series he did with Miller.

Fantastic Four: Mike Wieringo. This might be the latest of the images to sear into my mind. The Fantastic Four had a rough patch in the 90s. John Byrne's run is legendary. I enjoyed Chris Claremont's run. Alan Davis drew a few issues. But it's Wieringo's version that comes first to mind.

Jim Lee Uncanny X-Men #275 cover
(Photo: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Marvel Entertainment)

X-Men: Jim Lee's team, probably in the Savage Land/Shi'ar era. That's the highlight of his run for me. I've read all of "Uncanny X-Men" from John Byrne through to Lee, and a little thereafter. (Brandon Peterson, maybe? I dropped out before Joe Mad started.) There are lots of incredible runs in there. Paul Smith. Marc Silvestri. Heck, Barry Windsor-Smith or even Rick Leonardi. It'll always be Lee for me.

Deadpool: While everyone and their parental unit has had their turn with the Merc with a Mouth by now, Rob Liefeld's original rendition still sticks in my mind. Ed McGuinness comes in a very close second, for being the artist during the period when Deadpool's character really got fleshed out, thanks to Joe Kelly. But I can't deny the excitement of reading Liefeld's comics as they hit the newsstands back in the day.

What I Learned from This Exercise

It appears that the iconic images are most likely to form from your earliest impressions. That holds true even for characters with series I've never read. Black Panther and the Fantastic Four are the only images to come from the 2000s.

I'm also a bit of a child of my own time. I know lots of people are probably screaming that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko's names aren't mentioned here. They're iconic artists, all right, but never the kind of stuff I enjoyed as much. Also, in the early 90s, all the reprints we have today were a dream, not a reality.

That's the other thing that interests me about the newer generations of comic book readers: Will their iconic memories come from all points of time, just because it's as easy for them to read a reprint as it is to read a current comic? Why wait a month between every issue when you can buy a trade for not much more (especially digitally) and get 6 or 12 issues in one sitting?

If you started reading comics now, would your vision of the Uncanny X-Men just as likely be Joe Madureira as whoever it is that currently draws the thrice-rebooted series with the same title?

What About You?

When you picture a specific superhero, what's the most surprising image that comes to mind? Is it from an artist you don't necessarily enjoy? Or from a later period in your reading life? Or maybe it's just an obscure image that you don't think anyone else would thing about? Email me your craziest/strangest/most unexpected images, and I'll do a follow-up in the future.

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