Last month, I did a piece on MARVELS, and its remarkable fidelity to some of the original source material. Well, in addition to echoing panels from older stories, artist Alex Ross also populated his painted version of the Marvel universe with some very familiar faces. Here are a few of the heroes and their likely celebrity references:
Namor, the Sub-Mariner / Michael Keaton: Appearing in MARVELS #1, Namor's arched eye-brows, receding hairline, vaguely malevolent stare and puffy lips immediately reminded me of Keaton.
Professor Charles Xavier / Patrick Stewart: Years before the first X-Men movie was filmed (or even cast), Alex Ross made it known who he envisioned for the role of the X-Men's mentor. Obviously based on the popular star of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ross' brilliant "cameo" of Stewart in MARVELS #2 seemed to make his future role as Professor X all but inevitable.
Tony Stark / Timothy Dalton: Another rather obvious reference, though in this case, Ross may have used this very photo of Dalton (as Prince Barin) from the movie Flash Gordon for this particular panel in MARVELS #3 (which isn't a stretch considering Flash Gordon is Ross' "favorite movie of all time"). The interesting thing about "casting" Dalton as Stark, beyond the pitch-perfect confidence of his facial expression, is that the likeness also reminds me of Tony Stark as drawn by Don Heck, Iron-Man's original penciller.
Doctor Strange / Frank Zappa: This one's a little less obvious, but when you think about the weirdness of the early Doctor Strange stories, casting a celebrated eccentric like Zappa makes perfect sense. Plus, that distinctive handlebar mustache is tough to overlook. The good Doctor only appeared in a large crowd scene in MARVELS #2 (the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm to be precise), but the resemblance was so obvious (to me, at least) that I wanted to acknowledge it.
Reed Richards / Russell "The Professor" Johnson: Could there be a more perfect pairing of pop cultural icons? Reed Richards, smartest man in the Marvel Universe "portrayed" by actor Russell Johnson, the Professor from Gilligan's Island was an absolutely brilliant move. I still remember laughing out loud when I first saw Ross' interpretation of "Professor Richards" in MARVELS #2. Making the connection even more uncanny was the common early 60's backdrop shared by both the Fantastic Four and the Gilligan's Island TV series.
Although Russell Johnson as Reed Richards is the final, and greatest of the MARVELS "celebrity cameos", there were a few background characters that also seemed to be based on some famous faces:
Lady in Crowd / Bea Arthur: Appearing in the crowd of an art exhibit (MARVELS #2), this gossipy socialite could only be based on actress Bea Arthur (of Maude and Golden Girls fame). I may be wrong, but that's my theory and I'm sticking to it.
Man on the Street / Popeye: In MARVELS #1, various members of the public cheer the appearance of a new hero named "Captain America", one of which appears to be a real life "translation" of Popeye the Sailor Man. Sure, it's only a single panel "throwaway gag", but at the same time, it's interesting that a pop cultural hero of the 1930's gives his "endorsement" of Captain America...in effect "passing the torch" to a new generation of 1940's superheroes. Am I reading too much into it? Probably...but that's how it works here at Comic Coverage.
Mind you, not all of my cameo appearance theories panned out. In fact, there's one that comes to mind that turned out to be a case of "mistaken identity". While reading MARVELS #1, I came across a panel showing a superhero leaping over the head of a young Phil Sheldon, the central character of MARVELS (click on the panel to the left for a larger view).
As a big fan of Superman, you can imagine my surprise when I saw this dashing figure sporting a costume that looked identical to the earliest version of his costume...right down to the criss-crossing straps over plain blue boots:
However, after mentioning my "clever find" on a message board several years back, someone informed me that this wasn't Superman at all, but rather another early Marvel character named The Angel, whose costume was astonishingly close to Superman's original costume. Oops! Can't guess 'em all, right?
(from the cover of Marvel Mystery Comics #8, 1940)
However, with my error fully acknowledged, I could argue (and I will) that Alex Ross was being extra clever in this case. Sure, from a legal standpoint, the figure could clearly be the Angel...but the pose lends just enough ambiguity (obscuring the Angel's distinctive chest symbol and mustache) that it functions equally well as a nod to Superman....especially since the story in MARVELS #1 deals with the dawn of superhuman beings. What do YOU think? Am I on to something...or am I just blinded by my obsession with Superman?