The Art of Steve Lightle

Yesterday I wrote a short retrospective on comic book creator Steve Lightle, who passed away at 61 years old on January 8th.  Lightle was a very talented artist who worked on numerous series during a career that lasted three and a half decades. I am going to spotlight some more examples of his artwork.  Here are ten of my favorite Steve Lightle covers and pin-ups.

1) Bolt Special (Spring 1984) – Steve Lightle’s earliest published work was for Bill Black and AC Comics. He drew several covers for AC, including this one. In addition to the title character, this features Tara the Jungle Girl, who would soon co-star in AC’s flagship title Femforce.  This cover really shows that Steve hit the ground running.

2) Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #342 (Dec 1986) – This is definitely a fantastic showcase of Lightle’s work on the Legion, fitting the entire mid-1980s lineup onto a single cover. He really captured the individual personalities of the various characters. The coloring is by Anthony Tollin.

3) Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #23 (Jan 1987) – Lightle co-created Legion member Tellus with writer Paul Levitz. Lightle revealed in interviews that in designing Tellus he wanted to come up with a completely alien, non-humanoid being, and he put a lot of thought into developing the character. This pin-up really illustrates what a unique character Tellus is.

4) Who’s Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (Apr 1988) – Lightle contributed wrap-around covers to the first two issues of this seven part spin-off from the main Who’s Who project. On this first one Lightle draws several members of the then-current line-up alongside a flashback to the team’s first tragic battle with Computo, a story originally recounted during the Silver Age.

5) Classic X-Men #36 (Aug 1989) – Lightle drew a number of incredible covers during his three year run as cover artist on Classic X-Men. The assignment gave him the opportunity to revisit, and reexamine, many of the already-iconic moments from the classic Claremont & Byrne run. Lightle seemed to be especially inspired on his covers for the reprints of “The Darth Phoenix Saga,” with this image of the X-Men and Phoenix being especially stunning.

6) Who’s Who in the DC Universe #14 (Nov 1991) – Lady Quark is a somewhat atypical female superhero, possessing a more athletic physique, harder features and short cropped hair (apparently her look was based on Scottish singer Annie Lennox). Lightle does a fine job illustrating Lady Quark in this profile pic, showcasing her as a powerful, formidable being. The coloring is by Tom McCraw.

7) Marvel Comics Presents #127 (Apr 1993) – This cover with Ghost Rider and Typhoid Mary works well to visualize the duality of the later character, with the Spirit of Vengeance caught between her two personalities . The coloring on this is also very effective, and is probably by Steve himself or his wife Marianne.

8) Wonder Woman Gallery (Sept 1996) – Lightle certainly did a very beautiful pin-up of Princess Diana for this special. It’s unfortunate that he did not have too many opportunities to draw Wonder Woman. The coloring is by Tom McCraw.

9)  The Flash #161 (June 2000) – Lightle drew a lot of great pieces during his three year run as cover artist on The Flash, but many people (myself included) nevertheless consider this to be one of the best. This issue features a flashback to the honeymoon of the first Flash, Jay Garrick, and his wife Joan in Las Vegas in 1947, with Jay’s teammates in the Justice Society crashing the party. Lightle successfully evokes the feel of the Golden Age art styles from the original JSA stories. The lettering is by Todd Klein.

10) The Mighty Titan #3 (October 2014) – When writer Joe Martino was running the Kickstarter campaigns to fund The Mighty Titan he asked several established artists to contribute covers. Among them was Lightle, who drew the cover for issue #3. Lightle was a good person, and it was just like him to help an up-and-coming creator. I think it was Lightle posting this cover on social media that made me aware of The Mighty Titan in the first place, which led me to back the Kickstarter. The coloring is by Ross Hughes.

This list could easily have been twice as long. Steve Lightle drew so many amazing pieces of artwork during his lifetime. He will certainly be missed.

Steve Lightle: 1959 to 2021

I was very sorry to hear that comic book artist Steve Lightle had passed away on January 8th. I have been a fan of his work for many years.

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 3 #37 (Aug 1987) cover drawn by Steve Lightle and colored by Anthony Tollin

Steve Lightle was born on November 19, 1959 in the state of Kansas. Growing up he was a huge fan of DC Comics, especially Legion of Super-Heroes. As he recounted in a 2003 interview published in the excellent book The Legion Companion by Glen Cadigan from TwoMorrows Publishing:

“One of the oldest drawings that I’ve got was done in second grade, and it was a massive Legion fight scene that I probably did sitting at my desk when I should’ve been doing my work.”

In the early 1980s Lightle was in DC’s new talent program. His first published work was actually for Bill Black’s Americomics / AC Comics line in 1984, where he drew a handful of covers. Right from the start on these early pieces Lightle was already doing impressive work.

Lightle’s work soon after appeared in DC’s New Talent Showcase anthology, and in fill-in issues of Batman and the Outsiders and World’s Finest.

Less than a year into his professional career Lightle was asked by editor Karen Berger to take over as penciler on Legion of Super-Heroes from the outgoing co-plotter & penciler Keith Giffen, who after a stellar run felt burned out drawing the title, with its cast of thousands and myriad futuristic alien worlds. A surprised Lightle was happy to accept the assignment. His first issue was Legion of Super-Heroes volume 3 #3, cover-dated October 1984, which was co-plotted by Paul Levitz & Keith Giffen and scripted by Levitz. Lightle was inked by Larry Mahlstedt, who he would be paired with on most of his mid-1980s run.

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 3 #8 (March 1985) cover pencils by Steve Lightle, inks by Larry Mahlstedt and colors by Anthony Tollin

In only his second issue Lightle has to draw the death of Karate Kid, one of his favorite members of the team. He did a superb job rendering this tragic event, as well as in the next issue where Princess Projecta executed Nemesis Kid for the murder of her husband. The storytelling on these sequences was stunning, really bringing to life the tragedy of Levitz & Giffen’s plots.

Lightle only penciled Legion for about a year, from #3 to #16, with a couple of other artists providing fill-ins during that time. Lightle, with his highly-detailed art style, was not an especially fast penciler, and that played a role in his departure.

As he explained in The Legion Companion:

“[T]he fact is, I took myself off the Legion…  I had convinced myself that my inability to do everything I wanted in every issue was somehow meaning that I was delivering less than a hundred percent, and therefore I shouldn’t be on the book…. So the funny thing is, looking back, I can’t even understand my thinking on this.”

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 3 #14 (Sept 1985) written by Paul Levitz, penciled by Steve Lightle, inked by Larry Mahlstedt, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Carl Gafford

Although his run on Legion was relatively short, Lightle nevertheless had a huge influence on the series. He created the Legion’s first two totally non-humanoid members, Tellus and Quislet, and designed new costumes for several established characters.

Lightle also remained on as the cover-artist for Legion, drawing nearly every cover for volume 3 until it ended in 1989 with issue #63, as well as several covers of the reprint series Tales of the Legion and for the four issue Legion spin-off Cosmic Boy. Lightle also co-plotted and penciled “Back Home in Hell” in issue #23, a story which saw a traumatized Mon-El forced to return to the Phantom Zone when the serum that protects his Daxamite physiology from lead poisoning wears off.

Lightle is regarded by many Legion fans, myself included as one of the series’ definitive artists.

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 3 #23 (June 1986) written by Paul Levitz, co-plotted & penciled by Steve Lightle, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Carl Gafford

Following his departure from Legion of Super-Heroes, Lightle penciled the first five issues of the Doom Patrol reboot in 1987 and covers for various DC titles, plus several entries in their Who’s Who series.

In 1988 Lightle also began working for Marvel Comics, drawing a fill-in issue of X-Factor and becoming the cover artist for the reprint series Classic X-Men, an assignment that lasted from #30 (Feb 1989) to #56 (Feb 1991).

Yesterday I was attempting to recall when I first saw Steve’s work. I *think* it was when I bought Classic X-Men #39 in the Fall of 1989. Classic X-Men was in the middle of reprinting the epic “The Dark Phoenix Saga” by Claremont, Byrne & Austin from a decade earlier. I was 13 years old, and the dynamic Wolverine cover by Lightle immediately grabbed me. I missed the next issue, but a couple months later my parents got me #41, which had another amazing Lightle cover. I immediately became a fan of his work.

Classic X-Men (Nov 1989) cover by Steve Lightle

Soon after I saw Lightle’s cover artwork on Avengers Spotlight and Excalibur.  He also drew a number of Marvel Universe trading cards.

In the early 1990s I was beginning to get into DC Comics, and one of the invaluable sources of information on the oft-confusing post-Crisis universe was the 16 issue loose leaf edition of Who’s Who in the DC Universe edited by Michael Eury.

Lightle illustrated several profile pics for Who’s Who, including a dramatic rendition of Ayla Ranzz, the former Lightning Lass, in the “Five Years Later” era of the Legion. I don’t know if Lightle ever drew any other Legion-related artwork set during this period, but now I wish he had. It’s a very striking image. He rendered Ayla as a beautiful, athletic figure in dynamic motion.

Who’s Who in the DC Universe #6 (Jan 1991) Ayla Ranzz profile drawn by Steve Lightle and colored by Tom McCraw

In 1992 Lightle’s work began appearing regularly in the bi-weekly anthology series Marvel Comics Presents. He drew an eight part Wolverine and Typhoid Mary serial written by Ann Nocenti, which was followed by a Ghost Rider and Typhoid Mary serial by the same team. The storyline culminated in the intriguing and thought-provoking “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” by Nocenti, Lightle and co-artist Fred Harper in MCP #150-151 (March 1994).

Lightle’s artwork, with his innovative and unconventional layouts, and its sense of atmosphere, was incredibly well suited to depicting the ongoing story of Typhoid Mary and her fractured psyche. On several chapters coloring was provided by Steve’s wife Marianne Lightle.

Marvel Comics Presents #123 (Feb 1993) written by Ann Nocenti, drawn & colored Steve Lightle and lettered by Janice Chiang

Lightle was also the regular cover artist on Flash for DC between 1997 and 2000. He produced a series of very dramatic images during that three year run.

In the late 1990s I *finally* discovered, via back issues, Lightle’s work on Legion of Super-Heroes from the mid 1980s. I immediately recognized he was one of the all-time great artists on that series. Around this time I was fortunate enough to get to know both Steve and Marianne on social media.

I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes looks the Lightles gave of their incredible work for the all too short-lived Cross Plains Comics, which adapted and was inspired by the works of writer Robert E. Howard.

Red Sonja: A Death in Scarlet (Dec 1999) written by Roy Thomas, co-written & drawn by Steve Lightle, lettered by Dave Sharpe and colored by Marianne Lightle

Among the projects Steve and Marianne worked on for Cross Plains was Red Sonja: A Death in Scarlet. Steve co-wrote the story with veteran Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja writer Roy Thomas, and penciled & inked the issue. Marianne Lightle colored it under the pen name Tayreza.

Red Sonja: A Death In Scarlet was intended to be a three issue miniseries, but unfortunately only the first issue ever came out. Nevertheless, it worked well as a stand-alone story.  The artwork by Lightle was magnificent. I definitely wish he had been given more opportunities to draw Red Sonja.

It’s been observed by Legion of Super-Heroes fans that a number of the creators associated with the series have found themselves repeatedly drawn back to working on it throughout the years. At one point someone might have even jokingly referred to it as “Legionnaire’s Disease.”

Legion of Super-Heroes #8 (June 2012) written by Paul Levitz, drawn by Steve Lightle, lettered by Pat Brosseau and colored by Javier Mena

Whatever the case, Lightle was one of those creators who found himself often returning to the teen heroes from 1000 years in the future. He drew the covers for the four issue miniseries Legends of the Legion in 1998, an Umbra solo story in The Legion #24 (Nov 2003), a cover for the Star Trek / Legion crossover (Nov 2011) and several covers for the New 52 reboot of Legion of Super-Heroes, along with an Invisible Kid solo story in issue #8 (June 2012), plus a few other Legion-related items.

Over the last two decades Lightle was working on several creator-owned web comic book series, issued under the umbrella of Lunatik Press. Among the series Lightle created was the space opera Justin Zane, the martial arts adventure Peking Tom, and the sexy funny animal series Catrina Fellina.

Steve Lightle’s Lunatik Press

Steve and Marianne Lightle lived in the Kansas City region most of their lives, where they raised their children, and where their grandchildren now live. Throughout my interactions with Steve and Marianna on various social media platforms over the past two decades they always impressed me as genuinely good people.  Steve’s death at the age of 61 from cardiac arrest brought on by Covid-19 is a tragedy. My thoughts go out to Marianne and her family in this difficult time.

There is currently a fundraiser on Go Fund Me to help the Lightle family with Steve’s medical bills and other expenses. If you are able, please contribute. Thank you.

Doctor Who meets Batman

Happy new year! To kick off 2021 properly, I had a strangely specific dream last night.

To be precise, I dreamed that the TARDIS from Doctor Who, with the Season Two line-up of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicky, broke down near Gotham City in the 1950s. The Doctor being a time traveler knew that Bruce Wayne was Batman, so everyone headed over to Wayne Manor to enlist Batman’s help in repairing the TARDIS. When they arrived they encountered the Batman Family, the version drawn by artists Sheldon Moldoff and Dick Sprang, appropriately enough. And then a bunch of other stuff happened.

Come on, BBC and DC Comics, you know this team-up would be amazing!

(Yeah, I do have other sorts of dreams, too, but I’m not going to discuss them here. Gotta keep this blog family-friendly, y’know?)

Now I really want to see this happen. And, I mean, it actually COULD happen. After all, the Twelfth Doctor, voiced by Peter Capaldi, met Batman in the LEGO Dimensions video game. Additionally, Batman fought the Daleks, voiced by Nicholas Briggs, in The LEGO Batman Movie.

Batman, Doctor Who and Gandalf walk into a LEGO bar…

And of course I have to offer a tip of the hat to the Doctor Who serial “Inferno” broadcast in 1970.  At the time the Doctor was exiled to present-day Earth and, trying to get the TARDIS working again, somehow removed the console and started tinkering with it. When someone expressed disappointment upon seeing this supposedly-miraculous device, the Doctor fired off a memorably sarcastic response:

“What were you expecting, some kind of space rocket with Batman at the controls?”

I wish I was actually an artist, because if I was I would so totally be drawing a team-up between the First Doctor and the Batman of the 1950s right now.