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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
The current Marvel Comics crossover Avengers/X-Men: Axis sees the Fascist mastermind the Red Skull gaining the devastating powers of Onslaught, threatening the entire world. A key aspect of this storyline has been the conflict between the Skull and Magneto, the mutant Master of Magnetism. But this is certainly not the first time those two have encountered one another. For that we must look back to late 1989 and the “Acts of Vengeance” crossover.
It is actually a bit surprising that it took Magneto and the Red Skull so long to meet. In certain respects they have much in common; in others they are complete opposites.
Magneto, the long-time ideological opponent of the X-Men and one of their greatest foes, spent his early years as a one-note mutant supremacist. He was almost a Hitler-like figure, a ranting, sadistic conqueror who wanted to crush humanity and rule the world in the name of mutant-kind, who he saw as their superiors.
Then throughout the 1980s, in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, writer Chris Claremont developed a back-story for Magneto. He was a Jew from Eastern Europe who had spent much of his childhood imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps, who lost his entire family in the Holocaust. At the end of World War II the barely alive Magneto fled to Russia with the gypsy Magda, who he married.
Eventually, as seen in Classic X-Men#12 by Claremont and artist John Bolton, when Magneto’s mutant powers began to manifest, a fearful mob attacked him, preventing him from rescuing his daughter Anya who was trapped in a burning house. Magneto lashed out in anger, slaying the mob. Magda fled from him in fear, and he never saw her again.
The death of his daughter, the loss of his wife, and the actions of the mob brought him right back the horrors of the Holocaust. Magneto became convinced that it was inevitable that humanity would attempt to destroy mutants in a new genocide. Between his overwhelming fear of a mutant Holocaust, and an unfortunate side effect of his powers creating severe emotional instability, Magneto became a violent revolutionary determined to protect mutant-kind by conquering humanity. In effect, he became very much like the Nazis who he hated.
The Red Skull’s real name is Johann Schmidt. In the back-story originally set down by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, and developed in detail years later by J.M. DeMatteis, Paul Neary & Roy Richardson in Captain America #298, we learn that Schmidt was born to an alcoholic father and his abused wife in a small German village. When the mother died giving birth the drunk, angry father attempted to murder his newborn son. He was prevented from doing so by the delivering physician. The distraught father committed suicide soon after, leaving the infant Johann Schmidt an orphan. Although only a newborn when all this occurred, the Red Skull claims to remember these events with crystal clarity.
Schmidt spent his childhood and teenage years as an outcast and a vagrant, ostracized by his peers. One time the daughter of a Jewish shopkeeper showed the coarse man kindness. Schmidt responded by clumsily attempting to woo her, and when she spurned his violent advances, he responded by beating her to death, taking out on her all the rage he felt at humanity as a whole. The experience filled him with “a dizzying joy such as I never suspected existed!”
Years past, and eventually Schmidt was working as a bellboy at a German hotel. One day Hitler and his advisors were staying there. By chance, Schmidt was bringing refreshments into Hitler’s chambers right when the Fuhrer was berating the head of the Gestapo for letting a spy escape. The fuming Hitler was despairing at ever having anyone competent enough to carry out his vision. Motioning towards Schmidt, Hitler declared “I could teach that bellboy to do a better job than you!” Glancing at the young man, Hitler was startled to see the look in Schmidt’s eyes. Within them Hitler recognized a bottomless capacity for hatred and violence. The Fuhrer realizes this was someone who he could transform into the ultimate Nazi, a being who would mercilessly advance the cause of the Third Reich. Thus was born the Red Skull.
It is interesting that circumstances both led Magneto and the Red Skull onto a path of violence and conquest, each driven by the belief in their own superiority, by the desire to punish the world for the harms inflicted upon them. The difference, I think, is that if young Magneto had grown up in a different place & time, and never lived through the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, he might very well have grown up to be a normal, happy, well-adjusted figure. In contrast, one gets the feeling that Johann Schmidt, even if he had been raised by loving parents, was of possessed some form of anti-social personality disorder and would have inevitable become a cruel, unpleasant individual. He simply might have become something slightly more socially acceptable, such as a corporate executive or a politician!
These two men finally come face-to-face during “Acts of Vengeance,” when the Norse god of evil Loki brought together several of Earth’s greatest villains and criminals to organize a series of attacks directed at destroying the Avengers. At first Magneto thinks that this is a different Red Skull, believing the original died some time before, not realizing the Skull’s consciousness was transferred into a new body cloned from none other than Captain America. Nevertheless Magneto cannot put the matter out of his mind. In Captain America #367 written by Mark Gruenwald, with excellent artwork Kieron Dwyer and Danny Bulanadi, Magneto breaks into the Skull’s office in Washington DC, demanding to know the truth. The Skull admits he is the original. He attempts to convince Magneto that the two of them are in fact very much alike, hoping to trick the Master of Magnetism into lowering his guard. This fails, and the Skull is forced to flee. (Click on the below image to enlarge it for the full details of their exchange.)
Despite the fact that the Skull now resides in a body that possesses the Super Soldier Serum, he has never bothered to undergo the extensive regular training that Captain America himself engages in which has made the Sentinel of Liberty one of the world’s greatest fighters. Instead the Skull still relies on lackeys such as Crossbones and Mother Night, and on the advanced technology & robots developed by the Machinesmith. So rather than possibly having a chance of at least holding his own against Magneto, as Cap probably would, the Skull quickly finds himself outmatched.
Soon enough Magneto captures the Red Skull. He spirits him away to a subterranean bomb shelter, leaving him with nothing more than several containers of water. Magneto tells the Skull “I want you to sit down here and think of the horrors you have perpetrated. I want you to suffer as you’ve made others suffer. I want you to wish I had killed you.” With that Magneto leaves, entombing the Skull in darkness. Dwyer & Bulanadi definitely draw the hell out of this page. That look on the Skull’s face in the final panels, as he silently fumes in a mixture of defiance and horror, is genuinely unnerving. And you are really not sure if justice has been served, or if you actually feel perhaps the slightest bit of pity for the Skull for not having been given a quick, clean death.
The Skull spends a lengthy period of time imprisoned in the bomb shelter. Eventually he begins to hallucinate. In Captain America #369, in an eerie sequence written by Gruenwald and drawn by Mark Bagley & Don Hudson, the Skull sees his father, Hitler, and his daughter Sinthea berating and belittling him, urging him to commit suicide. We see that beneath the Skull’s belief that he is better than everyone else is a horrible fear that he is an insignificant nothing, and that everyone is looking down at him. The only way he can prove that wrong is to trample the whole of humanity beneath his heel, demonstrating his superiority.
Eventually of course the Skull is located by his underlings. Weakened and dying, his burning hatred of Captain America gives him the strength to keep living and recover. Even when Cap attempts to offer him the slightest bit of concern and sympathy, all the Skull can react with is venomous contempt and malice. As far as the Skull is concerned, kindness equals weakness, and only hatred will keep him strong.
Much time passes by. The Red Skull dies and is resurrected at least a couple of more times. Presently he has been revived within a copy of his own original body in its prime. As seen in the events of Uncanny Avengers and X-Men: Legacy, the Skull has stolen the body of the recently deceased Charles Xavier. He has ghoulishly had Xavier’s brain grafted onto his own, gaining the immense telepathic powers of the X-Men’s founder.
In the aftermath of the “Avenge the Earth” storyline written by Rick Remender, Kang the Conqueror’s sprawling Xanatos Gambit to wipe out all future timelines save for the one where he rules and to seize the power of a Celestial, becoming a literal god, was thwarted by the narrowest of margins. It was also a most pyrrhic of victories: Havok was horribly scarred in his final battle with Kang, the young daughter who Havok and the Wasp had in a now-erased timeline is a prisoner of Kang’s in the distant future, Sunfire’s body was transformed into an energy form, Wonder Man’s consciousness is trapped in Rogue’s mind and, as usual, people still hate & fear mutant-kind.
Uncanny Avengers #23 by Remender and artist Sanford Greene shows that the vengeful Kang, seeking to rub salt into these wounds, has dispatched Ahab, the cyborg slave-master from the “Days of Futures Past” reality, to assist the Red Skull in his plans for mutant genocide. Thus is set the stage for the Axis crossover, and for Magneto to once again confront the Red Skull. I will be taking a look at that encounter in the near future. Stay tuned.