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Comicpalooza 2010 was an experience... I half remember. From the Ethan Van Sciver Zook to Humberto Ramos' and David Malki's Professor Arnold Hugo to Marat Mychaels' Commander Blanx and finally Andy Kuhn's Doctor Trap, I'm really glad my aging brain recorded some of the finer details of that con in print before flickering out on aspects. I've misspoken about a bunch of these pieces at times, so I'll have to remind myself to reference before discussing them in the future.
The reason I was looking over those posts was because I wanted to talk about the one that almost got away. As I've said many times, I was learning about the process of commissions one at a time that day. What I came to realize was that as much as I enjoyed the headshots, I was often frustrated by them, as well. When I look at that EVS Zook, for instance, I want to see the other arm, and the tummy, and the legs. Just the head and the one arm makes the piece feel incomplete. Sometimes that works, as Mychaels' Blanx looks like a presidential portrait in a nightmare Martian Oval Office, but I had the feeling that in general I'd rather pay to get more. I spent a lot of time figuring out from whom and for how much, but the only full figure I managed to score that day was Kuhn's Trap, which sounds like a euphemism, but anyway... Thanks to my indecision, I ran out of time to get a commission from Brian Denham.
Denham got his start in the mid '90s as part of Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios, but soon moved over to the Texas-based Antarctic Press, where he continues to contribute to this day. Denham has also done work for most every publisher in the game, my favorite being his pairing with Adam Warren on Iron Man: Hypervelocity. After he finished up his last pieces of the day, we chatted for a bit about his career and such. We also talked about my Vile Menagerie art project, and I showed him reference for Bel Juz, Commander Blanx, and the Marshal in anticipation of a future commission. It was not to be that year though, and we had a similar scheduling conflict at Comicpalooza 2011. Still, we kept in contact via email, resulting in this lovely $100 Bel Juz piece.
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Bel Juz is of course a play on Jezebel, the "Harlot Queen." Like a lot of infamous women of history and myth, Jezebel has benefited from feminist reconsideration in the last century. Folks have sought to clarify gross misrepresentations and see the Jezebel figure through a more sympathetic light. Still, culturally a "Jezebel" remains synonymous with a woman of ill repute who leads people astray from god toward false idols and sexual immortality. That's quite a colorful interpretation of scripture, as Jezebel was a pagan queen of Israel who ran afoul of the prophet Elisha, leading to the loss of a son, a reign, and Jezebel's death by defenestration. Elisha was the prophet who wished for the deaths of 42 children via mauling by bears because they mocked his baldness. Aside from that bit of extreme prejudice, Elisha was portrayed as having incredible powers that he used for the good of the peasant against unjust authority, and held a good deal of political sway.
I mention all of this because it makes for an interesting parallel between Bel Juz and J'onn J'onzz. In her first appearance, Bel tried to lure the Moses/Christ analog Superman and the Martian Manhunter into the same slavery of alien tyrants that had befallen her fellow exiled survivors of Mars. When she reappeared years later, she was the manipulative power behind the rule of The Marshal of the Red Brotherhood, but their reign was ended and her treachery exposed by J'onn J'onzz. Perhaps it's this mirror of ancient tales passed down through the millenia that makes Bel Juz the third most important Martian Manhunter villain, and one of my personal favorites.
I've wanted a Bel Juz piece for a long time, but it needed to be from the right artist, and I feel Brian Denham was the man for the job. Denham has perfectly captured Bel Juz at her most ideal-- a mid-60s throwback to Playboy chic with cat-eye mascara, full lips, and fuller hips. Between a deceptively innocent quality and that va-va-va-voom, it's no wonder she wraps Martian leaders around her gloved fingers and sees wars fought in her name. I spent hours trying to manage a quality representation of this piece for the internet, but whether it was the subtle fine line detail or the hand coloring, I cannot do it justice here. Suffice to say that Bel Juz is definitely the Queen of the Vile Menagerie, and among my finest commissions. She was well worth the wait.
For more work by Brian Denham, look to his deviantART page.