Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from X-Men #185, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated June 2006. Enjoy!
Peter Milligan and Salvador Larroca’s weird run on X-Men had some decent moments, but overall it was disappointing. Oh well. What about this page? Marvel’s “recap page” policy means that we already know some things before we see this page: the X-Men have gone aboard Apocalypse’s ship, and when they get inside, they discover that Apocalypse’s “newest horseman, DEATH,” is really their teammate, Gambit. Oh dear. So Milligan has to write only one thing on this page – he gives us Gambit’s real name, Remy (barf) and by putting the words in Rogue’s mouth, he’s able to imply that Gambit is somehow special to Rogue. Of course, if this is our first foray into the X-World, we have no idea who Rogue is, but still – Milligan at least shows that there’s a connection between the two of them.
It was during this run that I started to hate Salvador Larroca’s artwork, and we can see some of that on this page. It’s not a poorly-designed page, and Larroca still cared enough to draw in some backgrounds, which is nice. The placement of the X-Men and Apocalypse is well done, as our eyes move from the good guys toward the bad guy in a good diagonal line, plus the fact that the X-Men are in the back and Apocalypse is in the front means that Apocalypse can dominate the page because he’s naturally going to be bigger as he’s “closer” to us. So the flow of the page is nicely done, and the weird tank in the upper right corner and the random wiring at least lets us know we’re on a weird “giant Sphinx ship,” as the recap tells us.
Larroca’s work begins to fall apart when we actually look at his figures. Rogue’s facial expression is terrible – I can’t even figure out what emotion she’s conveying with that face. The strange clothing clinging to Iceman is a bit weird but nothing too bad, because a comic book reader can probably figure out that he was wearing clothes that ripped when he turned into ice. The other three characters are just standing there – Mystique looks angry, but Larroca isn’t doing anything with them yet. The interesting thing about the figure in shadow is … I have no idea who it is. I don’t think it’s Ozymandias, the dude who betrayed Apocalypse and led the X-Men into the ship, because Ozymandias wears a turban and doesn’t have spikes on his head. I’ve looked through this entire issue and no character with that kind of head shows up. So who is that? Did Milligan tell Larroca to put it in there, or did Larroca do it himself and then forget about it? I don’t know.
You’ll notice that Larroca is credited with “washes” on this page. This is about the time I first became cognizant of washing artwork, and I think it was a big mistake by Larroca. The inks are so weak as to be almost non-existent, to the point where if he hadn’t been credited I would think this was colored directly from pencils. Larroca’s weak line means that there’s very little definition to the characters, and even if this is before Larroca started blatantly tracing, the scene still looks constructed in separate elements, as if Apocalypse wasn’t drawn into the scene but rather dropped in there after the fact. I know it’s a completely personal choice and several people not only like this art, but Larroca’s work on Iron Man, but the way he washes the art weakens it, because Larroca’s pencil work isn’t thick enough to retain its power once he’s softened it. Someone like Joe Kubert could get away with this. Larroca, in my opinion, can’t.
This first page does get people into the story, however. If you’re a fan of this kind of artwork, Milligan and Larroca at least give us a splash page that shows most of the principals, establishes a bit of an emotional connection between two of them, and places them in a confrontational stance. Don’t blame this page for the mediocre comic!
Next: Well, the comic isn’t from the 1950s, but it takes place in the 1950s! Oh, the swinging Fifties! Life was good in the century’s most boring decade! At least that’s what my father (who turned 7 in 1950) keeps telling me! Check out some actual comics created in the 1950s in the archives!