Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. This week: John Romita Jr.! Today’s page is from Amazing Spider-Man #33 (#474 under the old numbering), which was published by Marvel and is cover dated September 2001. Enjoy!
When J. Michael Straczynski was tapped to restore Spider-Man to prominence in 2001, Marvel did a smart thing and paired him with Romita Jr., who reeled off almost 30 issues in a row of the title. JMS’s run was very good in the beginning, even as he tried to make Spidey part of a whole Spider totem thing which went a bit sideways. At least he tried new stuff, and with Romita along, it looked pretty darned groovy. This page, the first we’ve seen from Romita in this series that isn’t a single-panel splash, shows both his strengths and perhaps, the weaknesses of digitizing comics. Romita’s bold lines and stock body design means that Morlun (the bad guy) looks powerful even though he’s simply standing and his clothing doesn’t show off his muscles. Romita understands that design and stance can exude strength as much as giant pecs. Morlun is unfazed by the flames behind him, which also help light him from behind, giving him a sinister look (the glowing eyes help, too, of course). The way Romita places Spider-Man in the first panel also helps emphasize Morlun’s power, as just by putting the baddie on top of a car and Spidey on the ground, it highlights the size difference between them and sets up the theme of the issue, which is that Morlun is unbeatable. In the second panel, Spidey’s leap is nicely done, making him look very arachnoid while still implying power. Romita wisely doesn’t make Peter all that muscular either – it’s a mistake artists sometimes make, but Peter isn’t really that muscular compared to other Marvel heroes, and Romita knows this. He also leaps from right to left, against the grain of our reading experience but not against the grain of the first panel – he’s in the bottom right, so Romita shows him leaping from right to left. In my post about Captain Britain #9, Ted noted that this is film technique, and he makes a good point. We can deal with the counter-intuitive way Romita draws our eye because we expect Spider-Man to “leap” from his starting position toward the bad guy, which from our angle would be right to left.
JMS provides the classic internal narration technique where the hero “takes inventory” to get the reader up to speed. Peter saved the innocent bystanders from the fire, got hit by Morlun, and is ready to fight back. It’s a cliché, but it works, and we don’t really need to know too much more about the situation to turn the page. It gets us going.
Romita is an old-school artist, and it’s interesting to look at how his work clashes with digital colors (and inks, maybe). Scott Hanna’s lines smooth out Romita’s rough edges, and Morlun looks a bit less rough-hewn than he might have looked in earlier Romita comics, with the non-glossy paper and someone like Al Williamson on inks. I’m going to assume that Dave Kemp and Avalon Studios are digitally coloring this, and that also makes Romita’s work a bit less sturdy than it was in the past. It’s certainly brighter and pops quite a bit, and Kemp is able to do some nice tricks like backlighting Morlun, but we have to accept a trade-off that makes Romita’s figures less stocky. It’s all in what you prefer, I suppose.
For the last day of Romita Week, we’re going to check out a big event. It’s all about the smashing! You can also look at the archives, if you so desire.