Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jae Lee, and the issue is Inhumans #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated November 1998. These scans are from the trade paperback, which was published in October 2000. Enjoy!
Lee worked through the 1990s, but I don’t own a lot of that work – he was drawing his Image book and stuff I wasn’t really interested in, so I lost track of him, even though I’d see ads for Hellshock every once in a while. So I honestly don’t know if Inhumans #1 is the beginning of a new style or something that he’d been moving toward. It’s still a pretty big change from his early ’90s work, so let’s take a look!
Lee, as we can see, has become more hard-edged over the years, but he’s also started being more judicious with his line work. The rock outcropping on which Attilan stands is delicately lined and finely inked, giving us a very good impression of strong rock that nevertheless has fissures running through it. If we move to the bottom three panels, we see that Lee continues to use a lot of hatching in certain places, but instead of the aggressive line work we saw in Namor (and how much of that was Wiacek I don’t know), his inking is more restrained and a bit more thickly black, as we can see with the dude in the orange shirt in Panel 2. His blacks are a bit more jagged, too – not in the delicate backgrounds in Panels 2 and 3 as much, but in the figures. We’ll see it more in later examples, but notice the kid’s face in Panel 4 – instead of a thin line, it appears that Lee is using a small brush, giving the blacks a slight fuzziness to them. He doesn’t do it all the time, but it’s neat that he was using a bit more in his arsenal.
I mentioned yesterday that Lee was trying hard to imitate Jim Lee, even as he was working on his own style, and in the late 1990s, it seems clear he had moved on to imitating J. H. Williams III circa 1998. This page is a pretty good example of that. We still get Lee’s hatching, but he varies it nicely – Medusa and Marista’s clothing is thinly inked, so that it flows down their bodies, and Medusa’s hair, not surprisingly, is very smoothly inked. Marista’s black hair swirls behind her, almost matching Medusa’s locks. Lee also inks the stone behind them very cleanly, which, when we contrast this to the rock in other places – the exterior of Attilan that we saw above, or the bricks in Maximus’s cell – seems to imply the class distinctions in Attilan, as the royal family’s rooms have the nicest, polished rock, fitting together like a beautiful jigsaw. The fissures still exist, though, and as this comic is about fissures, I’m hoping some of the background scenes are in line with that motif. Who knows? If we look at the way he inks Medusa, though, we see some interesting differences. As I noted with the kid above, it appears Lee is using a brush instead of a pen, or at least he’s using a slightly thicker pen. Medusa’s slightly ragged eyebrows in Panel 2 speak to that. Lee doesn’t use black as much as he did in Namor (he probably couldn’t have used more black than he did in Namor, to be honest!), but he does use the black well in Panel 2, shadowing Medusa’s face as she speaks of the troubles of her husband. Medusa’s back in Panel 3 is interesting – Lee uses a harsh, jagged line to show her shoulder blade, and it strikes a discordant note in the middle of all this beauty. Again, the book is about fissures, and it seems that Lee is showing the strain on Medusa even though she remains outwardly beautiful.
We see another nice panel here, showing Lee’s move from chaotic storytelling to a more elegant and formalized style. Obviously, this is a static image, but even more than a lot of artists, the characters look posed, as they are at a royal reception, where staging is all. The panel isn’t actually laid out that well – it seems like the supplicant should be in front of Black Bolt, but then we would get the problem of not being able to see one of the characters because his back would be to us (which is why television shows show people sitting in really awkward configurations at tables). So Lee has to create this tableau, where the man beseeching Black Bolt appears to have wandered up to the royal dais from a side room. Lockjaw provides a good buffer between the man and the royal couple, however. Lee again uses blacks more wisely in this scene, as he inks Medusa and Black Bolt fairly heavily, while the man, standing more in the light, shimmers a bit more (Avalon Studios is credited with coloring this, so I imagine the white in the man’s robes is from the coloring process). Lee, we can see, has become much more detailed with his work, as the gold worked into the man’s sash shows us. Lockjaw offers us an interesting look at Lee’s details – he’s always been wrinkled, so of course Lee uses thin lines to show his skin sagging, but he heavily inks his face to set his eyes deeply into the sockets and make his mouth more of a maw, and some of the shadows in which Black Bolt and Medusa find themselves are creeping over him, too. I’m not sure why that baby is glaring at Lockjaw like that, though.
In this issue, Lee doesn’t get much of a chance to do action, but as he became more formalized, his action sequences suffered a little. He can still draw beautiful things exploding, as we see here, but his panel-to-panel storytelling became a bit less dynamic, unfortunately. He draws a nice dragon thing, though, as Karnak finds the flaw and destroys it. It’s a flashback, which accounts for the sepia tones, and as the dragon is evil, Lee goes back to using a lot of blacks, giving us spots of creature as it flies apart. Lee still does rougher inking lines on the dragon – possibly because it’s, you know, a dragon, but also possibly because his style had shifted – as well as using thicker inks on Karnak’s arm. In Panel 1, we see this a little more clearly, and notice that Lee draws the rock behind Karnak with slightly less fineness than he did the previous rock in Medusa’s chambers – again, I wonder if this is deliberately part of the bigger motif of the comic.
For the final page of the issue, Lee uses the old tried-and-true slow close-up, moving toward Black Bolt’s face past his squabbling family until we get to the enigmatic last panel. Lee constructs the page nicely – the bottom two panels, you’ll notice, are a bit wider than the top two, as he closes in on Black Bolt. He gets out his inking pens/brushes for this page, as we hearken back to his love of black spaces as we get closer to the king. In Panel 1, we again see that he’s inking things a bit more heavily – Gorgon’s face is almost gouged with the black Lee uses on his cheek, and his eye is a black pool set among strong, wild hatching. As we move toward Black Bolt, Lee naturally becomes more detailed, until we reach Panel 4, where the king is surrounded by black and a good deal of his face is shrouded, as well. It’s always weird to see facial features drawn on a mask, but Lee hints at both the strain on Black Bolt by the blackness under his eyes and on his brow, but his nose and chin remain strong, even though Lee uses a lot of black to shade them. The “relax” word balloon works in conjunction with Black Bolt’s slightly upraised lip to indicate that the king isn’t quite as worried about everything as everyone else is, and Lee does a very nice job with the subtlety of his expression. Even though he’s under pressure, Black Bolt isn’t overwhelmed with worry.
I recall that Inhumans really put Lee into a different level of artists, as his work on the book is extremely beautiful and impressed a lot of people. He began doing less work, as it seemed it took him longer to do it, but it also made the books he drew more unusually attractive. Tomorrow we’ll check some more of that work out, even as Lee kept evolving. Be here! And, as always, feel free to check out the archives!