Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Alex Maleev, and the issue is Daredevil #26, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated December 2001. Enjoy!
The Bendis/Maleev run on Daredevil is a tremendous comic, and it also shows how Maleev’s art was evolving at the time (whether this started on Sam and Twitch I don’t know, as I don’t own those issues). Whether this evolution is a good thing or a bad thing is up to you, I suppose, but let’s take a look at what exactly he was doing with the art, as we take a look at his first issue on the title.
When you’re drawing Brian Michael Bendis comics, you’re going to draw a lot of characters sitting around talking, and that’s what we get here. Unfortunately, part of the problem with a Bendis comic, especially if you’re inclined toward photo-realism as an artist, is that it becomes easier to simply use the same pose over and over again instead of drawing something new each time, and as that becomes easier, it seems like it becomes the default for some artists. Maleev, as we’ve seen in the first two days, isn’t adverse to using photo references in backgrounds, and it’s small step from that to using posed models and repeating images a lot, especially when Bendis writes so many conversations. We can see that here with Wilson Fisk. As Silke talks to him and moves around, Fisk stays still, and it’s very hard to tell the two images of Fisk apart in this sequence (I even cut off the first image, to the left of Silke’s Panel 1, which is also the Kingpin). I have stared and stared at those two images, and the only difference I can see is at the bottom, along Fisk’s second chin, where the inking lines are altered just slightly in the second image. So I assume Maleev simply used the image twice and touched up the second one just a bit, but I’m not positive. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. More cartoonish artists who draw Bendis’s scripts – Mark Bagley springs to mind – also repeat images, because that’s just what happens when you draw a Bendis comic. What makes it aggravating is that as Maleev and Bendis worked together more, it became clearer and clearer that Maleev was taking some shortcuts. I don’t know how he drew Fisk and Silke in this sequence, or how he drew the rest of the comic. Fisk looks a bit “off-model” in this issue, as does someone like J. Jonah Jameson in a later issue. So did Maleev use a person he knew to model for Fisk, or did he use images from the Internet (which was really taking off around the turn of the millennium)? If he did use images, did he copy them free-hand or did he just place them into the story using Photoshop or some other program? I don’t know. If we compare these images to the ones he drew in Batman from yesterday, we can see that he’s using spot blacks very heavily and effectively, but the characters look a bit more “realistic” than the street gangs and cops from Batman. Is this just a progression in Maleev’s style, or is it because he’s using images as a reference? As the debate rages, I want to point out that photo referencing is perfectly fine, as I imagine almost every artist does it because it’s handy. What bugs me about Maleev in his later years is that he seems to be a bit lazier about it, and that is creeping into this run of Daredevil. I love the art on this book, but I can also see some poor habits coming in.
This three-page sequence in which Silke and his men take down the Kingpin shows the way Maleev’s art has shifted even in a few years since he drew Batman. As I noted yesterday, the fight between Batman and the punks on the bridge wasn’t as fluid as it could have been, but whether it was because Maleev drew it relatively free-hand or because Faucher’s inks were slicker, it actually looked like Maleev drew it from scratch. Here, the fight is far more stylized, as it’s becoming clear that Maleev is using photographs at least for some of the images. We can see again that Fisk, to me, looks a bit “off-model” – yes, he’s fat, but because he’s drawn using (presumably) an actual human being as a model, he doesn’t look as powerful as when other artists draw him. Perhaps that’s the point, as Silke’s men are killing him in this sequence, but it still looks a bit strange. Notice that Silke never moves in this sequence – Maleev uses the exact same drawing for him in Panel 4 on the first page and Panel 4 on the third page, which is the same pose he’s in earlier in the issue. It also appears that Maleev takes Fisk in Panel 2 on the first page and flips him in Panel 3 of the second page, using the same drawing but simply cutting some of it off with the panel borders. Obviously, on the final page he uses the same image of Fisk lying on the ground in all four panels, as he rotates the point of view around him so that he begins upright and ends with his face upside down and Silke on top. It’s actually a pretty clever way to change the paradigm in Fisk’s organization.
As with other work by Maleev on this comic, the saving grace is the heavy inking and the way he filters things. He uses bold, sharp, thick blacks throughout, and he’s not above using motion lines, as we see on the second page, to add a bit of fluidity to the scene. On the first page, the backgrounds don’t exist in the first three panels, but Panel 4 shows the room where Fisk dies, and Maleev uses a grainy filter to make it look seedier, while Matt Hollingsworth colors it dully, creating a nice Old World feel in which Silke’s yellow glasses stand out. On the third page, Maleev uses thin brush strokes all over Fisk, making him look far more ragged than his usual natty self, which again does a nice job of implying how far he’s fallen. So while we can see some worrying trends in his work, it’s still pretty interesting.
This is Matt Murdock in court, and once again we see that whatever Maleev is doing, it works pretty well when you have to draw people talking. If he used a model for Murdock, he uses him consistently, so that Matt looks like the same person in each panel even as he turns his head. Maleev understands where the light source is, so he uses heavy inks on Matt’s face in Panels 2 and 3 to give Hollingsworth a good guide about where to make the face slightly lighter. In the background, the people might be photo-referenced, but Maleev uses so much ink on them that they become almost abstract, allowing us to focus on Matt while being only vaguely aware of the gallery. Maleev throws a pattern onto Matt’s tie that he obviously didn’t draw himself, but it’s a small touch that adds a bit of realism to the drawing and isn’t too distracting.
Nitro does his thing on the courthouse steps, and we get this double-page spread that’s too big to fit on my scanner, so you get two separate scans (sorry!). This is a good example of where Maleev is going. The background is obviously not drawn but simply a photograph that Maleev roughed up a bit. Near Nitro, we see that he draws the people free-hand, using simple blocks because the details aren’t important. In the foreground, we get some obvious photographs of cars, a food cart, and water bottles. The two people on the right side of the drawing might be drawn based on models, but because Maleev draws them twisted by Nitro’s power (including the woman’s dress flying up to expose her panties), it doesn’t look too obviously referenced. Again, Maleev is a talented artist, so even if he drew those people using models (and I have no idea if he did or not), it’s well done.
One thing Maleev does very well is use different points of view, which makes his art look more interesting than many others who use a lot of photo referencing. In Panel 1, we look over Daredevil’s shoulder down at Nitro, who’s wandering along the street. DD leaps off the building, and Maleev shows us the view from below, as he falls straight down at us. If he was using a model for Daredevil, the pose is a good one, as it’s the kind of thing we can believe a man leaping from a building would look like, and the fact that Maleev puts him upside down adds to the “realism” of the scene. Notice that the inks are much thicker and angular than Faucher’s on Batman yesterday, which makes Daredevil a bit less fluid than the Caped Crusader. This is a progression in Maleev’s work that, unfortunately, isn’t for the best. This is also a good example of how he roughs up backgrounds to add grittiness to the scenes and make the use of photographs less egregious (if indeed you believe it to be egregious). The crazed hatching behind Daredevil as he leaps adds texture to the scene, as does the shadows on the building that add a layer of grit. It helps create a sense of integration in the scene, which is crucial when you’re using photographs so obviously.
The final panels of the issue are a good indication of where Maleev’s art is headed in terms of action scenes. As we’ve seen in the previous two posts, it’s not like Maleev was great at action, but he wasn’t bad. As an artist uses more and more references in their work, it becomes harder and harder for the work to flow, because the artists are placing static images close to each other but ones that might have any relationship to each other in the original context. Artists can mitigate this, of course, even if they’re using photographs as reference, usually through the use of motion lines or other comic book tricks. Maleev doesn’t do that here, so in Panel 2, for instance, Daredevil looks very awkwardly posed, as if he’s never thrown a punch in his life (I’ve rarely thrown a punch in my life and I know that’s a poor stance for it). He connected with Nitro, but we only know that because Nitro is saying “Ow,” not through anything in the artwork. I’m not really sure what’s going on in Panel 3 – Matt’s hands are nowhere near Nitro’s head, yet we get a “smack” sound effect so it’s obvious that we’re supposed to believe that Matt did indeed smack him. Panels 4 and 5 are fine, because there’s no interaction between the characters. This is a troubling trend in Maleev’s art!
As I’ve noted, I don’t mind heavily photo-referenced artwork, especially if an artist is good at it. I prefer artists who don’t use it very often, but that’s just a personal thing. On Daredevil, I think Maleev did quite a good job using photographs for reference, and the result is a pretty cool-looking comic. In later years, I think he went a bit too far, and we’ll check out some of that work tomorrow. While you wait, be sure to give a look at the archives!