Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is John Romita, Jr., and the issue is Daredevil #260, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated November 1988. Enjoy!
One thing that you might not notice when you first start reading comics that you do as you get more experienced at it is the influence artists can have on each other (or maybe I’m the only one who never noticed this!). I read many of the Romita issues of Daredevil when they first came out, because my best friend had them and I used to read his. As this was before I even started buying comics, I didn’t think about too much other than “Hey, that looks cool.” Obviously, I didn’t know anything about Romita, but soon enough after I started buying comics myself I figured out who he was. It took me a lot longer to learn about the inker of this issue, because for a long time I didn’t think about inkers and colorists and letterers. When I did learn more about the inker, it was in the context of his older work, and I forgot that he inked a lot of this run. But it’s very cool to look at how he influenced Romita’s heavier line work, because while someone like Klaus Janson seems to fit Romita’s somewhat stocky style, it’s unusual to see Al Williamson unleashed on it. But that’s what we got with Daredevil, and the result is quite stunning. These days, of course, I recognize more of the continuum from Williamson’s work in the 1960s to this work, but it took me a long time. I don’t know if my journey is typical, but it makes me appreciate all aspects of comics more than just “Hey, that looks cool.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Romita does a really nice job with the action in this issue, in which several of Daredevil’s foes attack him at the behest of Typhoid Mary to soften him up for her (something that happens in one issue; it’s good that DC didn’t steal this idea and spread it out over the course of, what, a year?). This is “High” Romita style, when he was firing on all cylinders and his style hadn’t calcified a bit, which it has done over the years a bit (but that’s for another day!). So Bullet is a thick, blocky dude, all power, and even Matt is a bit more muscular than other artists have drawn him. Romita’s layout is nice – even though Bullet drives Daredevil the “wrong” way in Panel 1, the clothing whipping to the right helps move our eye that way. In Panel 2, the two men are centered as they smash into the water tower, which breaks and points to the right, leading us to Panel 3, which drives us downward. There, Bullet’s punch leads us to the right and toward Daredevil, which takes us off the page. Williamson’s delicate inking work is pretty amazing, as we’ll see throughout the book. He hatches the entire water tower, making it feel more “real” and therefore making the impact “hurt” more, and his line work in Panel 4 is beautiful, too, as the pieces of the wall flying out from where Bullet’s fist hits it are nicely delineated. Williamson’s lighter line makes the book both smoother in some places – like Panel 1 – but also grittier, as in Panel 4, because his details are so precise.
Williamson doesn’t simply use thin lines, as we see here with Matt in Panels 1 and 2. He uses thicker blacks on Matt’s costume so that it’s a bit heavier than the surroundings, which are still solid but, due to Bullet smashing through them, look a bit flimsier than Matt, who remains resolute. Romita, as we see in Panel 1, draws Matt with slightly wider shoulders and bigger muscles than we often see on Daredevil, who’s usually more of an acrobat. It’s another nicely laid out page, as Bullet smashes through the wall in Panel 2, and we follow him down in Panels 3 and 4 until he smashes onto the car. Williamson gives us lots of vertical and horizontal lines, which are unnatural and symbolic of man-made structures, so Bullet blasting through them and around them makes his movement more chaotic. I really wonder how much of this is Romita and how much is Williamson – the spectators in Panels 4 and 5 almost look completely inked in with brushes, and I wonder if Romita simply drew vague people-like shapes and let Williamson have some fun.
Here’s the first of two panels I’m going to show that shows how much an inker influences the art. I have no idea what Romita did in this panel. I imagine he drew the outline of the hands, the matchbook, the cigarette, and an outline of the head? Through everything, you can tell it’s a Romita head – it’s a bit square and wide, even in profile – but this appears to be mostly Williamson. He uses thick strokes on the man’s hand to rough them up a bit, and uses short, thick lines in the hair to get the same effect. We get motion lines around the matchbook, the man’s finger, the cigarette, and the man’s hat to show that he’s shaking. Either Romita or Williamson added the circles to show that Matt is perceiving the man through his radar senses, but then Williamson erases the holding lines to make it a bit more ethereal. The radar lines obscure the man’s jaw, but we see the short strokes creating the man’s beard clearly. At the very center, the light and smoke of the match and cigarette create a blank spot, and Williamson makes that circle by inking around it. Even down on the man’s neck we see small lines, again showing that Matt is “reading” the small imperfections in his skin. Christie Scheele goes the usual route by making Matt’s senses red, but she does a nice job using pink in the lighter areas, surrounded by a darker red. It’s a superb panel.
Matt gets pummeled by some villains, and he ends up in an alley where he sees his dead father, because if there’s one thing Daredevil writers like to do, it’s have Matt and his dad spout clichés about getting up and fighting when the chips are down! Romita, as we’ve seen, is really good at laying out a page. He begins in close-up, showing how badly Matt has been beaten, and then he pulls back quite a bit to show the street. Slowly he moves in as Matt crawls into the alley, until we’re close enough in that we don’t know whose voice it is in Panel 5. Then we get Matt in the foreground, looking down the alley at his dad, who sits in the background on the right, leading us to the next page. And once again, Williamson does a marvelous job. In Panel 1, he might not have inked in the blood, but I think he did, and it’s very nicely done. Matt has small black dots on his skin alongside the thicker hatching, showing the small wounds he’s sustained as well as the major injuries. We see the thick hatching on his costume, which again makes Romita’s stockier Matt a bit rougher and more solid. Finally, while Romita’s layout in Panel 6 moves our eyes from the front to the back, Williamson gives us the thick lines on the wall leading back to Battlin’ Jack and the heavy horizontal planks of the fence behind him, stopping us in our tracks. It’s pretty neat.
This is another single panel that shows Williamson’s influence. Romita is not someone we associate with delicacy, so the fact that Williamson takes a thin brush to Jack’s hair and gives us this windblown look is nice – it gives us a different hair style than a lot of the characters in this book, most of whom have very thick hair, and it also adds to the intangibility of Jack, as he’s, you know, not really there. Romita, I assume, put in the blacks instead of eyes, but Williamson, I imagine, added the smudging on the borders of the eyes, which hollow them out even more. Williamson, like the other inkers we’ve seen on Romita, puts rather severe cheekbones on Jack, but the lines look a bit thinner than when, say, Janson does it. Williamson’s intermittent hatching on Jack’s towel gives it a nice terry cloth feel, which is pretty cool.
Like yesterday, I thought I’d finish up with three consecutive pages that end the issue. Mary finds Matt as Spit and Jet (really?) are about to drop him off a bridge, and she stops them … temporarily. Ann Nocenti is never the most subtle of writers, but she does a nice job with Mary’s odd personality problems, as she’s torn between her love for Matt and her desire to kill him. Yeah, that sucks. Romita does a nice job, especially on those final two pages, as Matt falls to his death (well, not really, of course) and Mary weeps before sucking it up and moving on. Romita uses those thin panels very effectively, because all we need to see is Matt falling and that tiny section of Mary’s face with the tear rolling down it. As usual, Williamson does a lot of nice work here too. I have no idea if Romita drew in Mary’s hair or if that’s all Williamson’s work, but I love the details (even if it’s so 1988 it’s painful). The little ringlets around her face, slowly becoming more straw-like toward the back, speak to the chaos of Mary’s life really well. In Panel 3 of the first page, we again see the thick blacks of Matt’s blood and the smudging all over his costume Romita, it appears draws him a bit puffier than usual – his lips and chin are oddly Bachalo-esque, almost. Given the large knot over Matt’s eye, I have to think it’s deliberate. Meanwhile, Williamson does some beautiful work on the final two pages, turning Matt into an impressionistic figure as he plummets, while giving Mary those gorgeous lashes that makes her tears somehow even more tragic. It’s a great sequence by two artists working really well together.
Romita and Williamson worked so well together that Frank Miller – or perhaps a Marvel editor, but I can’t believe Miller didn’t have something to say about it – worked with them on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, which is also pretty beautiful. But I’m not showing that tomorrow, I’m going to show Romita paired back up with Dan Green, returning to the title that made his reputation (probably, although maybe we can consider Amazing Spider-Man as that book). Whatever you think of it, be sure to come back and take a look! And don’t dismiss the archives, because there’s a lot of cool stuff there!