Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is John Paul Leon, and the issue is The Winter Men: Winter Special (it’s the sixth and final issue of the series, but for some reason it wasn’t labeled as such), which was published by DC/Wildstorm and is cover dated February 2009. Enjoy!
The Winter Men is a tremendous comic, hobbled by the ridiculous delays in its release. The first issue came out in August 2005, the fifth issue came out in October 2006, and the next issue – this one – came out in January 2009. Man, that’s something. It’s still excellent, and Leon’s art on it is tremendous. He’s inking himself, and Melissa Edwards is coloring him, and all is right in the world. Let’s see what we can see!
Leon is back to using a lot of details, which is nice, and he’s found a good balance with the spot blacks – this isn’t as dark as Earth X, but it’s much better than his work on Captain America. We get a wonderfully detailed stained glass window, and Leon draws in every single shard as the car flies through it. The panel is very nicely framed, with Kalenov, our hero, on the left, as he’s the first person we see, and then we move around the room taking in the other characters. Leon uses the blacks really well, as it contrasts with the brightness of the window, and he finely inks Kalenov’s beard and the many cracks in the window. Edwards does a nice job with the colors, as she doesn’t make the window too bright, but enough to stand out among the dull browns and grays in the room. (Edwards is Tommy Lee Edwards’s wife, and Leon is very good friends with Edwards, in case you’re wondering. I’ll get around to Edwards soon enough in this series, I promise!)
Leon is never going to be the greatest action artist, but he can still lay a page out well and do some nice things with movement. The design of the robotic dude is quite neat – once again Leon uses a lot of blacks, but that helps highlight some of the creepier details of the dude. He inks the dude’s head well, making him look like a horribly scarred warrior. He’s using bold lines without hatching to show energy, as we see here with the dude’s flaming hands and will see again below. The comic is very dense with information about the settings, which is neat. The final panel on this page is nicely done, too, as Leon goes abstract when “The Siberian” escapes into the night, using rough blacks and negative space, which Edwards fills in with gray. In case you’ve never read a comic before and don’t recognize it, John Workman lettered this, and as usual, he makes the sound effects (which I have to believe are his doing, as they look like other comics he letters) fit well into the scene. Workman is a damned good letterer, yo.
We get a nice wintry scene here, and Leon does a lot with the inking and spot blacks. He still uses a lot of basic shapes and some abstract drawings, but that helps make the places where he uses details diligently stand out more, and for a book like this, the contrast works very well. He keeps Panel 1 bare, as we’re out in the Siberian wasteland, so there’s the black mountains and the white ground, with the figures tiny against the immensity of nature. When we get closer in, either Leon inks it with a gray pen or Edwards uses gray, but it remains a stark landscape, the splash of red in the background of Panel 2 almost shocking by its inclusion. The way he lays the page out is very nice, too. In Panel 3, the shooter kicks the wolf’s body, and Leon leads us from the upper left downward along the track to the right. Then in Panel 4, we shift back to the left, where The Siberian emerges from the snow and the blackness, while in the right foreground, the Russian hunter is in the same position as the dead wolf in Panel 3, linking them as they both become hunted. When Yashai’s companions look back, Leon puts them in the left foreground, their gaze leading them back to where Yashai used to be. It’s a really nice composition, showing how quickly roles change in the wild.
Here’s more action, laid out very nicely, with Edwards using the blended shades that we get with digital coloring – in the gun bursts, for instance – but unlike yesterday’s entry, it’s not overwhelming, and her colors are generally flat, which suits Leon’s art better. Again we get very nice details – Leon gives us a good-looking gun, a good interior of the train compartment, and the solid exterior of the train. He once again inks in the tiny shards of shattered glass and the stones on the ground outside the train, which gives a solidity to the entire scene. The way he draws the interior helps create a cramped environment, so when Kalenov is struggling with the bad guy, we get a good sense of it being very difficult for both of them to maneuver. The motion lines and even the smoke from the gun help create a more fluid sequence, mitigating Leon’s slightly more static figures. And, of course, there’s more nice lettering from Workman.
I love this little sequence, as the fire rages around the dude in the armor. Leon smudges the blacks on his suit as the fire and smoke consume him, turning him from a sleeker soldier into a corpse. Leon uses what appears to be a thick marker to achieve the effect, and around the soldier, we get the black smudges of the fire, lit by hellish yellow that slowly infiltrates the cracks in his armor. In Panel 3, we get the close-up, and Leon again uses a lot of blacks to show the man’s pain as he dies. Edwards uses the same yellow as the flame to color his face, turning him into a pyre that implies he’s burning both from the outside and the inside. It’s a chilling moment, rendered very nicely by the artists.
Here we get a nice superhuman reveal, and Leon does a good job with it. Once again, the details of the setting help make the reveal the tiniest bit mundane, which, as Brett Lewis and Leon (both of whom are credited with the story) are writing a tale of superheroes in a “realistic” setting, is fairly crucial. The Hammer’s appearance is impressive, but because it’s in a social club and Leon does a really nice job with that, the tone is more in keeping with the way the story has unfolded. Meanwhile, Leon’s bold line work in Panel 5 make the Hammer crackle nicely, and his use of blacks in Panel 6 helps create a scene lit only by the electric blue that Edwards uses. The shift from warm tones in Panels 1-3 to the cold blue in the final three panels is very neat, too, as there’s a shift from the comfortable reality to one in which superhumans roam through Moscow. It’s very well done. Plus, the Hammer’s speech balloon is clever. I don’t know if it was Leon or Workman, but making it squared instead of rounded turns the speech into something coldly mechanical, which fits quite nicely.
The battle against the Hammer takes up a few pages, but I’m only showing two here, because that’s just how I roll. As we’ve seen throughout this post, Leon’s eye for detail makes this a visceral fight, as we feel the weight of history crushing everyone, including the Hammer and Kalenov, but we also get a good idea of how powerful the Hammer is, as the Russians need that bulky armor to even think about fighting him. Leon doesn’t forget that Kalenov has been beaten up a lot in this series, so we still see the bandages on his face as he tracks his quarry. Leon still uses the blacks really well, making the victims in Panel 3 on the first page smudges that are obliterated by the explosion, putting grit in the air in Panel 5 as the bullets fly, and using thick blacks on the Hammer as he fights Kalenov on the second page. The blacks in the final panel show the solidity of the column as the Hammer collapses it on top of Kalenov, making it an even worse fate for our hero (he’s not dead, but he is down for the count a little bit). Edwards once again does really nice work with the colors, using the blue/yellow complement quite well – it’s not too obnoxious, and she still uses a lot of browns to temper it, but the Hammer’s blue overwhelms the explosive yellow as we move across the two pages, showing how he’s becoming more powerful while the soldiers sent against him are losing their fight. It’s a clever way to imply it. As we’ve seen throughout, it’s just two artists working together really well.
Since The Winter Men, Leon has drawn some stuff, but he also seems to be focusing on doing a lot of covers, so I figured this would be a good place to finish. I own a few issues he’s drawn since this, but they all seem to be in this similar vein, and as this is a really good example of what he can do when he’s firing on all cylinders, this seems like a good place to wrap up. Tomorrow I think I’m going to take a look at an artist who began drawing stuff back in the 1990s and then, it seems, disappeared before reappearing and beginning to work steadily in the latter years of the last decade. Where did he go? Well, I know, but I’m not telling! So be here to see what’s up with that, won’t you? And spend some quality time in the archives – they miss you!