Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Lee Moder, and the issue is Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #0, which was published by DC and is cover dated July 1999. These scans are from the Starman Omnibus volume 5, which was published in 2010. Enjoy!
As I mentioned yesterday, Moder became the regular penciler on Legion of Super-Heroes, a book I never read, and then became the penciler on Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., another comic I had little interest in, so I lost track of him for some years. I did eventually get the trade of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., but it just wasn’t my thing. I guess Geoff Johns and I are destined never to be on the same page! So I traded it in, little thinking I might need it years later. Luckily, the zero issue is in the Starman Omnibus, so let’s take a look at the way Moder’s art evolved from the Adam Hughes/Alan Davis vibe he had going on earlier in the 1990s to what it was at the end of the decade!
Moder’s style has changed quite a bit in the intervening years, and I don’t know when it happened. If this is new for this comic, perhaps we can make the case that this is a more light-hearted adventure story, so his art is more cartoony, but I don’t know if that’s true. He’s still a detailed artist, but his use of bold lines has become more evident, which takes away some of the subtleties in his art. He’s drawing a robotic suit, so of course it’s going to be starker and more blocky than your usual hero, but even Courtney and Jack are a bit more cartoony and “simplistic,” as we can see here a little and will see in other examples. His layouts are still strong, as he moves us around the page well, and his figure work is still fluid, so that the way the punk gets bopped in Panel 1 is nicely done, as is the way S.T.R.I.P.E. bashes the Icicle in Panel 3. Moder and inker Dan Davis use slightly thicker lines, which adds to the cartoony aspect of the art. It’s an interesting shift, and it suits the tone of the book well.
The next page in the story shows some more nice work from Moder. He uses the silhouette well in Panel 1, which allows the colorist to highlight Jack’s staff (I say “colorist” because Carla Feeny, Tom McCraw, and Chris Chuckry are credited with colors on this issue, while the Starman Omnibus claims Gregory Wright colored it, which might be true if they had Wright recolor the issue before the Omnibus came out). On the previous page, we saw a little of Courtney streaming stars, but in Panel 2, we see it much better. I’m not sure what the deal is with that, but Moder uses it to good effect later in the issue. He does a good job contrasting Jack’s sour expression with Courtney’s bubbly enthusiasm, as in this scenario, Jack is the old fogey and Courtney is the eager neophyte. Moder’s Courtney is slightly disproportionate – her head is a bit big on her body, which is probably not a mistake, as in cartoony art, that’s often the case. It makes her more relatable, as Moder can make her eyes and mouth a bit bigger. There’s a nice sense of humor on this page, from Courtney pushing Jack out of the way to S.T.R.I.P.E. bonking his head
and bending Jack’s staff in the process to Jack quietly cursing his father for hooking him up with Courtney. Moder makes it work well – we’ve seen that S.T.R.I.P.E. can change his expression, so his deadpan look in Panel 3 is well done, as is Jack’s look of surprise. The writing doesn’t comment on the staff getting bent, so Moder needs to make sure we see it, and he directs our eyes down to it quite well. Notice that Ted’s face is a bit elongated and even somewhat pointy – this is just another cartoony tic that Moder has developed. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s interesting that he began drawing faces this way, as it’s in contrast to his smoother lines from the first two days I showed.
Moder’s depiction of Jack in this story is a bit odd, because it’s almost like a caricature of the way Jack is drawn in the main Starman series, whether by Tony Harris or Peter Snejbjerg. That seems to happen when you get an artist drawing in a fairly different style than the artist who originated the look of a character, especially one as idiosyncratic as Jack Knight (icons like Superman and Batman are obviously immune to this). Moder doesn’t quite “get” Jack, as even though he’s playing off the notion of Jack as an older hero and Courtney as a young one, the angularity of Jack, as we see in Panel 3, tends to age him a bit too much. His cockatoo hair is a bit too exaggerated, even though Moder is sliding a bit toward exaggeration in his work at this point. There’s nothing terribly wrong with Moder’s drawing of Jack, except that there’s already a model for Jack, and this looks, to my eyes, a bit too off-model. If that makes sense. (Below, I speculate why Moder does this with Jack, but I could be wrong.) This is Courtney’s first appearance, so Moder is designing her, and therefore his style fits her better because there’s no model to compare her to. But that’s just my opinion. As we can see, Moder is still doing nice work with the figures and layouts – the top row continually pushes us from left to right, while Panel 4 is a nice diagonal down to Courtney’s ringing phone, and Panel 5 is a nice drawing of someone who is surprised and upset about a distracting noise (maybe put it on vibrate, eh, Courtney?). Again, we get the big eyes on Courtney, which are, of course, windows to her soul!!!!!
Ah, the old nut shot. Comedy gold! Gold, Jerry! Moder sells it well, as his new cartoony style allows him to get away with giving Courtney those giant shit-kicking boots, so the nut shot looks even more painful than had it come from something smaller. He actually lifts the Icicle off the ground, which is another exaggeration but works in the context of the story. I’m not sure that the sound effect would be “KRACK,” but it does add to the comedy. Moder frames Courtney’s face well, as the Icicle’s arm surrounds her face and focuses us on it, which allows Moder to highlight her gleeful and somewhat evil look as she connects. Again, we see the stars that appear around her, and Moder uses them to show the path her foot takes up into the Icicle’s groin. It’s done well, because the splash is almost divided into two vertical panels – we’re led down by the way Courtney’s body stands to the ice, where we see she has wrenched her foot free, which then leads back upward along the Icicle’s leg to his family jewels, ending at the sound effect. It’s a good way to show the entire scene and give it some motion even though it’s a splash page (and we know how Geoff Johns loves splash pages – this is an early example of it, obviously).
One thing Moder does well with the way he draws Jack, as we can see here, is make it clear that he’s Ted’s son. They don’t look exactly alike, but they’re similar enough that the family resemblance comes through. I assume that’s why Moder drew Jack a bit more severely than Jack’s “regular” artists, even if I don’t love it. Moder again shows a nice sense of humor, as S.T.R.I.P.E. again bonks his head because he’s not used to the exoskeleton. I also wanted to point out Courtney in Panel 5, because that’s a nice pose. Johns and James Robinson (they’re both credited as writers) write her as an arrogant teenager, but just by putting her left arm behind her back and her hand clutching her right arm, Moder subverts this just a little, as that’s a pose of someone who’s a bit unsure of herself. Of course, she warms up to Jack because he has a rad tat, but even before that, Moder is implying that she’s not as confident as she pretends. It’s a nice touch.
Moder’s style wasn’t done evolving, as we’ll see tomorrow. It does appear he was not doing many comics for a few years after this series ended, so maybe that caesura inspired him to tinker with his style even more. Come back tomorrow to check out where it goes! And don’t forget to browse the archives – you never know what you might want to spend money on!
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