Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Alan Davis, and the issue is Batman and the Outsiders #31, which was published by DC and is cover dated March 1986. Enjoy!
As far as I can tell, Batman and the Outsiders was Davis’s first foray into American comics, and issue #22 (cover dated June 1985) was his first story. I don’t own that issue, however, but I wanted to look at an issue from that run before he and Mike W. Barr took over Detective Comics for an impressive six-issue run and then he went off to Marvel, where he really became a superstar. Obviously, Davis was still working in the U.K. later in 1984 and 1985, but while I own a lot of that work and it’s quite impressive, I wanted to at least show a bit of his American superhero work before we move on to another artist. Why do I happen to own this issue of BatO but not the earlier Alan Davis issues? Well, because this is Part Four of “The Truth About Looker,” and as Looker is one of my favorite comics character, it’s not surprising that I own these issues. Yes, I just wrote that Looker is one of my favorite comics characters. Deal with it!!!!
As Davis has refined his work even more when he arrived on these shores, I’m not going to show too much of this issue. One thing I’m not going to look at is his artwork with inkers like Mark Farmer or Paul Neary – what we’re seeing in this post is still Davis inking his own pencils. Davis’s pencils with Farmer’s inks are so well known that I’d have very little to say about them. So without further ado, onward!
Some of you, who might not be familiar with Davis’s work (shame on you!), might be wondering what I’ve been talking about these past few days when I mention “Alan Davis hands.” Well, there they are. Davis draws a lot of people with the middle finger and ring finger together and the index finger and pinkie separated from the two middle fingers. Why does he do this? NO MAN CAN SAY! But this is a classic example of “Alan Davis hand.” Davis does a really nice job showing the pain on Emily Briggs’s face as she turns into “Looker” – Davis is famous for making people smile (see below), but he’s really good at all emotions. The light use of hatching gives us an idea of strain, and Davis uses just enough black to make this very light drawing darker than the occasion warrants – Emily is supposed to be transforming into something wonderful, but Davis foreshadows the problems she’s going to have fairly soon. We know that Emily is inside a globe of light, so Davis is just trying to highlight the shadows that would occur from that, but it’s still an interesting use of black.
Another thing Davis does well is draw wild hair. Yes, you might think this is a strange thing to mention, but what this does is give his art a sinewy, windy, exciting look that helps when you’re drawing action comics. Looker and Prince Mardo are just standing there, but Davis makes their hair flow behind them, untamed, making Looker appear like a fiery goddess and Mardo a raging lion. The fact that her cape, belt, and his cape are flowing as well makes this panel, which, again, just shows two people standing, more exciting – it feels like they’re facing a bracing wind, daring it to knock them over. Davis has already established that the two of them are standing on a wintry mountain, so we expect there to be wind, but with no context in this panel, it still feels more exciting.
Davis is good at “power poses,” meaning, of course, superheroes showing how awesome they are. Emily has broken free of Mardo’s control, and she’s pissed. Again, Davis draws the wind blowing her hair, cape, and belt, and even more than in the panel above, he turns her red hair into a fiery halo. The power in her eyes makes the reader feel like electricity is crackling off the page. Davis draws Looked from below, so that she seems more imposing, and she’s balanced nicely – her triangle shape moves our eyes up to the source of her power, her eyes. Davis doesn’t draw her with her arms further out, because that would disrupt the flow. He also puts enough black in her costume to make clear that this is not the happy Emily we’ve come to know. Looker is peeved, and she has the power to do something about it. You can insult Davis’s design sense all you want – I’ll admit that Looker’s costume is an eyesore, and that’s being charitable – but he still knows how to make the character scary.
Davis has always been good at character moments, as he shows here. He doesn’t overrender his characters’ faces, so when Greg sees Emily in Panel 1, Davis keeps her face simple to better convey her relief at being back with her husband. Notice, too, that he keeps Greg’s eyes on the same level as Emily’s, even though they’re a small distance apart, so that the reader is drawn into their look and becomes more empathetic. Davis also makes it clear that Emily, even though she is now a “looker,” is still unsure how Greg will react to her new look, and he draws her with her legs splayed awkwardly and her hands blocking her pelvis, almost as if she’s ashamed of herself and doesn’t know if Greg will find her desirable. This is a brilliant drawing of Emily, because Barr did a good job making her a shy young lady before her transformation, and that hasn’t changed. Davis has always been good at drawing two people kissing, as we see in Panel 3 – it’s a passionate kiss, obviously, but note how Greg is taken a bit aback by it. He’s into it, because his wife is a hottie, but she’s leaning into it more than he is, even though he knew it was coming. Both Panels 1 and 3 are subtly done by Davis, which gives his superhero work a bit more depth than many of his peers.
So that’s early Alan Davis, and after this, he’s pretty much set for almost 30 years. It’s not that he hasn’t changed, but he’s changed so little that if I kept going I’d just be showing you examples of awesome art and not having much to say about it. I know that Davis’s art has been changed a bit by glossier paper and digital inking/coloring, but that’s true for a lot of artists, so I’m not going to focus on Davis for that. Davis is a great artist, and we can see some of that evolution in these early comics. Plus, he made popular the most terrifying Batman, and that is Smiling Batman:
Tomorrow, we’ll start a new artist. Who will it be? You’ll only know if you come back and see! It won’t be someone we’ve already seen in the archives, I’ll tell you that much!