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Year of the Artist, Day 334: Mike Grell, Part 2 – Superboy #221

by  in Comic News Comment
Year of the Artist, Day 334: Mike Grell, Part 2 – <i>Superboy</i> #221

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mike Grell, and the issue is Superboy #221, which was published by DC and is cover dated November 1976. Enjoy!

Superboy was Grell’s first regular penciling gig – he began drawing it, as I noted yesterday, in 1974 and stayed for three years. This was right after it became a Legion of Super-Heroes book (which I guess happened with issue #197), even though it still featured Superboy and never actually changed its “official” name. I found three of the issues that Grell drew in the 50¢-boxes at my comics shoppe recently – issues #221, 222, and 224 – and I’m showing #221 because it’s the only one that features a scantily-clad woman on almost every page. Yeah, sometimes it really is that simple.

Grell is being inked by Bob Wiacek here, in case you’re wondering. It’s interesting to see, as the figure work looks just a little bit stiffer than it did yesterday, which is odd. Perhaps the pressures of a monthly book made Grell rush a little? (He was doing a lot of work on a lot of books at this time, too, so that reason might hold water.) It’s certainly not bad, but Grimbor’s attack on Timber Wolf and Timber Wolf’s counterattack just seems not as fluid as Dr. Zorn’s attack on the Phantom Stranger from yesterday. It’s still nicely done, as Grimbor bashes Timber Wolf with his chain and then blocks Timber Wolf’s attempt to hit back. In Panel 1, both Timber Wolf and Superboy look pretty fluid, and in Panel 5 Superboy’s flight up and over the barrier is well done, so I’m not sure if I’m just being too nit-picky. That’s certainly a possibility. Notice, too, that we see Grimbor as another proto-“Grell male” – he has the gray at his temples, which Grell seems to dig, and his face looks similar to a lot of other Grell males, especially, as I noted, somewhat older gentlemen. This story is about Grimbor and Charma trying to extort money out of the Legionnaires’ financier. R. J. Brande, by capturing the Legion and selling them back to him, and here we see Charma dazzling Superboy to make that happen (and it’s always nice to get “sylph” into use, of course). Grell makes her nicely proportional, as her breasts aren’t giant and her hips aren’t too wide and her waist isn’t too tiny, and you can see why she mesmerizes the men in the issue (although that’s a power she has, so it’s not like she has to be sexy). I love the leggings she wears, as they’re just so Seventies (yes, the Seventies were awesome). Grell does a nice job with her face, as she looks very vulnerable even though we see that she’s very manipulative. We’ll see more of Charma, you can bet!

Grimbor is the master of bondage? Well, okay!

Charma is in the background, so we can’t see her too well, although her hand looks strangely too long, but in the foreground, Grimbor works hard at his forge. His forge, really? Man, the 30th century is weird. Anyway, Grell and Wiacek do some nice work here. The hatching on the stone forming Grimbor’s medieval-looking laboratory is the standard way artists do this thing, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look neat, and the way he or Wiacek lines Grimbor is also quite good. Obviously, the colorist – like yesterday, no colorist is credited – does some neat work, using pink and white to show how the light from the forge is illuminating him, but we also get the thin lines shading him without turning him too dark, as the light isn’t quite strong enough to throw such large shadows. It’s a really neat choice to make by Grell and/or Wiacek.

Grell gets to show off his acting skills on this page, as Grimbor stops Charma from telling him about her horrible past and they discuss their dastardly plan. I’m not entirely sure why Charma is posing like she’s at a photo shoot in Panel 1, but who am I to complain? Grimbor’s tortured expression on his face in that panel is nice, as he just doesn’t want to hear about anyone treating Charma poorly. Maybe he should have looked at her posing and that would have eased his mind! He’s still a bit tortured in Panel 3, when he embraces her, and Grell does a nice job with her largely unconcerned look, as she knows that Grimbor can’t help himself. Her face hardens as she talks about her revenge, and dismissive when Grimbor suggests robbing banks. Finally, in Panel 7, she looks downright nasty as she implies that Grimbor is a coward (he wears that outfit in public, so she should already know he isn’t a coward). Grell shows her in close-up a lot, so he has to do most of the work with her face, and he’s up for it. In Panel 3, he raises her eyebrows and purses her mouth a little, then in Panels 4 and 5 her eyebrows slant toward the middle just a little, while in Panel 5, Grell draws her mouth with a hint of sneer. In Panel 7, he keeps her eyebrows slanted, but he widens her mouth a little, so she becomes a bit more seductive as she challenges Grimbor’s manhood. He doesn’t focus on Grimbor as much, but he closes his eyes in Panel 3, and adds some nice spot blacks to his face, while in Panel 4 he opens his eyes and mouth in pleading desperation. In Panel 7, it seems that he doesn’t really enjoy being called a coward, as Grell draws him with eyes sideways, looking back at Charma, while his mouth is turned down slightly in disdain for her arguing skills. There’s a lot of nice work on this page as the two talk.

No, I have no idea what’s going on with Charma’s hand in Panel 4. Where is it coming from?

Grimbor and Charma manage to get into Legion HQ, and they pretty much kick butt. After a double-page spread showing what you can watch on Saturday morning on CBS – a Shazam!/Isis HOUR?!?!? and why didn’t the Clue Club ever become bigger stars? – Timber Wolf and Ayla try a plan that involves, I guess, putting a steel door in between the bad guys so Timber Wolf can attack Grimbor and Ayla can take on Charma. That first word balloon could be rather inappropriate were I far more immature, but luckily, I’m totally not! The action, again, is just the tiniest bit stiff – Timber Wolf and Grimbor breaking through the steel door in Panel 3 looks really old-fashioned, like it’s taken from a comic in the 1950s. Charma hasn’t shown any ability to fly, so the fact that she seems to be floating well above the floor as Ayla hits her makes no sense, either, nor does the fact that the punch doesn’t seem to make an impact. Grell is trying to fit a lot into that one panel – he has to show Timber Wolf and Grimbor punching through the door AND show Ayla beating on Charma – but it doesn’t really work. Timber Wolf’s punch of Ayla is nicely done, though – Grell gives him a nice, ragey look to show how affected he is by Charma, while Ayla’s face is also drawn well, as Grell closes her eyes and makes her slack-jawed, as you might expect would happen. Hank Pym must be wondering who Timber Wolf’s PR person is, because no one remembers that Timber Wolf punched out a woman once, even if he was being mind- (or dick-) controlled! For the most part, Grell’s figures are done well, and Wiacek adds some nice hatching on them, as well. I just don’t dig that third panel.

Grimbor decides that he doesn’t want the money, he wants to keep the Legionnaires as trophies, as Jim Shooter points out that the man’s love for his job is stronger than the mutant love charms of Charma. Is Shooter making some kind of larger point? Whatever the case, Grell once again does nice work with the characters. Charma is evilly triumphant in Panel 2 as Brande looks desperate as he tries to get the Legion back (hey, don’t superheroes grow on trees in the 2900s, so can’t Brande just go get some new ones?). Grell then turns the tables in Panel 3 – Grimbor sets his jaw, remembers that Charma called him a coward, and stands up to her, while Charma’s face reflects her utter disappointment. Grell uses spot blacks really nicely on Grimbor’s face, showing his resolve, and Charma just looks so very sad that she won’t get her trillion dollars (like that won’t be worth about 100 bucks in the future because of devaluation – thanks, Obama!). That final sequence is handled well – Grell divides the rectangular panel into three sections that allow him to show Shrinking Violet getting bigger and, at the same time, pushing the gun downward because it’s gotten heavier as she grows. No, it doesn’t make any sense in the same way the Hulk doesn’t make any sense, but the sequence is still pretty cool. It moves our eyes well and even points us to the next page, as Violet is angled that way as she grows.

Grell was taking on a lot of work at this time – not only penciling, but some inking, too, and he had already begun the first of his iconic series, as the Warlord had already appeared a year earlier in First Issue Special #8 and Grell had already started the ongoing in October of 1975 (it was published very erratically, though, as issue #3 hadn’t come out by this time). I will take a look at that series tomorrow, but I’m going to jump ahead a few years and see some work that looks much more “Grell-like.” You won’t want to miss that! And you certainly don’t want to miss the archives!

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