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Year of the Artist, Day 348: Frank Miller, Part 1 – Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #27 and Wolverine #1

by  in Comic News Comment
Year of the Artist, Day 348: Frank Miller, Part 1 – <i>Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man</i> #27 and <i>Wolverine</i> #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Frank Miller, and the issues are Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #27 and Wolverine #1, which were published by Marvel and are cover dated February 1979 and September 1982, respectively. The scans of PPtSSM are from Daredevil by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson volume 1, which was published in 2008, and the Wolverine scans are from Wolverine, the trade paperback, which was originally published in 1987 but went through several printings. Enjoy!

So, I guess Frank Miller had some kind of celebrated run on Daredevil? Beats me – when I got this trade, I just read the two issues of Spectacular Spider-Man in the front and then put the book away. A blind guy fighting crime? Not my thing, man.

Oh, I kid. I’m showing PPtSSM because it’s the earliest thing by Miller I own and it came out less than a year into his comics career. I also have a lot of Miller work and he did a lot of interesting stuff with his style, so I wanted to jump to Wolverine, which came out just before he began experimenting with that style, which we’ll see in subsequent days. I have to fit a lot of Miller in, and Daredevil just didn’t make the cut. It’s not like you people don’t know what it looks like, right? I mean, if I showed that, where would I fit in “Lance Blastoff” (oh, yes, you know that’s coming!)? Think about it, people! So let’s take a gander at Spidey and Daredevil doing what they do, all right?

You’re going to have to sit down when you read this, but in this issue … Spider-Man is a bit of a drama queen. I know, it’s shocking, but you can handle it! He’s blind because the Masked Marauder shot him with some “opti-blasts,” and instead of figuring out what to do, he starts fighting Daredevil. Yeah, real nice, Spidey. We can already see Miller’s early style, as it’s fairly utilitarian but with a thick edge that makes it seem grittier – that could be the inking (Frank Springer inked this), but it’s a feature of most of Miller’s early work, so I’m not sure how much Springer is embellishing this. Miller is pretty good at laying out a page – he was probably 21 when he drew this, but he already has a good handle on how to show characters interacting with each other and how to move us across the page. Miller’s thick lines are never going to be the most fluid, but his characters aren’t as stiff as some figures we’ve seen, and he poses both DD and Spidey well to show how Matt is trying to avoid fighting a panicked Peter. In Panel 6, we can see Miller’s hands, which tend to be disproportionately big. He’s not the first artist to do this, but it’s interesting to note that he was doing it this early in his career.

Matt reminisces about his origin, and Miller does an interesting job with it. This is very much proto-Miller, in that he will use the burst of small panels in future comics to get the most important kernels of information to the reader. In order to show Matt’s heightened senses, he simply shows his ear, nose, fingers, and mouth, and while Bill Mantlo, in the tradition of the times, tells us that Matt’s senses were heightened, Miller focuses on each one to make it more “real” for the reader. In the second row, we see Matt’s face, which is a fairly standard one for early Miller, with the strong, wide jaw – it would become more exaggerated as Miller went along, but it began here!

Mrs. Muggins hears noises from Peter’s apartment and goes to check it out, much to her chagrin. Miller does well leading us up to the apartment, and in Panel 4, he does very good work with the blacks, illuminating Mrs. Muggins in a classic horror movie way, from below, so that the tops of the various ridges and folds in her face are shadowed. He then switches from the exterior to the interior, leading us across the page with Mrs. Muggins’s scream, which used to be a staple of sequential art but seems to have fallen out of fashion. Miller does a good job with Carrion, using thick blacks to show his gruesomeness, and it’s interesting how he can change the tone from Panel 4, which uses blacks to show the terror on Mrs. Muggins’s face, to Panel 8, which shows the ugliness of Carrion. A lot of artists do this, of course, and it shows how good Miller was at such a young age.

Lots of artists have shown the way Daredevil “sees” the world over the years, and I have no idea if Miller is using the standard way (that third panel looks a little Gene Colan-ish, doesn’t it?), but I showed this because it’s certainly the way he would generally do it when he started drawing Daredevil. The concentric circles tend to work pretty well, as it’s generally accepted in comics that this is what radar looks like, so Miller uses that. The change in the “first-person view” – Panels 2 and 4 – from the other two is also interesting – it’s more a function of colorist Bob Sharen (and as this is a reprint, I didn’t want to discuss the colors too much, but I imagine the shift in colors is in the original), but Miller does his part by turning the buildings in Panel 2 into indistinct masses and using more vertical lines to create some of the structures than he would for a third-person view, as we see in Panel 1. Miller also makes the building in Panel 4 more abstract, because Matt can’t “see” it, only sense its contours. Again, I don’t know how unique this was (I own the Marvel Masterworks of the first ten issues of Daredevil, and then nothing until Miller comes on board), but it’s pretty neat.

By 1982, Miller had redefined Daredevil so much and made it so popular that he got the job drawing Wolverine’s first solo adventure. I’m sure someone knows if Claremont made Wolverine more involved with Japanese culture to placate Miller, who seemed to dig it so much on DD, because while Claremont wrote this, it very much feels like a Miller joint. It’s kind of the apotheosis of Early Miller, before he went off and started mucking around, as we’ll see tomorrow. Let’s take a look!

Wolverine does his thing, climbing through the Rockies, and Miller does a wonderful job with that first panel. He again uses blacks really well to imply the rising sun, allowing Glynis Wein to use streaks of yellow to highlight the rocks a little and line Logan as he reaches the ledge. On the mountains in the background, we se Miller’s thick hatching, which in this comic is interesting, as it’s a small shift in style that would become evident in tomorrow’s entry, where he went a little nuts with this kind of thing. He’s trying it out here, not as much on his figures, where he uses more traditional techniques, but definitely in backgrounds. The other thing he does in this comic quite a bit is allow parts of the page to remain blank. Underneath Panel 1, we get a white space that, I imagine, was not taken up with anything in the original (I can’t find many scans of the originals on the Internet, unfortunately). The white spaces, which Miller uses quite often in this comic, are clever, as they seem to imply Wolverine’s isolation from even the woman he loves. I’m not sure if that was the effect Miller was going for, but it does add a starkness to the layout that is missing from other comics.

As this comic is so famous, everyone reading this has probably seen these pages, but they retain their power even after 30 years. This is before Claremont’s Claremontisms became really annoying, and he doesn’t over-explain, which is nice. Miller’s layout, too, keeps the prose off to the side – one wonders if Miller already knew Claremont liked to go on, so he arranged the panels so that his art wouldn’t be too obscured by Claremont’s rambling. And the layout is terrific, of course, as Miller moves us from Panel 1 to Panel 3 beautifully. The majestic and brutal claws in Panel 1 take us to Logan’s face in Panel 2, and the angle of his arm points directly at the slice in Panel 3, even though Logan doesn’t appear in Panel 3 itself. Miller uses the motion lines well to direct our eyes, but he probably doesn’t even need them, that’s how nicely the scene is laid out. The blood spurt keeps out momentum going downward, even though it’s to the right, and we move effortlessly to Wolverine’s second stroke, which guts the bear. Miller’s use of blacks on Logan’s face is tremendous, showing the darkness in him that allows him to go toe-to-toe with a grizzly, and once again, we get the thick lines on the bear itself, which accentuates its fur, obviously, but also makes it look a bit more monstrous.

Miller uses juxtaposition really well here to show that Logan is a total slob compared to Mariko. Obviously, Panel 1 is tremendous, as Miller uses softer pencils, thinner lines, and some Duo-Shade to make the panel look like a photograph, and it’s a stunning effect. But he lays the page out so that Logan’s squat, bitter, ugly face is right next to Mariko’s, and he’s back to using thicker lines and stronger blacks. Both drawings are undoubtedly Miller, but it’s pretty neat how he can change our perceptions of the characters by using different materials. Yes, Logan is grumpy and therefore looks sour, but it’s partly because of the less delicate tools Miller uses to draw him. And I’m sure there are people out there who think Miller can’t draw delicately, when it’s clear he can, he’s just not interested in it.

Logan finds out that Mariko has been beaten by her scumbag husband, and he wants revenge!!!! This is another nice layout by Miller – the large panel of Mariko is jarring for several reasons. The violence, of course, is disturbing, especially in a mainstream Marvel comic, and as this is the first time we see Mariko, it’s even more shocking, as we’re expecting the woman we saw above in the photograph and Miller deliberately makes it so that drawing is the last time we see her face before this panel. It’s a complete shift from what we were expecting, and Miller draws Mariko really well, as the delicate lines are still evident, while the bruises are hatched with some thicker lines to contrast with the rest of her features – it’s especially jarring comparing one eye to the other. As we saw above with Daredevil, Miller can take small close-ups and really get across a character’s feelings or thoughts at that moment – he gives us a four-panel grid showing Logan’s eye, with thick lines indicating that he is making an angry face; his teeth bared – but notice that Miller puts his mouth slightly off-center, which makes it seem like Logan’s anger is greater than the panel borders can contain; and then his fist, ready to extend his claws before, in the final panel, Mariko puts a soothing hand over his fist. This kind of symbolism – the delicate feminine hand over the fist – is handled well, even though it’s a tiny bit obvious. I’m not sure what the original looks like, but Wein does her part with the warm colors in Panel 4 giving way to neutral green in Panel 5. Miller would continue to do this kind of thing in his more experimental phase, and it’s interesting to see it here.

Yes, I’ve shown a lot of Wolverine’s fights this year, but that’s probably because they’re so cool! Like Paul Smith’s version and Barry Windsor-Smith’s version, Miller uses a stack of “widescreen” panels to contain both figures and their side-to-side movement. His figures are a bit stiffer than both Smith’s and Windsor-Smith’s, but not by much, and Miller’s version is a bit more brutal than Smith’s and bit more refined than Windsor-Smith’s. His use of blacks makes Shingen look like a skull in Panel 1, while Miller shrouds Logan’s eyes in Panels 3 and 4 as Shingen presses the attack. The movement across the panels is well done – we’re pushed with Shingen’s kick in Panel 1 into Wolverine’s gut, and then the sweep of Shingen’s sword takes us from left to right in Panel 2. Wolverine is looking to the left in both Panel 3 and 4, and Shingen’s sword moves us from Logan’s pained expression toward the left. Finally, we rotate or view so that we’re looking at Logan from behind, and Shingen sweeps the sword across his face and toward the right. Laying a fight like this out seems easy – always move things to the right – but I imagine it’s more complicated than it looks, because the reader has to believe that the two combatants are constantly moving around each other. Miller also does a nice job with the way Shingen moves – he’s an older dude, and it really does seem like he’s putting a lot into each stroke. He defeats Logan, of course, but it does seem like it took a lot out of him to do it and foreshadows his inevitable defeat.

Josef Rubinstein inked this – he’s actually credited as “finisher” – and like Klaus Janson’s work on Daredevil, I just don’t know how much Rubinstein actually finished. I think that I won’t show any more Miller work that he didn’t ink himself, so that won’t be an issue going forward, but I wanted to give Rubinstein credit, because I’m not sure how much of the work is his and how much is Miller’s.

Miller was, at 25/26, powerful enough in the industry that he could do his own things, and soon after this wrapped up, he decided to go that way, and his own thing was pretty weird. Come back tomorrow to see what it is! And check out more weird stuff in the archives!

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