One of the things I often hear about on-line reviewers (and commentators) is that we tend to focus in too much on the story. To a certain extent, this is probably true. I mean, if we could actually draw, we'd be artists. But since we can write, we do that and tend to pay closer attention to other writers' work.
I think Pipeline actually balances out fairly well between writers and artists (and letterers and colorists!), but for the sake of argument, today's reviews will be about art. I'll skip such techniques as dialogue, plot, scene structure, Chekov's Law, etc. Let's just look, instead, at the art of storytelling through pictures.
BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS - PAUL RYAN
Let's start with BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #4. Since the theme this Friday is art, I should point out that Brian Bolland seems to be doing the covers for this title now. While this cover probably doesn't rack very well, since Batman is obscured in the background by an overly blue background, the art itself is nice to look at. Bolland's tight line work manages to set the texture and tone without looking busy or needless.
On the insides, Paul Ryan is handling the art chores, doing both pencils and inks. I'm a big fan of his. I thought his work on THE FLASH last year was exceptional. It's nice to find an artist whose work is easily followed from panel to panel, and whose action can be read without hesitation and without looking back. In short, his storytelling is pretty great. He doesn't skimp in his artwork. He's not afraid to put in plenty of lush detail into the background. I don't just mean "detail" as far as line work goes, but just in the objects seen in the background. The dumpsters have definite designs. The architecture inside a Wayne Corp. boardroom is all meticulously placed there, right down to the stunning view of the city out the window and the frond of the plants in the area. Heck, how many people would bother placing a tie clasp on a character's tie? Ryan does that with Wayne without hesitation.
Yes, sometimes the panel arrangements can be uneven. I prefer something closer to a grid. If you're going to use all rectangular panels in your comic, I'd like them to look more uniform, or better aligned. Often, Ryan varies heights for little reason, or overlaps a couple of panels for no seeming purpose.
Yet, I don't think that's what distracts people from liking his art. His characters are easily differentiated, portray their emotions well, and look like real human beings.
Wait, maybe that's part of it. Let's look at his rendition of Batman. He looks eminently human under the cape and cowl. His body may be buff, but he acts and moves in realistic ways.
Compare this to other artists. A whole boatload of them have used Batman's cape as a stylistic point. Todd McFarlane almost made a living out of stylized capes early in his career. Norm Breyfogle often did a good job of it, too. Breyfogle's Batman was almost impressionistic. You looked at him and you saw a demon. The line work was more stylistic.
Paul Ryan's Batman doesn't leap gracefully. He doesn't fight like someone Jackie Chan may have directed. He doesn't punch or lunge or throw stars from positions that would cause a normal man to have a hernia. His storytelling further ensures this. His camera selections place the reader at a removed distance, as an observer to the event and not an active participant. When Batman throws his batarang, he doesn't throw it towards the reader, who sees through the bad guy's eyes. The reader sees it from above, almost like a series of blank feet laying out the proper dancing steps.
His art is solid. His anatomy is terrific. His technical pen is just as gifted. His characters look great. But there's an excitement missing, perhaps by choice, from his art as it removes itself from the action. It might be worth flipping through a few of his FLASH issues to see if this pattern continues there, too, or if it's just a choice with the more humanized character of Batman.
JUDGE - GREG HORN
(Yes, there are periods after each letter in the title, but I don't feel like bothering with them. Wreaks havoc with my grammar checker, too!)
I caught the problem here much more readily. I was ready to give him a second chance after a very questionable first issue. But flip open to just about any page of the second issue of JUDGE and you'll see the problem pretty clearly.
It's too damned cluttered. Gone are the empty gutter spaces between panels that enable the reader's eye to focus from panel to panel and place the time transitions in the reader's head. Gone are the simplicities of comics, all of which have been processed through a computer for maximum Gee Whiz effect.
The lettering fills up just about every remaining inch of dead space there might be on a given page, spilling over then into more necessary segments of the page.
It looks chaotic.
There are other problems, too. The concept of the series is of demon against man. 12 demons are on the loose and this team is being sent to kill them. Thankfully, the exposition included in the second issue does finally explain to us what this series is about. Wouldn't the high concept be a great thing to show in the first issue, you think? The demon that stars in this issue looks silly. He looks worse than a guy with a rubber mask on. Yes, the character has some funny moments, many of which seem forced or cribbed from previous Bond movies. But they are there. Give credit where credit is due.
The storytelling sucks. Take the opening sequence for a huge example of piss-poor storytelling. I'm still not sure of exactly what happened here, but let me try to explain it to you. (You may consider these to be minor spoilers for the four-page sequence following the first scene of the issue.) Our protagonist, Victoria Grace, is just outside some hardware store. We know this is her name because the first caption of the page is "My name is Victoria Grace." Thank you, subtlety. After a couple of cheesecake shots, a midget interrupts her and directs her at gunpoint to get into the car or die. She gets in the car, speeds it up, and rams it into the back end of a tractor trailer in such a way as it takes out the midget and spares her.
The only problem with this sequence is that the trailer itself does not in any way appear in the first three pages of the sequence. Heck, in rereading it right now, I can't even tell you if they've traveled at all since getting in the car. Nevertheless, the car is propelled head-on into the back of a trailer the reader has not yet seen established. Funnier still, even after this event occurs, we never see much more than the last five or six feet of said trailer. There's no establishing shot at all. The reader is left completely lost.
I won't comment on the digital art. I wouldn't know what I was looking for. I can tell you from a layman's perspective, though, that this pseudorealistic style just leads the way into some B-movie melodrama scream queen feature which I don't want to see. In the end, using real humans as models just makes this book look cheesy. It's hard to suspend disbelief when you're laughing at the characters and their poor acting skills.
You want more? OK, just one more bit: Our heroine is seen suiting up. Can you believe the shoes she wears when she wants to stalk quietly through a house and get the drop on the bad guy, even if he knows they're coming?!? These things must have three-inch soles and six-inch heels. How can you not clump and clod your way through the hardwood floors in those things? Of course, wearing tight blue leather pants and a latex bra can't be a big help in the movement category, either. I wonder if you can hear her clothes squeaking as she walks?
I'm sorry; this book is hereby proclaimed as a lost cause. I hope Greg Horn goes back to pen and ink. I thought he showed some real promise there.
X-MAN - ARIEL OLIVETTI
The opposite of all this clutter is seen in X-MAN #64. This one is drawn by Ariel Olivetti and is too wide open. In fact, it's just plain ugly. Granted, your mileage may vary on questions of style. To me, though, the characters all look terribly bored. There's a preponderance of headshots with no action going on whatsoever. Even in a book that is all about characters sitting around a table talking, there should be something interesting to look at, aside from bored people with their eyes half open. The backgrounds are flat, with some thin lines to represent cracks in the wall, I suppose, to show an effort at drawing backgrounds. Panels are thrown about the page, with very few clear-cut examples of forethought shown in them.
I wonder if sometimes a separate inker might not help this. A lot of the pages look flat because the line weights just aren't varied. A finisher might be able to straighten some of these things out.
Olivetti's paintings are nice to look at, but it's his pen and ink work that leaves a little to be desired.
Unlike Paul Ryan, an eye for detail and draftsman's quality line doesn't complement his somewhat restrained character drawing. In the end, it just doesn't work for me. Given my lack of interest in the storyline this series is progressing along, I think this might be the first "Counter X" book I drop.
NEXT WEEK IN THE PIPELINE
Tuesday's column is a very special one to me. It probably won't have much in the way of extra content, but it will mark the one-year anniversary of Pipeline Commentary and Review at Comic Book Resources. I've got a raft full of books I'd like to look at for it, so I'm not promising which titles will get put under the microscope. Just click back here on Tuesday to find out! Thanks, as always, for reading!