Year of the Artist, Day 100: Mahmud Asrar, Part 2 - <i>Dynamo 5</i> #2

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Mahmud Asrar, and the issue is Dynamo 5 #2, which was published by Image and is cover dated April 2007. Enjoy!

Asrar's big break came on Dynamo 5, the second of the excellent superhero comics Jay Faerber wrote for Image in the millenium's first decade. Asrar drew almost the entire ongoing series (Faerber wrapped it up with a five-issue mini-series), but by the end, the companies with the actual money were calling him, so he had to move on. You gotta eat, right?

The opening page of the issue shows everyone's favorite Dynamo 5 hero, Scrap (wasn't she your favorite Dynamo 5 hero?) ready for action against a shadowy foe. Asrar gives us a nice splash, as he shows the four other members of the team ringed around Bridget, so we see them clearly and get that they've been put out of action by the bad guy. The angle of perspective is from above, from the bad guy's point of view, so Asrar looks down at Bridget, which makes her seem more insignificant and up against a much more implacable foe. Ron Riley, the colorist, makes sure that the shadow touches all the Dynamo 5 kids and almost completely engulfs Bridget, making it even more of a mismatch (I assume it's Riley's work, as it doesn't look drawn in, but overlaid after the inking, but I'm not sure - it could have been Asrar). Bridget's pose is a bit strange - she's looking up at the bad guy, but instead of tilting her head back, Asrar tilts her torso back. On the next page (see below), we see that the bad guy - Whiptail - isn't as tall as this page implies, so Bridget doesn't necessarily have to look too far up to see it, so this pose might be a bit of fan service, as Bridget sticks her chest out a bit and tilts her hips forward. It's weird because it's not overtly sexual, but Asrar might have drawn it this way because he was having trouble with the perspective. It's too far above Bridget for him to show her almost from the front, so he needs to tilt her body somehow, but if he tilts her head too much, her grimace wouldn't be as impressive. Her face is the central image of the page - Asrar gives her a sneer to show her disdain, with the accompanying dialogue showing that Bridget is a tough chick even in the face of long odds. Lengthening her neck to show that she's looking up would lessen the impact of the sneer, so Asrar has to tilt something else, and he chooses the torso, which of course makes her breasts jut out a bit more. I think this is more a problem with perspective than an attempt to make Bridget a stereotypical Sexy Chick, but I could be wrong. I do like the unfortunate placement of Bridget's left hand in the shadow's crotch - I doubt if it's deliberate, but it appears she's symbolically castrating what she thinks is a male bad guy (it's not, as we learn later). Symbolism rules!

As we can see in Panel 1, Whiptail isn't that much taller than Bridget, which makes her pose on the previous page kind of odd. But let's move on! Asrar puts Whiptail slightly off-center so that we can see it and Bridget, which is not a bad idea. The tail leads us to its hand, which leads us to her word balloon and its head, which focuses us on Bridget standing in front of Whiptail. Bridget's pose, which might seem unnecessarily sexy, is actually more of a standard superhero "power pose" - her arms are out, her fists are clenched, and while her hips are cocked, it's not because she's trying to be sexy, it's because it gives her a more solid base as she prepares to strike. It's almost like a coil, as she plants on her right foot to dodge to the left, as she anticipates Whiptail striking with a sweep of its right hand and tail (as we see in Panel 2). So yes, we get to see Bridget's ass, and in Panel 2, she bends her back and her ass comes up, almost becoming the focus of the entire panel, but it's logical in the context of the fight. So Whiptail comes across her from her left to right while she dips to the left, then comes back around with her left hand in Panel 3 to punch the bad guy across the mouth. Then Whiptail recovers and leaps toward her in Panel 4. It's a pretty well designed fight scene, and we've seen that Asrar is pretty good at that. He's inking this, and he uses a lot of blacks in Panel 1, mainly because Whiptail is naked and we don't want any naughty bits in the comic! His use of bold blacks doesn't hinder the fluidity of his pencil work, though, so we get the solidity of the art but also the dynamism of the action. That's always nice.

As I noted yesterday, Asrar has been good at action for pretty much his entire career, but would he be good at another crucial aspect of artistic storytelling, which is facial expressions and body language? He did it well in Small Gods, but obviously, in Dynamo 5, he got more chances to show it. This is just a two-panel sequence, but Asrar does a nice job with it. Nicole's look in Panel 1 contradicts her words rather well. She's literally looking sideways at Maddie (she disdains to even turn her head), and Asrar pinches her mouth just a little so that it appears she's sucking in her cheeks contemptuously. This is the first time we ever see Nicole, so we don't know what her problem is, but Asrar makes it clear she's not a fan of Maddie. In Panel 2, he shows us that Maddie's hip to her scam, as she raises her left eyebrow in the universal "Yeah, I'll bet" signal, while Asrar does something clever with her mouth - it's perfectly centered, but because the right side is inked more blackly, it gives the illusion that Maddie is quirking her mouth that way in another "Yeah, I'll bet" signal, even though she's not. Still, Maddie's sarcasm oozes off the page. She and Nicole are not going to get along.

Here's some more interesting character work - Spencer, who can shapeshift, becomes the son of that old dude, who once used a serum to turn into Whiptail. Maddie wants to know if he's becoming the villain again, and Spencer is trying to determine whether his Alzheimer's is real. Dempsey's face in Panel 3 is well done - Asrar furrows his forehead and curls his eyebrows slightly upward, giving him a puzzled mien. Asrar doesn't overink him, but he does give him more wrinkles than the other characters, which isn't surprising considering that he's old. He also puts more spot blacks on his neck, implying the folds of the skin that come with age. Spencer's look of befuddlement in Panel 4 is nicely done - his mouth his slightly open in confusion, his eyes are strained, and Asrar heavily inks the right side of his face, which not only shows where the light source is (the window to his left) but also highlights his confusion. In Panel 5, Maddie dismisses the line of inquiry, and Asrar twists her face maliciously - her brows knit together, her eyes narrow, and his lips curl into a bit of a sneer. We've already seen that Maddie is not quite who she says she is, but this shows another facet of her personality - she is getting a bit older, and Dempsey's condition fills her with fear, but she can't show that, so she shows disgust. Meanwhile, Dempsey was a supervillain, so Maddie doesn't have a lot of pity for him now that he's in this condition. It's a disturbing picture of Maddie, but it fits in well with what we know about her so far.

Okay, so here's another interesting drawing of Bridget that might be considered cheesecake. But Bridget is awesome, so who cares, right? Actually, it works really well in the context of this conversation. Maddie and Bridget are spying on Dempsey, who is sleeping soundly in the panel above this row. That and the background in this scene makes it clear that it's nighttime. Maddie tells Bridget she's glad Bridget could join her, and then we get Bridget posing in Panel 2. It's just a normal stretch, but because Bridget is wearing spandex and Asrar draws her as an attractive female, the cheesecake aspect comes into it. She's stretching as she says someone else is covering her shift at the theater - she works in the ticket booth. We know it's night, we know Bridget has to work, and we know she's been doing some superheroing on the side. So why wouldn't she be tired? It's a nice human moment in the middle of the book - we rarely see superheroes showing the strain all the activity takes on them, even though we do see them sleeping occasionally. Sure, it's a tiny bit excessive, but it's not like Bridget is drawn unrealistically - that's what a person stretching looks like, as Asrar makes sure, for instance, to stretch her breasts as well as the rest of her body. I also dig Panel 3, where Maddie asks Bridget why she hasn't pursued screenwriting. Bridget's face, with the jagged lines between her eyes and the set mouth, shows that this is a touchy subject to her. This is really nice work by Asrar in a quiet moment.

One last action scene with Bridget, because, as you might recall, Bridget is awesome. Asrar uses special effects well in Panel 1 - I don't love them in comics, but I don't mind them in small doses, and one panel blurring the car as it slams into Whiptail is fine. Asrar uses thin, vertical panels in the top row, as Bridget is bringing the car up and down violently, so the flow of the panels is like a "W" - the lines are long to build up momentum. Bridget's face in Panels 3 and 4 is nice, as she shows both anger and strain, until the rest of the team stops her as Asrar moves us from Panel 4 to Panel 5. The circular shot in Panel 5 works well to show everyone and hide the identity of Whiptail until Asrar can give us a big panel showing who the bad guy really is (I won't spoil it!), and notice that Asrar shows Bridget wiping her brow - smashing someone with a police car can make a girl sweat! It's a nice touch.

With this kind of work, Asrar soon caught the attention of the Big Two, and like most neophytes to the heady atmosphere of DC and Marvel, he wasn't given an ongoing for a while, as Marvel scooped him up to draw a special. I'll check that out tomorrow! Spend time until then in the archives!

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