Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is John Paul Leon, and the issue is Captain America (volume Brubaker) #7, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated July 2005. These scans are from Captain America by Ed Brubaker Omnibus volume 1, which was published in 2007. Enjoy!
A few weeks ago (remember those halcyon days?), I wrote a post about Michael Lark and Frank D'Armata and how I'm not the biggest fan of how D'Armata tends to overwhelm whatever artist he's coloring. Lark drew some of Ed Brubaker's epic Captain America run, which was also colored by D'Armata, but I didn't show that because, well, I didn't feel like it. But when I decided to do a series on John Paul Leon, I remembered that he drew "The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe" in Cap #7, so I figured I could check out the deal there. As it turns out, I'm not sure if we can blame D'Armata for the art, which is ... well, it's not great, unfortunately. I do have to apologize for the blurriness of these scans. The Omnibus is nice and huge, but of course the art falls into the spine quite a bit because of the size of the book. There's little I can do!
The last time we saw Leon, he was drawing Earth X and using a lot of blacks to add a lot of moodiness to his art. Now he's inking himself and getting colored by D'Armata, and the results are far clunkier. Leon has always used solid and basic shapes well, but without the spot blacks, his figure work looks too basic, if that makes sense. Doctor Foster is all squares and triangles, and the thick inking border on Jack and the lack of "interior" inking - there's almost no hatching on his T-shirt in Panel 4, for instance - makes both characters look a bit like mannequins. In Panel 3, Leon uses some thick lines on Foster's arm and torso, which is fine, and the thick folds on Jack's jacket in Panel 4 gives it a good leathery feel. But the tone feels off, and I'm not sure if it's because Leon isn't using blacks as well as on other comics or if it's because D'Armata's digital sheen clashes with Leon's more stolid style. As we've seen this year, sometimes artists don't fit well with each other, and Leon's rather brutal art seems to work better with flatter colors, as the shininess of D'Armata's colors don't replace the thick blacks well. Oh well.
Leon has never been the greatest action artist, which is fine, especially when he's drawing something like Brubaker's Cap, which tried hard to not be a superhero comic (it didn't succeed, but it tried, damn it!). But at some point, you're going to have to draw a superhero battle, so we get this panel. Leon doesn't need to be great at a flow here because it's just a static image, but like the first example, the lack of blacks seems to limit him a bit. He drew quite a bit of action in Earth X, for instance, and it was pretty good. We get hints of his use of blacks in this panel, as he uses them a bit on the figures and a bit on the plane, but nothing like his earlier work. Despite the fact that Leon doesn't need to show a progression of action here, the "action" in the panel still looks a bit clunky. Perhaps the lack of motion lines makes the figures look too posed.
This is a little bit more in Leon's wheelhouse, although he still doesn't quite nail it. The rough inks in Panel 1 are fine, and the broken mirror effect when Jack punches it is pretty cool, but the inking on Jack's image in Panel 3 is weird, as Leon keeps it light, allowing D'Armata and his shading to take over a bit too much. In this dark moment, one would think that Leon would use more spot blacks, but he doesn't, and Jack's "faces" in Panel 3 look half-finished. Too bad.
This scene with Jack fighting as Nomad is a bit better, possibly because of the motion lines, but it's still a bit clunky. D'Armata's textured colors on Jack's costume give him a shine that doesn't fit with the seediness of the story or even the greater use of black that Leon shows in this sequence. Leon's thick lines and solid characters don't work very well with Nomad's flashy outfit, but without the sheen, it might work a bit better. The weirdest part of this sequence, to me, is that the bad guys appear to be driving a 1970s car and they're wearing fedoras. I know Brubaker loves the 1970s, but it still seems weird to see them in this context, as this does take place in the present.
Jack isn't well, and he begins to lose his grip on reality, so we get this page. It's certainly not bad, although the best part of it is the bottom left, where Leon draws a close-up of Jack's angry face, and the thick lines, spot blacks, and colors all work fairly well together. At the top of the page, Jack runs from loosely-sketched superheroes before one of his identities - Bucky - bursts out of him in the center of the page. D'Armata, oddly, doesn't use as much textured coloring on this page, which might be why it works better. Perhaps he was trying to contrast it with the swirling greens and yellows behind Jack, so he deliberately toned it down a bit. Still, Leon's final image, of Jack staring into the mirror, still looks too basic and incomplete, despite the heavy scoring on Jack's forehead. It's difficult to put my finger on it, but it's just the way I feel.
The unusual thing about this particular issue (and I don't own the original, so I can't compare) is that the rest of the book, when D'Armata is coloring Epting or Perkins or Lark, tends to be too dark for my tastes. Leon would seem to be a good artist on which D'Armata could go dark, but he instead makes this a brighter issue than the ones preceding and succeeding it. Parts of this are dark, of course, but generally, it's a lot brighter, and I'm not sure why. The reasons are lost to history!!!!
Soon after this, Leon began work on his masterpiece, the final issue of which we'll check out tomorrow for our last day of his art. It's tremendous work, and it makes this issue look even odder on his résumé. Such is life, though. Feel free to dig around in the archives while you wait!