Year of the Artist, Day 195: Rob Liefeld, Part 4 - <i>Orion</i> #8

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Rob Liefeld, and the story is "Deadend" in Orion #8, which was published by DC and is cover dated January 2001. Enjoy!

The back-up story in Walt Simonson's Orion #8 is five pages long, and in it, Jeph Loeb tells a quick story about Mark Moonrider and Big Bear fighting against the "insidious" Mantis. It ties into the longer epic that Simonson is telling, but it's not very satisfying on its own. It does, however, feature Liefeld drawing and Norm Rapmund inking, so I thought I'd show a few pages to see what was going on with the art. Sound good?

Unfortunately, two of the pages I want to look at form a double-page spread, so you'll just have to click on both sides to see it more clearly. Liefeld's layout is pretty good - Big Bear punches Mantis into the panels on the right side of the page, and the rough panel borders over there make the fight seem a bit more frenetic. Liefeld still loves his pony tails, as Moonrider's swirls beautifully from the back of his head. You'll notice a few things that are different from Liefeld's early 1990s heyday, though. His figure work is more restrained, much more in line with his pre-fame work than what we saw on X-Force. All three characters are fairly proportionate, although Big Bear and Mantis are good and muscular. Liefeld still oddly has some issues with perspective, and we see Moonrider in the final panel sort of floating above the ground, but that's not a deal-breaker. We also see what happens when Liefeld doesn't ink himself. In the close-up on Big Bear's face, we see that Rapmund/Liefeld still uses too many lines, and the shape of Big Bear's mouth is very odd, but the rest of the page is inked pretty well. While Moonrider has high cheekbones in the final panel, the line isn't too severe that his face looks emaciated, as we've seen in the previous few days. The way Rapmund inks Mantis's clothing in the big panel is interesting, too. Rapmund uses thicker blacks - they're not too thick, but they're not just lines - which keeps Mantis's outfit from being baggy, as we've seen over the past few days, and makes it look sleeker. That small change makes a big difference. Sherilyn van Valkenburgh, who colors this, is more restrained than the coloring we saw in the early '90s work, and flatter colors always seem to help Liefeld's art be more restrained as well (we'll see an example of more modern colors tomorrow). There's still plenty of Liefeldian touches, like the drool spraying from Mantis's mouth when he's punched and the rigid folds in Moonrider's ... apron? what are those things called? ... but overall, it's a pretty good double-page splash.

This is a busy page, but it has to be, as the story is so short. Liefeld manages to get a lot of information on the page without being too confusing, even though that means we get some close-ups where either his or Rapmund's lines are more obvious. Rapmund/Liefeld doesn't quite cross-hatch as much as Liefeld did back in the day, but there's really no need for so much on the faces of Moonrider and Mantis. Like with the other characters, it ages them, which makes the art look more bizarre than it should. Liefeld continues to draw mouths strangely, as we see in Panels 2 and 6 - Moonrider's lips stretch in ways that don't look natural. For some reason, colorists don't like making the lips on Liefeld's characters distinguishable from the rest of their faces - van Valkenburgh is not the first to do this - so the mouths look more like gaping holes in faces, which is not a very good image. Interestingly enough, we still get good inking on the clothing of the characters, so that neither Mantis or Moonrider looks like they're wearing baggy shirts and pants. That's progress, but there's still the excessive hatching on the faces.

My theory is always that Liefeld takes on too much work and rushes it, which makes him sloppy, but here, he has only five pages to do, and he doesn't need to ink things, so this art, while not as good as his very early work, is still much better than his work in 1990/1991. The balance still tilts too far to excess, but less than we had been seeing during most of the 1990s. Tomorrow I'll check out the most recent Liefeld comic I own, and we'll see what we can see. Of course, you could always check out some archives to celebrate Bastille Day!

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