Year of the Artist, Day 253: Stuart Immonen, Part 2 - <i>Superman: Secret Identity</i> #2

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Stuart Immonen, and the issue is Superman: Secret Identity #2, which was published by DC and is cover dated February 2004. These scans are from the trade paperback, which was published in 2004. Enjoy!

Occasionally with these posts, I try to stick to the artist's evolution into a certain style and don't show the absolute high point of that style (see Simonson, Walter, for instance), because the journey is what counts. With Immonen, though, I want to show what I think is the apotheosis of his "old" style, which evolved through stuff like Final Night, Shockrockets, and The Incredible Hulk until he did Secret Identity, after which he radically and fairly quickly changed the way he drew comics. It's quite neat.

Over the decade since we last saw his work, Immonen began to use softer pencils, but he goes more extreme here because, I would think, of the nature of the book - it's a comic about a guy named Clark Kent who discovers he has super-powers, yes, but it's set in a world where the Superman comics exist, so everyone is aware that he's a guy named Clark Kent and they make comments about his namesake. So Immonen is drawing it more "realistically," and the softer pencils, in this case, help make when he uses photo references less obvious. Immonen colored the book, too, which helps him control the tone of the pages as well. We can see that he's still using that smooth line that we saw him use throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, but he's adding shading and, in the process, getting rid of holding lines, which is often a mark of more modern coloring. I'm not sure how he colored this, but notice in Panel 3, where we see the dude holding the beer in the foreground, and Panel 4, where Lois leaves the bar and we see the shadow between her coat and her waist - in both those instances, it looks like Immonen was just using a pencil. I imagine he colored some of it digitally, but I also wonder if before it reached the coloring stage, he roughed up some of the shadows with a thick pencil. It's very interesting.

Clark gets captured by the evil guv'mint, of course, and they experiment on him. He hallucinates that he's really Superman, which is what the 1950s/1960s-style panel is in the center of the page. Immonen gives us a standard panel stack, but the layout isn't really important, except to remind us that Clark is lying on a table and has only one view, which (presumably) accounts for it. But Immonen does nice work in each individual panel, as he uses brush strokes to blur some of the movements and obscure facial features and make Clark's perception of the "real" world somewhat swimmy, which then snaps into focus when he hallucinates about Brainiac (that is Brainiac, isn't it?). That panel is in bright, Silver Age color, with bold lines and no ambiguity. As Clark begins to fade, we get more fluid work, until the final panel is all black chunks and blurred lines. I think - but I'm not sure - that Immonen drew all the "Silver Age" panels in this comic (there are a few), because they seem to fit the story a bit too well (although Kurt Busiek wrote this, and as we all know, if there's anyone who would know where to find an actual Silver Age panel that fits the story exactly, it's Busiek), and if he did, it shows more of his versatility.

Clark busts right out of the guv'mint lab, and we get a nice action scene where he rips shit up. Immonen uses blacks really well in this sequence, and those blacks are set off by the hot colors in the final two panels, showing Clark's rage without being too obvious about it. I mean, of course in Panel 2 he's angry, but because we don't see his face in the other two panels, Immonen uses his stance (in Panel 3) and the angry oranges and yellows to reflect his rage. Immonen, as we expect, is very precise in Panel 1, as he gives us pretty good machinery, with some holding lines gone so that we get only the blacks with spots of color. In Panel 2, he uses a smudgier black, which makes Clark a bit more anguished, and of course in Panel 3 he colors Clark's eyes red to make sure we recognize that he's still a bit peeved. The composition of the page is really nice, too. He uses thin vertical panels, but notice that every face is on the same level, so that we're still reading horizontally (which makes these panels work for something like a header image, too). Even with that, the page still moves on a slight left-to-right diagonal, as our focus in Panel 1 is on Clark's arms lifting the machinery over his head, which moves slightly down to his eyes, and then slightly down again to his eyes in Panel 3. It's a very cleverly designed page, despite looking fairly simple.

I know that there's nothing more exciting than cityscapes, but I wanted to show these two because we're looking at artistic development, damn it, and that's just the way it is! Several years ago, Immonen wrote an article on this very blog about photo referencing, and here we have two examples of what are fairly clear photographs of cities that Immonen fit into the comic. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, mind you, as I've noted several times this year, and Immonen fits it into the continuity of the comic by using some kind of filter on it to blend it in more. I don't know how he does this, but the coloring on it, the lack of holding lines, and even small touches like the dude in the top panel whose face has been shaded with rough pencils, are really nice. Immonen's use of black chunks, especially in the second panel (which is more pronounced because it's dusk), really integrate this more into the comic. It's well done.

Here's another nice scene, as Clark flies Lois to North Carolina and puts the moves on her. Immonen uses blacks really well as the sun sets, and in Panel 2, we see how well he does with them, as he dapples the blacks on Lois's head to show the leaves' shadows. In Panel 4, he uses the prismatic effect of light shining down on Clark, which is a neat touch. Once again, Immonen uses some rough pencils in places - on Clark's hand in Panel 2, for instance - to add even more texture to the pages. It helps him "get away" with using the softer pencils, which can - but not always - get lost when colors are added.

What's odd about Immonen is how quickly he changed his style. This series came out early in 2004, so presumably Immonen was working on it in late 2003. A few months after the final issue came out, Immonen was working on Ultimate Fantastic Four, and while I don't own that, a quick Internet search shows pages like this, this, this, and this. These are clearly transitional pages, as we can see his old style and his new style. Then, year after Secret Identity #2 (by cover date, that is), we got this:

This is another transitional comic, as it shows some of the sharper edges that would begin to characterize his artwork but also the good shading that we saw on Secret Identity. But you don't think I'm going to show Ultimate Fantastic Four or Ultimate X-Men as the exemplar of his new style when I have a perfectly good Candidate For Most Awesome Comic Of The Millennium waiting in the wings, do you? Of course not! So come back tomorrow for your favorite comic ... even if you've never read it! And hey, maybe you can find your second-favorite comic in the archives!

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