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 Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #10, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated January 2007. Enjoy!
I’m not sure why Immonen changed his style from the smoother lines of his 1990s and early-2000s work to a harsher, angular line that comes to full fruition in Nextwave after showing up on the Ultimate Universe books, but he did, and it instantly made him one of the most versatile artists in mainstream superhero comics. For proof, look no further than Nextwave #10, as we shall see!
We saw yesterday that Immonen was shifting to a sharper line, and in Nextwave, he goes even further, possibly because its cartoonish tone lends itself well to this kind of art. For instance, in Panel 2, Immonen and/or Wade von Grawbadger’s thick lines on Aaron Stack’s weaponry help it stand out and also makes it bolder and more dangerous looking. Aaron is a robot, so of course he’s going to be a bit more angular than Monica Rambeau in Panel 3, where we see vestiges of the “softer” Immonen, with some more subtle hatching and more “human” features. In Panel 3, we get a bit more mixture, as the lines are quite hard we get some nuanced hatching on the pink hair in the center, while colorist Dave McCaig does some nice shading on the characters. Immonen, as we can see, knows how to sell the humor through facial expressions, as Aaron’s maniacal look in Panel 2 leads to the embarrassment in Panel 5, as he realizes that maybe he used a bit too much force.
Immonen has always been good at action, but in Nextwave, he had to get good at absurd action as well, as the violence in the book is often very over-the-top. He leads us through the page well, as the Captain grabs that bad guy and flies left to right, then grabs the leg and swings hard, bashing it against the upside-down castle. Then he squeezes and that black goop blasts the other bad guys in the castle. It’s smoothly done, as Immonen knows exactly how to manipulate a layout. Notice how “sharp” everything is – the Captain’s jacket, the clothes on the bad guy, and the point of impact in Panel 3. Even a panel like #4, where Immonen uses more blacks on the jacket and McCaig adds some more shading, is still full of jagged edges. What’s interesting is that even though the borders of the characters are so thick and angular, that doesn’t mean there’s not some interesting texturing on the page. The Captain’s camouflaged pants, for instance, are colored in the modern, digital fashion, without Immonen adding lines beyond the seams and the pockets. For the most part, the coloring on the main sections of the book are “flat,” but that doesn’t mean McCaig doesn’t use modern techniques to add some nuance to it.
Forbush Man blasts Nextwave into other dimensions (as we’ll see below), and McCaig gets to do a lot on this page, from the cool magenta effect of Panel 3 to the white light of Panel 4. But look at the difference in the way Immonen draws figures. Monica’s hip could put someone’s eye out, and her knee really shouldn’t bend like that. You can’t see it as well, but Elsa Bloodstone’s hip is also very sharp, and Immonen puts her in those tremendously impractical heels. The seeming simplicity of the designs belies the fact that Immonen does marvels with them when they move around, but it does look more simplistic than his older work. Again, part of it, I reckon, is the cartoonishness of the actual comic, but this is still his new way of drawing things, as we’ll see moving forward.
Monica is sent to San Francisco in 1967, where she experiences the groovy Sixties. Immonen uses a much more fluid line, as reality is warping around Monica, so even though we see some vestiges of his “newer” work here (Monica’s arms and legs in Panel 2 are still freakishly thin), but this is much more in line with his older style. There’s a bit more hatching, especially on the hair in Panel 3, which makes it look more “realistic.” As Monica keeps experiencing this kind of drug-induced stupor, Immonen uses less severe lines in the background, which again feeds into the tone of the page. McCaig, of course, has a lot of fun with this, as I assume he colored the sky with that pattern. As Norm Breyfogle mentioned when I featured Hellcat, he found patterns on-line and dropped them in, so Immonen could have done that and then McCaig used that psychedelic palette on it, but whoever did it, it’s trippy, man.
Once again, Immonen uses “softer” lines, which makes Monica a bit more free-flowing, while the lush blacks in her hair, the hatching on her body, and the use of more shading on her face and body are in marked contrast to the Monica we saw in the “real” world. I mean, she’s not putting anyone’s eye out with that hip! Interestingly enough, the Marvel-Gun is more like what we saw in the “real” world, possibly because it’s made out of metal – its border is a thicker line, and the hard lines have no “give” to them. I wonder how Immonen or even McCaig did the shooting effect – Immonen, I imagine drew in the black shapes, but I wonder if McCaig added the stars in the coloring process. It’s a very neat effect, especially as the stars are largely transparent, showing how ephemeral “joy from a better universe” is in this place.
Aaron Stack is trapped in an insurance company hell, and Immonen does nice work with his facial expressions and body language. As his eyes are obscured, that makes it harder for Immonen, but notice that he looks at the ceiling in frustration in Panel 4 of the first page, and then Immonen turns his mouth down in Panel 5 as he listens to the woman heap abuse on him. We see him begin to snap in the final panel of the first page, as Immonen has him tapping his pen in increasing anger, until it breaks in Panel 1 of the second page. Then, of course, Immonen draws him growing increasingly angry until he bashes the phone, them himself, against the computer. Notice that he, von Grawbadger, and McCaig use lines and shading on Aaron’s suit to make it look ill-fitting, befitting an insurance company flunky. It’s a nice touch. I also like how Immonen slowly begins to add lines to Aaron’s face, showing him literally cracking under the pressure. Anyone who’s read Nextwave knows there’s one more page to this joke, but I won’t spoil it!
The Captain gets sent to a depressing universe, and Immonen reverts to as close to his old style as we’re probably going to see from now on, even though we can tell that in Panel 3, the Captain still has the sharp edges that we see with Immonen’s “new style.” The emphasis on blacks and fewer holding lines – the beach on which the Captain sits is all colors, not lines – make this look much more like Secret Identity than Nextwave. Immonen uses black shapes very well – the birds in Panel 1 and the ships in Panel 2 are beautiful silhouettes – and McCaig’s bright yet sickly colors stand out nicely against those blacks. Immonen is still using sharper lines on, say, the Captain’s blanket/cape, but this is a nice and creepy evocation of the style that made Immonen a star in the first place.
Immonen channels Mike Mignola beautifully in the Elsa Bloodstone sequence (which makes sense, as she’s a monster hunter and therefore the Hellboy vibe works really well), as he uses those sharp lines that he’s been using on Nextwave but, to make them more “Mignola-esque,” he uses a lot more spot blacks and far less hatching. Immonen even does a nice job mimicking “Mignola smoke” in Panel 2, which is pretty cool. He uses blacks on Elsa’s face very well in Panel 4, as her eyebrow and lashes look very rigid, and her hair, with we saw above is a bit swirly in the “real” world, is also very stiff in Panel 5. It looks like she’s crying in Panel 5, as Immonen uses two simple lines to create the tears on her cheek. Even letter Joe Caramagna gets in on the action, as he uses yellow rectangles and smaller letters to evoke Hellboy comics. It’s very clever.
I don’t love the fact that Warren Ellis is so mean to poor Tabitha here, but it’s still a funny gag. We’re back to the new Immonen style, and so we get thick lines creating the border of Tabby’s hair in Panel 2, for instance, but Immonen and von Grawbadge still add some nice hatching to Forbush Man’s saucepan, roughing it up nicely. The character are back to having sharp chins and knees, but the explosion in the center of the page, with the thick blacks and gorgeous shading, is another example of Immonen blending the new style with touches of his old one. It’s just another weapon in his arsenal, and it’s pretty cool.
Immonen, of course, did some amazing work on issue #11, with a bunch of awesome double-page spreads that don’t fit on my scanner. Thankfully, Our Dread Lord and Master has your back, so if you want to see the double-page spreads, you can check that out. Or, you know, you could buy the damned comic yourself!
Tomorrow, I’ll check out some even more severe Immonen art in this style. Can you handle non-superhero Immonen? Too bad – you’re going to have to! And be sure to check out the archives for more sudden artistic style shifts!
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