Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is David Mazzucchelli, and the issues are Master of Kung Fu #121 and The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #14, both of which were published by Marvel and are cover dated February 1983 and February 1984. Enjoy!
These are the first two comics of Mazzucchelli’s career (I can say that with confidence, because Our Dread Lord and Master featured them as such), and they came a year apart by cover date, and they led right into his regular gig on Daredevil, which began a few months after the Indiana Jones book. Let’s see where he began, as where he ended up is so unusual!
The immortal Vince Colletta inked this, and his utilitarian work is in marked contrast to the next issue we’ll see down below, part of which was probably inked by Colletta too (you’ll see what I mean). Mazzucchelli was probably 22 when he drew this (he was born in September 1960), and while his storytelling skills are quite good, his figure work is a bit stiff, although he’d learn quickly in that regard. He lays out the fight pretty well, with Shang-Chi moving across the second row smoothly, and notice how he scoops the black book out of Kiley’s hand in Panel 4 as he leaps over him. It’s a good way to show how easily Shang-Chi moves through the world. In Panel 1, Mazzucchelli remembers to show the shadow of the lattice-work in the window, and it’s an interesting foreshadowing to his more noir work that he’d do in the next few years.
Here’s another fight scene, just to show that the layout of the first one wasn’t a fluke. While Mazzucchelli still has some issues with figures, the roll by Shang-Chi in Panel 5 is really smoothly drawn, and shows that he knows what he’s doing and would only get better. The panel-to-panel storytelling is done well, too, as the bad guy rounds the corner, gets a kick, pulls his gun, fires as Shang-Chi leaps and then rolls toward him, gets another kick, and then our hero flees to the right and out of the panel.
I almost showed only the panel in the center of the page, where Vienna tilts her head back, because as small as it is, it’s an amazing drawing and the moment I fell a little bit in love with Vienna, to the point where I’m officially petitioning Joey Q to launch a Vienna series with me as the writer. I would kick ass on a Vienna title! Anyway, I decided to show the whole page because there’s some other nice stuff going on. Vienna’s body language as she talks to Shang-Chi is very nice – she’s dismissive, desperate, and then, in that wonderful middle panel, arrogant, as she scoffs at Shang-Chi’s idea of honor. The way Mazzucchelli tilts her head, closes her eyes, and opens her mouth is magnificent, and even the way he and Colletta show her hair waving a bit more crazily than in the other panels is wonderfully done. The final panel on the page shows some of Mazzucchelli’s limitations, as Mr. Bess is drawn very awkwardly. I get that he’s supposed to be striding nervously, but he still looks very stiff and his step looks far too long. It’s just a bit odd. Obviously, it’s not a deal-breaker, but it does show, again, that Mazzucchelli had things to learn.
There’s a lot of nice body language on this page, as Vienna puts one over on Shang-Chi and his pal Smith. She managed to steal back the code book that Shang-Chi thought he grabbed, and she shows up to sell it to Mr. Bess and collect her money. Her casual lighting of the cigarette in Panel 1 and the insouciant way she holds out the book is marvelous, and her stiff arm of Mr. Bess in Panel 2 is brilliant. Look how frantically Mr. Bess scrambles for the safe and how gleeful he is that he gets the code book back, while Smith gives him the evil eye in Panel 5 due to his having more money than he promised to Smith. The final panel is excellent, too, as Smith is hunched over, depressed, not wanting to talk about Vienna. She totally broke his heart because she’s so awesome and he couldn’t contain her in his little old-fashioned box, I know it! Where’s my writing assignment for the comic about Vienna, Joey Q?!?!?
Mazzucchelli is still a bit stiff with the figures, but if he’s the one putting in the spot blacks (it could be Colletta, of course), it’s clear he already has a good handle on creating a mood. The room is dark, so when Vienna lights the cigarette, we get the men in the room in semi-silhouette, which works quite nicely. Mazzucchelli, as we already have seen, moves us around the page well, even in “non-action” scenes like we have here. It’s impressive for someone’s first comic.
Yes, it’s another fight scene, but Mazzucchelli has to draw a lot of them in this comic – Shang-Chi is always getting into scraps! Once again, while the figure work is a bit stiff, the flow of the page is excellent, as Mazzucchelli moves us across the rows really well. Everything flows from the left to right, even when our view is from above, as it is in Panel 2. I love how he draws Kiley in Panel 6, as Shang-Chi upends him and tips him to the right, even though his left hand seems to be in a really awkward position (try turning your hand like that and imagine being upside-down – it’s weird). Mazzucchelli remembers where everything is in the room, so the Russian can hit the mannequin and it makes sense, as we’ve seen where they are in relation to the figures already. As usual, I love Vienna on this page, as she ignores the fighting and crawls to the get the code book (which she stole back from Mr. Bess). It’s possible that the idea for Vienna crawling through the fighting was writer Steven Grant’s, but whoever decided it, Mazzucchelli does a nice job with it (even if her fingers are a bit too much like claws).
A year after this book, Mazzucchelli was back on the Indiana Jones comic, which is partly interesting because it was inked by (probably) a passel of Marvel artists, collectively called “The Saint.” It’s obvious that one inker was not doing all the work, and so Mazzucchelli’s art looks quite interesting as we move through the book.
Early on in the issue, the inker (Vince Colletta again?) is very precise and a bit old-fashioned. There’s not a ton of nuance to the line work, which isn’t a completely bad thing, especially as the scene takes place in the somewhat stuffy academic world. The spot blacks are enough to add some shading, and Pondexter in Panel 4 is darkened well, as it hints to the dark turn his story will take. Mazzucchelli, interestingly enough, tilts his head downward, so that the plastic brim he wears obscures his eyes and makes him look more sinister. Considering what he ends up wearing in this issue, it’s a nice bit of foreshadowing.
This is the next page, and either it’s a new inker or the person inking the previous page decided to change his style, because it’s much darker and the brush work isn’t as crisp, which makes Pondexter and the basement look a bit more disturbing. Obviously, the giant shadow on the wall as Pondexter descends the stairs is a good touch, but when we get to the bottom and Mazzucchelli draws him kicking the filing cabinet and discovering the hole, we get more and thicker blacks, while the hatching around his eyes in Panel 4 is a bit smudgier than we saw in the previous pages. The cracks around the hole are more jagged than the lines we saw on earlier pages, which isn’t surprising considering that they’re cracks, but the line work just looks rougher. The inking would get even looser and rougher as we move along!
Pondexter turns evil because he’s possessed (oh yes he is!), and Indy and Marion chase him down and bad things happen. Despite Mazzucchelli’s stronger line, this page looks very Gene Colan-esque, which has to be due partly to the inking, I should think, as the rain blurs everything nicely and Mazzucchelli’s lines are hatched over a bit. The explosion in Panel 1 is nicely done, with good black-rimmed smoke that either Mazzucchelli or the inker smudges a bit to show the rain coming down around it, while Robbie Carosella does nice work with the oranges and yellows in the flames. The water is simply a lot of black shapes, which makes it look more roiling. I’m not even going to get into the silliness of David Michelinie’s script in the bottom row, but the combination of Mazzucchelli’s strong lines and the thin inking that makes everything blurry works quite well to get across the turmoil of the storm.
Mazzucchelli does a really nice job with the layout on this page, as Pondexter cuts Indy’s whip as Indy and Marion try to rappel out the window. The set-up panel shows what happens, and then Mazzucchelli gives us a bird’s-eye view of the fall, and it’s a really nice panel. The perspective is well done, and Mazzucchelli shows us everything we need to see – the cut whip; Indy flailing; Marion (who was trying to swing to that balcony) flying backward, still holding onto the whip; and the rocks and water below. It’s really the only way to show the scene in order to incorporate every element, and Mazzucchelli nails it. In Panel 3, he shows the whip wrapped around Indy’s neck, which keeps it from falling and allows Indy to tie it to the railing, and in Panel 5, we get a nice swoop down to the balcony. We’re probably seeing a new inker once again, as the lines are thicker and heavier, with none of the “blurring” effect we saw in the example above. Obviously, inkers can change their style to suit the environment of the scene, but it does seem like this is a different person than the scene in the water.
Mazzucchelli soon became the regular artist on Daredevil, which is where I’ll go next. I might have to show his first issue even though it came only a few months after this, because it features some gorgeous artwork. We shall see! In the meantime, you can find a whole bunch of other gorgeous artwork in the archives!
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