Year of the Artist, Day 281: Steve Rude, Part 1 - <i>Nexus</i> #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Steve Rude, and the issue is Nexus (volume 1) #1, which was published by Capital Comics and is cover dated November 1981. These scans are from the trade Nexus: As It Happened, which was published by Rude Dude Productions in 2009. Enjoy!

Nexus #1 is, as far as I can tell, Steve Rude's first published comic. He was probably 25 when he drew it (he turned 25 in January 1981, so I imagine he drew this after that), and the level of skill involved is pretty amazing. What's also extremely interesting about Rude is that he really hasn't changed all that much in the past 30+ years. He found a great style early on, perfected it, and stuck with it! It's one reason why I didn't really want to feature Rude this year, as much as I love his work, but I figured I could fit in him, especially after I stumbled across tomorrow's entry, which is the slightest bit different than today's work. So it's obvious he was refining his style, even if he didn't change it too much.

I used Nexus: As It Happened instead of the the first volume of Dark Horse's Nexus Omnibus for these scans for a few reasons. As It Happened is printed on rougher paper stock, and while I don't know what the originals were like, I think the paper in that collection is probably closer to the original than Dark Horse's glossy paper. Plus, I don't want to bend the Dark Horse book back so far to scan pages, and as I replaced As It Happened with the Omnibus and will trade it in to my local comics shoppe at some point in the near future (I usually do it once a year, so probably in January), I don't mind cracking the spine a little. People often write about their love for beat-up books, as that implies they've been well-read and appreciated. I hate beat-up books, and even though I love reading and will re-read books, beat-up books to me means that someone doesn't take care of them very well. So I like to keep my Nexus Omnibuses, which I plan to re-read, in good condition. That's just how I roll!

This is the second page of the comic, and look how good it is. Rude's fluid, curvy line work has always been very well suited for superhero comics, and as Nexus is a quasi-superhero book, the style fits it perfectly. In Panel 3, Fernando's pose is done well, as he strains against the chains that bind him to the wall. Panel 5 is also nicely done, as Rude's line work makes Fernando limp and crushed after the colonel burns him with the cigar. Everything about this sequence is nice, honestly. Horatio's dream face is well done, as Rude uses that beautiful curved line to lead us from the reality into the dream, where we get wonderful blacks to show the darkness of Colonel Vega's regime. Colonel Vega himself is serious, but notice how Rude puts smiles on the henchmen behind him in Panel 2, as they're enjoying the torture a bit too much. Panel 4 is disturbing, but Rude doesn't make it too graphic, and then he again uses blacks well to hide the gruesome injury Fernando just suffered. The restraint that was necessary in the early 1980s in terms of violence in more mainstream comics helps Rude in this instance, as he's able to use blacks effectively and let us fill in the blanks, which is always a good thing.

Rude's artwork is already very clean, as he uses solid yet thin lines and lots of black chunks with clearly defined borders, although we can see that he didn't limit himself to that completely. Here he gives us the tiniest bit of roughness - the bald dude's head is inked with a bit more nuance than the rest of the page - but it's still very smooth. He lays the page out well, too - Colonel Vega's pointing finger leads us to the left, but encompasses his goons as well, while Rude doesn't forget to put the panicked people running the other way behind him, even placing one in between the bald dude's leg. The gun is angled downward, leading us nicely to the right, and the final panel is also tilted slightly to the right, even though Nexus is in the middle, dominating the scene. Rude places Vega in the lower right, so that the action of the page tends to move toward him, even though it's exploding from the center background into the wider foreground. His figure work in that final panel is very nice, too - the two men look like people who have been scattered haphazardly by the burst of energy, and Rude bends them in perfectly reasonable ways. The shading in the final panel is well done, too, as the light from Horatio's energy burst throws the backs of the figures into shadow while backlighting him. Rude already knows a great deal about how to create a nice action scene.

I assume Rude designed Nexus's outfit, and it's a good one. Rude gives him a visor, so that he can dispense justice without anyone looking at his eyes but also so Rude doesn't have to worry about drawing them. He has the blue-on-lighter-blue costume, here rendered in black and white, that utilizes simplistic yet bold design work, turning his torso and crotch into a giant arrow (what's up with that, anyway?). The lightning bolt across his left shoulder is striking, dynamic, and is over that particular shoulder so that when he's shooting with his right hand (Nexus is right-handed, it appears), the bolt points in the way the energy is shooting. It wouldn't work in that final panel if the lightning bolt were pointing the other way. And, sure, why not thigh-high boots? It's piratical, but also a bit kinky. Anyway, once again Rude moves us around the page really well. Nexus is yelling at Vega while that dude crouches behind him, and in the thin Panel 2, begins to attack him with that stick, which Nexus can't abide. The biggest problem with that first row is that Panel 2 could be interpreted as being part of Panel 3, where the dude looks like he's hiding around the corner as Nexus walks toward it, and then it becomes confusing about what's going on in Panel 3. But Rude does use panel borders, after all, so it shouldn't be too confusing, and while the row would work just as easily if Panel 2 didn't exist, the progression from Panel 1 to Panel 3 is neat, and we see again how good Rude is at moving us around each panel. Panels 4 and 5 are nice - Panel 4 is shaped so that Vega is smaller and pushed into the smaller end of the panel, while Nexus stands in the foreground, larger not only because he's in the foreground but also filling up a larger space better. Rude takes time to draw the woman's dress very well, adding frill and designing it so that it looks "futuristic" (the holes in the hips are a bit odd) but not too crazy. Panel 5 reverses Panel 4, as Vega's death is more important, so he's in the foreground filling up the larger end of the quadrilateral while Nexus is smaller. Rude's inks on Vega in his death scene are wonderful, as he uses the blacks to shadow his face both from the light of Nexus's energy and also as a moment of death. He draws tendrils of hair flying backward, while he shades the tops of his eyes but doesn't draw irises, making them blank and horrific as he dies. Rude uses slightly rougher inks here, too, which stands in nice contrast to his usual inks. As we see, his figure work is very good, as the way he draws the woman - turning to follow the energy, with a scared look on her face - is really well done.

Rude does nice work here to show a flashback - he gets rid of holding lines in some places and makes good use of negative space, especially in that first panel. The soldier giving the Nazi salute in the background is drawn well - the blacks take over, and Rude gives him a strange mask that dehumanizes him, which is the point. The outline of the buildings underneath him imply a totalitarian style combined with a polluting nightmare, and the fact that Rude just uses the outline allows him to place things below it that don't take place in any specific building but are set against the backdrop of that brutal cityscape. On the right, Dave hides his face in his hands, and Rude uses nice ragged inks to show his fur, which makes him both realistic and brutalized. Even the firing squad and the flogging scene is done well, as Rude moves us from left to right quite nicely. In the bottom row, Rude uses blacks really well, as the bars' shadows stripe the characters in the jail cell and the light turns the jailers in Panel 3 into sinister silhouettes looming over Dave. Rude uses good viewpoints in both Panels 2 and 3, as showing the scenes from high up diminishes Dave and makes us think of an all-encompassing force crushing him and the other prisoners. It's a clever layout.

Here's another nice action scene, as Nexus liberates Dave's prison. Again we get nice clean lines, although they're not as crisp as they would be in a few years, as some of his hatching is still a bit thicker and rougher. I love the bottom row, where he uses blacks really well, from where Dave gets ready to knife one of the guards to the shards of black material (I doubt if it's wood) exploding inward when Nexus kicks open the door. Again, the layout is very nice - Nexus is in the center of the page, so although Rude is telling the story sequentially, the entire page seems to rotate around his dynamic pose. The violence in the first panel is chaotic, as the guards shoot to the right, leading us to that panel, while the prisoners scramble the other way around them. Rude pulls back in Panel 2 to show how many guards Nexus has to deal with, and he uses a silhouette that, as small as it is, makes Nexus the focal point of the entire panel. Dave and the rebellion of the prisoners is the more important point to make in Panel 4, so Nexus is in the background while the violence takes the foreground, and the manager and his soldiers in Panel 5 are moving us from the left to the right again, while the line is reminiscent of the firing squad we saw above, except this time they're not shooting at unarmed and bound prisoners but the spirit of vengeance. While Nexus kicks the door to the left, our eyes still move to the right to take in his foot, which moves us off the page. It's a really nicely designed page, and shows how good Rude was at action even this early in his career.

Tomorrow we'll look at some more early Rude work, but it's not Nexus! In fact, I'm trying to figure out a way to show all of Rude's development without returning to his seminal character. Maybe I'll be able to do it - we shall see! In the interim, you can check out more seminal characters in the archives!

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