Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Steve Rude, and the story is "Nexus: Into the Past, Chapter 10" in Dark Horse Presents #34, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated March 2014. Enjoy!
When I was deciding which Steve Rude artwork to finish up with, I didn't want to do more Nexus, because he's done some cool stuff on other characters. But his serial in Dark Horse Presents, which finished up earlier this year, shows a lot of development, not necessarily in his line work, which remains similar to what he's been doing for decades, but in his layouts and design. For years, the Dude made a living as a "fine art" painter, which is why he didn't do much in comics, but recently, he's gotten back into the four-color world a bit, and it's interesting how the earlier period tends to inform his comics work these days, as he's trying new things with new technology, and his art continues to be amazing. So I decided to show the very recent work instead of some of his older work. You'll just have to deal with it!
Nexus's and Sundra's kid has been kidnapped, and she's a bit upset. Rude is using slightly thicker lines by this time, although his style is still crisp and clean. Sundra has been kicking a bag in frustration, which is why she's covered in sweat and her hair is disheveled. Rude gives her rough, red cheeks, and he makes sure to put drops under her eyes, which could be sweat or tears. Rude has always been clever with layouts, but look how he does the final three panels. He draws the entire cave of the Merk, but he moves Nexus through the cave in each panel. Sundra's word balloon moves us to Nexus in Panel 2, and the water moves him down to Panel 3, while the Merk's chair presents a barrier that draws our eye, showing us Nexus under the chair, dwarfed by its size. In DHP, of course, the creators don't have a lot of room to fool around, and even though Baron and Rude got ten chapters (and this is longer than the others), they still need to use their space creatively, which is good for Rude, who knows how to fit a lot onto each page. This is just a clever way to move Nexus around without wasting space.
I'm not caught up on Nexus (as I'm reading it in Omnibus format), so while I know that Nexus had a daughter, I'm just assuming this was one of the original kids and not a new one. Origami (the daughter) explains what's going on with Clayborn, the weird robotic psychopath who kidnapped Nexus's son, and we get a nice full-page spread as we rotate around Origami as she talks. Rude creates a circle in the middle of the page, which is where we get the flashback to Nexus's destruction of Clayborn, while Origami and Kreed talk around it. Rude uses nice brushwork in the flashback to blur Nexus a bit, while Glenn Whitmore colors it that odd green, making it stand out well. Meanwhile, Rude is still crisp around the edges, but he still uses some rougher inks on Origami on the right side. At the bottom, he throws Origami and Kreed into shadow so that we can still see the flashback and also so that the two figures down at the bottom right don't get too mixed up with the figures higher up. Rude uses the circle to move time forward, so that Origami and Kreed talk and then leap downward to get started in looking for the kid. Rude, again, packs a lot onto this page.
Rude gives us more nice details and layouts here, as we get all sorts of weird characters in Panel 1. He dresses the characters really well, and his loose line work makes them very fluid, which Rude has never had problems with. He adds so many strange details, and as I noted on the first day, it really helps with the futuristic vibe of Nexus, as Baron doesn't seem that interested in even trying to extrapolate forward and just uses what's current at that point in time. It doesn't make the comic bad, just odd. In the second row, Origami drops down and flips the dude into Kreed's wheelhouse, where he gets shredded by the blades. It looks very cool, but I'm not sure it works. If she kept going where her momentum was taking her, she'd flip him the other way, toward the left side of the page. She manages to kick him against her grain somehow, where Kreed is waiting for him. It looks neat, but I'm not sure if it would work. Once again, Rude takes a scene that might need more panels if someone else was doing it and manages to work it into one row, which is clever (despite the wonky choreography). As we've seen him do before, he knows when to use spot blacks, as the shading on the dude as he flies toward Kreed helps his panicked mouth and his douchey sunglasses stand out even more.
Meanwhile, Cicely, who has Harry Hellpop (don't ask why!), ends up in a strange "repository of lost things," and Rude has some fun with it. I imagine that the classic paintings on the left were somehow Photoshopped in, although it wouldn't surprise if Rude painted them in himself just for the hell of it. Rude adds a spaceship, eyeballs with spikes in them (which I'm sure is something I should recognize), and a Kirby-esque figure on the right side, because why not? Rude and Whitmore use nice contrasts with the paintings and the "real" stuff, as the paintings are a bit more nuanced, while Cicely and Mr. Zanzibar are colored with "flatter" hues. It's a clever trick.
This is a nice three-panel sequence, as Mr. Zanzibar and Cicely chat while Cicely tries to protect Harry. Cicely might be wearing some dated clothing, but at least it looks like clothing, which is, as we've seen, something Rude has always been good at. He gets rid of the background to put the steps in a weird, non-space, and he changes the stairs in each panel to show the mutability of the environment. He keeps spiraling the steps, too, which makes it weirder and weirder. Note, too, that the chair on which Cicely sits doesn't actually rest on the steps - it's just floating a bit off to the side. It's goofy, but that's part of the point.
Nexus shows up at Mr. Zanzibar's, and Rude again messes around a bit with the layout, as Nexus reshapes the environment to fit his needs by turning the panels over. In Zanzibar's room, the laws of physics have no meaning, so Nexus thinks outside the physical world to bend it to his will. Rude even remembers to uses dotted lines around the panel that Nexus flips - that's nice attention to detail.
My lack of knowledge about Nexus extends to Jil, because unless I'm just forgetting her from earlier in the series (I've only read them once, after all, and there are a lot of characters), I don't know who she is. Is she Sundra's business partner from when they ran that sailing business? I can't remember. It doesn't really matter, I guess, because we're all about the art here! Both Rude and Whitmore do nice work here - Rude uses some mushy brush work to make Jil look more ethereal, while Whitmore's bright colors and hazy aura around Jil turn her into a ghostly presence. I also like the Benday dots on the wall behind Jil in the bottom row. It's just Rude being Rude!
This story involves time travel, so it made my head hurt, but it did allow Rude to draw Watson and Holmes, which is where the story ends. Rude gets to draw Victorian England, with thick stones in the architecture (with no holding lines and good black chunks), and Victorian characters, so we get the street urchin and the somewhat ragged dude in Panel 1 (Rude doesn't really do "ragged," but he gives the guy a paunch, which implies that he's not quite as aristocratic as his outfit) and Holmes and Watson in the other panels. He uses blacks to make 1888 England a bit darker than the bright future world of Nexus, and I dig how he gives Holmes some crazy eyebrows, because why wouldn't Holmes have crazy eyebrows? He makes the room smaller than Nexus's expansive world, but Whitmore's more muted colors make the room more comfortable than the gaudy world of Nexus. It's an interesting contrast. Rude uses slightly thicker inks on Holmes in Panel 4, which gives us a sense of a bygone era, where things were a bit rougher.
This has all the appearances of being the last Nexus story, and who knows if Rude will keep working in comics or if he'll do some other stuff. He has a strange relationship with serialized comics, so who knows what he wants to do. But that's for the future to determine! Tomorrow I'll start a new artist - occasionally the artist I'm working on gives me the idea for the next one, and I think that's where I'm going with the new one. You'll just have to wait and see what I mean by that! Of course, you can always find plenty of interesting artists in the archives!