Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Joe Quesada, and the issue is Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 1991. Enjoy!
I’m tempted to say that the increase in quality in Quesada’s art on Legends of the Dark Knight Annual (he drew one chapter of a longer story) is due to Joe Rubinstein’s inking, but I won’t. As usual, because I don’t have access to Quesada’s straight pencils on Spelljammer or this issue, I can’t say what the inkers contributed. But this art is quite an improvement, and I don’t know why. Let’s check it out!
This is the first page of Quesada’s chapter, and we can see that he’s fully embraced the blackness, as he uses silhouettes quite well on this page (and others, as we’ll see). He and Rubinstein do a good job making the castle look ancient and decrepit, as we get the nice lines showing the stones of the castle, while we also get parts of the façade worn away. In the foreground of Panel 1, Batman squares off against the guards, and he’s shadowed well, as are the guards. Quesada’s line work is thin and crisp, which makes him not the best choice for a battle in an ancient castle – look how nice the stonework is! – but it does allow him to draw nice armor on those knights, although the Curse of Bad Feet continues to follow him. The woman in Panel 2 is nicely done, as Quesada/Rubinstein uses spot blacks to very good effect, while Steve Oliff uses red well, not only in this panel, but on the page in general. Quesada tilts the panel downward and to the left in Panel 3, but notice that the wind is blowing to the right, which works against the “wrong” angle he takes. Presumably he did this because the descent into the castle is supposed to be a descent into more madness (this entire book is basically Batman hallucinating), but the long flames, the woman’s cloak, and Batman’s cape all pull us to the right. Quesada doesn’t do anything too revolutionary with the artwork here, as it’s very much “Nineties” work, with the excessive hatching, the thin lines, and the shadow (in Panel 3) that still shows the mortar between the stones (I haven’t checked, but this seems like something that came to prominence in the late 1980s/early 1990s, although I’m sure it was around before that), but we can see that his skill is growing.
Quesada, like a lot of young artists at the time, tends to exaggerate, because melodrama is always easier than subtlety. This leads to panels like the third one, where Batman might make a disgusted face because he realizes he’s drinking blood, but Quesada makes him really, really disgusted. He plumps up his lips (as we already know, this is a Quesada staple) to make his rejection more obvious, and even something like Panels 2 and 4 are somewhat melodramatic, as comics artists love to show liquid dribbling down chins for some reason. I mean, even if the woman told Batman to “drink deeply” and Batman realized it was blood early on, would he really forget how to drink so that it all goes into his mouth? I never get that in comics, but artists keep doing it. Learn how to drink properly, comics characters! Quesada continues with the melodrama, as Batman’s pose in Panel 6 is very extreme as he plans to chuck the mug at the woman. Once again, he uses spot blacks very well, as Batman remains a shadowy figure, which of course is contrasted a bit with the paleness of the woman. Oliff does a nice job with the colors, including Panel 5, where he makes the woman glow as she transforms.
Hey, it’s another dragon! Yes, Batman fights a dragon in this chapter, so Quesada, after drawing one in yesterday’s entry, draws another one! You’ll notice that in just a few months and with a (presumably) higher budget (I mean, Spelljammer was a DC book, but this is motherfucking Batman), we get a different kind of dragon, especially in the coloring. Oliff was an early pioneer in digital coloring, and his use of those whites on the dragon makes it a bit more textured than the dragon from yesterday, making it a bit slimier, which is neat. Quesada draws a nice dragon, too, as he and Rubinstein give is a decent amount of hatching, while inside its mouth, Quesada actually does a nice job fading the tongue into the back of its throat. He also does a good job making the wood look like wood, as it splinters all over when the dragon bashes through it. I don’t love the fact that Oliff colors Batman red, even though that’s a theme color of the chapter, because although it’s complementary to the dragon’s green and helps make Batman pop a little, it still looks a bit too odd.
Quesada, as we can see here, is pretty good at action, which we saw a bit yesterday but see even more here. He moves the reader around the page well, as the dragon flicks Batman with its tail in Panel 1, moving us from left to right; Batman is knocked into the skeleton in Panel 2, and his cape moves us to the right; he looks up in Panel 3, which gives us a pause in the action while he contemplates the spear; he moves outside and to the left in Panel 4 but jams the spear into the wall on the right; vaults upward and to the right in Panel 5; and stands ready for the dragon in Panel 6, while the dragon stands to the right, which is where our eyes end up. It’s a nicely laid-out page. Quesada, as we can see, uses fairly sharp lines, which should make his action scenes stiffer, but he finds a good balance between the sharp lines and the loose movements, so his figures move well as they fight. His Batman in Panel 3 is a bit odd, but that’s not a deal-breaker, and he uses the silhouettes nicely in Panel 6, when Batman gives his best “Come at me, bro” pose. The ragged and sharp cape continues to look good, too.
The final page of Quesada’s chapter shows Batman rejecting more blood, which seems pretty logical. I mean, she couldn’t have tried something different, like a nice slab of meat that turns out to be leg of baby? Bats isn’t going to fall for the “blood goblet” twice, you know! Quesada draws an extreme pose on the woman in Panel 1, as her hip juts out at an uncomfortable angle, but in the context of the story, it works pretty well. While his facial expressions on Batman are a bit odd – I imagine it’s more difficult with Batman because he lacks eye features – the sly look on the woman in Panel 3 is done well. I love Panel 7, where Batman walks away. Yes, we get that thick hatching at the bottom of Batman’s cape which was all the rage back then, but it’t not too bad, but Quesada sets the panel up well, with the sword separating Batman from the woman and her pernicious charms. Quesada (and O’Neil) have been toying with the woman as a nurturer and/or a sexpot, so we see that she’s wearing an apron on this page, but in the final panel, Quesada gives her stockings with the line up the back, which we know only sexpots wear. It’s a nice way to show Batman rejecting the murderous violence of the sword and the sleazy sexiness of the woman – Batman uses his fists and likes his women virginal, damn it! O’Neil hammers this home a bit with the script, but Quesada does a nice job showing it.
In 1992, Quesada got even more popular, so tomorrow we’ll check out some of his work from that year. But then he got even more popular, so I’m showing more work from 1994! Yes, I’m cheating again, but that’s just the way it is! Check out more cheating in the archives!
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