Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Joe Quesada, and the issues are The Ray #1 and Ninjak #2, the first of which was published by DC and is cover dated February 1992 and the second of which was published by Valiant and is cover dated March 1994. Enjoy!
I guess The Ray is Quesada’s big break – it was a superhero book firmly in continuity, and it even led to an ongoing, so let’s call it that. It showed that Quesada had some issues with a monthly book, as he didn’t even finish it – by the end he was laying the pages out and Art Nichols, who inked this issue, was finishing them – but it did, I assume, give him a higher profile. But I also wanted to check out Ninjak, which he went off to Valiant to draw, because it shows more maturation in his style. I didn’t want to cheat with Quesada, but I couldn’t really skip Daredevil and while I was going to skip Amazing Spider-Man, I knew it was enough of a shift in style that I had to include it. So those are the next two days, which means I had to cheat a little today. So that’s what’s coming up, but for now, let’s see what’s right in front of us!
Quesada’s style, as we’ll see, has become a bit more cartoony as he’s gotten more confident, and it’s interesting to see a little of that here – even though this is a flashback and therefore takes place in the 1980s (it’s not too far in the past), the girl’s hair in Panel 2 is a bit gigantic (of course, that was par for the course in that decade), while Ray’s hair in Panel 3 is a bit obnoxious. Quesada doesn’t do anything too crazy, because that was the style, but his more cartoony line does help make it look a bit sillier. Meanwhile, we still see that he likes plump lips with a lot of hatching, as Jennifer’s in Panel 6 fit that well. I like what colorist John Cebollero does on the page to make it more of a flashback – he uses a single color, that red, over the black and white, and a lot of the coloring is simply added where there are no lines, which makes it look a bit more unreal. It’s a nice choice.
Ray turns into the Ray here, and Quesada shows that he knows how to make a dramatic entrance. Ray does the superhero power pose, with his legs spread to balance himself, his arms out wide, and his hands in fists. Quesada’s sharp lines help make Ray look more dominant and angry, which of course is helped by the square mouth, the universal symbol of rage. He uses bold lines on Ray’s jacket, which is ridiculously Nineties, sure, but is still nice and stark. Quesada (or Nichols) does good work breaking up his limbs with the fire, as Nichols (or Quesada) roughs up those parts well, which is in good contrast to the sharper lines of his body. In the background, we get good blobs of smoke and fire, which the entire creative team does nice work on – this is the dramatic panel of the issue, and it’s drawn well, inked well, and colored beautifully. Quesada still loves the silhouettes, man!
This is a nice page that shows where Quesada is at this point in his career, both in penciling and in storytelling. He moves us around the page pretty well, even though Panel 5 is a bit weird, as Jennifer’s face is in extreme close-up and as we see in Panel 6, she’s getting pulled away from Ray. But that panel is a bit too close, and his drawing of Jennifer is really odd. I’ve mentioned that Quesada is getting a bit more cartoony, and that’s what we see here, as Jennifer has those giant eyes and giant lips, but her chin appears to be getting too close to her lips and her eyes are really too big in this instance. We also get the heavily lined hair, especially in Panel 2, but that’s fine. Again, Quesada and Nichols do a really nice job showing how Ray is on fire, with those beautiful blobs and the good rough blacks standing in contrast to Ray’s crisp silhouette. While this page doesn’t show a ton of action, it’s a quintessential Quesada page circa 1991/1992.
Then it was on to Valiant and Ninjak (well, sure, there was stuff in between), so let’s check that out. In this issue, Quesada is inked by Jimmy Palmiotti and still colored by Cebollero, and it’s interesting to see a bit of different style from two years earlier. Here’s one page:
Quesada, of course, came of age at the beginning of the “Image Era,” and we see some of that here. Our hero has just busted out of a water-filled car, and the first thing you have to do after you do something cool like that is pose, of course. Ninjak has a typical busy Nineties costume, with those ridiculous gold bands, but props to whoever decided he should be purple and yellow, as that’s a bold choice. Quesada draws him in “3-D,” which is more extreme, and unlike the Ray, he gives Ninjak a lot of muscles, as that was the thing by 1993/1994. Panel 5 is neat, as Quesada uses fewer lines and nice spot blacks to show the police cars approaching, while Cebollero uses whites really well. We only see a little of Quesada’s cartooning, as Ninjak’s eyes in Panel 2 are a bit big. We’ll see more of this moving forward.
Another hallmark of this era is weird layouts, some of which worked really well, some of which … not so much. Quesada is showing the helicopter arriving on the beach through the glasses of that dude who’s waiting for it, and it’s a bit odd, but nothing too awful. He makes it clear that we’re seeing the spectacles in close-up, as he shows the rims pretty clearly, and he doesn’t overdo it, which is key. He tilts the panels so that it’s more disorienting, which both implies the movement of the dude’s head and the wind generated by the rotor blades, and then Quesada goes back to a bit more traditional layouts and points of view. He shows us Ninjak’s point of view in Panels 5-8, as our hero snags the helicopter with that hook. The final panel re-establishes the third-person POV and ends the page with a dramatic shot of Ninjak rising with the helicopter. The dude waiting for the helicopter, you’ll notice, is a good example of how Quesada is beginning to be more cartoony in his figure work. He has a bulbous nose, wide ears, a big chin, a small mouth, and oversized glasses. He looks like a cartoon character, and while it’s not a bad drawing, it’s unusual to see this in “serious” comics, but Quesada was heading that way.
This is a very good example of what Quesada was starting to do at this point and would continue to do. With the heroes and their ilk, he stayed with a pretty standard look, but a lot of the ancillary characters began to look a bit more cartoonish. The general has that big nose, that big chin, those big ears, and the thick, bushy eyebrows. It’s a nice drawing – the blacks are well done, and Cebollero does a good job with the glow from the screens behind the general. It’s somewhat unusual, though, that Quesada was drawing some of the characters this way, as they seem a bit out of place in a comic that doesn’t seem to have a very good sense of humor. I haven’t read it (except this issue), so maybe it does, but it just seems like a strange way to draw characters in a comic like this.
Quesada remains good at action, as his figure work (with the continual exception of the feet) staying strong and his storytelling still working. He still loves using silhouettes, which isn’t a bad thing, and the hatching is still a bit busy, although it’s not too excessive. Remember when even super-serious superhero comics were colored brightly? Good times!
Back in the day, artists tended to pack a lot onto each page, even in American superhero comics (it’s true!), and occasionally, that would get them in trouble. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s not always clear. Water is cascading down on Ninjak and Sabrina, and Quesada moves them across the top row while showing Fitzhugh trying to fire his gun at the two. The guy in the wheelchair – I don’t know his name – wants Ninjak to rescue him, but our hero ignores him. Meanwhile, Fitzhugh is on the ground in Panel 3 but is then upright in Panel 4. That kind of movement in between panels isn’t surprising, but it’s a bit unclear. Ninjak kicks the dude in the wheelchair backward in Panel 5, but he’s already inside the helicopter, so that panel is a bit weird. The bottom panel is neat, as Quesada turns it into a bowl with the sound effect ringing the bottom. The mountains rise nicely from the bowl, and the explosion from that. Yes, there’s a lot of cross-hatching in the panel, but that’s okay. Despite some of the weird storytelling, it’s not a terrible page. It’s nice and balanced, which always good to see.
I didn’t pay too much attention to Valiant and other stuff like it in the Nineties, so I didn’t read Ash. Sorry! So of course the next comic I’m going to check out is a certain Man Without Fear. You had to know it was coming! Find more Double-D in the archives!
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