Year of the Artist, Day 295: Lee Moder, Part 2 - <i>Batman: The Last Angel</i>

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Lee Moder, and the issue is Batman: The Last Angel, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 1994. Enjoy!

I've never read any books by Eric Lustbader, but I have read a comic book by him, as he wrote this comic, one of those marvelous "Prestige Format" books DC used to put out from the late 1980s until the early 21st century. This comic is fairly wacky, but for our purposes, we don't have to worry about the Mayan Bat-God Death Mask possessing Batman (it's true!), because we're all about Moder's art today!

This is a dream from the first few pages in the book, as Selina Kyle is having nightmares and is visiting a really creepy-looking therapist to work through them (I love Moder's art on this book, but he really didn't disguise the fact that the therapist is eeeeeeevil too well in this comic - the first time we see him, anyone who's ever experienced pop culture before thought, "That guy's evil"). She's dreaming about Batman being a meanie, and Moder does nice work with that theme. Moder, inked here by Scott Hanna, has some odd idiosyncrasies in his art in this book, which we see here in Panel 2, where Batman smiles. Now, Batman smiling is always creepy, but Moder's use of really heavy lines on his face and a lack of definition on his teeth make it even weirder. I'd wager that doing so is the point, but it's still a bit strange. Moder tends to do this in the comic when the characters are in "civilian" clothing, so we won't see too much of it going forward, but Batman here is an example of it. We can't see Batman too well on this page, but Moder does a few cool things. The silhouette of Batman's head in Panel 3 is nice foreshadowing (as we'll see - the whole page is foreshadowing, to be honest, but this particular image is more subtle foreshadowing) and the silhouette in Panel 4 is keen. Moder's loose line work, as we saw yesterday, is suited for superhero comics, so Batman looks lithe and sleek even though he's muscular. Annapurna, the cheetah, is drawn very well - Moder does a nice job with the cat throughout, as we'll see. Lovern Kindzierski colored this book, and he does a really nice job on this page. As it's a dream, he can use those eerie reds without worrying about realism, but he also uses the sheen in Panel 1 from the lightning well to make the lighting of the page a bit more "unrealistic." As we'll see, it appears Kindzierski is using digital coloring, but he's able to blend that digital shininess with flatter colors very well, and the book looks great as a result.

I don't know how famous this comic is, but if it's famous for anything, I assume it's famous for Catwoman's godawful costume. Look at that thing! I assume Moder designed, and if he did, I just have to say ... well, it's certainly visually arresting. I get that this was 1993/1994 and weird costumes were all the rage, but man, that thing is ... it's something, all right. This comic seems to be in continuity, at least vaguely - it's not an Elseworlds book, Rupert Thorne is a bad guy, Armand Krol is the mayor, Bruce and Selina are interested in each other but neither knows the other's secret identity, and Batman and Catwoman have some kind of romance, as we'll see below. But this costume, as far as I know (and I read a lot of Batman comics in 1994), was never explained - it's definitely not in the book, where it's just taken as given that this is what Catwoman wears, and it never migrated over to the regular series. It's a one-off, and if Moder knew that it would be, maybe he just went to town with it. If that's so, well done!

The page is laid out really well, though. Selina beats up Rupert Thorne's goons, and Moder draws it very nicely. He sets things up with the goons getting out of the car, which is instantly followed by Selina laying into one of them. Unlike the rest of the page, Panel 2 seems oddly stiff, as Selina's pose doesn't seem flexible enough to be realistic. It's like she's standing on the dude's chest and the picture has been rotated rather than showing her kicking him in the sternum. Moder does a nice job on the punk, though, as he loses his cool-ass shades and his cheeks puff up as he exhales heavily. The small Panel 3 shows Catwoman grabbing her whip, which leads us to Panel 4. That's a nice drawing of Selina - Moder uses blacks well to show the drama, which allows Kindzierski to color her eye holes in (although pink is an odd color for it). As Moder leads us from the back to the front of the panel, he passes by the first goon, who has collapsed in pain. The lines in the panel center on the punk's wrist, and his arm leads us across to Panel 5, where Selina kicks the first dude, who managed to stand up, again. This kick is much better done than the first, as Selina is bent over in a good position, with her right leg bent, giving the left leg more power. She pulls the whip in Panel 6, yanking the second goon toward her, and bashes him with an uppercut. Moder uses speed lines well in Panels 6 and 7, but his fluid figure work also makes the scene work well. The third goon comes up behind her and punches her in the kidneys, and both faces in Panel 7 are nice - the goon's is angry and haughty, while Selina's is shocked and pained. She manages to loop the whip around him as he's choking her, and again Moder does nice work with the facial expressions, as the goon's gets uglier as he gets closer to killing her while Selina's is now angry and a bit desperate. We get a small panel of her flipping him, and that leads us right to the final panel, where she punches him in the chest before he can recover. It's a wonderfully laid-out page, and Moder manages to fit quite a lot onto it, showing us the entire fight in 11 panels but not shortchanging us on any of them.

Moder is pretty good at laying out pages, even when he's using a fairly standard one like this. Yes, there's nothing too radical about the placement of the panels, but Panel 1 is still a very nice point of view, as Moder adds a bit of humor to an otherwise tense scene. The punji stick pointing directly at Batman's junk is hilarious, and considering that the book is a little about Batman being (metaphorically) emasculated, it's even more nifty foreshadowing on Moder's part. We also get the dynamic between Batman and Catwoman on this page, as it's clear they've been digging each other for a while and Selina, at least, likes to toy with Batman a little. Moder does nice work with the facial expressions on this page - in Panel 2, Catwoman is having fun with Bats, and in Panel 4, Moder gives Bats a good sourpuss look because JUSTICE!!!! comes first, while Catwoman is a bit more sultry. Notice that Kindzierski is using a bit of that rendered look with the coloring, as the shading is more subtle than we saw back before digital coloring, but he doesn't overdo it, and it makes the coloring work with the line work instead of against it. I still don't know why Selina doesn't have black hair, though.

Hey, there's the old Mayan Bat-God Death Mask! This is a story the man who found the mask is telling to Selina, which is why it's in "Flashback-o-vision." I'm not sure how Moder or Hanna or even Kindzierski got this effect - I want to think Kindzierski did something digital to it in the coloring process, because I doubt if the paper looked like that. The coloring is tremendous, overall, as Kindzierski dulls the palette but uses such bold primary colors that we get the nice tension between those two extremes. I do love the line work in the flashback, as Moder uses stronger, more "simplistic" lines to indicate a more brutal era, while Panel 2, with the stylized sun and clouds, is quite nice. In another odd continuity nod, when Bruce sees this mask at the exhibit earlier, he thinks to himself how much it looks like the Alaskan Indian mask that was a big feature in the first Legends of the Dark Knight arc. You can't say this comic isn't set in Batman's regular continuity!

Batman tries to save the mask from being stolen by Catwoman, and in the process, he touches the mask and is seduced by its evil power (which the villainous mastermind knew would happen). So we get this nice page, which hearkens back to the first page I showed above, as Moder once again shows Batman's head in silhouette in Panel 1, which turns into an evil silhouette when he actually puts on the mask. Moder does a lot of nice work on this page. He moves everyone around well - notice in Panel 1, Annapurna is about to leap on Bats, and in Panel 3, he's leapt and gotten punched by Evil Batman, which takes us to Panel 4, where we get a callback to the page I showed above. Catwoman calling Batman a beast and a murderer is also a callback to the nightmare from the beginning of the comic, and Moder manages to fit her into Panel 3 pretty well, and he even gives her a good, worried expression when she thinks Annapurna is dead (he's not). Moder, I reckon, used photo references for Annapurna, because that is one good-looking cat, and the way it moves is very realistic. Moder continues to do well with the faces of his characters - Batman's struggle in Panel 2 is well done, and even though Moder only draws eyes and a mouth in Panel 4, it's still a good expression. Kindzierski, again, does nice work, adding the green electricity flowing all over the page and giving Bats a greenish glow in Panel 4 as the hellish light falls over him. Poor Bats - it can't be fun to be possessed by a Mayan Bat-God.

We get more nice work on this page, although that middle panel is a bit strange. Again, Annapurna is really well done, and Moder's thin line works to show every whisker, while his or Hanna's work shows the furry spots nicely. Moder remembers that in 1994, Gotham was designed by Anton Furst, so in Panel 3 we get the silhouettes of the buildings behind her as she runs. I'm not terribly sure why she's jumping like that in Panel 4, as it's just a bizarre pose, but I appreciate that Moder is trying some different ways to show Catwoman moving around the city. Gotham is a weird place, like any city, and so people jumping across rooftops are going to have to take some interesting detours. Moder tries to make her journey more vertiginous, and he succeed, but I still don't get Selina's pose. I do like how we look up at them in Panel 6 as she and Annapurna crouch on the roof, because it's another unusual point of view, and like we see occasionally when an artist does it with Batman, it makes Catwoman dominate the city a bit more. Selina's pose in Panel 4 might be odd, but the layout of the page is interesting.

I'm not sure how the shadow over Gordon in Panel 2 was created, but it's neat. It's pointillist, and I assume there's a computer program - even in 1994 - that could do something like this, as I doubt Moder or Hanna put all the dots there by hand. Maybe they did. Moder does a nice job with Gordon getting electrocuted in Panel 4 (with Mayan Bat-God MAGIC!!!!), as he sticks Gordon's hair on end, arches his back, clutches his hands, and makes his tie fly in the air. Gordon is a bit overweight, and Moder shows that well, even though it looks worse because Gordon is bent so much. Panel 3 is a fairly stereotypical pose, with Batman's silhouette forming a dominant triangle over Gordon, but it's still nice and dramatic.

Moder once again moves us around the page very nicely, as Selina tries to save Gordon from being sacrificed to the Mayan Bat-God. That probably wouldn't be optimal. Gordon is about to fall into the pit, but Selina grabs his wrist and keeps him from going over. Moder puts Batman's shadow in the corner of Panel 1 to remind us that he's approaching, so when Selina turns around in Panel 4, we see the larger shadow of Evil Batman falling over her. Moder does a good job in Panel 3, as he closes one of Selina's eyes and contorts her face a little to show the effort she's making to keep Gordon from falling. Then, in Panel 4, we get another nice face, as her eyes widen in fear of Evil Batman. The panel is shaped well, too - Batman's shadow and Selina's pose push us from the lower left upward to the right, where we see the spear Evil Batman is going to use to kill her, which leads us downward along Panel 5, with Selina's thought bubble making sure we move to the right and to the next page. Once again, the use of blacks on the page is tremendous, as that final panel shows us the shadowed Evil Batman, all compassion gone. OR IS IT?!?!?!?

Of course Evil Batman doesn't stick around! That would have been wacky. After freeing himself from the Mayan Bat-God Death Mask, Bats and Cats figure it's time for some mackin', and that's what they get to doin'. Moder does really nice work with the body language on this page - Catwoman tries to be reassuring in Panel 1, and then she gets closer to Batman, preparing to kiss him. After they kiss, Batman holds her wrists to move her away, because he can't succumb to her sexiness!!!! (Well, that and she scratched him earlier in the book, as he alludes to.) Her surprise in Panel 5 and her puzzlement in Panel 6 is done well, while Moder gets the "Batman thinking" look that anyone who draws the Caped Crusader has to master. We get a lot of subtext on this page and throughout the book, so while Lustbader's script isn't terribly subtle, Moder does some nice work digging into it a little more. We get a good sense of these two characters as people who want to be together but don't dare go through with it. It's in the script, but it's more in the art, which is keen.

In the mid- to late Nineties, Moder apparently drew a lot of Legion of Super-Heroes, and as you might recall, I am not a fan of the Legion, so I lost track of him. He then drew a superhero book around the turn of the century by a young writer who would go on to dominate one of the Big Two, and that's what we'll check out tomorrow! Of course, you can always find big-time writers in the archives!

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