Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Joe Madureira, and the issues are Uncanny X-Men #312, #316, #328, #329, and #348, which were published by Marvel and are cover dated May and September 1994, January and February 1996, and October 1997. Enjoy!
I mentioned that was probably going to cheat quite a bit on Madureira, because the way I’ve set up the rest of the year, I can only do four days of his art, but I didn’t want to shortchange him, either. I thought about featuring his two-issue arc on Excalibur from 1992, but it’s very similar to the Mojo story from yesterday (with slightly better inking), so I figured I’d jump right to his long (if often interrupted) run on Uncanny X-Men, the book that made him a superstar. His first issue was #312, his last was #350 (but I thought issue #348 was a better example), and while his style changed over the course of the three years, I also wanted to show the changes in technology, as this period was part of a Great Leap Forward in terms of computerized assistance on comics art. Madureira seemed to embrace that (he was, remember only 19 when he began working on the book, so his youth might have played into that), so I wanted to show some of the things that we got on this comic during this time period. And you know that means … STEAM NINJA!!!!!
Madureira made his reputation on this comic, and he was pretty danged good from the start. In issue #312, Scott Lobdell gives us the Phalanx in full glory for the first time (he had introduced it earlier, in the margins, and did you know that Claremont and Sienkiewicz get credit for creating it because they came up with Warlock?), and Madureira really went nuts with the design. I have to say, after the first few times they showed up – these issues and the next one below, where Lobdell introduced Generation X – I kind of hate the Phalanx. I don’t know why, but they bug me. But here they’re pretty neat, and Madureira does a terrific job with the layout of this page and the design work. He looks down at Yukio, who’s leaping away from the wall as it disintegrates, and it’s a nice, vertiginous panel. The fussiness of the Phalanx in Panel 3 is pretty neat, as they’re just sentient circuitry and would probably look like that. Madureira gives them his typical “bad guy” faces, with those giant mouths and big chins, and whoever decided to make their eyes red – whether it was Lobdell, Madureira, or colorist Steve Buccellato – made a fine choice, as red is the color of evil and also helps them stand out, especially when they’re pretending to be human. In Panel 4, Madureira again shifts our point of view so that we’re looking down at Storm and Yukio, with the buildings plunging downward into the canyons. It’s another neat way to show the scene, and it makes Madureira’s world a bit more three-dimensional, which is always nice. His figure work has been refined just a bit from yesterday – he still gives his characters, especially his women, really long legs, but they seem to “fit” a bit more, perhaps because he’s also gotten much better at the way bodies move, so neither Yukio nor Ororo looks posed – they’re flowing nicely around the page. And yes, Storm’s hair is ridiculous. It was 1994, man!
We get an even better view of the Phalanx here, as Madureira really goes to town with the line work. The “faces” are even more exaggerated – the one on the right, just above Gambit’s glove, is all teeth – but that’s part of the craziness of the Phalanx. In Panel 2, we get a very good look at how Madureira was drawing figures. Gambit has very long legs, a seriously tiny waist, a really broad chest, thick arms, and a weirdly tiny head. I would chalk this up to Madureira really not understanding human anatomy yet, because we often see artists struggle with proportion, but because it’s just a pose and Gambit isn’t really moving around a lot, it looks a lot more obvious than if he were fighting or doing something else. The head really is freaking me out, though. Panel 3, though, is terrific, as Madureira again shifts our point of view, so that we’re looking up at the trio as Storm flies them away, and Gambit’s playing card is the dominant image in the panel. It’s a neat way to show it, and we’ve already seen and will continue to see that Madureira isn’t afraid to mix things up, layout-wise. His storytelling, even at this young an age, is actually pretty good, so the fact that he’s willing to move our vantage point around is pretty neat. Buccellato, who is a pioneer in digital coloring, is already doing some work here that would become emblematic of the 1990s, and I like how he lightens a playing card-sized shape in the eye of the Phalanx in Panel 4, foreshadowing its “death” on the next page. Buccellato’s pink tones in that panel are cool, too.
In the background of Panel 1, we see once again the problems that Madureira has with proportions, as Gambit still looks really weird. He does a better job with the woman in Panel 2, but she’s still a bit off. I do love her hair, though, as I’m sure government agents have hair that long. Yeah. Madureira also does a nice job with the spot blacks, as it does make her outfit look very high-end. Madureira shows that he’s becoming more and more influenced by manga, something that would become evident as he moved forward in the book, with Gambit’s face in Panel 3. The big teeth and the hooded eyes look very manga-ish to me, although I can’t explain it further. Either Dan Green or Harry Candelario inked this, and Madureira and the inker do a nice job – Gambit’s and Yukio’s hair is inked nicely, and while the lines on Gambit’s face are a bit much, at least they show him in a stressful situation.
Let’s move on to issue #316, shall we?
This issue (and the one that follows) introduced some of the members of Generation X, which would launch not long after this (issue #1 came out two months after this issue), including Monet St. Clair. This is a great cold open, as Colonel Gayle Cord-Becker tries to protect Monet from the Phalanx and does a piss-poor job of it. Madureira and the inkers – this time it’s Green and Terry Austin – do a wonderful job in the first panel, as the Phalanx peers in through the window. We get nice blacks, allowing Madureira to ditch the holding lines and make the circuitry look a bit more menacing, while the rain on the window creates a good frame for the monstrosity. Cord-Becker shoves Monet out of the car, and Madureira keeps the flow of the panels moving from left to right. He creates a giant fist for the Phalanx in Panel 3 – one thing you might notice is that Madureira is really good at exaggeration – that leads us toward Cord-Becker, whose reach for her gun leads us nicely to Panel 4. She angles the gun just a little to the right side, leading us to the terrific final panel, where she meets her fate and Madureira diminishes Monet in the lower right, as she waits placidly for her death (this is when Monet wasn’t speaking at all). We’ve seen that Madureira had no problem embracing his cartoony side, and he does so here, as Cord-Becker has large eyes and thick lips, so she’s a bit of a caricature even as she shows how tough she is. I’ll write a bit more about the coloring below, but note it!
Sean finds out that the entire X-mansion has been taken over by the Phalanx, and Madureira does a really nice job with his horrible realization. He tones down the cartoonish style just a little, enough to show the way Sean reacts to the computer telling him there are no “identifiable life forms” in the mansion even though he’s just been talking to them. We get a resolute look in his eyes in Panel 3, then he looks back as he begins to understand that something is fishy, then wide-eyed fear as he asks the computer to locate the essential personnel. Then we get the creeping terror of Panel 7, as he looks away from the computer and tries to figure out who are all the people he’s been talking to. Madureira still gives him large eyes and a fairly large chin, but his use of blacks on the page help with the mood, and that final panel, where Sean’s eyes are ringed with black and the shadows fall over his face, is very nicely done.
It’s a bit hard to see on the screen, but the printed version of this issue is a bit different from issue #312. The colors in issue #312 are flatter, and the comic, despite Madureira’s very cutting-edge style of artwork, looks like a more old-school comic. Buccellato colored this issue, too, and we can see some of the things that would become much more common moving forward in comics. He’s using shading much more, as we can see in the final panel, where we get tan over much of Sean’s face with some patches of yellow. There’s also some more texture to the colors, which is also a hallmark of digital coloring. I imagine that by 1994, Buccellato was coloring even issue #312 digitally, but it’s interesting to see the slight shift in the process between that issue and this one. Buccellato wasn’t done!
Sean goes all Banshee on “Rogue,” and we get this cool scene. Madureira again draws Sean a bit cartoonishly in Panel 1, as his mouth opens up quite wide and his cheekbones are extremely pronounced. Notice too that Madureira draws a thick ridge behind Sean’s head, which is odd. This is the kind of thing we see often in the 1990s as more and more artists jumped into the industry and tried to draw like the hot artists, which Madureira quickly became, and it looks terrible. The only thing that forgives it here is that the panel is small and it’s not very prominent. Then we get the bigger panel, where his sonic scream rips the Phalanx construct apart. Madureira’s “Rogue” is very cool, as he draws every little piece of circuitry flying from the disintegrating form, while still keeping the creepy smile on its “face” (and the red eyes, which I noted above are very neat and look nifty here). Even as she falls apart, notice that Madureira draws her with a very thin waist and long, somewhat thicker legs. It’s just the way it is, man! I also love how he draws her hand splayed out like that – it looks very dramatic. Of course, another notable thing about this panel is Buccellato’s coloring of the sonic scream, which he just “paints” in digitally, without Madureira drawing anything. It’s neat, but it’s the kind of thing that can easily be overused, which of course it was. Buccellato is a very good colorist and, as I noted, a pioneer in digital coloring, but others weren’t as good as he was and did bad things with this kind of process. So very bad.
A little over a year later, Madureira drew the issue where Sabretooth gets out and eviscerates Psylocke. As a big fan of Psylocke, I’m not the biggest fan of this issue, but it is one of the few significant things to happen to Betsy since Claremont turned her into a ninja, so there’s that (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – turning Betsy into a ninja was probably the best-ever Psylocke story and also the worst thing to ever happen to her). Let’s check out some of the art!
Madureira is getting more cartoonish and more manga-influenced, neither of which is a bad thing by itself. As we’ve often seen, many artists get a bit more abstract and use fewer lines as they get more experienced, and it seems like Madureira and inker Tim Townsend (who inked quite a bit of his run) are making a conscious effort to dial down on the excessive hatching. Part of it, I think, has to do with the more shaded coloring that we get on modern comics, as we see here – Buccellato adds nice eerie lighting to the panels inside Creed’s cell, which helps heighten the tense atmosphere. Madureira is becoming more exaggerated, as we can see a little here – Creed’s facial features are very large, while Betsy’s hands are bigger than they probably would be. I like how he draws Psylocke, actually – she’s as Asian-looking as she ever was, and Madureira gives her a nice thickness that implies how muscular and tough she is. We also see some of the innovations of computerized comic books – Psylocke’s reflection in Panel 2 is nicely done, and the luminescence in the cell in the same panel is another example of Buccellato’s use of technology. It seems like you can tell on the screen, but this was around the time Marvel switched to glossier paper, which I have never liked. I didn’t love it in 1994/95, when I was in my early 20s, so it’s not like I was an old man railing against changes. I just don’t love the texture of the glossier paper, and I think it doesn’t give you as good a reading experience as rougher paper – the entire production seems slicker and less “real,” if you know what I mean. It works well with the digitized nature of modern comics, as it holds the colors better, but it’s not my favorite. Madureira’s style and Buccellato’s colors are well suited for it, though, even though I don’t love it.
Madureira will probably always be good at fight scenes, as after his very early struggles, his characters really flow well across the page, and he figures out where to put them in relation to the other characters nicely. He places Creed in the background in Panel 1, with Betsy towering over him, showing both her confidence and his bestial nature, and then we get the “split screen” panels showing parts of their faces. The throwaway panel with Creed’s foot leaving the floor doesn’t do much except signal that the fight is about to continue (they already tussled a page before), and Madureira shows a really nice block by Psylocke but shows how Creed is able to bring his right hand around and “sssswipe” across her face (as this is when Marvel still had some restraint, Creed’s claws only put some light marks on Betsy’s face instead of completely opening it up). On the bottom row, he does a nice job showing how brutal the fight is. We see again how he’s exaggerating the characters, as Creed is gigantic and ridiculously muscled, with his giant hands and giant mouth completing the figure. Madureira, as we saw above and see here, goes a bit more angular with Betsy than most artists, which helps here because it makes her look harder and more bad-ass. Madureira’s penchant for big eyes helps make Tabitha’s desperation more immediate in the final panel, as we really see the fear in her face. It’s a good way to end the page.
All right, let’s move on to issue #329:
Madureira gives Creed that jutting chin, the wide mouth, the thick thatchy hair, and the giant sideburns, which is just par for the course with him at this point. That doesn’t mean he can’t do good emotions, as he draws a good Psylocke in Panel 2, beaten up but unbowed as she reminds Creed that he’ll never be free. Madureira is making faces a bit rounder than he did a few years earlier, so Psylocke looks a little bit puffy, but the way he draws her eyes is neat. He uses the silhouette very well in the Panel 3, placing it partly over Tabitha’s face and reminding her and us that this is her fault while also allowing Buccellato to color her large eyes a bright blue so they stand out in the shadows. Madureira’s cartoonish work doesn’t lessen the impact of Panel 4, as he widens Tabitha’s eyes even more and distorts her mouth as she looks on. He splashes her with blood, too, which is an effective way to make us imagine what’s happening without showing it (something that isn’t lost on many people, as this kind of view is a cliché on television). Madureira uses very strong lines on Tabitha, fixing her in our consciousness as she watches Sabretooth gut Psylocke. Buccellato, taking advantage of the fact that comics are often colored “unrealistically,” uses reds and oranges really well to imply the horrible violence happening off-panel. It’s a good way to go.
Is STEAM NINJA the Ninetiest thing ever in comics? It has to be Top Five, right? Madureira doesn’t get credit for STEAM NINJA (the capital letters are a must!), unless he drew in the basic shape, because the credits thank Richard Chu of Electric Crayon (Buccellato’s coloring company) for the work. So maybe Madureira designed it but Chu made it a reality. Man, look at STEAM NINJA. When people say they don’t like the way Nineties comics look, I’d be willing to bet they have an issue like Uncanny X-Men #329 in mind. I, of course, thought STEAM NINJA was motherfucking awesome.
By issue #348, Madureira had reached the ripe old age of 22 (!!!), and he was ready to move on from the title. So let’s look at a few pages from the issue and see how much his work changed over the years!
Interestingly enough, Marvel went back to coarser paper by this time – I’m not really sure why. Maybe in the mid-1990s it was still cost-prohibitive to use glossy paper? Beats me. Anyway, I’m not sure if the reversion to “old-school” paper is why Madureira’s art here looks a bit less slick – the coloring, this time by Digital Chameleon, is still heavy on the shading, but it still doesn’t look as slick as the shading in the Psylocke issues I showed above – but it could be. He’s going even more abstract here, as Joseph’s face in Panel 1 is more cartoony than the earlier work, but that could be a function of time – Madureira, it seemed, was getting slower as he went along, so maybe he was rushing a bit (a good rule of thumb for how slow the artist is seems to be how many inkers he or she needs, and three are credited on this issue). Notice that he still draws male figures in a standard way – in Panel 2, we see a good example with Gambit, who has relatively thin legs, a small waist, that really broad chest, and a smaller-than-normal head. That’s just how Madureira rolls!
Rogue is channeling Sabretooth here, and Madureira does a really nice job with it. She has the big eyes and the wide mouth, but he slants her eyebrows so that she looks angry, and while no one’s mouth has ever been shaped that way, it’s more of an abstraction to show her rage, and it works. Again, we see the shading from the digital coloring, but Madureira’s sharp lines make it look a bit more “old-school” than the examples above when the paper was glossier. Gambit’s hand on the left side of Panel 2 is a fairly typical Madureira hand – we haven’t seen much of those, but that’s a typical Madureira hand, I’ll tell you that much! Finally, we get big-chinned Gambit in Panel 3. Oh, big-chinned Gambit. How I hate you. At the end of this issue he gets busy with Rogue because their powers have been cancelled. Don’t you touch Rogue, you Cajun asswipe! Wait, did I type that out loud?
So that’s Madureira over the course of his Uncanny X-Men career. This was the last time Uncanny X-Men was even a little readable, before editorial really began interfering with the writing (which is what I’ve heard happened when Steven Seagle took over, but I can’t be sure it’s true). Yet I kept buying it until deep into the Chuck Austen run. Man, I don’t know what I was thinking. Sheesh.
Anyway, Madureira moved onto his creator-owned series, from which I own only one issue. Which one is it? You’ll have to come back and see! And remember the archives!
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