Year of the Artist, Day 364: Joe Kubert, Part 4 - <i>Detective Comics</i> #500, <i>Batman</i> #400, and <i>Tor</i> #3

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Joe Kubert, and the issues are Detective Comics #500 and Batman #400, which were published by DC and are cover dated March 1981 and October 1986, respectively, and Tor #3, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1993. The Tor scans are from Tor by Joe Kubert volume 3, which was published by DC in 2003. Enjoy!

I have nothing to say, so let's get to the artwork!

Detective #500 is a collection of short stories with a bunch of the detectives that have starred in the series over the years - there's the famous "To Kill a Legend" story with Batman and the Phantom Stranger; a story featuring Slam Bradley, Captain Compass, Jason Bard, Mysto the magician, Roy Raymond, Pow-Wow Smith, and Chrisopher Chance trying to figure out who murdered a friend of theirs; the famous Wein/Simonson two-pager with all the clichéd phrases; the Elongated Man solving a mystery about Edgar Allan Poe; a Walter Gibson-written Batman prose story with Tom Yeates illustrations; a team-up with Batman and Deadman; and ... this story, which seems to be pushing it with the "detective" angle (yes, Katar Hol was a Thanagarian policeman, but still) and seems more like an excuse to get Joe Kubert to draw a Hawkman story. But there's nothing wrong with that, is there?

Anyway, Kubert does a nice job with this page. As he got older, he got a little more inventive with layouts - not too crazy, but still a bit more interesting - and we see a bit of that here, with the outline of Hawkman's head in Panel 1 which indicates a flashback, with Fred Schneider (who eventually abandoned science and helped found a new-wave band) finding the body of Dr. Erdel. That's a nice way to show the two-panel flashback. I always like the fact that Hawkman wears that mask like a helmet, so Panel 3 is neat, as we see that the beak is higher than Katar's nose. Of course, Kubert uses blacks wonderfully, as we've seen him do for years, so we get the darkened suspects in Panel 2 and Katar's shadowed face in Panel 3. I've always loved how Kubert draws Shayera - she just looks so happy to be married to Katar and solving crimes with him. Kubert draws her like a glamorous woman, but she's never less than an equal to her grumpy husband.

Hawkman figures out that Dr. Erdel was killed by his computer, which also somehow gained sentience and summoned a "wyrd-beast" to ... take over the world? It's unclear. Anyway, Kubert gives us that great shadow on the floor in Panel 4, as the Hawkpeople enter the lab and see that they're in a spot of trouble. Kubert uses thick lines to blur the shadow just a little, making the floor look shiny and freshly waxed (although why it would be, as the lab is abandoned, I don't know). The wyrd-beast itself is pretty keen, and once again Kubert uses very nice hatching on it to add roughness to its hide. Kubert's design is neat, too - the alien is pretty icky.

Batman #400, by contrast, is one self-contained story by Doug Moench, with each chapters drawn by a different artist, and what artists: Steve Lightle, George Pérez, Paris Cullins, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams, Tom Sutton, Steve Leialoha, Kubert, Ken Steacy, Rick Leonardi, and Brian Bolland. Kubert only draws four pages, but they're good pages, and these two are good examples. On the first page, we get the wonderful thick inking, creating the fog hanging over the docks and throwing the men into deep shadows, as the barlights shine through the barred window. Kubert creates a great mood just in the first panel, which makes the silent Batman rising from the water even eerier. All artists put Batman in deep shadows, of course, and Kubert follows suit, while the way he uses small panels to show just some parts of his body as he comes out of the water and takes the oar is very neat. On the second page, he beats the crap out of the two guards, and Kubert cleverly starts slanting the panels in the second row to make it appear that the oar is being swung all the way through that row until it connects with the dude's mouth in Panel 6. It's a subtle way to add motion to the page, and it works well. Kubert draws a great Batman looming in the fog in Panel 5, as he uses thin lines and a lot of hatching to define Batman without being to concrete with him. As we've seen, Kubert can do this as well as anyone, and he uses it to his advantage here.

In 1993, Marvel (through the Epic line) let Kubert bring back Tor, his caveman that he created back in the early 1950s, for a four-issue series. The art is pretty spectacular. By this time, of course, Kubert was 66, but he showed no signs of slowing down!

Kubert colored this comic himself, and should it be a surprise that his coloring is excellent, too? No, it should not be. So we get the watercolors that make the green water look even murkier and filthier than it would with more standard coloring, while the green theme throughout the page adds to the nausea the reader feels when confronted with Kubert's monsters. The thing coming out of the "stygian blackness" is fantastic - Kubert once again uses blacks so well for such powerful effect, as the beast emerges to find that Tor has killed his mate and babies, which probably doesn't make it happy. As usual, we get the curious blend of sketchy lines and tight inking, so the destroyed eggs lie on the ground in a mess but the lines on the creature give it a leathery hide. In Panel 2, we get the black mouth from which the tongue extends, and once again Kubert uses as few lines as he can get away with but still makes the tongue look extremely creepy. There's just a lot of nice work on this page.

On the next page, Kubert gives us the beginning of a really nice chase scene, one that extends over four pages as Tor tries to escape the creature. He lays the page out really well, with nice use of perspective, as the creature comes out of the cave and moves toward Tor, and Kubert makes its claw look much closer to the caveman than it is, but it gives us a good sense of how close Tor is to death. Kubert has Tor throw the dead baby "against the grain" in Panel 2, but in Panel 3, he takes us from the left back toward the right, as the creature gets the corpse and turns its attention back to Tor. Kubert again distorts the perspective a bit in Panels 4 and 6 to show the creature much closer to Tor than it really is, but he throws Panel 5 in there to give us a true sense of how far behind Tor it is. Obviously, we still get the great inking from Kubert, as he hatches quite a bit to add the roughness to both Tor and the creature, and he uses the blacks on the water so that the white ripples stand out a bit in Panel 5. He constructs the panels really well to give us a nice sense of danger, and the chase is on!

Tor wears the skin of the monster to kill the shaman who has kidnapped the comely young lady in Panel 1, and so he's now the shaman. This is a great page, mainly because, of course, of the amazing final panel. Kubert takes his time to give us tremendous details, inking the scales of the creature nicely to show them off, using thinner lines on the creature's claws but still making them coarse and tough, and hatching half of Tor's face to show him emerging from the shadow of the creature's mouth. The fact that he has the creature's hand down at the bottom of the panel with its palm up makes sense when you consider that Tor is shedding the skin and the hand is dangling a little, but also fits in with Tor's statement about taking, as the creature's hand is ready to receive what the tribe is giving him. Kubert adds disgusting goop sliding off of Tor's face to show how yucky it is inside the creature and how far Tor is willing to go to survive, and he shows him giving the tribe the stink-eye, because Tor is just bad-ass. I love this drawing!

Tor and the woman leave to return to his clan, and we get this page of them moving through the wilderness. Kubert, as usual, uses strong but spare lines to create a bleak landscape, while experimenting a bit, it appears, with digital coloring, at least in Panel 1 with the snow and the hues on the mountain. The black smudging above the mountain is just another nice tool for him, as it makes the sky poisonous and terrifying, at least to the woman. He uses paint on Tor instead of line work to show that his skin has become infected from hiding out in a cave creature's carcass, which is something that he wouldn't have done in earlier years. The small nods to modern technology while still embracing the old-school style allowed Kubert to keep up with artists half his age, which meant we continued to get cool Kubert stuff!

The woman decides to take a shower, and she lures Bork away so that Tor can beat him up (which he does on the next page). Bork is part of the group that attacked Tor's clan and killed his father, so of course Tor wants to kill him! Once again, Kubert is fairly sketchy - the water falls to the ground and splashes haphazardly, while Kubert uses just a few lines to show the landscape in Panel 1. Also like usual, Kubert uses those "simple" lines to his advantage, as the vertical lines help mimic wetness on the woman in Panel 4, while Kubert inks Bork just enough to show he's not a hunk of manly studliness like Tor (the different-sized eyes help, too). When Kubert shows Tor in the final panel he uses severe hatching and dense blacks to show Tor's angry and murderous state of mind, and while that kind of thing isn't unique, Kubert does it really well, doesn't he?

I don't own Kubert's trio of graphic novels from the late 1990s and early 2000s - Fax from Sarajevo, Yossel: April 19, 1943, and Jew Gangster - so I'm going to skip to his final great work, even though it's not the last thing he did. It's the final day of Year of the Artist, so don't leave now! Before we wind everything up, why not take a look at the archives!

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