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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 46: Iron Man #124

Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. This week: John Romita Jr.! (Romita was one of two artists who got two votes from the readers, so he won. The next artist will be featured next week.) Today’s page is from Iron Man #124, which was published by Marvel (it’s JRJR, of course it is!) and is cover dated July 1979. Enjoy!

Whiplash's fashion sense ROX!!!!

You’ll note the “81” at the bottom of this page and the lack of indicia. This is from the Demon in a Bottle trade paperback, so Marvel ditched that crap and the page probably looks brighter than it did originally because of the better paper. There’s a credit for “color reconstruction” in the front of the trade, but I don’t know if the colors got changed or just brightened.

This is very early in Romita’s career (he was 22 when he drew this) and he was still aping his famous father’s style and would continue to do so for a few years. That doesn’t mean he’s not talented, but the “John Romita Junior” style that he’s known for hadn’t manifested itself yet (I think I’ve found where it begins, but it ain’t here). Bob Layton, much like several other inkers early in Romita’s career, was very good at smoothing out any idiosyncrasies in a penciler’s work to fit a “Marvel” style that lasted into the 1980s. (This is not to say that Layton and others weren’t good inkers, but presumably editors ordered them to do this to keep up the pretense of continuity with the 1960s.) So this page doesn’t exhibit any quirks that Romita would later develop, but it’s still a good page.

Michelinie tells us all we need to know – we’re in Atlantic City (the cover told us that, but this is back when comics were rarely shy about repeating themselves) and three villains are attacking Iron Man. One villain is named Blizzard, the other is named Melter, and although we don’t know Whiplash’s name yet, he has a whip and it’s electronic, so we can probably guess his name will be something to do with that. Romita does a good job with the layout of the splash – Iron Man is in the center, prominently featured, but Whiplash is in front of him to indicate his own importance, as he’s the one who, at the end of the previous issue, decided to kill Iron Man rather than incapacitate him and abscond with their stolen loot. Despite the size of these two principals, Blizzard and Melter fit easily into the panel and we see them clearly. Romita even manages to get in backgrounds of broken tables and scared onlookers. Iron Man also has a look of shock, which might be due, at least somewhat, to either Layton, inking the face well, or Sharen, coloring the face well, but is still interesting because Iron Man is, after all, wearing an immutable iron mask. In a comics world of today where splash pages are often wasteful, it’s interesting to see how much visual information Romita gets onto this page.

Romita also displays an easy grasp of perspective and flow, even in a single panel. Many artists this young haven’t quite grasped that yet, but growing up around Romita Sr. obviously meant that Romita Jr. could figure these things out at an early age. This is a comics page that looks like is was drawn by a veteran, and it’s even more impressive when we consider how young Romita was at the time.

Next: Spider-Man? X-Men? Daredevil? Bite your tongue! Something even better!!!! And, if you’re looking for some time to waste, go catch up in the archives!

19 Comments

For the life of me, to this day, I don’t understand why JRjr is so big. He was good in his first years, but when he started working in X-Men, he started to develop a horrible style with the weirdest noses and faces in comics this side of Rob Liefeld.

Kabe: I disagree with you, but we’ll see his evolution over the next week, and I think it’s fairly interesting to track how his style has changed. I would argue that he was still very good on X-Men and Daredevil, but that is, after all, just my opinion!

Didn’t Romita do the art on the KISS Super Special? I think that preceded this. But, you probably don’t have that. I, too, feel he went off the rails when he did X-Men. I dropped the book shortly after he started the art and never collected it again, except for a Barry Windor-Smith issue or two. And those only bored me to death as I didn’t know or care what was going on.

You can like or dislike a “style” of an artist but to compare JR jr. to Leifeld is ridiculous!
JR jr. (just using this piece of artwork as an example) obviously has a grasp of how to draw human anatomy (and still make it look dynamic) has a fine layout sense and draws enough of a background to tell the story where the characters are.
Leifeld can’t and never has been able to do any of that.

I’ve been reading some of JRjr’s work in the latest Essential ASM and every so often you can see a flash of something different there.

UXM 176, his first full issues, was one of the first Marvel Comics I ever read.

I feel a little like the famous Mark Twain quotation on fathers and sons. When I was 14, I couldn’t believe anyone would hire JRjr, when I was 21, I couldn’t believe how much he had learned in seven years!!!!

Greg-

I can’t remember whether you said you might do this or not, but I think it would be interesting to also look at writers for a week at a time. Seeing opening pages from one writer working with 7 different artists could really paint an interesting picture of how writers do or don’t adapt to their collaborators. Chris Claremont would be a good pick there, as he was always great (in his 80s prime) of really writing for his artists. And man, he worked with some great artists in the 80s- Byrne, smith, romita jr, Adams, Windsor-smith, buscema, Davis, lee, Silvestri, Sienkiewicz, miller, portacio, etc. Dematteis would also be a good example of someone whose writing can dramatically change based on his artist.

Man, there’s a lot of Layton in that page.

Third Man: Yeah, I’m going to do writers in April, the next “theme” month. I’ll be taking votes in the first ten days or so of March for writers, so remind me of those two then, because you’re right, they’re both good examples of writers doing different things for different artists.

Romita and Layton were a great team.

The Crazed Spruce

February 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I used to have a few issues of his early Iron Man work (sadly, I lost them and about 2,000 other comics in a house fire back in ’02), and while I did appreciate his sense of design and layout, I thought his finished figure work was pretty rough. (Probably a combination of a green penciller and a heavy-handed inker.) His later style took a little bit of getting used to, but it grew on me. (I’ll wait ’til the column switches over to that style, though, before I comment on it.)

some stupid japanese name

February 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Iron Man has the “crazy legs”.

Richard J. Marcej:
I only compared his work to Liefeld when it came to noses and faces. JRjr is a gazillion times better as an artist, even though I don´t like him myself. Scott Hanna does get the best out of his pencils, though, and so did Layton.
Despite the fact I don’t like JRjr, there are only 3 artist who put me off a book: Ed McGuinnes, who made me drop Superman, my fellow mexican Humberto Ramos, who made me drop select issues of X-Men (he is good and far more controlled in Spidey), and Liefeld.

[…] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 46: Iron Man #124Comic Book Resourcesby Greg Burgas Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. This week: John Romita Jr.! (Romita was one of two artists who got two votes … and more& » cardiograph, Frantic, lines, scratching […]

I also don’t care that much for JRjr’s art, which I first became familiar with during the X-Men run (and I also thought his noses were weird).

I like the art in these Iron Man issues but I think it’s mostly due to Bob Layton’s inks, which I thought were really nice. To this day I consider Bob Layton my favourite Iron Man artist, even though he was mostly inking over other people’s pencils in the books I read.

Iron Man also has a look of shock

I think his posture has as much to do with conveying his emotional state, i.e. shock, as does the way his face is depicted.

[…] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 46: Iron Man #124Comic Book Resourcesby Greg Burgas Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. This week: John Romita Jr.! (Romita was one of two artists who got two votes … […]

Its interesting when you guys mention JR Jr’s X-men run; he had two ones that I recall. I remember seeing his work around Uncanny X-men 300, thinking it was some of the worst art I have ever seen. I stand by that. So too his work on that Spidey in the 90’s.

I was surprised when I realised he was the same guy that did Uncanny X-men in the 80’s. His style was much tighter and traditional. I still prefer it. I was even more surprised to find out that he pencilled the first Iron Man that I had ever read, 154. That had some wonderful art.

So for me he’s an artist that actually got worse over time, until the 2000’s where his style of art seemed to get better again. He stands out from the crowd at Marvel, and I can appreciate his work a lot more now. He’s certainly capable, but in the 90’s I found it very hard to like his work. Today, he’s a breath of fresh air!

I would take this JRjr over the one we have now any day of the week. Have to addmy voice to those who are not fans of his work. I think he is one of the most overrated artists out there.

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