Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
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!
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!
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