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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 51: Amazing Spider-Man #33 (#474)

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.! Today’s page is from Amazing Spider-Man #33 (#474 under the old numbering), which was published by Marvel and is cover dated September 2001. Enjoy!

Super-villains should always dress nattily!

When J. Michael Straczynski was tapped to restore Spider-Man to prominence in 2001, Marvel did a smart thing and paired him with Romita Jr., who reeled off almost 30 issues in a row of the title. JMS’s run was very good in the beginning, even as he tried to make Spidey part of a whole Spider totem thing which went a bit sideways. At least he tried new stuff, and with Romita along, it looked pretty darned groovy. This page, the first we’ve seen from Romita in this series that isn’t a single-panel splash, shows both his strengths and perhaps, the weaknesses of digitizing comics. Romita’s bold lines and stock body design means that Morlun (the bad guy) looks powerful even though he’s simply standing and his clothing doesn’t show off his muscles. Romita understands that design and stance can exude strength as much as giant pecs. Morlun is unfazed by the flames behind him, which also help light him from behind, giving him a sinister look (the glowing eyes help, too, of course). The way Romita places Spider-Man in the first panel also helps emphasize Morlun’s power, as just by putting the baddie on top of a car and Spidey on the ground, it highlights the size difference between them and sets up the theme of the issue, which is that Morlun is unbeatable. In the second panel, Spidey’s leap is nicely done, making him look very arachnoid while still implying power. Romita wisely doesn’t make Peter all that muscular either – it’s a mistake artists sometimes make, but Peter isn’t really that muscular compared to other Marvel heroes, and Romita knows this. He also leaps from right to left, against the grain of our reading experience but not against the grain of the first panel – he’s in the bottom right, so Romita shows him leaping from right to left. In my post about Captain Britain #9, Ted noted that this is film technique, and he makes a good point. We can deal with the counter-intuitive way Romita draws our eye because we expect Spider-Man to “leap” from his starting position toward the bad guy, which from our angle would be right to left.

JMS provides the classic internal narration technique where the hero “takes inventory” to get the reader up to speed. Peter saved the innocent bystanders from the fire, got hit by Morlun, and is ready to fight back. It’s a cliché, but it works, and we don’t really need to know too much more about the situation to turn the page. It gets us going.

Romita is an old-school artist, and it’s interesting to look at how his work clashes with digital colors (and inks, maybe). Scott Hanna’s lines smooth out Romita’s rough edges, and Morlun looks a bit less rough-hewn than he might have looked in earlier Romita comics, with the non-glossy paper and someone like Al Williamson on inks. I’m going to assume that Dave Kemp and Avalon Studios are digitally coloring this, and that also makes Romita’s work a bit less sturdy than it was in the past. It’s certainly brighter and pops quite a bit, and Kemp is able to do some nice tricks like backlighting Morlun, but we have to accept a trade-off that makes Romita’s figures less stocky. It’s all in what you prefer, I suppose.

For the last day of Romita Week, we’re going to check out a big event. It’s all about the smashing! You can also look at the archives, if you so desire.

16 Comments

I was wondering when the big leap forward would be with Romita in terms of chronology, as this entry skips ahead more than ten years from the previous one. Did you consider using anything from the 90s? And what else did Romita even do in the 90s besides another Iron Man run, a few more issues of Uncanny, and all the Spider-Man clone junk? I’ve always been a huge fan of DD: Man Without Fear, and that had some great opening pages.

The last time I really enjoyed JRJR was on that run, I think. I’ve wondered how much that has to do with Hanna, because the Jansen stuff just doesn’t work as well.

Third Man: I don’t own the 1990s Iron Man run, I considered the X-Men stuff when I was figuring out which X-Men run to use, and I don’t own the Spidey clone stuff. I own Man Without Fear in trade, and I honestly couldn’t figure out which were the first pages of the issues, because it’s printed as one big book. The first page of the entire mini-series was kind of boring, so I decided to skip that, too. You’re right, though – that’s a quintessential JRjr book, and I kind of wish I knew where the first pages were! With Romita and our next artist, it was hard to choose because they’ve done so much work and I really do want to highlight the changes in their styles. Some books – like Man Without Fear – just didn’t make the cut!

Burgas-

Ha, I had the same problem with DD: MWF. I originally bought the red silhouette covered trade in the mid-90s (is that the one you have?), and the lack of chapter divisions always annoyed me. Part of the art of single issue comics is how to begin and end them when handling long stories, and I always dislike when trades eliminate those divisions. I also can’t stand it when trades don’t reprint the covers. DC made this mistake with the Titans: Judas Contract trade they released in the early 2000s, which was unforgivable, as those issues had some of the best covers Perez ever did.

But, I upgraded DD: MWF to the Marvel Premiere Classics Hardcover a year or so ago, and that does have the issue dividers. I’ve gotten into a phase where the stuff that I find truly indispensable I feel a compulsion to own in hardcover, so I’ve been doing a lot of upgrading via eBay.

But anyways, here are the issue dividers, if you’re simply curious:

1- starts with lil Matt on the fire escape, ends with the Blam when Battlin’ Jack bites it.

2- starts with Jack’s toe tag, ends with Matt saying “No… No…” as Elektra leaps off the snowy cliff.

3- starts with the splash page of Elektra falling, ends with Kingpin looking out his window after placing the rose on his lapel.

4- starts with the “Maraschino Cherry” city shot, ends with Matt on the docs thinking “Make no sound. Concentrate.”

5- starts with wordless splash page of Matt in the black jump suit, ends with the costume.

Looking at these now, the first issue is the only one that I really think has an above average first page. And also thinking about it, this story makes absolutely no sense as a five issue mini. The story has exactly 3 parts: Matt training with Stick and avenging his dad (41 pages); Matt and Elektra in college (47 pages); and Matt’s first tangle with Kingpin and deciding to become Daredevil (55 pages). So given that, why not do it as a 3 issue prestige format mini? The 3 parts of the story didn’t lend themselves at all to being divided into 5 normal issues, and the breaks feel pretty arbitrary and forced. By going the 3 book prestige route, Miller just would have had to add a bit to the first book and cut a few splash pages from the last book. That would have seemed so much more natural. And a project of this level (Miller & JR JR back on DD, working together for the first time, DD’s 30th anniversary, major origin update) was clearly worthy of the prestige format treatment.

Third Man: Yeah, that’s the one I own. Thanks for the information, though. I always wondered why they didn’t do it in a different format, too, because you’re right about the three stories, which makes it even more difficult to figure out where the issues begin and end when they don’t have the chapter breaks. Your idea seems much more sensible.

Most trades these days, thankfully, reprint the covers (those Perez covers are great), but often at the end of the book and they still don’t indicate where issues begin and end. As I’m picking out books to feature here, I’m seeing it more than I thought it occurred, and it does bug me.

The only thing I didn’t like about this era is the ridiculously thin legs on Spidey. He did this back on Iron Man too but I think that was in Stark’s paralysis days and presumably deliberate. At some point he started doing it to everyone but THOR AND THE hulk.

Sorry about the CAPS there.

Yuck. Just can’t stand this stuff. But I’m really enjoying this feature, even if I don’t like this particular artist.

Ha, now I’m famous. That terrible freshman cinema studies course finally payed off.

I think Scott Hanna is a great, great inker for JR Jr, but unfortunately Romita chose a weird style for this run where Spider-Man looked like he had the physique of a weightlifting heroin addict. Any artwork by this team that didn’t highlight Spider-Man’s physique though was great.

During this run in interviews JR Jr said this new style was in reaction to all the people who were complaining that he was drawing Spider-Man way too bulky during the Mackie run. Although that was a valid criticism, he really overcompensated in the opposite direction here.

Seeing these pages again makes me wish Marvel would stop pairing JR Jr with Klaus Janson.

I still find this Spidey too muscular. He should be toned, but thin.

Only one more week of this as a daily feature? That’s a shame. I’d like to have seen a week of Joe Q (who went through at least 5 phases of art development), Joe Mad, Humberto Ramos or Art Adams.

T.: I’d like to see Hanna’s inks without the digital coloring, because I think the colors make this a bit odder looking than Hanna’s inks, although I could be wrong, I suppose.

Andrew: Well, every even-numbered month I’m going to have a theme (as opposed to random comics), so I will probably do some more artists (April is writers). Those artists would be interesting, but I’m not sure if I have seven comics different enough to track their development! (I know I own seven comics by all of them, but not years apart.)

I agree with you about the digital coloring but while it never got great, I do think the digital coloring definitely improved on this book as the run went on. Admittedly they never did seem to totally get it together on that front.

Writers month sounds very interesting. I’m more of a fan of writers than artists in general anyway. Can’t wait.

Cool stuff, I love JR Jr. I would have used Ultimate X-Men 300 from the 90s, but mostly for nostalgic reasons. I loved his Ice-Man and Colossus.

[...] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 51: Amazing Spider-Man …Comic 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.! Today's page is from Amazing Spider-Man #33 (#474 … [...]

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