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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 52: World War Hulk #5

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 World War Hulk #5, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated January 2008. Enjoy!

Now THAT'S a mace!

John Romita Jr.’s style hasn’t changed too much in the past 20 years, as we can see in the final issue of World War Hulk, his collaboration with Greg Pak in which the Hulk gets to punch the shit out of a lot of stuff. However, one of the interesting things that we see as he’s gotten older is a penchant for the smallest bit of sketchiness, as his figures become a bit more abstract and reliant on, for lack of a better phrase, the “Romita style.” Any comics reader probably knows what Romita’s art looks like, and he occasionally sketches just out the barest framework of the “Romita face,” for instance, and leaves it at that. Check out Rick Jones in panel 2 of this page – we get the slightly long, shaggy hair, the high forehead, the large eyes, and the wide cheeks, all of which are hallmarks of Romita, but Rick looks far less expressive and more zombie-like than many of Romita’s character over the years. In panel 4, Tony Stark looks like he’s wearing some kind of plastic suit, as Romita barely doesn’t give his torso much definition. Due to the digital coloring of Christina Strain, Reed’s costume is far more like spandex than we would expect from a Romita drawing, and the roughness of Miek (that is Miek, isn’t it?) seems smoother than we would expect (even though he’s in the background, and he looks a bit better in close-up). Strain’s coloring, like a lot of modern coloring, helps make elements like the electric crackle look really nice, but it also fails sometimes with more of the nuts and bolts of certain artists, and Romita falls into that category. I certainly don’t want to blame Strain or Klaus Janson (who inked this) for any shortcomings that belong to Romita, but the modern coloring doesn’t do Romita any favors. It’s Janson, who seems like a good fit for Romita, that surprises the reader, because his inks are fairly weak on this page.

Romita still does a nice job with the initial panel, which shows the destruction caused by the Hulk’s rampage through New York very well. He does a wonderful job later in the issue with the Hulk’s fight with the Sentry, but this page, art-wise, isn’t too great. Pak, however, gets us into the story nicely, as Miek explains that the Hulk is in charge and Reed Richards is somehow under his control and that Reed is being forced to kill Iron Man. It’s a powerful scene (even though we know there’s no way Reed will actually kill Tony) and Romita certainly doesn’t ruin it, although it could work a bit better with better art. Chris Eliopoulos, as he often does, letters this well, as it’s always nice to see different fonts for different species – Miek’s speech just sounds more alien in our head because of the font change.

World War Hulk is a marvelous series with tons and tons of violence, and Romita does a pretty nice job throughout, especially with said violence. This first page isn’t excellent, though, and it seems like it’s a combination of some Romita sloppiness, indifferent inks by Janson, and computerized coloring by Strain. I think. But what the hell do I know?

Next: A new artist, the other one who got two votes from the readers! Another artist whose style has changed a lot over the years! But this artist might just be a bit crazy, and that makes it all the more fun! In the meantime, it’s time to romp through the archives!

8 Comments

[…] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 52: World War Hulk #5Comic 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 World War Hulk #5, … […]

The subject of the latest She Has No Head article is inarguably an important one, worth thinking and talking about, and certainly much more of a hot button issue than any article on pure art analysis ever might be. Still, I can’t help but think that an examination of the actual craft that forms comic book imagery is fundamentally important to the medium and for the most part absent as far as I can tell. My point is, in an ideal world this series of articles would be garnering as much or more attention and sparking discussions about the art form of comic books at a higher level than what usually manifests. Instead, even with this series, things quickly break down into discussion of story lines, writing idiosyncrasies, editorial gaffs, and a mournful comparison between now and the ‘good ol’ days.’ That’s all well and good, but there is plenty of that conversation already about. It is curious that this heavily visual medium garners next to no interest in analysis or discussion of the actual images on the page and how they are created.

That said, this article is not a strongly presented example of what could be happening with this series. It is an opinion piece, containing the sad phrase “But what the hell do I know?” If you don’t know then why should anyone care? Opinion pieces are okay, but that opinion does not seem to be supported by much actual examination as we have seen in previous articles. I personally think it is a well drawn page, and I think a lot of my opinion on the matter, so you’ve already lost me. Both Romita and Janson tend towards the gestural, so there shouldn’t be much surprise there. The top panel juxtaposes the hard verticals of the buildings with billowing diagonals of the smoke. The second panel gives us Rick Jones’ shock, confusion, grief, haggardness and frustration at his inability to act. Similar feelings come through with the Thing and Sue Storm despite the small scale of their figures. The third panel is impressive due to the sense of depth shown through overlapping elements, Also note how the arm, trident and energy release frame Rick’s reaction. These three panels are arranged in a basic pyramidal format above the bottom panel, the main point of attention, itself a classical triangle with the apex at the mace. It’s off center, which creates a feeling of tension and uneasiness, as you might expect with an image of Reed Richards about to demolish a nearly naked and obviously battered Tony Stark. That’s what I’m getting from this, and I haven’t read the issue. I don’t think Romita or Janson has phoned this in. And speaking of classical, did you really go through all these JRJr pages without mentioning Kirby?

Edgar: Thanks for the criticism – I appreciate it. My biggest problem with writing about comics is not knowing (or, frankly, caring) about the behind-the-scenes stuff. I don’t know what Romita’s straight pencils look like for this page, and if Janson did anything to them that would make them sloppier or if Strain’s coloring did. It could be a combination of all three, or one could predominate. I don’t know, which is why I was flippant. I’ve speculated in the past about why something is the way it is and I’ve had the actual creators come here and tell me I’m wrong. So I try not to do that too much, because I really don’t know.

I’m sorry that this installment wasn’t as good as it could be. As I’ve mentioned before, I am trying to get better about writing about specifically art in comics, because I do lack some of the basic vocabulary. But I’m working on it! I also didn’t mention Kirby for two reasons: I’m focusing on a single page and don’t want to get into influences too much unless they’re obvious, and because, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not as familiar with Kirby’s art as I should be. I’ve read a lot of Kirby’s stuff, but only recently, and I haven’t studied it as much as I could. That’s just the way it is.

Thanks again for the comment. I agree with you about the layout, and I should have mentioned it, but I still think this page is sloppier than it should be, and no, I don’t know why (the rest of the series isn’t necessarily this way). I will try to keep improving!

Folks have been dissin’ Janson all week, but I love me some JRjr/Janson jam joints, by Jove.

Also, you should do at least a fortnight of Kirby pages, and New Gods #1 better be one of ‘em.

Janson’s inks on Romita’s pencils on the Wolverine/Punisher/ Ghost Rider GN were amazing.

Hmm, it seems like an entire decade of JRJr’s work was skipped between the Daredevil and Amazing Spider-Man issues. I’d have loved to have seen an examination of his Punisher War Zone or Iron Man runs, and a look back at the Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness OGN would have been awesome. But I know you can’t please everyone all the time, so kudos for the issues you did choose to spotlight (except for that Dazzler one, seriously?).

Chris: Dazzler is awesome! Don’t deny it!

I mentioned that I really don’t have a lot of Romita’s stuff from the 1990s – he was working on books that I just didn’t have a lot of interest in. I thought about using his later X-Men work rather than the one from 1986, but decided against it. I tried to get a pretty good cross-reference of stuff he worked on, but for someone who’s been working in the industry since the late 1970s, it’s hard. Sorry!

pedro de pacas

March 4, 2012 at 8:32 am

So the moral of the story is that JRJR is in decline, and modern colouring techniques detract from the quality of his work?

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