Does "Hellboy in Hell" Finale Signal the End of Mike Mignola's Time With the Character?
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from New Mutants #100, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated April 1991. Enjoy!
Fabian Nicieza scripted this issue, Joe Rosen lettered it, and Brad Vancata colored it. It’s the final issue of the long-running “junior X-Men” title that Claremont began back in 1983, and by 1991 had pretty much run its course. But nobody cares about that, because it’s motherfucking Rob Liefeld!!!!! Whoo-hoo!
It’s interesting discussing Liefeld with people who like Liefeld’s art. They can’t really pinpoint why they like it, except perhaps that it’s energetic, which is certainly is (or used to be, back in this time – it seems to have become a bit more enervated these days). Usually they just shrug their shoulders and say, “I just like it.” Yet people who don’t like Liefeld’s art can list myriad ways that it’s bad. This page offers some of those reasons.
First, Nicieza’s script gives us some information. We know that we’re in the “underground bunker headquarters” of the team, and it’s 8 December at 3.15 p.m. There’s an intruder in the danger room, and the boss – Sam calls him “sir” even though we don’t get his name on this page – both identifies Sam and James and lets us know that James is new to the team. The woman in Panel 3 exposits awkwardly that Sam has gotten better at dulling the noise of his blast field. So there’s that.
Liefeld is inking himself, which these days is a recipe for disaster but in 1991 was still not the worst thing in the world, as he hadn’t become such a superstar that he felt he could take pages off (as he seems to do these days). We do get some unnecessary motion lines in the first panel – the light isn’t moving, so why the lines? – but this was the early 1990s, when more lines = more awesome, so whatever. Liefeld shows his odd obsession with pouches, as Cable, James, and Domino have an inordinately high number of them at their waists. Liefeld’s storytelling in this page is perfectly fine – the layout, which in a Liefeld comic is often maddeningly confusing, doesn’t daunt us too much: the three figures run toward the door of the danger room in Panel 2, the four of them arrive at the door in Panel 3, James opens the door in Panel 4, and they enter the room in Panel 5. Liefeld leads us easily over the page, which is nice. So his storytelling is sound, and the fact that he’s waiting for pages 2 and 3 to reveal who the intruder is (it’s Shatterstar, by the way) is Comics 101. There’s nothing wrong with the way the page is structured.
Then we get to the figure work. Oh dear. Cable’s head in Panel 2 is tiny compared to his shoulders and torso, James looks like he’s about to take off, and Domino is freakishly thin. In Panel 3, we see the giant legs/tiny feet that Liefeld loves to draw, and unfortunately, we can’t see the marvel that is Sam’s costume – aviator “helmet,” purple jacket, purple-and-white pants – too clearly. In Panel 4 we see James’s giant legs and his oddly shaped boots and feet. Liefeld’s problem with anatomy has always made his perspective strange, which we see in the final panel – with an artist whose anatomy is fine, Cable’s arms and hands wouldn’t look strange, but with Liefeld, the depth in the panel just makes the anatomy look more bizarre. Except for Sam’s costume, I’m not even going to bash Liefeld’s sense of design too much – this is what a lot of comics looked like in 1991, so we can’t blame it all on Liefeld.
As we’ve seen with some other artists (Romita, Jr., for instance), Liefeld doesn’t seem to have benefited from the advances in coloring and paper that we’ve seen in comics. The pulpiness of the paper and the rougher colors help cover up his deficiencies, while glossy paper and smoother colors actually seem to highlight them. Liefeld hasn’t changed very much in 20 years, but his art looks lazier these days, and I wonder how much is due to him actually being lazier and how much is due to the technology exposing his lack of drawing chops. I can still read his work on New Mutants without cringing, and I really can’t do that with his more modern stuff. Maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for my 20-year-old self’s total ignorance about what was good art!
This page isn’t very good, but it could be a lot worse. We don’t even see one of Liefeld’s characters grimacing and showing all 432 of their teeth! It’s actually pretty fascinating reading these latter-day New Mutants issues and wonder at how Liefeld became such a superstar. Oh, the fickle fans of comics!
I forgot to put this in the two previous posts, but I’m looking for candidates for the next theme month (April), which will focus on writers. I’ve already decided on one (and his initials are G. o. A. C.), so the top three people you guys vote for will be the focus of the other three weeks. If you’re only interested in one writer, you can list only one. Or you can list your top three. I’ll add them all up when I reach the day I need to start writing them up (I’m usually about two weeks ahead of the actual post, so voting will be open for a while). Remember: The only restriction is that I have to own the comics, so if the Hernandez Bros. get the most votes, that’s too bad (yes, I suck because I don’t own enough Hernandez Bros. – give me a break!). Leave your nominations in the comments, and I’ll have fun tallying them up!
Next: A critically acclaimed horror comic that, for whatever reason, I just can’t get into. Oh well! I can always find a bunch of cool stuff in the archives.
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