Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from X-Men Unlimited #16, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated September 1997. Enjoy!
Yes, I own the sixteenth issue of X-Men Unlimited, long after it had ceased being a comic that anyone would think is absolutely necessary to own. What can I say? It was the 1990s, I didn’t have children, and the X-Universe was still coherent enough that one felt that they actually might get a story in this book that would have consequences in others. Don’t judge me! I know you like to rub Ben Raab comics all over your naked body late at night when you don’t think anyone is watching!
So, yes, this is a Ben Raab comic, drawn by Melvin Rubi, inked by Rob Hunter, colored by Shannon Blanchard, and lettered by Richard Starkings. None of the people involved with this comic exactly cover themselves in glory, but the first page is a far less egregious example of Ninetiesitis than we see later in the book. Raab gives us the scene-setting prose that every X-comic before the arrival of Morrison had to have, it seems, letting us know that we’re in the Snow Valley school where Banshee and Emma Frost had set up shop in the 1990s, and we also find out that it’s a school for mutants. Sean (Banshee) and Emma are going over applicants for a “pet project” of Emma’s, and Sean thinks they’ve found a good one even though, for some reason, he doesn’t think the project is such a great idea. Emma, meanwhile, seems about to object to his selection with her “I’ll be the judge of that …”, which she does on the next page. So while we don’t know what the “pet project” is, at least Raab sets it up pretty well with this first page and lets us know that the two headmasters (we don’t know that, but at least we can infer it) aren’t on the same page, so to speak.
Rubi’s Nineties art is muted here because nobody’s doing anything too extreme, but we can see some hints of it. His page layout is perfectly fine – we get a long shot of the school, then we zoom into one of the rooms, which is scattered with folders of applicants. Panels 3 and 4 break down a little, unfortunately. The second panel is fine – it establishes where the two characters are in the room and in relation to each other. Sean doesn’t appear to move, however, except to turn around, and panel 3 shows him “flipping” a folder to Emma (according to the sound effect, this is what he does). Is it the one Emma is holding in panel 4? No, because she’s holding that in panel 2. Is the one that’s pretty much obscured by the word balloons and appears to be floating down toward her? Possibly. Emma, as far as I can tell, is not telekinetic, so she wouldn’t be able to stop the folder in mid-air and have it gently float toward her, so Sean’s throw reached her, which seems unlikely when he’s flipping a folder at her instead of throwing it Frisbee-style (which, of course, he probably would never do to Emma). So the final two panels are a bit odd, storytelling-wise. It’s not a big deal on this page, but it shows the problems in what’s to come with the issue. Sean’s hand in panel 3 is bizarre, too – it’s in the right position, but the elongated fingers and excessive lines (whether that’s Rubi or Hunter I don’t know) make it almost look alien. Emma’s face in panel 4, although far away so less descriptive by necessity, is still far too vapid. Presumably Blanchard put the different colors in Sean’s hair in panel 3, which has been something colorists have done for years, but it always looks strange. Blanchard does give Sean slightly red eyes, which is a nice touch, as they’ve been working for hours.
This comic also shows off the “blurriness” that artists began to use more and more in the ’90s, much to the detriment of comics in general. It’s supposed to look more cinematic, but why anyone would take one of the deficiencies of movies – the lack of deep focus – and actually incorporate it into their comics is beyond me. In panel 2, the foreground of various folders is blurry for no apparent reason except it’s what it would look like through a camera. The blurry aftereffects of the folder flipping in panel 3 do nothing for the art, either – the motion lines and the fact that the folder is hovering in mid-air imply movement, and the blurred folder is, in my humble opinion, lazy. More than the excess of some of the artwork, the 1990s were an era when computer effects, so fresh and new, went a bit nuts. Artists have pulled back from it somewhat, and that’s a good thing.
This might not be the worst first page around, but it does show some of the problems with comics of this time period, and it sets up some truly horrid pages later in this issue. While the prose itself isn’t terrible, the art is a fine example of what not to do when you’re drawing comics. Of course, Rubi actually drew this, so I guess that’s better than some people working today!
Next: More black and white comics? What are we, living in the Middle Ages? Check out some comics with actual color in them in the archives!
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