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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 131: The Invincible Iron Man #6

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from The Invincible Iron Man #6, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated December 2008. Enjoy!

Well, that's something

Man, some modern comics are just … yucky. I know Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s Iron Man has its fans, but I am not one of them, as this was the last issue of the series I bought. I guess Larroca has drawn every single issue for four years, so … yay? But I’m just not impressed with this page, or this arc in general.

There’s a long recap page before this one, so Fraction jumps right in, but if any page represents the idea of decompressed comics pretty well, it’s this one. Ezekiel Stane, the bad guy, tells us exactly what the recap page just did – that Tony Stark, Iron Man, is dead. The only other piece of information we get on the page is that Ezekiel has some daddy issues. Of course, the recap page hints at that, too, but still – fine. It’s okay not to get too much information on the first page, but that’s usually mitigated by a dramatic scene, but this scene is … not that.

Look at that page layout. Four panels, stacked on top of each other so that there’s no flow between them whatsoever, just Larroca’s knowledge that this is the way we read a page, so why should he direct our eye anywhere? The first panel is headless Iron Man. Again, fine. It’s not great, but it’s an establishing shot, showing us that Iron Man is, indeed, headless. In the second panel, Larroca pulls back and shows the background – which is, of course, the only panel that has anything in the background. It’s just random planks and other crap thrown together, which is supposed to indicate a destroyed Stark headquarters, but is ultimately just clutter with no context. Stane breaks the panel border for no good reason whatsoever and even disrupts any impression the first panel makes, because our eye actually stops at his arm and tries to figure out what it’s doing there. Larroca is doing a lot of Photoshopping/lightboxing in this comic, so presumably he took the pose from somewhere on the Internet and simply pasted it onto the page without bothering to crop it. Stane’s face is obscured a bit, so his moment of triumph is expressed only through Chris Eliopoulos’ larger-than-normal lettering – the way the figure is place on the page, we don’t see his face at his moment of glory, which is a big mistake but understandable when we realize that Larroca probably didn’t draw the figure. Panel 3 shows him a bit closer, hocking a loogie downward, which is the only place Larroca tries to direct our eyes from one panel to the next. Stane’s face is contemptuous, which makes this the best panel on the page, even though, once again, there’s no background. In Panel 4, the way Stane crouches over Iron Man’s armor does point us to the next page, I suppose, but once again, it’s so randomly placed on a gray background that there’s nothing exciting about it at all. Frank D’Armata, who has a reputation as being one of the worst colorists in the business, does nothing at all to make Larroca’s dull work interesting, but this isn’t as egregious as some of the subsequent pages. It’s not D’Armata’s fault that Larroca barely gives him anything to do.

I realize that not all modern comics are like this and a lot of older comics weren’t very good either. It’s the lack of storytelling that bugs me, though, because that does seem to be a feature of many modern comics. I remember that one of the reasons I dropped this was because of the ugly art but also because these issues were actually difficult to read because they were so poorly constructed. If Larroca wants to use short cuts to keep up and use a bunch of images from the Internet, that’s fine. I don’t like it, but it’s fine. However, the way he puts together a page shouldn’t be so amateurish for someone who’s been around as long as he has. Remember this splash page? It’s also Larroca, 15 years ago, when he should have been “worse.” That’s why he’s such a very frustrating artist these days.

Next: An out-of-continuity book published by Marvel in the mid-1980s? Heresy, you say? It really happened! Prepare yourself for the craziness by perusing the archives!

16 Comments

Again, loving this series. It really helps to look behind the scenes on comics, and see how they’ve changed over time. It’s opened my eyes to how story-telling was done in the good old days, and how the better technology today hasn’t necessarily resulted in a better comic-book experience!

Frank D’Armata one of the worst colorists in the business? I don’t know, I think he’s almost singlehandedly responsible for the cohesiveness of Brubaker’s Captain America. Granted, he’s not doing Larocca many favors here, but I can’t really blame him for that.

Craig: Thanks. It’s always nice to hear.

Roman: I think that Cap is the only long-term experience I have with D’Armata, and I don’t love his work on it, precisely because of what you mentioned – I get that the cohesion of Cap is a draw, but I think D’Armata goes a bit too far with it. I am just mentioning that whenever I read bloggers writing about D’Armata, it’s almost entirely negative. Maybe they’re too harsh, but that seems to be his reputation. I suppose I should have mentioned that I don’t necessarily share this view, although I can’t say he’s my favorite, either. I haven’t read enough recent Marvel work to form an opinion. I can think of many colorists whom I like more, though.

I spent a while trying to figure out what that first panel was. I thought it was an explosion happening on top of a tall wall. I dont’ know if that’s a background in panel 2 or what. Any effect the spitting would have to direct the eye is negated by the word balloons higher and to the right of it. All just. . . lazy, I guess. With that lack of quality control at Marvel, you might as well Greg Land it. If you do better, good for you, but it’s all extra effort on your part. No editor is demanding better.

I love Frank D’Armata. I think I even devoted an entire blog post once to how much I liked his work on Cap making the art on the book look consistent (and his effect on Epting’s evolution as an artist is underrated).

This really isn’t a good page, and I’m not a huge defender of Larocca’s art (although I do appreciate that he can actually produce an issue in a month) but I love Fraction’s Iron Man. Dude took a perfectly fine character and made him a great one, IMO.

Brian: I forgot that you wrote that. Thanks for linking to it, because it’s a counterpoint to others thinking he’s not good at all!

I absolutely love the Fraction/Larroca Iron Man, one of the few modern superhero comics that speaks to philosophies and concepts outside of other superhero comics.

As for the panels; I advocate the widescreen approach to superhero storytelling because it’s much cleaner and easier to follow, especially for generations very used to looking at screens. Here, we have four stacked images unifying a sequence with a single theme; Tony Stark’s (apparent) gruesome end and Ezekiel Stane’s pettiness. The first panel shows the horrifying sight of the apparently headless Iron Man. The second is Zeke rising in trumph over his victory, surrounded by the wreckage he caused at Stark Industries. The third is him pettily spitting at his fallen foe, dropping the self-identified gravitas he had in the previous panel. And the final one is him sitting over the corpse like a vulture, so petty that he’s scavenging from a recently dead body. One page, one clear sequence, no dialogue or panelling debris.

As for the apparent “yucky” nature of modern superhero comics; why use this one as an example? We all know the corpse of Iron Man is empty, so it’s a headless suit of armor. Ezekiel’s nose is bleeding and he’s spitting, but otherwise he has no gruesome injuries. When Geoff Johns seemingly dismembers dozens of characters a month, and the creators of a mindless bloodbath like Ultimatum continue to get high-profile work, why is this comic used to segue into that thought?

Neil: I’m not saying that modern comics are yucky in terms of gruesomeness (although that’s a problem), I’m saying this is an example of bad storytelling and bad artwork. I understand what’s happening on this page, but Larroca makes no attempt at telling the story or making the panels interesting. You advocate the widescreen approach, and that’s fine, but comics are not movies, and in many ways are superior to movies. And this isn’t even a good widescreen approach; Hitch’s work on The Authority and The Ultimates is far, far superior to this.

So, no – this isn’t Johnsian gruesomeness, and I apologize if my use of the word “yucky” implied that. I just meant this page has no redeeming value as a single page or in the context of the issue. That’s fine if you disagree; as I noted, Iron Man has a lot of fans. I think most people would say that your first paragraph is what they like about it, because Larroca is, I don’t think, doing Fraction any favors whatsoever.

You’d be surprised how many people have trouble following comic book layouts, though. Especially in the wake of the Image era, when pages became arcane yet pointless spider-webs of diagonal panels. If people aren’t familiar with comics, then they don’t easily “process” the way the gutters are formatted, and in trying to figure it out the work loses some of its impact.

Also, part of what separates comics from movies is that it’s still artistic pictures. Increasing panel size to focus on the detail of an individual shot can be a good thing, be it Iron Man’s “corpse” and the technical details of the “severed head”, or Ezekiel’s spiteful spit. Similarly, the extra background space of a widescreen panel can help create a better sense of scene; in this case, a burned out, despairing ruin, with a petty little figure in the center celebrating his apparent victory.

The “widescreen” movement (if it ever caught on enough to be called such) could be badly executed, just as it could be executed brilliantly. But its aesthetic added a lot to the genre and the medium, with the best examples showing a unity of design and clarity of storytelling that set them apart.

Also One reason I feel Larroca succeeds where other reference-heavy artists fail is the quality of his expressions; his faces can seamlessly go from photogenic to almost cartoony in their emotions. Though this is more obvious in later issues, where D’Armata’s digital painting is toned down enough to allow readers to see Larroca’s lifework.

Man, why did Larroca turn himself into a poor man’s Greg Land? And while I’m on the subject, why did Greg Land go from a perfectly good artist to a guy who traces the same four stock photos over and over again? I remember when he used to have an Udon-style anime look. You can start to see the shift in his work with Austin on UXM, but even then he was probably the one redeeming factor on those issue in a lot of people’s eyes. It also helped that he was being colored by Udon and Liquid!, guys who tended to stick with brighter, bolder color palettes instead of this crap hyper-realism “real world” coloring trend that is so popular today (although I have noticed a heartening shift back in the opposite direction). While I appreciate the effort guys, I LIVE in the real world, I’ll let you know when I want my comics to look like they’re set in them. Save that “realistic superheroes” crap for the movies.

Personally, I hate Fraction’s Iron Man. NOTHING happens, like in pretty much every other Fraction super-hero book. Anyone else read his UXM run? It was terrible, four and five issue arcs that could have been easily done in one. People these days are confused on the definition of “decompression.” Decompression is taking time to give each moment in a story the proper dramatic weight and time/space. If you have a big showdown between the villain and hero that has been building in the sub=plots for the past two years, then you give them a big, knock-down drag out fight. If two characters in a relationship have been slowly drifting apart for the past few issues (once again, in the subplots), then you give them a decent length scene for their break-up. It is NOT stretching a conversation that could have easily taken place in two panels for FIVE FREAKING PAGES, especially when it has no bearing on the actual plot. That’s not decompression, that’s called padding and good stories avoid that stuff. You want to see good decompression comics, read Morrison’s work. Just because stuff actually happens every issue doesn’t mean he’s not using decompression, it means he’s a good comics writer.

Anonymous,

Specific examples?

I think you jumped ship at the wrong moment: the next storyline, Stark Disasembled, is my 2nd favourite Iron Man story after the Denny O’Neill run from c160-200, criminally uncollected for the most part.

Hmmm, it would seem I like Iron Man stories where Tony Stark really gets ripped apart….

Michael Howey

May 12, 2012 at 6:04 am

I do quite like LaRocca’s Iron Man work but I much preffered his fantastic four work with Claremont. It was fun and detailed and a pleasant change from the recent Image take over for Heroes Reborn. His X-Treme X-Men and Ultimate Daredevil was nice too. The first time I noticed the realism shift was New Universal where it really had its place. I wouldn’t mind him rolling it back a little but I still like his stuff.

” Hmmm, it would seem I like Iron Man stories where Tony Stark really gets ripped apart…. ”

Basic rule of storytelling; drama comes from conflict. :)

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