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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 144: Black Widow #6

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Black Widow #6 (one of the many Black Widow mini-series that came out in the first decade of the 21st century), which was published by Marvel and is cover dated April 2005. Enjoy!

Sienkiewiczian!

Richard K. Morgan’s time with the Black Widow produced a couple of mini-series, and this is the final issue of the first one. This is the fourth mini-series starring the character in about 5 years, and Morgan would write one more after this. I don’t mind this model at all – Mike Mignola has turned it into an artform, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Marvel and DC do more of this (which, given their creative changes on their ongoings, they’re close to anyway). But enough soapboxing! What about this page?

As usual, there’s a recap page before this one, so even if this is your first issue, you can find out that Natasha was targeted for assassination, and when she investigated, she found out she was one of 27 “Black Widow” agents deployed by the Soviets, all of whom are being killed off. She finds the lab that “chemically enhanced” her, but that doesn’t tell her much. What can she do?!?!?!?

So Morgan begins this issue in “Alaska,” which sounds fictional, if you ask me. Cory Petit’s lettering in this series is standard, except for the location tags, which incorporate both a red hourglass logo signifying the Black Widow and a blocky, totalitarian font and occasional backward letter that passes for “Soviet Cyrillic” in English. It’s not a bad way to do it, although it is a bit of a cliché. Morgan lets the guys in Panel 4 tell us what the radar blip ISN’T – not a commercial flight, not a missile, not military – and where it’s coming from – “down from the pole” – and that it’s going fast. In the final panel, we get a summing up: “Not like anything I’ve ever seen.” So, yeah. It’s mysterious!

Goran Parlov is credited with the layouts on this issue, while our old pal Bill Sienkiewicz finishes it. I’m always puzzled about the division of labor with layouts and finishes – I mean, I could lay out a page with stick figures if I wanted to, but I very much doubt that’s what Parlov did here. Seeing the arc of Sienkiewicz’s artwork from the 1980s onward, I suspect that his regular work would be far too weird for a Black Widow comic, so perhaps Parlov is just sketching the basic figures and then Sienkiewicz does his thing, because this is very obviously Sienkiewicz’s work. I mean, look at those sound effects in Panels 2 and 3! Parlov/Sienkiewicz does a nice job with the first three panels – the sleepy soldiers in the first one, the same panel repeated but for the open eyes in the second, and the shift to the radar screen in the third. The fourth panel, obviously, anchors the entire page – the soldiers are staring at the radar screen, which draws in the reader because of the perspective – they’re almost looking at us (or, perhaps, the suitcase from Pulp Fiction), and their reactions to the screen (and, weirdly, to us) is surprise, fear, and even horror. It’s an effective panel (as a single panel, but not necessarily as part of the page, as I’m about to mention).

Dan Brown colors this, and it’s unfortunate the way he does so. The lurid green of the control room in the first four panels is done well, and the lighting from below in Panel 4 helps with that sense of horror the artists give the men. It’s a classic “flashlight under the chin” effect, and Brown uses the green and blue well. Unfortunately, in Panel 5 he switches to red, and for a moment, it’s disorienting. Once we read the dialogue, we realize we’re in the same room and someone is reaching for that phone, but the art doesn’t help us. Parlov/Sienkiewicz don’t make the transition all that well – while the men in Panel 4 are gazing down at that panel, leading our eyes that way, the fact that it doesn’t appear that anyone in the room is actually moving toward that phone makes it appear they’re staring at someone reaching for the phone, which is occurring somewhere else. Brown’s coloring, which is a complete tonal shift, doesn’t help. Presumably an alarm has gone off, but there are no sound effects to imply that, and the fact that the blue of the background is instantly transformed doesn’t help. It’s a very interesting example of a page working for two-thirds of it but not bringing it home in the final third. The panel transition and the coloring change really make the final panel a jarring shift, and it doesn’t completely work. This is even more clear when the next page shifts locations once again, so it’s not even that the final panel on this page leads into more of the scene.

I think that the top two rows are fairly good at establishing the scene, but I’m not sure how much that last panel interrupts the flow of the story. I think it does quite a bit, but enough to make people annoyed? It’s all up to you to decide!

Next: Oh, Marvel mythology! You’re so awesome! Are there more myths in the archives? Give them a look to find out!

5 Comments

Wow, Sienkiewicz finishes are MUCH better than Sienkiewicz inks. I’ve seen him ink over Derenick, Norton, Giffen (and maybe a few others) but it always disappoints. This, on the other hand, looks pretty cool.

Greg – When an artist does “layouts,” as opposed to full pencils, it mainly means he/she leave out the insignificant details, although likely put more work into figure rendering/faces. It’s not the same as doing a “thumbnail layout,” which as you pointed out, could just be “stick figures.”

In that case, the inker becomes the “finisher,” because instead of tracing details pencil lines, he/she is actually FINISHING the page, adding to and enhancing what was laid out as well as filling in the gaps. Hence why, for example, John Buscema’s work on the mid-80s Avengers with Tom Palmer doing “finishes” looks very different from his earlier work, because Tom brought so much of himself to the art.

Pj: Thanks, sir. I’ve always been puzzled by the fine line between “layouts” and “pencils.” I need to hang out with more artists, I guess!

No problem, Greg. I see you mention not knowing about this stuff a lot of times in your reviews, and I know to those outside the production part of the industry, it’s all a little nebulous, so hope that helped.

You should check out Bob McLeod’s website. He posts a lot of examples of his Marvel work in various configurations of pencils, layouts, inks and finishes. Good stuff! http://www.bobmcleod.com/befaft.html

Matthew Johnson

May 24, 2012 at 6:58 am

Impossibly fast? Coming down from the Pole? Clearly, what we have here is a comics adaptation of “NORAD tracks Santa!” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NORAD_Tracks_Santa

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