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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 312: New Mutants #86

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from New Mutants #86, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated February 1990. Enjoy!

The Man. The Myth. The Legend!

I almost put this comic back when I randomly pulled it out of my long boxes, because I’ve already featured Rob Liefeld’s work on New Mutants, and is there really anything else to say? I’ll let you in on a little secret: in my “random” selections of comics this year, I’ve already done that – put comics back when they’re from a title and creative team that I’ve already shown. It’s going to happen – I own long runs of comics by one creative team, so occasionally I’ll grab an issue of a run I’ve already shown, and I have to decide if I want to put it back or not. I’ll feature the same character several times, and I don’t do it all the time, but I think I’ve already put back a few issues of Uncanny X-Men with Claremont and Byrne, because we’ve seen a lot of that this year. I hope you’ll forgive me for contaminating the “randomness” of this experiment! It could never be completely random, of course, because I keep my comics in alphabetical order, so when I open a box (even if I close my eyes, which I do), I generally know where in the alphabet I am. But like I said, I’ve also put some comics back. If you want to stop reading now because you’re so disappointed in me, I’ll understand. I’ll just go over here and cry a bit.

Okay, now I’m back. Like I said, I thought about putting this back, but there’s something perversely fascinating about early Liefeld, especially when he’s not writing the comic and when he’s inked by someone who knows what they’re doing, like Bob Wiacek. This is Liefeld’s first issue drawing New Mutants, and while it’s still pretty terrible, it’s not terrible in a “cover-your-eyes-lest-you-gouge-them-out” way that later Liefeld is. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, thin vertical panels were all the rage, so that’s what we get here, as the Vulture flies toward the Tinkerer’s … I don’t know, lair? Liefeld puts him against the gigantic full moon in the first panel (a Bat-signal gibe?), then drops him through the skylight in the second panel. Because it’s Liefeld, he adds unnecessary lines to each panel – in Panel 1, the night sky has a grid on it for some reason, while I cannot tell if the lines above Adrian Toomes in Panel 2 are speed lines or the side of a glass skyscraper right next to the skylight. Obviously, they’re supposed to be speed lines, but man! that’s a lot of them. Weirdly, Liefeld draws the Vulture with an almost sexy figure in Panel 2 – look at the shapely ass and those slender legs! Um, maybe we should just move on …

Panel 3 is where we get to see Liefeld’s Vulture in all his glory. It’s not a bad pose, but look at the anatomy! Adrian has the giant forehead that a lot of Liefeld characters have (yes, he’s bald, but you can tell where the hair would be if he had any). Liefeld really enjoyed drawing that kind of ruff around Adrian’s neck, as it looks like a lot of characters’ hair styles, so he puts a lot of work into it. His calf muscles are GIANT, and his feet – hey, he drew feet! – are very oddly shaped. Note, too, that the Vulture’s pose angles our eyes to the left, toward the edge of the page, where we see the Tinkerer in the shadows. Joe Rosen (or Liefeld) places the word balloon with the Tinkerer’s name in it at the feet of the villain, which is a nice, subtle way to link the two of them. Notice, again, that Liefeld loves the hatching – I doubt if we needed all those lines on the wall to indicate that it’s an old, decrepit place, but Liefeld gives them to us, by God! Wiacek probably added some lines, but he also adds definition – Liefeld’s biggest sin since he started inking himself is, weirdly enough, a lack of detail (something that never applied to the other Image founders, who went too nuts with the details!), and Wiacek, I imagine (I don’t want to discount Liefeld if he indeed drew all this), makes Adrian’s face in Panel 3 more angry and evil with his inking. I also imagine it was Wiacek who put the blacks in to hide the Tinkerer, which adds a bit more menace to the page. Again, I don’t want to disparage Liefeld just because he’s Liefeld, but I’m pretty sure that would be Wiacek’s job. Glynis Oliver makes the Tinkerer blue so that he stands out a bit in the background, but not too much. Oliver knows what she’s doing, and I think this is a good choice.

Simonson simply gets the info-dump out of the way, as she lets us know who the Vulture is, what his deal is, and why he’s in the apartment. The end of Weezie’s tenure on New Mutants is not her finest work, but on this page, she gets across the pertinent information. These days, the Vulture appearing in an X-book might not raise an eyebrow, but this was back in 1989, when characters were much more segregated, so the reason a Spider-Man villain was showing up in New Mutants was because this was during “Acts of Vengeance,” a line-wide event during which villains attacked heroes who weren’t “theirs,” causing a lot of confusion among the heroes. Sure, it sounds stupid now, but it was pretty cool at the time, and it allowed Claremont and Lee to use the Mandarin in Uncanny X-Men, which gave us that boss Psylocke-as-ninja-assassin arc (which was at the same time a brilliant story and the worst thing that ever happened to Betsy, but that’s a rant for another day!). Anyway, that’s why the Vulture is in New Mutants. It was a more innocent time!

Geof Isherwood drew the previous issue of New Mutants, and Bret Blevins before him. I wonder what long-time Marvel zombies, who might not have heard of Liefeld prior to this (it’s not like he had done a lot of work), thought when they started reading this. Apparently they liked it – sales took off, Liefeld began his ascent to the great writer/artist he became – but it’s certainly a paradigm shift in this title. You don’t get that too much anymore – a sudden shift in the middle of a run, either in art or writing. It’s kind of neat, and I miss it a bit. Oh well.

Next: A very good graphic novel drawn by a budding superstar! What could it be? You can find a lot of superstars in the archives!

16 Comments

Now we know why Liefeld rarely draws feet.

Hey! Back when Liefeld used to sorta kinda draw backgrounds. Those were the days…

New Mutants 94 was the first time I saw Liefeld’s art. It was the summer of 1990 and I was 9/10 and I completely freaked the fuck out. I bought multiple copies, I think THREE, because I would go back to the convenience store that had a spinner rack and look for new issues like every other day. Then the X-tinction Agenda started and pulverized my tiny mind into fanboy dust.

so yeah, good times.

I enjoyed his stuff back in the day, then I noticed how weird things were. People’s location and clothing shifted DRAMATICALLY for panel to panel. Everyone shouted and ran all the time. By the time he left X-Force it was a great relief.
Bizarre that Lee’s X-Men AoV work was being published at the same time. That stuff still looks great.

I think Liefeld acquits himself pretty well on this page. I usually hate long vertical panels, but they work fine to convey a man descending through a skylight.

I know at some point the wings on the Vulture’s costume were said to be razor sharp. I’m guessing that was after this, unless the next page has the Vulture nursing a badly severed leg.

The AoV bit in New Mutants was actually kind of clever, since it revolved around three of Marvel’s “grumpy old man” villains — Vulture, Tinkerer, and Nitro — clashing with teenaged mutants Skids and Rusty Collins.

I still love this run, and his X-Force. Hey, everyone has their guilty pleasures, right? lol

I think the first time I saw Liefeld art was the What If? where Wolverine becomes an agent of SHIELD. I think it was #7, without Googling it. I really liked his art at the time. Also really liked the issue of X-Men he did around this time. Although I think by the time X-Force #1 came around I was already starting to think he was overrated.

And I have to admit I think you’re being a little hard on the page simply because of what most of us now think of Liefeld. This page looks decent to me. The only really weird thing is the cross-hatched night and speed lines, in my opinion.

Early Liefeld is depressing, because he really did have promise. He had great dynamism that he lost as time went on, and occasionally some pretty clever and cool panel composition and arrangement (though not on this page). Had someone sat him down and told him to work on his anatomy and attention to detail then he would have become a great artist. But instead he got wild praise (Man are those letters in the early issues of X-Force hilarious) and his style became more and more built around his worst elements, and he proceeded to get progressively lazier with fixing mistakes.

I also think the page is decent. I’m all for compromising realism for added dynamism so early Liefeld is mostly fine as far as I am concerned (but of course he did get worse).
And I have read and enjoyed works of some hatching-crazy artists, Liefeld is definitely not the worst user of excess lines…

And yes, good inking and colours here.

If i remember correctly , NM 86 isnt the first NM liefeld drew… just before that he had is opening on the title drawing the annual of that year … with atlantis attacks , if memory doesnt fail me.

the problem with liefeld is that the more he had work, the less the results were good, even with great inkers ( rubinstein inked those Extinction agenda issues ….)

.

Liefeld’s earliest Marvel work includes, of all things, drawing the Zodiac entry in the last issue of the Deluxe Edition of the Official Marvel Handbook; it’s literally just twelve human figures in stock poses. His anatomy seems decent, but not great there, and it’s the sort of artistic exercise you’d give a journeyman artist to solidify her or his basic skills.

Liefeld almost certainly abandoned those basics deliberately, is what I’m saying.

That page isn’t awful, surprisingly. He soon got much worse, but that’s what happens when you’re turned into a superstar too early in your career without mastering the basics.

BTW, who WAS responsible for making thin vertical panels all the rage: Miller?

Go have a look at the New Mutants issues that preceded these. The title was in the pits. Blevins work never did it for me on NM. Liefield’s arrival gave it some sorely needed energy.

I think Karl Kessel was the one who said that he was an artist with so much potential to be a true legend, but it got squandered when he became one of the first true celebrities in comics (he had a freaking Levi’s commercial for God’s sake!) and stopped trying to hone his craft the way up-and-comers are supposed to.

Look at early Joe Madureira, then his Battle Chaser’s stuff – drastically different. Why? Because he honed his craft and developed his style away from the Arthur Adam”s impression and towards a unique manga look of his own, and he did this while he was becoming a “superstar.” Liefeld on the other hand – look at this and then his last issue of Deathstroke – practically nothing has changed, except maybe his inks are a bit scratchier instead of the thicker lines he used to use in his self-inked work.

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