O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mike Mignola, and the issue is Cosmic Odyssey #1, which was published by DC and has a cover date of November 1988. Enjoy!
Mignola moved over to DC in the late 1980s and did some nice work, including this four-issue mini-series in DC’s “Prestige Format,” with the heavy card stock covers and the greater page count and the sticker-shocking cover price of $3.50. Holy crap, that’s a lot of money! At this point in his career, Mignola was moving away from the more cartoony style he started with and moving toward the more abstract stuff he’d show on Hellboy. This time period is when he drew this book, tomorrow’s DC book, and the Doctor Strange/Doctor Doom graphic novel, Triumph and Torment. We can see how his art changes as he works, and this is a good example.
First up, we get Superman and Lightray’s introduction, as they come to stop an Apokolipsian invasion of Earth.
We can still see the old Mignola style, especially when we look at the parademon in the lower right, who’s telling his comrades to kill the “New Genesis dogs.” The parademons are drawn well, but they’re a bit more cartoony than Mignola’s superheroes at this point. The layout of the page is a no-brainer – everything focuses our attention on the two heroes, which is a smart move – but it’s Superman who’s fascinating. We saw that Mignola was starting to use more blacks in his art, and here he highlights the “S” shield, the cape, and the belt by simply making the rest of Supes black. It’s a bold choice – we don’t think of Superman as a dark character – but it works, because it focuses on the logo, and it makes Superman feel a bit more super. This use of black will become much more prevalent in Mignola’s work, of course.
This is another example of Mignola using blacks for effect (I’m assuming either Mignola put the black in himself or made sure that inker Carlos Garzon knew to add it that liberally). Darkseid stands in the back, almost completely in shadow. This was, I must say, the very first time I ever saw Darkseid, and it had a pretty good effect on me, because that dude just looks menacing. Mignola, who is of course drawing Kirby’s characters, makes sure to put a lot of Kirby Krackle around the Boom Tube, because it’s awesome. He leads us against the grain, from the upper right to the lower left, where our eye falls on Metron’s Mobius Chair (which doesn’t have the umlaut but ought to), ravaged and rusted. This is something else that Mignola is doing more of – he’s getting better at decay. This, of course, will serve him well in the future.
Mignola gets to draw Batman in this book, too, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity. These two pages are part of a very good sequence in which he tracks a parademon who was left behind when Superman and Lightray stopped their invasion. Said parademon is busy killing people, and Batman doesn’t like that. These two pages show how good Mignola is getting at drawing horror. That first image of the rotting bodies hanging from the ropes is terrifying, and Mignola draws an icky-looking sewer quite well. Notice, too, that like Superman, he makes Batman blacker than usual, as the long shots take away Batman’s face and replaces it with darkness. Steve Oliff, the colorist, still uses purple and gray when it comes to Bats, but there’s a lot more black than we usually saw at this time. In Panel 5 of the first page, Mignola and Garzon give Batman deep troughs of black on his face, as he’s confronted by the horror in the sewer. These are very well designed pages, too – Batman’s gaze in Panel 2 directs our eyes to the hanging bodies, which then move our eyes down to the skulls and bones on the ground, which then leads us to the bottom row. On the second page, Mignola uses smaller panels to heighten the tension, as we see glimpses of the parademon as it enters its lair and Batman preparing for it. The final panel, with the parademon looming over Batman, is very nice – both figures are in similar poses, linking them, and the fact that the parademon is so much bigger than Batman makes us really feel nervous about his predicament. Jim Starlin’s narration says that he ought to leave and get back-up, but of course, on the next page, Batman attacks the parademon and pretty much gets his ass kicked. He ends having to blast the parademon with its own weapon. C’est la vie!
The story of Cosmic Odyssey involves the anti-life equation, because of course it does, and Highfather explains the origin of its use. I like this page because of the explosion, where we see the way Mignola draws great gouts of black smoke. Once again, this is a style that will become much more common in later Mignola works. Oliff’s paints are nice, aren’t they?
Metron, being the arrogant dickwad that he is, decides to confront the anti-life entity and discovers that it’s alive and it’s pissed. Mignola does a very nice job with this malevolent thing, as it appears to have a hunchback and a shuffle, like a good horror creature of old. Its “hand” is misshapen, too, so even though we know it’s not a hand, it feels like one, and its form is creepy. Mignola, channeling old Ditko Dr. Strange comics, gives us an eerie dimension with twisted vines and fetid fruits with eyes in the middle that drip ooze when they burst. Yeah. It’s pretty yucky, but that’s the point!
It’s very interesting looking at the comics Mignola drew from 1988-1990 or so, because you can see a new style emerging, but he hadn’t quite left the more cartoony aspects behind. That meant he could still be a feasible superhero artist, but soon he would evolve past that (even though I would love to see Mignola do a DC or Marvel superhero book, but then again, I’m weird). This work is just on the cusp, and tomorrow’s entry we’ll check out more movement to the dark side. Come on back, y’hear? And be sure to check out the archives!
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