Luke Cage History: From Hero for Hire to Hollywood
TV, Comic Books
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jim Aparo, and the issue is The Outsiders #25, which was published by DC and is cover dated November 1987. Enjoy!
Aparo drew most of The Outsiders, and for most of it he inked himself. The art was a bit slicker than it was in the 1970s, but not too much. Then, in issue #25, Bill Wray inked him, and this is a good example of why I wasn’t a fan of Aparo’s work when I first saw it. Wray really smooths out Aparo’s pencils, and the art has a much lighter touch and an annoying plasticity to it that makes it not quite as good as earlier Aparo art.
There’s very little definition on Halo and Windfall’s faces, which makes them look even more old-fashioned, almost like models from the 1950s. It’s odd, because Aparo’s 1970s work looked fairly contemporary, but by the late 1980s, it was still technically fine, but the lack of roughness in the inking made it look dated. Sure, there’s a bit of hatching on Halo’s costume in Panel 3, but the smooth inking makes it look less like clothing and more like naked skin colored white. There’s a bit of Kirby Krackle in Panel 2, which is nice, and strangely enough, the inking in the hair is perfectly fine, but Aparo’s pencils combined with the fine inking doesn’t do the artwork any favors.
Here’s another example. There’s a bit of hatching on Geo-Force’s costume in Panel 1, and the lines on Looker’s costume in Panel 3 are fine, but it’s still a bit too fine. Again, it’s mostly in the face, as the characters seem like mannequins. The lack of rough inking also highlights one of Aparo’s long-standing weaknesses, which is the relative stiffness of his characters during action scenes. When he was drawing Batman and other superheroes in the 1970s, his rough inking helped mask that a bit because there was some more texture to the panels, but when you strip that away, you get a stilted panel like the third one. It’s unfortunate.
Notice how cartoony Metamorpho looks in these panels. There’s plenty of hatching, which is fine, but because it feels too controlled, it turns Rex into a goofy cartoon. He looks like a muscle man rather than a monster, and while I don’t want him to be horrendous, we should get a sense of how tough it is to be a man who can change into any element. For this, it seems Aparo drew Mr. Clean and Wray added some lines and Liz Berube added some colors. Metamorpho looks like a muscular bald dude, and that’s no good.
It’s not all bad, as this page shows. While the characters are still too smooth and stiff and Aparo’s Eighties Batman is a bit more square-jawed and portlier than his Seventies Batman, the explosion is pretty cool. Aparo’s detailed work gives us an impressive shot of the platform disintegrating, and Wray’s heavy inks are everything this book needs more of but doesn’t get. We see flashes of this kind of inking in a few places in this issue (the next page has a beautiful shot of Geo-Force in semi-darkness), but they’re few and far between. Too bad.
There’s nothing awful about this art, because Aparo’s skill as a draftsman is obvious, but it’s a shame that too often in the latter years of his career he was inked by someone else. Such is life, I suppose!
Next time, we’ll look at some Aparo art from when I first started buying comics. What will I think of it when I cast a more critical eye on it? We shall see! And look! the archives continue to grow!
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