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Year of the Artist, Day 24: Jim Aparo, Part 4 – Batman #420

11-16-2013 04;03;06PM (2)

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 Batman #420, which was published by DC and is cover dated June 1988. Enjoy!

Aparo was working on Batman around the time the hero turned 50, meaning he got to draw quite a bunch of “important” stories. His first big one was “Ten Nights of the Beast,” which Jim Starlin wrote. Later, he drew Robin getting killed, and then he drew John Byrne’s “Many Deaths of the Batman” story and he was around when DC introduced Tim Drake. This is also when I started reading comics, so Aparo was the artist on the first comic I ever bought. I took an instant dislike to his artwork that didn’t recede for many years. I bought up back issues because that was the thing to do (and DC, in its infinite wisdom, still hasn’t collected a lot of the comics from around this period, or if they did, they’ve been out of print for years), and most of them were drawn by Aparo. Could I never escape his insidious artwork?!?!? Of course, as the years went by, I began to appreciate his art more and more. I still think this period of Aparo’s work isn’t his best, and part of that is Mike DeCarlo’s inking. DeCarlo isn’t a bad inker, and as I was looking through these issues for a good example of what I don’t like about this artwork, I noticed that it’s better than I thought when I was 17. I thought a lot of kooky things when I was 17. Who doesn’t? But I wanted to show some things that I don’t think make Aparo’s pencil work better, and Batman #420, the notorious final issue of “Ten Nights of the Beast,” is a good issue to use.

11-16-2013 03;56;03PM

This is one of those pages that I just don’t like. In Panel 1, Reagan looks like a mannequin, and Batman’s scoop of him is awkwardly drawn. In Panel 5, we see Aparo’s late-era Batman, who’s a bit portlier than his 1970s version. A few days ago, I looked at The Brave and the Bold #98, and while you don’t get a great view of Bats in those scans, his torso was a bit thinner and less … sculpted, I guess? It’s not that Aparo didn’t draw him with muscles, it’s just that in the late 1980s/early 1990s he drew him a bit stockier. One thing I noticed about Aparo when I started buying comics is that all his men look very, very similar. You can see that on this page, as Batman, Gordon, Parker, Bundy, and even Reagan have similar facial structures. Bundy is heavier, of course, but the structure is the same. As I noted yesterday with Bill Wray, inkers who don’t add roughness to Aparo’s line work aren’t doing him any favors. DeCarlo is better than Wray, but he still seems to keep Aparo’s work too smooth. The emphasis on motion lines is a bit odd, too. But that’s just me being nitpicky.

11-16-2013 03;57;47PM

Another thing that bugged me about this artwork (and still does, to a far lesser degree) is the way DeCarlo (I assume) inks Batman’s cowl. The black below his eyes and only below his eyes is weird. It just bothers me. I know it’s a minor thing, but when these issues were coming out and I was buying them, that bugged the crap out of me.

Anyway, this isn’t a bad sequence, although it shows, once again, why I don’t love this artwork. The first panel, despite the rain and the blackness, gives too much definition to the black – there’s a clear border between the spot blacks and the blues. This is, for me, an issue when Aparo doesn’t ink himself. Aparo was good at nuance in his inking, so that Batman straddled a morally gray area that, as a vigilante, felt more “realistic.” Even in these issues, in which a Soviet assassin is trying to kill the president of the U.S. and is therefore highly “realistic,” the fact that Batman looks more like a superhero than a vigilante makes this, oddly, less “realistic.” If that makes any sense. It probably doesn’t.

11-16-2013 03;59;29PM

Another thing I didn’t like about Aparo was the stiffness of his characters. I noted this yesterday, and while it’s not too bad on his Batman work, this is an odd sequence that doesn’t work very well. Aparo moves our eyes across the page well, but Bundy’s use of the gun makes no sense. We don’t know where he is in relation to MacDonald – in Panel 2, it appears that the bullets that kill MacDonald are coming from the front, but Bundy is shooting to the left. This is especially strange because in a panel above this on the same page, Bundy is running directly toward MacDonald from the front. So why is he shooting to the side? And man, those hands in Panels 1-3 are weird. Sorry, I just noticed it. I’ve owned this issue for almost 25 years and I just now noticed how weird those hands are. They’re freaking me out.

11-16-2013 04;01;35PM

Obviously, the art isn’t terrible, and some of it is quite nice. I love the first image, with Batman and the Beast fighting in the sewer and the artists somehow putting their shadows on the wall. I don’t know if Aparo drew this in and then DeCarlo inked it, or if DeCarlo just inked it without the benefit of pencils. It’s quite cool, though. I like the way Batman and the Beast face each other in the other two panels, but again, notice the sleekness of the blacks in the Beast’s costume. It makes the Beast more of a supervillain than a cold-blooded assassin. Actually, based on what the Beast chooses to wear, it makes him look like a dominatrix.

11-16-2013 04;03;06PM

Ah, the famous showdown. Aparo does a very nice job moving our eye across the page, first coming over the Beast’s shoulder to show Batman like a wraith in the doorway. In Panel 2, Batman’s shadow falls across him as he challenges him, and Aparo makes it look bigger than Bats himself, slowly engulfing the Beast. In Panel 3 the Beast looks directly at the reader, challenging us as much as he’s challenging Batman. Then, in Panel 4, Aparo once again begins with the Beast in the foreground, pointing us back to Batman, who asks his chilling question. This is before an advert page (for The Killing Joke, incidentally), so we have to wait to turn the page to find out what Batman means by that question. The inks are a bit rougher, but while I still don’t love the clarity of the spot blacks, DeCarlo uses them really effectively, as Batman really does look like an angel of death. This is a great scene, even if it breaks the Big Rule Batman has always (well, mostly – he still liked to snap a neck or two back in the 1930s) kept. Yes, I know the Beast doesn’t die because DC retconned it, but you know Batman stone cold leaves him to die here. It’s very disturbing, and it’s meant to be.

When I go back and look at these issues, they don’t bother me as much as they used to. I still think Aparo’s designs feel old-fashioned, but that’s not a comment on his skills, just that he was slowly becoming out of touch with the way comics art looked and he didn’t feel like changing. I still think it’s not as good as his earlier work, but that might be because I still can’t shake my initial impressions of it. Remember, this is when Norm Breyfogle was drawing Detective, and his work was, to me, mind-blowing. So poor Jim Aparo couldn’t compete.

Tomorrow, for the final day of Jim Aparo’s art, I want to look at another example of someone else inking his work, but this someone is a much stronger inker than Wray or DeCarlo, so the art looks quite different. Be here to see what’s what! And never forget about … the archives!

19 Comments

Aparo’s biggest problem in the 1980s was that he no longer inked and lettered his own work. If you look at his work on the early to mid-70s B&B, where he did ink his own stuff, it was actually more modern looking than his later art The compositions were still dramatic and the captions flowed well with the art. Furthermore, when he inked his own work he masterfully utilized chiaroscuro for dramatic effect and, all in all, was probably surpassed only by Adams in brining the “dark” to “the dark knight” back then. In fact, some of that B&B stuff wouldn’t look out of place next to current stars like Jim Lee.

PS. I bet tomorrow’s inker is going to be Sienkiewicz. He was the only one, IMHO, who ever came close to inking Aparo as well as Aparo inked himself.

Hank: Where have you been? :) If you look at the first two days of Jim Aparo, I show his 1970s work where he inks himself. I definitely agree with you, and I wonder why he didn’t continue to ink himself – TB&TB was bi-monthly, but he drew stuff in between, so he could handle a monthly gig, unless his age was slowing him down in the mid- to late-1980s. That might account for it, and it’s too bad.

Dang it, you figured out the inker! Confound it! Good call, though. :)

…I always thought Aparo’s WOMEN had the same face !!!!!!!!! And the same , unpleasant , scowling one , most of the time…Geez , if he had his wife post for them , what did that say ? ” Freeze , Sweetheart ! “!?!?!???!?

tom fitzpatrick

January 24, 2014 at 2:35 pm

I remember reading “Ten Nights of the Beast”. A Batman classic.

Some other Batman artists that I wouldn’t mind you analyzing: Norm Breyfogle, Kelley Jones, Paul Gulacy, Tom Mandrake.

Betcha you can find lots of materials on these artists, eh? ;-)

Did Scott Hanna ever ink Aparo or Breyfogle?

Aparo did ink (and letter!) his own work again in the early 90s such as under Milligan and Moench. I have a lovely page of original art from the Library of Souls issue.

Kabe: I don’t think so. While I was writing these posts, I didn’t see his name in the credits, although I might have missed it, of course.

Bill: Yeah, you’re right. I remember liking it a bit more, but by then, I don’t know if I was just disinclined to like it. I did like the lettering, though.

Your thoughts and impressions on Aparo from when you were buying these comics and now are pretty much exactly the same as mine. I also started buying Batman comics at this time, pretty sure this is right around when the movie came out. I started buying right after this story, but I read these issues from the library. At the time I wasn’t a fan of Aparo, but I like him a lot now. His B&B stuff and pretty much anything he did in the 70s was great. I like this stuff more now than I originally did, but still not as much as his 70s stuff. I think the cleaner ink lines is part of the problem. I also feel like the coloring on these issues was too bright and colorful. And when you compare the whole package to what Breyfogle was doing in ‘Tec it just wasn’t as good.

In regards to his faces looking the same, I remember back when I had a subscription to Comic Buyers Guide there was always a two page comic in the center spread, and one of them was “How to draw the Aparo way” and had his standard stock face and then a bunch of paper doll style cutouts of the Bat-Cowl and Gordon’s mustache and glasses and other stuff to just paste onto the face. It was a pretty accurate jab at Aparo’s style at the time. Nonetheless, I now consider him one of the greats, so his art has held up and/or gotten better with age.

It might make an interesting feature to spotlight unusual penciller/inker combinations, where both artists have such distinctive styles that it’s very unusual to see them collaborate. A few examples: Gil Kane inked by Ralph Reese in an issue of Marvel’s ’70s anthology title “Journey Into Mystery” (an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”), or Russ Heath inked by Kevin Nowlan in a story from an issue of “Penthouse Comix” (it’s really bizarre how many great artists worked on that title). It would be interesting to examine why some pairings mesh, and some clash.

Lazarus Pit Foreman

January 24, 2014 at 8:38 pm

I always thought DeCarlo had a really nice and clean inking style, making anyone’s pencils shine. But that’s just me. I haven’t analyzed their artwork, I just remember that being my first impression back in the day. I did notice however Aparo’s work not being as strong in the 90’s as it was during previous decades. Still my second favorite Batman artist, with Neal Adams being the first.

Jazzbo: Dang, that’s harsh!

Erich: That is a good idea. I don’t know if I have enough knowledge about inking styles to pull it off, though. I’ll have to keep it in mind as I get better at it – if I can figure it out this year, I might do it, but if not, I’ll keep it in the back of my mind for the future. And while I don’t own any Penthouse Comix, I remember seeing a roster of artists who worked on it, and you’re right – it’s really impressive.

Lazarus Pit Foreman: I haven’t paid enough attention to DeCarlo’s inking to know how he worked on other artists, I just know that I’m not a huge fan of him inking Aparo. It’s interesting to see how combinations work and don’t work, and I don’t think Aparo’s pencils needed such cleanliness in the inking process.

Look at the faces and the bodies. So real. Just a few years later we’d get the art with characters who have 26 abs and 57 teeth and 13 deltoids. And pouches!

I’m a kid of the Silver Age, when every character’s face looked just the same. Hell, Batman and Superman looked so much alike they used to pretend to be each other right in Lois’ face.

Aparo rules!

IIRC and I am going back a while to an interview that I cannot reference.

Aparo could do a full page a day, Pencils Inks and Lettering. If he did just straight pencilling he could do more and was paid more for pencilling than lettering so it became a no-brainer. Sad because he was his own best inker.

Untold Legends of the Batman with John Byrne was a nice combo

IIRC and I am going back a while to an interview that I cannot reference.

Aparo could do a full page a day, Pencils Inks and Lettering. If he did just straight pencilling he could do more and was paid more for pencilling than lettering so it became a no-brainer. Sad because he was his own best inker.

Untold Legends of the Batman with John Byrne was a nice combo

I loved Ten Nights of the Beast. Spark also drew the sequel with the NKVDemon. KGBeast had the same problem as the other unstoppable foes like Bane and Doomsday though, he only worked once. Come to think of it, his ultra-smart supervillain thing made him kind of the prototype Banr, even down to the similar costumes.

And yeah, agreed on the art – I liked it well enough at the time, but late 80s Aparo was no match for Breyfogle.

Spark should have read Aparo – interesting autocorrect!

well to be fair – who amongst us didn’t like to snap a neck or two in the 1930’s?

I had pretty much the same arc in appreciating Aparo’s art as you and Jazzbo. I hated it when I was younger, but all I really saw was this era of Batman and a whole bunch of Who’s Who entries. I didn’t see any of his 70’s work until about 5 years ago and I was totally stunned at just how much better it was.

Bill Williamson

March 5, 2014 at 8:11 pm

I loved Ten Nights of the Beast. The only problem with KGBeast was not so much his unstoppability but the fact that, due to being called KGBeast, he has now become incredibly dated.

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