BEST BETS: "Jessica Jones," "Big Trouble/Escape from New York" & More October 2016 Highlights
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 #534, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 1996. Enjoy!
In the middle of the odd (but great) Moench/Jones/Beatty run, DC threw in a few crossovers, one of which was “Legacy,” which included this issue. Kelley Jones got two months off and Aparo stepped in, this time inked by Bill Sienkiewicz. The combination worked very well, as Sienkiewicz is a much rougher inker than Aparo had been teamed with for much of his latter career, and so we get some interesting artwork. Let’s check it out!
One thing we notice in these two issues (Aparo and Sienkiewicz also drew issue #533) is Batman’s cape. In earlier Aparo-drawn Batman books, the crisp lines on Batman’s cape almost made it look like it was ribbed. Sienkiewicz forgoes all of that and uses plenty of hatching and spot blacks on the cape to make it much more fluid and “clothing-like.” There’s obviously going to be a lot of black when Sienkiewicz inks your work, but he uses it to good effect, especially on the cape.
As I mentioned yesterday, one thing that always bugged me about Aparo’s Batman (and this is no fault of his own) is that whoever inked him made the cowl black from the eyes down, which always looked odd to me. Sienkiewicz is having none of that! In Panel 1, we get blacks up past Batman’s eyes, which helps make the black look more natural and less like a part of the cowl. Meanwhile, notice how Sienkiewicz adds a few lines to Shiva’s nose, which makes her look more like a person and less like a mannequin. Sienkiewicz isn’t all about more hatching, though – in Panel 2, the haphazard lines on Batman’s cape once again make it looks like it’s draped more than held in place by rods, as some of Aparo’s past work suggests. Just these subtle differences are enough to make the art look much more interesting.
Aparo is credited with “pencils” in this book and not “breakdowns,” but I wonder how sketchy the original pencils were. These panels have a classic Aparo look, but the inks seem to heavily influence the way the figures work. Sienkiewicz leaves things loose, which is fine in a fight, and the effect makes Aparo’s pencils a bit more fluid. It’s a good idea, as Aparo can certainly break down a fight but his figure work isn’t always the most dynamic. So we get a nice two-panel move as Batman spins around and chops the guy in the neck, and then Shiva’s one-two shot to the dude in Panels 3 and 4. That’s all Aparo, but the scratchy inks help make the fight more powerful. Notice, too, the way Batman’s chest insignia is inked – Sienkiewicz inks it fairly haphazardly, which again helps make Batman a bit more human. This is just a nice sequence by both artists.
Here’s another interesting point about Sienkiewicz the inker. This is a fairly standard Aparo drawing of Batman – nice solid chin, totally focused on his work – but Sienkiewicz, while not giving him stubble (which is the trend these days), simply makes the shadows on his face a bit less total, so his face looks rougher. In Aparo’s 1980s/early 1990s work, inkers tended to leave Batman’s face alone, so he was always the perfectly chiseled hero. Simply by adding some shadow, Sienkiewicz makes him a much more hardened, gruff, and tense hero. He’s a man who gets things done, but it’s not always easy.
Here’s another scene where I can almost believe Aparo is doing breakdowns and Sienkiewicz is finishing, but it works. Both the idol and Batman going down into the water work very well, as Sienkiewicz understands that it needs to be sketchy, so it is. The final panel is excellent, too, as Batman is silhouetted well as he desperately tries to find the statue that contains a virus, and Sienkiewicz’s wonky line work makes the water look more roiled than if a smoother inker was tackling this panel. As with the rest of this issue (and the preceding one), Aparo’s structure works very well with Sienkiewicz’s chaos, and that’s why the issues look so good.
I know I wrote a lot about Sienkiewicz and not Aparo here, but that’s because it’s quite neat how different the two styles are but how well they work together. Sienkiewicz has inked some odd pencilers in the past 20 years or so, and sometimes his inking overwhelms a weaker artist. The work in this issue, however, remains distinctly Aparo, but with enough looseness to make it more interesting than a lot of his latter-day work. I don’t think Aparo’s late 1980s/early 1990s work is as bad as I remember it – it was probably just the foolishness of youth on my part. But I still think it’s not as good as his other work. I hope I’ve proved it!
Tomorrow: I might change my mind, but I think I’m going to check out an artist whose work really hasn’t changed very much in 30 years. Why would I feature him, then? Well, because he’s pretty darned awesome, that’s why! Look back to those heady days of early January in the archives!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.