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Year of the Artist, Day 25: Jim Aparo, Part 5 – Batman #534

11-17-2013 12;14;34PM (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 #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!

11-17-2013 11;54;22AM

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.

11-17-2013 12;01;18PM

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.

11-17-2013 12;08;00PM

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.

11-17-2013 12;12;52PM

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.

11-17-2013 12;14;34PM

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!

18 Comments

tom fitzpatrick

January 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Something else, I’m not sure if you noticed, but when inking Aparo’s art, Sienkiewicz’s work seemed to look awfully like Klaus Janson’s work.

I might be wrong there.

The only artist I can think of who’s art style hasn’t changed in 30 yrs is Jerry Ordway. And why would he? He’s great!

Bring on Frank Robbins and Gil Kane too. Val Mayerik as well.

70′s and 80′s Aparo was my main comics “bread and butter.” I grew up reading Adventure, B&B, Batman, and Detective, all of which Aparo worked on during that period. Thank you for the articles on his work, even if you weren’t very complimentary toward his art, LOL.

tom: Yeah, there are some similarities, mainly because they’re heavy inkers. Sienkiewicz is a bit more jagged, I would say, but there are similarities.

Smithy: Not a bad guess, but no. Sorry!

Dang, tough requests there. I honestly have very little by any of those artists, unfortunately.

Kon Krypton: Well, I thought I was complimentary toward his 1970s work, and I was a bit better disposed toward his 1980s work than I was when I first encountered it! I still don’t love his 1980s work, but I do think he was let down by his inkers more than anything. I’m glad you enjoyed it, though!

“Sienkiewicz’s work seemed to look awfully like Klaus Janson’s work.”

I was kind of thinking the same thing and then trying to recall if Janson inked anything by Jim Aparo. I know Janson did some Batman/Detective in the 80s with Doug Moench, but I don’t remember him working on anything as just an inker.

That’s some nice looking stuff. Aparo’s pre-mid-80s Batman stuff (mostly his long run on Brave and Bold and 70s Detective) was great. I thought Aparo’s work really suffered late in his career, when he stopped inking his own pencils, and I’ve never been a big fan of Sienkiewicz’s inks over other people’s pencils, but the combo really works here.

The only artist I can think whose work has not changed in 30 years, at least to my untrained eye, is John Byrne

Sienkiewicz inking Aparo is inspired as Sienkiewicz started out very inspired by Neal Adams and Aparo is a very similar artist. Both are Batman standard bearers so this must have been like coming home for Sienkiewicz.

Glad to see this issue featured, as it was the exact one I had in mind when I mentioned the Aparo/Sienkiewicz team-up a few days ago. The couple of occasions where Sienkiewicz inked Aparo are about the only times I really loved his art when he didn’t ink it himself. It was always decent in the hands of other inkers, but nowhere near the same level.

Aw, nothing from Aparo’s Knightfall work?

I do not see breakdowns on the last page. The art is very close to the work he did on Aquaman and B&B 111 with the Joker-the lock scene. One thing Aparo did well was underwater scenes,

@Tom and @Greg: there is a definite similarity in these Sienkiewicz’s inks and Janson’s habitual ones.

But also an important, dramatic difference: even in chaotic works such as The Dark Knigh Returns, Janson’s inks are almost mathematically precise, reliable, constant.

Sienkiewicz is just the opposite, ever since he became experimental midway through his Moon Knight run (a novelty that everyone else seems to have liked better than me). His inks (and I assume his pencils) are constantly by a nervous uneaseness, a measure of chaos and unpredicatibilty.

The effect works surprisingly well here with Aparo’s pencils. Far better than anywhere else that I recall out of my head, in fact. Then again, I’m far more of an Aparo fan than a Sienkiewicz one.

This makes me want to go back and reread the 90s Milligan/Aparo Detective run… Unfortunately those issues are in a filing cabinet buried under 10 feet of crap in my dad’s spare bedroom.

On a different note, Batman is easily my favourite DC character but whenever he’s in water it just reminds me of how impractical the cloak is. Swinging from a rooftop or racing down a dark alley it’s visually arresting but in water it just doesn’t work for me. It would get wrapped around him or just be a dead weight holding him back.
I know the cloak is never going away and I wouldn’t want it to but it’s no surprise that when the Golden Age characters got redesigned the cloaks were dropped, GL being the obvious example.
Can you imagine the the outrage and ridicule that would happen if an artist redesigned Daredevil, (or Spider-Man or Captain America) with a cloak today.
Anyway – really liking these and eagerly waiting for Walt Simonson !!

I love the art but wouldn’t trying to swim with a cape be really hard?

Wish these two had collaborated on a regular basis, great art. Was not aware they had until this series of posts…

@ Gavin Bell
That is just what I started to do Thursday night, inspired by this column. I was hoping one of those issues would get the spotlight. One of the best Batman runs ever.

Gavin and kdu2814: I love those comics, too, but Aparo only inked himself on one of those issues, and I had already shown his inking. He was being inked by DeCarlo and, on one issue, Steve Leialoha, so it wasn’t too different from what I showed yesterday.

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