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Year of the Artist, Day 30: Alan Davis, Part 5 – Batman and the Outsiders #31

12-07-2013 12;29;17PM (2)

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Alan Davis, and the issue is Batman and the Outsiders #31, which was published by DC and is cover dated March 1986. Enjoy!

As far as I can tell, Batman and the Outsiders was Davis’s first foray into American comics, and issue #22 (cover dated June 1985) was his first story. I don’t own that issue, however, but I wanted to look at an issue from that run before he and Mike W. Barr took over Detective Comics for an impressive six-issue run and then he went off to Marvel, where he really became a superstar. Obviously, Davis was still working in the U.K. later in 1984 and 1985, but while I own a lot of that work and it’s quite impressive, I wanted to at least show a bit of his American superhero work before we move on to another artist. Why do I happen to own this issue of BatO but not the earlier Alan Davis issues? Well, because this is Part Four of “The Truth About Looker,” and as Looker is one of my favorite comics character, it’s not surprising that I own these issues. Yes, I just wrote that Looker is one of my favorite comics characters. Deal with it!!!!

As Davis has refined his work even more when he arrived on these shores, I’m not going to show too much of this issue. One thing I’m not going to look at is his artwork with inkers like Mark Farmer or Paul Neary – what we’re seeing in this post is still Davis inking his own pencils. Davis’s pencils with Farmer’s inks are so well known that I’d have very little to say about them. So without further ado, onward!

12-07-2013 12;23;32PM

Some of you, who might not be familiar with Davis’s work (shame on you!), might be wondering what I’ve been talking about these past few days when I mention “Alan Davis hands.” Well, there they are. Davis draws a lot of people with the middle finger and ring finger together and the index finger and pinkie separated from the two middle fingers. Why does he do this? NO MAN CAN SAY! But this is a classic example of “Alan Davis hand.” Davis does a really nice job showing the pain on Emily Briggs’s face as she turns into “Looker” – Davis is famous for making people smile (see below), but he’s really good at all emotions. The light use of hatching gives us an idea of strain, and Davis uses just enough black to make this very light drawing darker than the occasion warrants – Emily is supposed to be transforming into something wonderful, but Davis foreshadows the problems she’s going to have fairly soon. We know that Emily is inside a globe of light, so Davis is just trying to highlight the shadows that would occur from that, but it’s still an interesting use of black.

12-07-2013 12;25;46PM

Another thing Davis does well is draw wild hair. Yes, you might think this is a strange thing to mention, but what this does is give his art a sinewy, windy, exciting look that helps when you’re drawing action comics. Looker and Prince Mardo are just standing there, but Davis makes their hair flow behind them, untamed, making Looker appear like a fiery goddess and Mardo a raging lion. The fact that her cape, belt, and his cape are flowing as well makes this panel, which, again, just shows two people standing, more exciting – it feels like they’re facing a bracing wind, daring it to knock them over. Davis has already established that the two of them are standing on a wintry mountain, so we expect there to be wind, but with no context in this panel, it still feels more exciting.

12-07-2013 12;29;17PM

Davis is good at “power poses,” meaning, of course, superheroes showing how awesome they are. Emily has broken free of Mardo’s control, and she’s pissed. Again, Davis draws the wind blowing her hair, cape, and belt, and even more than in the panel above, he turns her red hair into a fiery halo. The power in her eyes makes the reader feel like electricity is crackling off the page. Davis draws Looked from below, so that she seems more imposing, and she’s balanced nicely – her triangle shape moves our eyes up to the source of her power, her eyes. Davis doesn’t draw her with her arms further out, because that would disrupt the flow. He also puts enough black in her costume to make clear that this is not the happy Emily we’ve come to know. Looker is peeved, and she has the power to do something about it. You can insult Davis’s design sense all you want – I’ll admit that Looker’s costume is an eyesore, and that’s being charitable – but he still knows how to make the character scary.

12-07-2013 12;30;53PM

Davis has always been good at character moments, as he shows here. He doesn’t overrender his characters’ faces, so when Greg sees Emily in Panel 1, Davis keeps her face simple to better convey her relief at being back with her husband. Notice, too, that he keeps Greg’s eyes on the same level as Emily’s, even though they’re a small distance apart, so that the reader is drawn into their look and becomes more empathetic. Davis also makes it clear that Emily, even though she is now a “looker,” is still unsure how Greg will react to her new look, and he draws her with her legs splayed awkwardly and her hands blocking her pelvis, almost as if she’s ashamed of herself and doesn’t know if Greg will find her desirable. This is a brilliant drawing of Emily, because Barr did a good job making her a shy young lady before her transformation, and that hasn’t changed. Davis has always been good at drawing two people kissing, as we see in Panel 3 – it’s a passionate kiss, obviously, but note how Greg is taken a bit aback by it. He’s into it, because his wife is a hottie, but she’s leaning into it more than he is, even though he knew it was coming. Both Panels 1 and 3 are subtly done by Davis, which gives his superhero work a bit more depth than many of his peers.

So that’s early Alan Davis, and after this, he’s pretty much set for almost 30 years. It’s not that he hasn’t changed, but he’s changed so little that if I kept going I’d just be showing you examples of awesome art and not having much to say about it. I know that Davis’s art has been changed a bit by glossier paper and digital inking/coloring, but that’s true for a lot of artists, so I’m not going to focus on Davis for that. Davis is a great artist, and we can see some of that evolution in these early comics. Plus, he made popular the most terrifying Batman, and that is Smiling Batman:

This is from issue #29, but I couldn't resist!

This is from issue #29, but I couldn’t resist!

Tomorrow, we’ll start a new artist. Who will it be? You’ll only know if you come back and see! It won’t be someone we’ve already seen in the archives, I’ll tell you that much!

27 Comments

BaTOS was my favorite book as a kid. I preferred Jim Aparo on art, but Alan Davis was great, too. I would in time love Davis’ work, especially his Marvel stuff.

Really hoping Geoforce, Halo, and the real Metamorpho (Rex Mason) make it back to the new 52 soon.

tom fitzpatrick

January 30, 2014 at 2:30 pm

I’m really not surprised that you selected to write about this particular issue.

After all, you DO have a crush on Looker.
Just remember, that she’s a comic book character! ;-)

If there was a OUTSIDERS movie, who’d you like to play Looker, Halo, Katana?

If you need suggestions for future artists, could you do Joe Mad one of these weeks? He did evolve quite a bit from Deadpool: The Circle Chase up to Battle Chasers, plus I’d say his more recent art from U3, Avenging Spider-man, and Savage Wolverine has shown some change from his Battle Chasers era art. He also had a variety of inkers like Milgrom, Townsend, McWeeny (I still think that’s a fake name…) and even uninked pencils, which would provide even more stuff to discuss in these features.

tom: Dang, that’s tough. If we’re picking actors from any time in history, I’d go with Johansson for Looker (which is a cliche, sure, but such is life), someone like a younger Anna Faris for Halo (I don’t know too much about Halo, but I know she’s a bit less serious than the others), and … man, I don’t know many Japanese actors, do I? I keep thinking of Chinese actors like Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, Maggie Cheung, or Kelly Hu. Any of those would work, unless you’d really like a Japanese woman in the role.

Saul: My problem with Joe Mad is that I don’t own a lot of it. I have his work on Uncanny X-Men, but that’s about it. I never got Battle Chasers, and his recent work has been with writers I haven’t been interested in. I read one issue of Ultimates 3 and hated it, so I didn’t buy any of it, and the more recent Marvel stuff has been on 4-dollar books, and I just haven’t gotten it. He’s just one of those artists who doesn’t work on a lot of stuff that I’m interested in. I don’t love his art, but I do agree he’d be an interesting artist to track. We shall see – maybe I can track down an issue or two of his stuff in the cheap bins.

@ Greg

Sounds like you’re already 4/5 of the way there. You have his early UXM issues, issues near the end of his run, and an issue of “modern” Mad. You could probably pick up a cheap copy of Battlechasers in the back-issues bin, and possibly Circle Chase as well now that the Deadpool frenzy has died down. If not, I believe he did 2 issues of Alan Davis written Excalibur (which I’m assuming you probably already own…)

If not Mad, I think another cool artist to look at would be John Romita Jr, especially looking at the way he looks under different inkers (UXM 287 would be particularly fun since it’s the only time he was inked by Scott Williams). Although I’m sure you already planned on doing JR jr lol

I’m surprised you ended the Davis series so early. I know you say he didn’t change much over his career, but don’t you think that would have been shown better by choosing books spread out over his career? He is more polished now, and looking at his work with Mark Farmer would have made this series more complete. I also think he’s a better artist when he’s writing his own stuff (which is pretty good even though he calls himself an amateur writer).

Still, I appreciate your work on this Year of the Artist project, and Davis is my all time favorite. What you’re doing is no easy feat, so thanks. Some other artists I’d like to see, although they also haven’t changed much would be Walt Simonson and Darwyn Cooke (Cooke does experiment stylistically from project to project). A couple who did change (at least at some point) would be Frank Miller and Romita Jr.

Thanks again.

Saul: Well, I’ll have to look through the back issue boxes – I’ve already done it once in conjunction with this project (I’m not telling who it was!), so I can certainly do it again! I’m still trying to decide about Romita Jr. – I dedicated many days to him two years ago when I did the first pages of comics, so I don’t know if I want to do him again. I have plenty of his comics, though, so I might have to dive back in!

Michael: Thanks for the nice words. I’ve imposed a 5-day limit on myself for artists (I might do fewer days, but not more) with two exceptions – Kirby and Ditko, both of whom I’ll return to later in the year, so it’s hard when they have such a long and fruitful career, but I do think that Davis changed more in the first few years of his career than in the 25 years or so since. Upon reflection, I probably should have shown that Wolverine: Bloodlust book he did, because he did some different things with the art on that, but I didn’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole! But I’m moving forward! :)

I’ll definitely do Simonson, probably Cooke, and possibly Miller. Like Romita, I wrote a lot about Miller two years ago, so I might decide to skip him, although he has changed a lot over his career, so who knows. He’s on my list, though – whether I get to him or not is still a mystery!

The Alan Davis run on BATO was some damn fine comics.

It is weird to me that Looker has become such a touchstone for bad design. She is that bad. The whole pink, girly visual of the the really kind of spoke to her character reasonably well. There are much, much worse costume designs.

On casting BATO, I would go with Rila Fukushima for Katana, Isla Fisher for Looker, Taye Diggs for Black Lightening and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Metamorpho. Get someone to reprise as Batman that has already played the part. I am not sure that you really need Geo-Force, or Halo.

I expect Batman & the Outsiders examples of all the artists you feature from now on.

Sad as I am about the lack of Davis Excalibur (most underrated team book for me), I can’t complain about great BatO art like this…

buttler: Yeah, it wasn’t a coincidence, but it just happened that both Aparo and Davis had good examples from the book. I doubt if the series will come up again!

Bluben: I like Davis’s art on Excalibur, but as I noted above, if I kept going with him, we’d be here all year! :)

I loved the early 80′s BATO comic, and Looker was one of those reasons. She was basically the prototype for the fabulous bitch called Emma Frost – sexy, telepathic, gets what she wants, and sleeps with the team leader (in this case, it was Geo-Force, in lieu of Cyclops).

Then she became a victim of the EXXXTREME! fad in the 90s and was turned into a vampire, only to be mostly forgotten and then blown up during Infinite Crisis with most of the other 90′s rejects, the New Bloods.

I heard she popped up in the new BATO series, but with all the cast members and writers being shifted around every five minutes, I just gave up on the series.

I wish that DC would release Volume 2 of the Showcase Collection of BATO, as well Volumes for the Batman-free Outsiders series that ran for 28 issues.

Greg, I know you’ve got some 2000ad stuff. How about a bit of Carlos Ezquerra as a European artist that most Americans have never heard of ? Dredd, Strontium Dog…..I believe he even did one Darkhorse SW Mara Jade Limited series ?

Or some Cam Kenedy – Dredd again and SW: Dark Empire?

I wish that Deadpool thing had died down. I have no idea how I’m going to finish my run of New Mutants with his first appearance being in there. I guess I should’ve picked it up 15 years ago. OH WELL.

I personally hope you can go over the Image founders. Liefeld week would really appeal to me because I love it when people bitch. I mostly want to see your take on McFarland, though.

I’m pretty sure that Jim Aparo not Davis Designed Lookers outfit. If I remember right, she was already appearing in the baxter Outsiders book drawn by Aparo when her origin was being told in BATO.

I think Kris is right.

I also do not think Looker’s costume is that bad. The modified version she had in Detective Comics was an improvement, though.

Philip: I don’t own a lot of Ezquerra’s work, especially his early 2000AD stuff. I’ll add him to my list (you know I have a list!) and I’ll look for some of that stuff, because I do like his Vertigo work with Ennis.

P. Boz: I bought the later Liefeld issues of New Mutants, including Deadpool’s first appearance, when they came out, but the first appearance of Cable was already 20 dollars, not too long after it was published. I doubt the first appearance of Deadpool was ever very cheap after it went into the back issue boxes, unfortunately. And I’ll do some of the Image founders – definitely McFarlane, and probably Liefeld and Silvestri.

Kris: According to Wikipedia, she was created by Barr and Aparo, so you might be right, but the dates are very close, and she was Emily Briggs for a little bit before she became Looker, so I’m not sure who designed the costume. I could ask Davis, I suppose, but that’s just too much work, man!

kdu2814: As much as I love Looker, I just can’t get on board with the costume, no matter who designed it! :)

Have a peak at http://shop.2000adonline.com/categories/digital_graphic_novels

they do their graphic novels as CBZs which might be useful

Judge Dredd case files 5, 6, 7 & 14 have a lot of Ezquerra.

5′s the famed Apocalypse War. And has Steve Dillon’s first Dredd work in too.

(there’s some even earlier Dillon in old Doctor Weekly back up strips)

And you can also get digital copies of Alan Moore’s Future Shocks, Halo Jones and the aforementioned DR & Quinch from the same site.

http://shop.2000adonline.com/categories/digital_graphic_novels

@ FuryOfFirestorm:

DC really hasn’t shown its 80s output nearly enough love. There was a period where Marvel was out-selling DC by, like, ten to one and yet DC was publishing better comics top to bottom. It was effectively the Silver Age in reverse.

Marvel has played a long game and always kept the classic Lee-Kirby and Lee-Ditko stuff fairly available. However, DC has done almost the opposite with its Golden Era. Byrne’s Superman was only re-printed recently The Grant-Breyfogle Batman run is unavailable. As is the Baron/Messner-Loeb/Waid Flash. The Perez Wonder Woman is out there, but good luck finding Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn. Suicide Squad is finally nearly properly rated, but BATO is totally neglected. Morrison’s Doom Patrol is available, but the back half of the Giffen-DeMatties Justice League franchise isn’t. Neither is there much PAD Aquaman to be had.

I would enjoy if did Gene Colan one of these weeks.

Bullseye12: I have a good amount of Colan, but not much of his early stuff. I’ll have to check out what I have of his work, because he’d be fun to write about.

Davis’ run on the Outsiders was a real highlight. Each character was so distinct and he actually made Looker’s costume look good. His Geo-Force was real buff too.
Pelletier’s (sp?) run from the 90′s reminded me of Davis’ work and is my 2nd favorite Outsiders artist.

And sorry, but no way isla fisher is Looker! (Except maybe as Emily before the transformation). Lia has supermodel looks, but mainly, she is over 6 foot and built.

to me Davis’ run on Outsiders was most notable for his handling of Katana

His drawing of her nimble, athletic fighting style was great throughout – highlights include issue 23 where Yakuza goons shoot at her so she somersaults over heads landing among them slashing and stabbing “Next?”
and issue 28 for her 2 page fight against a man who had previously attacked her from behind – this fight where she voluntarily sheaths her sword (after demonstrating her ability to kill with it) to take on the enemy unarmed is one of the rare moments where Alan believes he had succeeded in improving on Mike Barr’s original idea.

In a talk at a local convention (local to both me and him as I grew up in his hometown) he discussed his redesign of Katana when he drew the series – changing her hairstyle because he felt the original was “offensive” and gave her the figure suitable for a martial artist. This caused an upset at DC as Jim Aparo had drawn the first issue of the baxter series retaining Katana’s old look. It was decided that one of the artists would have to redraw to maintain consistency … after discussions and consultation with Trina Robbins Alan won and Jim Aparo had to modify his art for the new look Katana (I don’t know if this delayed the baxter issue but does suggest Aparo drew looker’s costume a few months before Davis).

Personally, I would have liked to see a Katana series (or miniseries) drawn by Alan Davis – maybe with Halo as a supporting character. Do you think anyone would have been interested in the adventures of an athletic dark-haired swordswoman and her blonde pal Gabrielle?

John: I finally got those issues, but I haven’t read them yet. I look forward to them even more, thanks to you.

I would totally buy a Katana/Halo series by Barr and Davis. Just another fun series that never existed!

One of the many things I loved about Davis’ Batman and the Outsiders work was the way he gave every character a unique, distinctive body type. I recall seeing a house ad for the book in which all the characters were drawn in silhouette and it was immediately clear who was who based solely on their outlined body types. I esp. liked how he drew Metamorpho with a fairly (by superhero standards) skinny physique; given the nature of his powers, it made sense that he wouldn’t be all buff and pumped up.

And as far as the “wild hair” thing goes, Katana was his real masterpiece. During her “calm” moments her hair would be straight and rather matronly. But as soon as the sword came out, it became this wild mane (even if she wasn’t really moving much in the particular panel). It was something that immediately grabbed my attention as a narrative device I hadn’t really seen before.

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