DC Comics' "Rebirth" Character Designs for Batman, Wonder Woman and More
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Dustin Nguyen, and the issue is Detective Comics #840, which was published by DC and is cover dated March 2008. Enjoy!
Nguyen began his run on Detective with this issue, and it’s a nice maturation in his style. It’s probable that his new inker, Derek Fridolfs (whom he began working with, as far as I can tell, on his six-issue story in Superman/Batman just before this run), had something to do with this, but for now, let’s just see what we can see.
Nguyen draws everything on this page, so that the background globes are integrated into the entire scene much better than if he had taken a computer-aided shortcut. It makes Carter’s showroom more impressive, as it feels like Batman is actually in the room instead of being super-imposed on top of a matte painting. One thing we notice as we continue to look at Nguyen’s art over these posts is the greater heft he gives the characters without losing the fluidity of his fine line pencil work. Batman is still etched carefully, but Nguyen, Fridolfs, and colorist John Kalisz are able to use a lot of blacks and darker colors without overwhelming the lines. That way Nguyen can be a bit more abstract and either add the spot blacks himself or let Fridolfs do it – either way, it adds definition to Batman’s face without Nguyen overdoing it on the hatching. There’s a nice contrast between Batman in Panel 3 and the delicate line work on the globe, and Nguyen’s maturation and the ability of his collaborators are probably the reason for it.
Nguyen remains a very dynamic artist, and as he’s gotten older, he’s gotten a bit bolder with the choices he makes, which helps his action scenes. In Panel 1, he leads us from the top to the bottom, which is counterintuitive but works because of the way he lays out the page – our eyes go from the window at the top to Batman and the ninjas, which leads us nicely to the next panel, where Batman crashes through the window and the swords block us from going to the next page without accounting for them. That’s a really nice second panel, as Nguyen shows us a Batman in mid-leap, and because he’s in the middle distance, the ninjas in the foreground look far more imposing than they are. Nguyen draws a too-big moon that helps frame the panel, and it appears that the buildings are bit disproportionate – maybe it’s just me, but the tilting makes them loom a bit more than they should. Either way, the tilting is a nice touch because it lends some chaos to the scene. Of course, this scene does fall under the Inverse Ninja Law, but that doesn’t mean it’s not drawn well!
This is a great “mood” panel, as Bats has stalked Ra’s al Ghul to his “lair” (which is really a fancy apartment building) and is ready to dispense some Gotham-style justice. Like a lot of artists, Nguyen probably draws Batman’s cape too long, but when you’re going for mood, you don’t care about fashion problems! Batman remains in shadow, so Nguyen just needs to draw a shape and let Fridolfs ink it heavily and Kalisz to edge it with blue. The cape also doesn’t need much, just a good dose of blacks. Nguyen leads us nicely from Batman to Ra’s, and although Ra’s is a bad guy, the fact that Batman strikes from the shadows means that it’s better for Ra’s to be well-lit. Once again, we see that Nguyen can use a grittier style occasionally, as he uses a thicker and harsher line on Ra’s, with the black around his eyes and his scruffy hair giving him a nastier look. Kalisz does a very nice job slowly building the light as we move downward and rightward, and even though Ra’s is lighter, there’s still some darkness around his face. He is the bad guy, after all!
Batman kicks Ra’s out of a window, which seems kind of weird. Notice in Panel 2 how abstract the two characters are. Nguyen simply draws a cape, and the blackness of the inks obscure Batman completely. Ra’s is mostly cape, too, and Nguyen only draws a few lines and lets Fridolfs heavily ink the rest. Notice how rough the Gotham background is, as Nguyen uses thicker lines to create a brutal cityscape, which contrasts nicely with the sleek lines of al Ghul’s building. The lines of the building shatter against the violence of Batman and Ra’s, which is a nice clash. It’s still very weird that Batman is so willing to kick Ra’s out the window like that.
This sequence shows how well Nguyen has been able to incorporate a lot of his strengths into his artwork. In Panel 1, he keeps it simple and he and Fridolfs use a lot of blacks to imply the dark scheme Batman has in mind for Ra’s (he’s drugging him to keep him immobile and unable to speak so that he can’t talk his way out of Arkham). The smudgy blacks inside the syringe also imply a murky brew, as well. In Panel 2, Nguyen’s precise pencil work helps make the reflection in the syringe grotesque and disturbing. If the lines were rougher, the impact of the face would be less because it wouldn’t be as visible. Nguyen’s fine line work makes the face creepy, which is the point (I think it’s Ra’s’s face – is that correct, ‘Ra’s’s’? – because he looks so muddled, and Ra’s is drugged in the sequence). Nguyen uses the wavy lines for the liquid in the syringe, and those lines blend in nicely to the fluid face reflected in the glass. Kalisz’s green hues just make it weirder. In Panel 3, Nguyen uses shadows effectively again. The thick lines and hatching on al Ghul’s face is enough to imply his scruffy whiskers without interfering with the white expanse on the left side of the panel, which helps create the drugged mood in which Ra’s finds himself. Nguyen’s blocky lines on the right turn take Ra’s out of the realm of “reality” and turn him into a relic, which is what Batman wants. It’s creepy on more than one level.
Nguyen continued working on Batman comics, including some wonderful work on Batgirl before the “New 52″ non-reboot, but tomorrow, for our last Nguyen day, I want to check out his current work, as it’s far different than what he’s done before. Be here for the fun! Or have your fun in the archives!
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