EXCL. PREVIEW: Superman Escapes a Black Universe in "Dark Knight III" #5
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Marshall Rogers, and the issue is Detectives Inc., which was published by Eclipse and is cover dated May 1980. This scan is from the hardcover collection, published by IDW in 2009. Enjoy! (A small NSFW scene is below, in case you want to know!)
Detectives Inc. is Don McGregor’s long-simmering story about two New York private detectives and the tough cases they solve. McGregor began working on the concept in 1969, but it wasn’t until 1980 that it finally got published, with Rogers on art. This was a fairly astounding project for Rogers to work on after Detective Comics, as it wasn’t a superhero book for the Big Two, but his art is exquisite, so let’s check it out!
The first 11 pages of the comic show the two detectives, Ted Denning and Bob Rainier, who are in the south Bronx looking for the son of their client, a teenager who’s heading down the wrong path of crime. Meanwhile, McGregor intercuts that scene with a scene of a young woman running from a car, the driver of which seems intent on running her down. So that’s where we begin – I’m going to show you the final 3 pages of the scene.
These are really tremendous pages, as Rogers nails the action sequences perfectly. He uses clever “camera” angles – the overhead shot on the first page, Panel 8, shows Rainier about to be ambushed; the close-up of the car about to run over Linda on the second page, Panel 6, which brings us very close to the car but also shows how small Linda is compared to it. Rogers uses the black and white well, too – he creates a huge swath of white in the very first panel, which illuminates Linda as the car’s headlights catch her, but also confines her because the water spray seems to rise up to block her. When Rainier and the bad guys jump from building to building, Rogers uses negative space to show them from below, implying that lightning is flashing (even though it’s not) and adding even more drama to the scene. Rogers used a lot of Zip-A-Tone on this book, and we can see that most clearly in the final panel of the first page, as the lines help make the aftermath of Rainier getting bashed on the head more dizzying. It’s a good effect. On the second page, Rogers gives us that great final panel, as Denning pulls the trigger and the sound effect “Krak” becomes part of the concussive wave of the bullet leaving the barrel. I imagine Rogers, and not letterer Tom Orzechowski, designed this sound effect, and it’s beautifully conceived. It leads to the final page, with the impressive first panel, as Rogers blends the death of Clark and the death of Linda. He balances the panel with Denning on one side and Randy on the other, and the circle in the center with the lines radiating from it linking everything in the panel. The light waves from the barrel lead us to Linda and the car and over to Randy, who watches someone get shot in the head. Finally, in the final panel, the sky is beginning to lighten and the rain is letting up. That’s a bit obvious, but it’s still a nifty trope.
Notice again that Rogers “dates” this with the clothing the characters wear – you can’t see it too well, but Rainier is wearing nice 1970s boots, while Denning is wearing boots that lace up his thigh and have a relatively thick sole. We’ll see the clothing better below, but it’s interesting how conscious Rogers is of fashion. He was born in 1950, so he was 29 or so when he was drawing this, so it’s not surprising that he was so keen on fashion.
This sequence shows off Rogers’s storytelling quite well. Rainier is embarrassed that he didn’t hang up on Rita, so in Panel 3 of the first page, he hides his face from Denning. When he gets up, Rogers shows how schlumpy he is, as his underwear sags a bit. He’s also rubbing his face – he’s still tired and he doesn’t want to get up. The second page is taken up with Rainier putting on clothing, which is pretty cool. Rogers really gets how someone who’s distracted and talking puts on pants – he hops around, and finally collapses on the sofa, where he pulls on his cool boots. It’s something we don’t see too often in comics – people putting on clothes – and it’s rarer to see someone putting on clothes and not being terribly graceful about it. I like the touch of the calendar by the front door – this is the reception area of their business, yet they have a girly calendar hanging by the door. Even during a less politically correct time as the 1970s, this seems somewhat tone deaf for Rainier and Denning. Rogers uses the darkness on the second page really well, too. He highlights the cracks in the walls in white so they’re more evident, and notice how he changes the shape of Denning’s shadow as he moves, showing that Ted isn’t standing still while he waits.
Again we see the sense of fashion that Rogers brings to the book. Denning wears a bomber jacket (maybe?) with the sleeves pushed up and bell bottoms. Naturally, his shirt is unbuttoned slightly to show off his manly chest. Rainier puts on those fabulous boots with the straps around the ankles. By the way, his T-shirt bears the Eclipse Comics logo. Another nice touch by Rogers.
I did NOT put this page in here just because of the steamy lesbian sex going on, I swear. Ruth is telling Rainier and Denning about Linda, and Rogers does a great job showing the emotion on her face. In the second panel, she turns away because she’s thinking about Linda and fears she’s getting too emotional. She lowers her face into her hand, and Rogers uses the shadows well to show the despair on her face. When she looks up, she’s heavy-lidded, looking both sad and exhausted. Rogers contrasts that with the scenes on either side of her, where she remembers better days with Linda. Once again, we see nice touches of fashion – the hip-huggers in the second panel, for instance. The sex scene is interesting, because it’s not Ruth’s memory, but Rainier’s imagination of their sex life. Neither Rainier or Denning treat Ruth any differently because she’s a lesbian, but McGregor and Rogers imply that men just can’t help picturing sex between two women. Rogers draws it quite well – I’m not sure how he got the effect of making it lighter and hazier, but I’m sure someone knows. It’s well done. Rainier is eating what looks like beans, which is part of a running gag over the previous two pages, as he gets a can from a vending machine and almost drops it, presumably because it’s hot. I don’t know if McGregor wrote it into the script or if Rogers wanted to add something to a scene where people are just standing around talking (which is what happens on the previous page), but it’s weidly hilarious that Ruth is telling them about how wonderful her dead lover was while Rainier is stuffing his face. It’s all part of the characterization of Rainier as a good guy, but somewhat rough around the edges.
Detectives Inc. isn’t the greatest comic because McGregor’s prose is often pretty turgid, but it’s still an impressive project with this great art. Rogers continued to do nice work at this time, as we’ll see tomorrow. But first, there are always archives to check out!
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