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Year of the Artist, Day 48: Marshall Rogers, Part 4 – Justice League Europe #20

01-13-2014 11;31;53AM (2)

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 Justice League Europe #20, which was published by DC and is cover dated November 1990. Enjoy!

I don’t own much of Rogers’s 1980s Marvel output, so I have to skip ahead to 1990, when he drew three issues of Justice League Europe. This is the first of those, and it’s clear that he wasn’t knocking it out of the park as well as he had a decade earlier, so I want to check out some of the work to see what’s what.

01-13-2014 11;28;51AM

In this issue of JLE, Michael Morice, who works at the London embassy of the Justice League, finds his father’s “battle rod” and decides to resurrect the hero his father was – the Beefeater. His wife thinks this is an awful idea, pointing out to Michael that his father really wasn’t a hero, but Michael is having none of it! This is very functional art, as we can see, but it lacks the joie de vivre of Rogers’s earlier work. All of the characters are drawn well, and Rogers adds nice details like the fringe on Michael’s sweater-vest and scarf his wife is wearing. Mrs. Morice’s face in the first panel is well done – she looks like a stuck-up lady who barely deigns to discuss anything with her husband, but the rest of the sequence is uninspired. The scene at the pub looks slightly off because the puff of smoke isn’t aligned with the battle rod, so it looks rushed. The nice detail in Mrs. Morice’s hair is contrasted with the sloppiness of Michael’s pants in Panel 2 and her dress in Panel 4 – the lack of nuance in Gene D’Angelo’s colors and the casual hatching from Rogers and/or inker Bob Smith makes this feel a bit more cartoonish than Rogers’s work had been in the past. It doesn’t quite work, unfortunately.

01-13-2014 11;31;53AM

Rogers is still pretty good at people, especially body language, and we see that here. Kara has just come out onto the lawn in a two-piece bathing suit, and of course every male in the area, including Wally, is hooting at her. When she mentions she almost wore her bikini, Wally swoons, and Rogers gives us a nice angry face on Kara as she decides to kill Wally. Rogers does well with the other panels and characters, too. Kara strides confidently toward Sue (in the back) and Catherine, and Catherine instinctively sits up a bit taller in her chair, indicating a small rivalry with Kara – Sue is happily married, so she doesn’t care as much, but Catherine is single, so she feels like she’s in competition with Kara, especially for the affections of Captain Atom. Rogers, as usual, is aware of fashion, so Catherine has a very stylish (for 1990) haircut. It’s a nice little scene in this comic, coming on the heels of Kara being ogled, and it reminds us that this comic was quite good at depicting women who were friends, even if they engaged in some competition.

01-13-2014 11;34;06AM

One thing that Rogers seemed to get worse at over the years is drawing action. This is odd, as action seems to be the hardest thing for artists to get, so the fact that Rogers was so good at it early in his career and less so later is strange. This scene shows some of the problems he has, although, once again, this isn’t terrible artwork. One thing you’ll notice is the lack of backgrounds, which isn’t just an issue with Rogers in this comic but with a lot of artists. Rogers didn’t have as much time to do this issue as he did with others, but it’s disappointing to see the Beefeater running through the embassy but get no sense that he’s even inside a building. Rogers draws Michael fairly well, but because he seems alone in the panels, there’s no real feeling of peril or even action. Michael has run afoul of Kilowog’s alarm system, which is why all these things are occurring, but from panel to panel, we don’t really know what’s going on. In the first, giant columns batter the Beefeater, and in Panel 3, a door slams down to block his egress. Flame spits out from somewhere in Panel 6, but we don’t see where it’s coming from, and the explosions in Panel 4 seem to appear from nowhere. The idea that Michael is running around a mansion being attacked by various devices is completely missing from this sequence. Rogers’s drawings of Michael aren’t bad at all, but without context, this scene becomes less goofy and more stultified.

01-13-2014 11;36;10AM

Much like Tom Palmer yesterday, I wonder if inker Bob Smith isn’t doing Rogers any favors on this book. The thick inks on Captain Atom’s face in Panel 2 and Michael’s face in Panel 4 age the characters, and while Michael’s face is indignant and that shows pretty well, Smith’s hatching on Captain Atom’s face seems to serve no purpose. Granted, Rogers isn’t exactly dominating on this page, as his figured in Panel 1 are posed a bit more stiffly than we’ve seen from him in the past, but it seems clear that a heavy inking line doesn’t work too well with Rogers’s pencils. Part of it might be a universal standard by either Rogers or Smith – Kilowog looks perfectly fine in Panel 2, and his face is inked heavily, but Captain Atom’s face looks to scored to be effective. Occasionally, restraint and contrast is needed!

Rogers re-teamed with Terry Austin for our last selection, which you’d think might be a bonus. We shall see, shan’t we? As always, you can while away the time until tomorrow by checking out the archives!

21 Comments

When you started the Rogers feature and mentioned (or hinted) that his later stuff was not quite as good as the Detective run, the JLE issues are what sprang to my mind. I have not read them in a long time; what you selected to show looks better than I remember it being. I wonder if my expectations were different in 1990.

Y’know something? I used to read JLI/JLE back in the day, and if you’d placed that issue in front of me, I’d be hard pressed to recognize Marshall Rogers’ art right there and then!

Wow! You’d almost miss those good ol’ days for the better, wouldn’t you?

Truth be told, I’m more into the writer’s work, than I am into the artist’s work.

I also would have had no idea that this was the same Marshall Rodgers that had wowed me on “Silver Surfer”, “Doctor Strange” and “Batman”. I can barely recognize the art as his. It would be interesting to see the pencils for this story and see if there’s any of his old skill in those – but some of the flaws you point out would still be there, such as the lack of backgrounds in the action sequence and the stiffness of the figures.

I’m so surprised!

kdu2814: I feel the same way; I still don’t love the artwork, but with the passage of years, it’s not as bad as I thought when I first read these. I think it was the shock of going from Bart Sears, who was really at the top of his game on this book, to Rogers and the other fill-in artists. They were very different and I think Sears much better suited what Giffen and Jones were going for on this comic.

tom: When I first got this issue, I couldn’t believe it was Rogers either. It was that big a shift.

Back then I was definitely more of a writer guy. I’ve changed, but for certain books, I’m still a writer guy. As I noted above, I think Sears was much better suited for this comic than the fill-in artists, unfortunately for them.

Derek: That would be cool. I always love seeing raw pencils without inks or colors, just to see if it’s any different. I’m not sure if we’ll ever know with this, because I don’t know what happened to the originals!

Marshall Rogers is one of those great comic book artists for whom the economics of the industry in their era never worked. Folks like Micheal Golden and Art Adams are also in that class. Rogers would have been perfect for a variety of 8-pagers in anthology titles, like HOUSE OF MYSTERY. However, he just was not able to produce 20-24 pages per month, every month in his style. That made him a guy that did short, but seminal, runs on ‘Tec and Dr. Strange.

Silver Surfer was the only time that he able to draw every issue of a monthly for almost a year. It was also the time when his art became less appealing. Rogers just did not seem to be able to ditch detail and loosen his style in a way sped up his production and kept his peerless quality.

I thought I remembered hearing that Giffen did fairly detailed breakdowns of the layouts for the JLA/I/E stories. Is it possible that the lameness of the art here is just a case of Rogers’ style not meshing well with Giffen’s?

@Tim: that sure looks like a strong possibility.

Tim: That’s a good point. I didn’t check to see if Giffen was credited with breakdowns on this issue, because I know that when I was reading these recently, they were kind of haphazard about crediting him. So he might have for this issue and their styles clashed. Thanks for mentioning that.

Giffen did, in fact, do breakdowns for the Rogers issues.

I was at first thinking of those Justice League back-ups he did where he was definitely flying solo (plus the work he did on the Justice League Europe Annual), but on the actual issues he was working with Giffen breakdowns.

I agree entirely: compared to his work at the beginning of his career, this is appallingly bad art, though for me it works as enjoyable cartooning in respect of Michael Morice and the Beefeater (the hilariously apt dialogue helps a lot in this, mind).

I’m surprised you didn’t mention that the characters of Michael and his wife are directly based on those of Basil and Sybil Fawlty, of the (deliberately) short-lived British sitcom, Fawlty Towers: Basil was the creation of John Cleese, of Monty Python, and Rogers, even in such ahorrendous decline, captures him perfectly. It redeems the art to a large degree.

Then again, Fawlty Towers was very English in its humour: how well known is it in America?

Rogers art here seems very European influenced to me. The line work in general and the page layout of Beefeater running around the embassy look like what I would expect to see in a 80s black and white European reprint. I do agree that the lack of backgrounds in the embassy bit is bad.

He drew a story in Superman 400 that this reminds me of, style wise.

mbc1955: Yeah, I forgot to mention the Fawlty Towers references. He does a good job with the references, but I don’t think it redeems the art enough. It’s good to bring it up, though.

kdu2814: I imagine Rogers, as an artist, knew about European comics, so perhaps that’s it.

Frank Santoro (credit where credit is due) once pointed out that Maguire seemed to have gotten a lot of his early facial acting from Rogers… I wonder if the decision to bring him on for an issue didn’t owe something to that.

I remember getting these issues and being rather taken aback by the shift from Sears to Rogers. It seemed like quite a tonal change.

I’m not a huge fan of Rogers overall, mostly because of the later stuff like this and the Silver Surfer.
I’m wondering if the inking isn’t partly to blame for how unappealing this looks.

Bob Smith is a fine inker overall, but the lines here just have that “bloodless” quality that kills any excitement the pencils may build. The lines look feeble & sterile. It’s most obvious in the sequence where he’s running around in the embassy. The background lines are just really shaky and tentative. It makes the book look a lot like the comic strip “Close to Home” – not a compliment.

It does make the Batman and Detectives work look even better by comparison though.

@ Tim Jarrett:

Excellent point.

Looking back on his ‘TEC stuff, a huge percentage of the effect comes from how the panels are arranged and how the figures are posed.

I think the inkers are part responsible for the printed jobs.

Marshall’s run on Silver Surfer was from mid 87′ to mid-88, 2 mere years before those fill-ins in JLE

The big differences are the inkers – Joe Rubinstein and Joe Marzan on SilSur, and Randy Elliot and Bob Smith on that issue, Rub’ and Marzan Inked the following ones (JLE 21 and 22) and the results are better for the eyes…

Weird. Of course inkers play a big part, here, but even more it was the Englehart-Rogers-Austin that worked great. A writer may strongly influence a comic layout (they often purposely do) and an inker can rveitalize a not-so-brilliant art -or ruin it.

The later Joker-Batman final run shows this, albeit most of the magic was probably worn off after 20 years and the plot was poor.

It’s what comics are about: a good comic is not just good artist or good wrriter, it’s the overall mix, from editor to lettering, just like a good movie is not just a good actor or director, even if many believe so.

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