Year of the Artist, Day 49: Marshall Rogers, Part 5 – Batman: Dark Detective #6
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 Batman: Dark Detective #6, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 2005. Enjoy!
Rogers died in March 2007, so Dark Detective has turned out to be one of the last things he ever drew (he died of a heart attack at 57). It’s not the absolute final thing he ever got published, but it’s the last longer story he worked on, and it’s nice that he was able to reunite with Steve Englehart and Terry Austin on a story that brings back Silver St. Cloud a final time (no, Kevin Smith killing her doesn’t count, thankfully). In issue #6, the Joker has kidnapped Silver, and both Batman and Evan Gregory, Silver’s current lover, go to rescue her. So that’s where we’re at as this issue begins!
Rogers shows that he can still design a great page (there are a lot of great designs in this comic), as Evan Gregory and the Gotham SWAT team enter the Joker’s scary mansion. Rogers gives us the nice thin vertical panel on the left, giving us a good shot of the house itself and the weather outside (of course it’s raining and lightninging!). They move inside the house, and Rogers moves us from Panel 2 to Panel 3, and then drops the floor out from under the characters and the readers in Panel 4. This is really nicely done – our eyes linger on Panel 3 as the characters move onto the stairs, which then flatten, cartoon-style, and drop the characters while leading our eyes straight down. He puts enough men on the stairs so that each character is at a different stage of falling, without Rogers having to draw a “ghost” image to imply one man tumbling backward. The last man is already falling through the trap door at the bottom, and we see only his hands. His cry loops up and into the final panel on the page, which leads us directly to Batman. Rogers also incorporates the other sound effect into the panel, which he had done in his first Detective run but not much since. It’s nice to see it back!
Batman rescues Evan (but not the SWAT team, who are already dead), then finds the Joker about to torture poor Silver. The Joker has figured out that Silver is somehow special to Batman, but our hero ain’t talking. Before the Joker can brand Silver with a “J,” Batman leaps at him, and the fight begins! This is another nicely designed page, as Rogers effortlessly leads our eye across the panels. Notice that in the almost 30 years since his work on Detective, Rogers has become more cartoony – not a lot, but enough to make Batman look a bit more abstract. Notice, too, the difference in inking from the past two days. Austin uses a good amount of hatching, but because his inks are smoother and more precise, they don’t bludgeon Rogers’s pencils excessively. Either Austin or colorist Chris Chuckry uses nice stippling in this comic, giving Rogers’s pencils some depth that was missing from his earlier work. Personally, I think Rogers’s drift into more abstract work isn’t the greatest move, but his action work here is less rigid than it was in the past two examples, so it’s obviously working for him.
As we’ve seen throughout these examples, Rogers is good at body language, and when Bruce rescues Silver, we get another nice example of it. The way they touch each other in Panel 2 is a nice way to show how much they care about each other, and Rogers does a nice job with Silver’s recognition/sadness in Panel 4 when she begins to say that Bruce needs to be Batman. Despite his motions in Panels 1 and 2, the Batman we see in Panel 6 is still aloof, refusing to admit that he has human emotions. Once again, the art team does some nice work, with Silver’s face in shadows in Panel 3 as she stands apart from Batman, the shading on her face in Panel 4, and the blackness on her face in Panel 5. Austin’s fine lines complement Rogers’s pencils quite well, as Silver looks very feminine even though we’ve seen how tough she is. Even so, Rogers’s newer, abstract style isn’t perfect, as Silver’s hand in Panel 5 looks extremely awkward. Still, this is a nice quiet scene, one that Rogers does quite well.
The Joker escapes, of course, and manages to start a huge fire before trying to gain his revenge. This is another nicely designed page by Rogers – he leads our eye across the top panel, and instead of going down, the Joker’s maniacal laughing moves us to the panel where Batman flips him over his head, which leads us back to the Joker crashing onto the chair and then escaping through the “hidden door.” It’s not a perfect design, but it’s still pretty good. Rogers gives us a Joker with a “costume,” unlike the way he drew him in the 1970s, but he still wears pretty cool boots. Austin keeps the hatching to a minimum when the Joker is farther away, which is smart, as it allows the insanity on his face in Panel 3 as he charges forward to shine through. Once again, we get some nice stippling on the page, giving it just enough atmosphere and depth to work without overwhelming the artwork. The shading in Panel 2 is well done, too – this was obviously shaded on a computer, but it looks old-school enough that it creates some continuity with the 1970s run. One of the big changes in comics over the past 20-30 years has been the paper stock, and it hasn’t always been kind to older artists, Rogers included. It’s harder to get a tactile feel to the art when your lines are usually fine, but Austin does what he can in this comic. It’s not always successful, but it works more often than not.
As you can see, Rogers definitely evolved over the course of his career, but it’s still difficult to pinpoint exactly why his art of the late 1970s and early 1980s seems more assured. He definitely moved toward a bit of a more cartoony style, which I think hurt one of his strengths, using facial expressions to convey more subtle emotions, but it doesn’t completely explain why his art seems less confident in the late 1980s and beyond. I can only show examples of it and let you decide. Whether you agree with me or not is up to you!
Tomorrow we’ll get a new artist up in here. I’m typing this on the 14th of January and I haven’t decided who that artist will be yet. But by the time you read this, I’ll know! The artist won’t have shown up in the archives yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check them out!