"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is J. H. Williams III, and the issue is Seven Soldiers #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated December 2006. Enjoy!
I’ve written about this comic before, but as part of writing about the entire series, and I didn’t write too much about the art in this particular issue, but you’ll still have to forgive me if I repeat a bit of this. I know that Williams’s art on Batwoman is really good, but so far, I think this and the zero issue of Seven Soldiers are his masterpiece, and so I wanted to show stuff from this rather than jumping ahead to Batwoman. I guess you’ll just have to deal with it!
One of the things that Williams does very well in this issue is alter his style to fit the tone of Grant Morrison’s script. He did this in SS #0, and here we see his Kirby style. Morrison is writing a grand creation myth, and so you need big-time Kirbyana! Williams does a tremendous job giving us Kirby-esque pages without losing his essential style. As we’ve seen before, he uses circular panels to good effect on this page, as they’re overlaid on top of the big spread and attached to the machines humming in the background by clanky arms. Throughout the page we get some nice Kirby Krackle, leading us down the page, and Aurakles is a thick, solid dude, much like Kirby’s heroes. The close-up on Aurakles in the bottom circle is very Kirby-like with the wide eyes, flat and wide nose, and the bold yet simple shadows on his face. Williams and Dave Stewart (both are credited as colorists) give us bold colors, too, with the greens, reds, and blues standing out very well. Williams even did Kirby hands on the previous page, so he’s really channeling the King in this sequence!
Here’s another Kirby pastiche from Williams, but I posted this because it’s interesting the way he shows the Sheeda castle in the background. In the foreground, we get fewer lines, more blocks of black, wider faces – it’s a fairly typical Kirby homage – very nice, but still a homage. In the background, Castle Revolving faces off against Kirby machines, and the difference in interesting. Williams gives the floating machine on the right wide, Kirby-esque lines, while the castle’s lines are finer, more “Williams-esque,” if you will. It’s probably too far in the background for Williams to use too much detail, but the thinner lines seem to imply that the castle is from another plane of existence, which, in a way, it is. I don’t know how deliberate it was, but on this page (which is a double-page spread), the thinner lines of the castle stand out among the Kirby homage going on.
On the very next page, Williams shifts his style quite radically. When I wrote about the art on Seven Soldiers #1 earlier, I mentioned that I think this is a Hal Foster homage, and I still think it is, but if anyone knows another artist that this more closely resembles, I hope you let me know. Williams uses his regular thin lines, but with more attention to detail than he even usually has, especially with Arthur’s armor. Once again, the coloring is wonderful, as Williams and/or Stewart (I want to give Williams the credit for the painted pages, but it could easily be Stewart) uses that dull gray to create a good sense of metal and leather on Arthur’s armor, while the smudged blue of the sky gives us a good sense of the cold. It’s no wonder that this issue was late, even if it was Morrison’s fault – look at the detail on the fur lining Arthur’s boots, for instance. Williams went all out on this issue!
Just for fun, Williams puts this strip at the bottom of one of the “newspaper” pages, where the book transforms into an issue of The Manhattan Guardian that updates the action in “real time.” This strip is right below Morrison’s crossword puzzle, and while that feels a bit like showing off, the fact that Williams changes his art style so easily doesn’t. The strip is clever because it seems like the kind of strip you would see in a newspaper, with no frills and more caricature, and it still moves the story along. I love the falling Sheeda in Panel 2.
When the Seven Soldiers fight the Sheeda, Williams reverts to his “base” style, to impressive effect. This is a busy but very well-designed page, as Williams shows three different things happening that all happen to be linked. Zatanna is talking to Misty, her young sidekick (who happens to be a Sheeda princess), but Misty has just fought with Klarion, who took her super die, and she’s trying to tell Zatanna that the Sheeda are unstoppable. Meanwhile, Gloriana, the Sheeda queen, is fighting against Justina, the Shining Knight. In the middle of the page, Alix Harrower, the Bulleteer, is driving an injured Sally Sonic to the hospital. Williams puts Zatanna and Misty in panels that resemble scraps of paper, as New York looks like a war zone and there’s a lot of trash flying around. He draws them and Alix in his more traditional manner, with sharp, precise lines. Gloriana and Justina are fighting through time and space, so Williams puts them outside the regular borders – this is more evident on other pages – but he also changes the way they look. He still uses thin lines, but he and Stewart go back to paints, shading the two fighters differently with more gradients to add some nuance to the scenes. It’s a clever way to place them outside the more “comic book world” of the main action – notice in the lower panel, the shading on Zatanna and Misty is much less noticeable than the shading on Gloriana and Justina. It’s a clever device, and Williams uses it well.
It appears that Williams is aping either Pascual Ferry or Freddie Williams II, the two main artists of the Mister Miracle mini-series. It’s definitely different from the style he uses in the main action, but it doesn’t look too much like those artists. Perhaps Williams was just going for a different mood for these pages. I like this panel, with the thin lines of the manifestation behind “Dark Side” contrasting with his stolid presence. It’s a bit Kirby-esque, which isn’t surprising given the characters, but it also seems to be influenced by Aztec architecture, with the maze of tubes and cylinders connecting everything. The coloring is superb, too – the neon brightness of the true villain swirling around the dull brown of Dark Side’s suit. It’s a very cool visual effect.
The fall of the Sheeda queen is another nice page from Williams. Once again, he and Stewart use a different coloring process, so that we get the gradual shading on Gloriana and I, Spyder instead of the sharp breaks between black and color that we often see in Williams’s art. The red is a large presence on this page, both to remind us of the fairy-tale roots of the Sheeda and for the blood that is being shed and is about to be shed. Gloriana, whose eye was gouged out by Justina in their fight, has placed some kind of reflective piece over that eye, and Williams cleverly draws the city’s buildings as the reflection. The fall of Gloriana brings in some previous Williams motifs – the paint bleeding into nothingness, leaving a large gap on part of the page (which we saw in The Creeper, even though the space was red), and the box around the apple to highlight it (which we saw in Deathwish). Williams has mastered all of these techniques, and it helps him greatly with his storytelling.
Pretty much every page of Seven Soldiers #0 and #1 are tremendous, but I must resist showing more! In the years since this comic, Williams has devoted himself to Batwoman and now Sandman, and while there’s some beautiful art in those books, I figure it’s time to move on. Tomorrow we’ll have a brand new artist to check out – I think I’m pretty sure who it’s going to be, but I might change my mind! Fret not, though – it will be someone! And it’s not someone who has already appeared in the archives, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking them out!
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