First Look at DC Rebirth Designs For Bizarro, Red Robin, Batman Beyond & More
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Kelley Jones, and the issue is The Crusades: Urban Decree, which was published by DC/Vertigo and is cover dated April 2001. Enjoy!
I would consider “middle period” Kelley Jones to last until the end of his work on Batman, which ended in late 1997/early 1998 (depending on when he drew the last issue – probably late 1997). Even before that, he had begun to move into what I would call his “later” period, which continues to this day (I’m trying to remember the last Jones work I saw, but I’m not sure what it is, although I’m fairly sure it hasn’t changed so much that we can call it a new phase). As he was finishing Batman, he began drawing The Hammer, which is not significantly different from his earlier work but is beginning to show some changes. Over the next few years he drew some other comics, and then in 2001, he and Steven Seagle began The Crusades with this special, and his art had noticeably changed from his Bat-heyday. Let’s see what’s what!
This is still completely Kelley Jones, of course, but it’s become … more Jonesian, if that makes sense. Jones had been moving toward more exaggeration for years, and we see that very well here in Panel 5, where the knight rides forward and Jones goes a bit nuts with it. In Panel 3, the horse looks relatively “normal,” but in Panel 5, it becomes enraged, its eyes wider and redder than before, its nostrils gigantic, and its mouth gaping. The knight wears boots with those gargoyle faces on the knees, and Jones makes sure they look like they’re coming alive to assist in the attack. I’m not even sure if the knight could stay on the horse the way he’s sitting, but I don’t care – it’s a tremendous image. Jason Moore is inking Jones in this book, and it’s interesting to see. There are still the heavy blacks that we’ve associated with Jones’s pencils for his entire career, but Moore seems to add a bit more texture to, say, the horse, and instead of obliterating holding lines as we saw yesterday, Moore inks the knight’s armor very carefully. This is probably because the knight is wearing metal armor, so every link in the chain needs to be clear, but it’s still interesting.
Jones has always balanced clear storytelling and precise lines with his cartoony style and a morbid sense of humor, so his horror always seems a bit like he’s winking at the reader a bit. This page follows directly on the previous one, so Jones leads us from the almost 3-D drawing of the horse to one of the horse leaping “over” the reader, and then “past” us to get the thug who’s running away. Jones has always been a bit theatrical with capes – Batman’s cape is almost a living thing whenever he draws it – so the knight’s cape forms a panel border in Panel 2. The knight impales the hapless punk in Panel 3, and this is why I wrote that Jones’s style fits a twisted sense of humor, as it’s so over the top that it moves past horror into hilarity. The entire sequence is funny – the ridiculous amount of organ matter that clings to the lance as it pierces the bad guy, the way the knight lifts him, and then the fact that the knight chucks him off of a cliff. Jones can still do straight horror, but as he got older, he seemed to do this kind of thing more often.
Here’s one more page from the opening sequence, as the knight cuts through the bad guys. These events are being told to a shock radio host, so the “eyewitnesses” are arguing amongst themselves. The second eyewitness says that the knight didn’t have a lance, he had a sword, and he sliced through those three dead dudes in Panel 1 before takes care of the rapist. Notice in Panel 4, we get the circular swirls in the background, which is a long staple of Jones’s work. I want to focus on Panel 5, where he cuts the rapist’s head off. The perspective is completely jacked up, but that’s part of what makes Jones’s work so odd – he often disregards “reality” so that he can fit a lot into panels. He has the girl, the knight’s hand, the head, and the sword all jammed into that space, so it just looks bizarre. The rapist’s face is typical “later” Jones – it’s more cartoonish than his earlier work, with far more caricaturish features than we’ve seen over the past few days. It’s interesting, because Jones, as we’ll see, still draws “realistic” people when he wants to, but he’s also making his characters more and more distended, which creates a strange tension to his artwork.
We’re introduced to Venus, the shock jock’s “secret girlfriend,” and Jones does a lot of interesting things with her. In Panel 1, he uses brush strokes to thicken her eyelashes and her cheekbones, and Moore, I assume, does the hatching on her arms. This is a very pensive drawing of Venus, as she’s deciding what her future will be and she’s been injured by Anton’s dismissive attitude toward her. Seagle’s script doesn’t seem to match her outburst in Panel 2, but Jones turns her into a crazed harridan, with her hair exploding from her scalp in all directions and her breasts straining against her small halter top. Jones/Moore use thick blacks to make her coarse, as she’s standing in the men’s room raging at her lover. Jones shows his keen weird sense of page layout in Panel 4, where he gives us a point of view over the stall, so we see Anton sitting on the toilet while Venus pounds on the door. In Panel 5, he stretches Venus so that her head is fairly large but her foot looks smaller than it would if he drew her “realistically” – it’s not as obvious as when he does it in other panels, but it’s still an example of him tweaking the way we see the comic just a bit.
When Venus storms outside, we get this interesting page. Panel 2 once again gives Jones an opportunity to skew the way we view the world, as he puts us underneath Venus as she strolls over us, so we’re looking straight up into her crotch. This means she looks different than before, because we can’t see that magnificent mane of hair. Jones bends the buildings inward, which I’m sure is called something beyond “optical illusion,” but it’s even more pronounced in this panel, because Jones isn’t dealing with reality, but an enhanced sense of reality. In the bottom part of the page, he shows still how flexible he is. The toilet discussion is accompanied by figures that look Jonesian, but are much more “realistic” than we’ve been seeing, and Moore inks them in a relatively pedestrian fashion and Daniel Vozzo mutes the colors on them. In the bottom panel, Jones draws a beautiful Venus – she’s in perfect proportion, her eyelashes are thick but not overwhelming, and her gorgeous hair streams behind her like ocean waves. It’s as if Jones drew every strand, and Moore inks it beautifully, while Vozzo gives it that deep blue that suggests black hair catching the light. It’s fascinating when Jones chooses to draw like this, because it stands in such contrast to the majority of his work.
Jones, naturally, can still bring the moody when he wants to, and this page is a good example of that. The knight cleans his armor and then crashes on his throne, and Jones and Moore do a wonderful job with it. Instead of using the crisp lines, we get a return of softer borders, often without holding lines, so the wooden carvings in the throne appear more organic, and the backdrop and tassels a bit more lush. There’s plenty of detail in the work, but because it’s not as precise, Jones and Moore are able to convey two impressions – this is in some dark place, which is obvious, and all this stuff feels older, less of the modern world. Even if the knight bought it at Cost Plus, it still feels like it comes from the depths of the past. The knight’s face is shaded, of course, because his identity has to remain a secret for now, and the way the shadows fall across him make it clear that he’s caged in some way, even if it’s only metaphorical. It’s a bit obvious, but it’s a powerful image. For some reason, I love that Jones turns his right foot inward a bit – it makes him feel more real, as if he’s just beat from all the killing he’s done. It humanizes him, which is important.
Venus witnesses a mob hit, but the knight saves her life, as we see here. Panel 1 is very interesting – Jones draws beautiful eyes, and we see again that he can rein in his more cartoonish tendencies when it suits him, but the jagged bolts around the border are reminiscent of a sensational comic of the 1940s or 1950s. It’s a weird dichotomy. As Venus falls over, Jones draws the knight’s shadow on the wall, and we’re once again reminded that Jones loves drawing solid stone masonry in his comics – his cities are slightly off-kilter, even though it’s only a brick wall. Moore once again provides fine inking – Venus’s clothing looks silky smooth, as Moore adds just enough hatching to convey that but not too much. Jones is still veering into cartooning, as the puffs of smoke in Panel 4 imply. This remains an interesting clash of styles.
In this issue, this might be the height of Jones’s sense of humor, as the knight bashes the dude in the face so hard with his mace that the punk’s face caves in, to the point where the skin forms a bowl around the mace, and his brains come bursting out of his skull. This is disgusting, of course, but it’s also ridiculous, and while the knight is slaughtering people, it’s difficult to take this seriously. Seagle has always been a bit of a subversive writer (he’s not as showy as his Man of Action cohort, Joe Casey, but he’s as sneaky), and The Crusades is a fairly blatant satire, so Jones drawing this almost as a cartoon is perfectly keeping with the tone of it. Jones still gives us a wonderful shot of Venus, terrified of the knight’s wrath, but even that feels a bit overwrought. It’s nicely done, though – once again her lashes tell the story, as they’re smudged with tears, and the light hatching around her eyes and mouth give her a more distressed look. This is still ridiculously melodramatic, and I have to think both Seagle and Jones are in on the joke.
Jones drew The Crusades for about two years, and then went on to other stuff. Tomorrow, we’ll finish up with his triumphant return to Batman. Yeah, I can’t escape the Caped Crusader, can I? Find more Batman in the archives!
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