"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 Kelley Jones, and the issue is Batman: Unseen #5, which was published by DC and is cover dated February 2010. Enjoy!
Jones teamed up with Doug Moench in 2009 for a new Batman mini-series in which our hero fights … an invisible man. Of course he does! It came out when Bruce Wayne was technically dead, so instead of considering it “current” (for 2009), we can fit it easily into the 1990s Moench/Jones Batman run. In the final issue, Batman himself decides to drink the invisibility potion. Of course he does! This is a loopy, 1950s B-grade science-fiction movie that happens to star Batman, which means it’s awesome. Let’s take a look!
Kelley Jones’s Batman is utterly unique, which is how it should be. Batman is such an iconic character that every artist should try to make him their own, because it’s not like people are going to mistake him for anyone else. Jones’s Bat-cape always looks like a living creature, as it does here. It looks like it’s swirling around Bats because it wants to, not because he’s making it. Jones is hiding the fact that Batman took the invisibility potion, which is why we don’t see anything but the cape, but even so – throughout this issue, Batman’s cape acts as if it has a mind of its own. Jones draws a nice, fuzzy moon – the light’s filtering through clouds, so of course it won’t be completely crisp – that’s ringed by a bunch of bats, because why the hell not? That’s one of the reasons why Jones is such a divisive figure among Bat-fans – some Bat-fans want their Batman “realistic,” and they like the David Mazzuchelli “Year One” model and its ilk. Others think making Batman as batty as possible isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m obviously in the latter camp, so I don’t mind Jones’s take. There’s room for all kinds of Batmans! Anyway, Jones is back to inking himself, and he’s using a lot of thick blacks to highlight the midnight blue of Batman’s cape. Behind him, streaming from the moon, are thin lines, which makes the night sky look a bit more eerie. Michelle Madsen’s choice of dull orange complements Batman’s blue and makes the night less dark but also gives it kind of a neon haze. It’s a strange but bold choice – much like Jones’s Batman himself!
No, this isn’t the most exciting scene, but I wanted to show the way Jones draws architecture a bit. I’ve skipped his maniacal portrayal of Gotham City, but this shows you a little bit of it. Each brick in Panel 1 is created with several vertical line segments, so that they look much more textured. The pine trees in the left background are also carefully lined, and Madsen’s deep blue implies both snow and night. In Panel 2, the building looms on the left, and we see once again the Jones uses black blocks without holding lines to suggest massive stone, adding to the weight of the lodge. The shadow is nicely done – at the “bottom” of the shadow, Jones barely inks it, using short lines that grow as the shadow moves “forward” on the ground, until the “top” is almost completely black. Notice that the black kind of points us right up at the shadow of Batman on the roof. Obviously, this change in color is because the shadow gets “farther away” from the light source, but it’s cool that Jones and Madsen noticed that and adjusted accordingly. The reversal of point of view in Panel 3, from the outside of the lodge to the interior, keeps our eyes flowing, as the shadows in the two panels are linked to each other through their proximity.
In addition to being invisible, Batman has developed glasses that let him see his nemesis (because he’s Batman, that’s why!), and we get a bit of that on this page. Jones and Madsen use technology to show a different view of the world that wouldn’t have been possible in earlier years – the neon blue lighting is something that would have looked far more mundane in an earlier era. We also see more of the evolution of Jones’s work into a bit more cartoony style. In Panels 1 and 2, the explosion of yellow when Batman slugs the invisible man and the crash into the table are straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon, but when you’re hitting someone who can’t be seen and when they’re landing on something, it’s necessary to make it dramatic and obvious. Jones, as we’ve seen, is blending a more “simplistic” style with his usual attention to detail, so we see the rather simple guns in Panel 5 even as he makes sure to draw the folds in Batman’s cape. Obviously, a lot of artists use less detail in the backgrounds of their panels, but Jones seems to do it more often in recent years.
Glass begins to become visible, while Batman ditches his cape to become completely invisible, and Jones gives us this really nice panel to illustrate that. Batman’s outline contains the entire scene, and Glass cowers in front of him. I like how Glass isn’t looking at Batman, because he’s looking back at the cape and he doesn’t quite know where Batman is. I’m not sure I want to know what’s going on in Glass’s crotch. This is a family book, people!
Moench and Jones always understood that, of pretty much all the major superheroes, Batman is most horror-friendly, so there was always that element in their stories. As Batman becomes visible again, Jones gets to draw him, and it’s a cool sequence. The fact that he’s a talking skull throughout the sequence is both horrific and funny, tying again into Jones’s morbid sense of humor. In Panel 3, he gives Bruce semi-visible blood vessels, spreading from his organs like some kind of undersea fronds, and the skull/eyes combination in Panel 4 makes Bruce look like the Red Skull, which again speaks to the creators’ sense of humor – everyone looks terrifying underneath, whether we’re hero or villain. Jones makes this look cool but creepy, which is kind of the point.
Jones is one of the more distinctive visual stylists of the past 25 years, and while he has his detractors, he always makes the books he works on look terrifically unique. That’s not a bad thing, is it?
Tomorrow I think I’ll begin checking out an artist who moves really easily between kids’ comics and horror. I suppose any artist could do that, but this one seems to enjoy it! Before we get there, be sure to dive into the archives!
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