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Year of the Artist, Day 78: Kelley Jones, Part 5 – Batman: Unseen #5

02-21-2014 12;08;54PM (2)

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!

02-21-2014 12;08;54PM

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!

02-21-2014 12;11;17PM

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.

02-21-2014 12;13;21PM

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.

02-21-2014 12;15;40PM

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!

02-21-2014 12;17;35PM

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!

12 Comments

It really bothers me when artists like Jones and McFarlane draw Batman surrounded by about an acre of cape.

I started reading comics in 2009 and I remember this mini being one of my first Batman comics. Being a horror fan, I turned into a Jones fan right away. I don’t read Batman comics anymore, but the only way to get me to, is to have Kelley Jones drawing it!

cool arrow: Embrace the crazy cape!!!! :)

Oskar: DC just brought out the Moench/Jones run of 1990s Batman in a nice hardcover today. If you haven’t read those, you should check it out.

This was such a weird comic, mostly because it hinged on Batman running around bare naked in the snow. A lot.

tom fitzpatrick

March 19, 2014 at 9:06 pm

Gotta check that one out.
One of the few Jones stuff I missed.
My bad.
I’m such a terrible fan of Jones, aren’t I? :-(

“There’s room for all kinds of Batmans!””

This sums up how I feel about varied interpretations of iconic comics characters (visually and narrative wise) – variety is best. For example, the problem with the 90s wasn’t Liefeld, it was that EVERYONE and their brother was aping him. Make things your own when you work on iconic characters like Batman, the X-Men, etc, don’t just homogenize your style to fit the current trend. Just because Frank Miller’s interpretation of Batman is iconic doesn’t mean it’s the only interpretation that’s valid, and everything that doesn’t follow in that vein is wrong. The Adam West Batman, or Kelly Jones Batman, hell, even the Schumacher movies all deserve to exist (his Batman movies are actually a decent translation of a certain period of Batman comics). If you don’t like those other interpretations, well, that’s fine, but I hate when people start bitching about people destroying the mythos because they aren’t aping Miller and Mazzuchelli. There is no one right way to do Batman.

Also, that first scan is sheer awesome. I didn’t know Jones and Moench got back together for this series, I’ll have to check it out because I loves me some Kelley Jones Batman.

Wow. I love this. I’d never seen it – I only know Kelley Jones from his early Marvel work and his “Sandman” issues. This is a trip. He pulls off the horror and still gives it something of a funny side – and I love that cape. It’s good to see artists put their stamp on a character.

Thanks for the recommendation.

I noticed you didn’t look at “Calliope”, one of his “Sandman” stories – which is fine of course, it’s your blog! :) That said, there are some interesting notes on the art for that issue – I’ll have to dig them out, because I don’t remember if they’re in the old trade paperback or the Companion – but if I recall correctly, they asked Kelley Jones to tone down some of the horror in the issue.

Derek: I’d have to look it up, too – I own the companion but not the trade. Yeah, I always have to make some tough choices with regard to artists with long careers, and I had already written about Jones’s work on Sandman in the Comics You Should Own post about the series, so I figured it was probably safe to skip it. That’s a beautiful issue, though!

I’m happy that DC is finally collecting the Moench/Jones/Beatty issues of Batman into a series of hardcovers. The first one just came out. I hope that this miniseries is included in a future volume, because I’d never even heard about it until now.

mister burgas, have you read miracleman: apocrypha #1? its got some kelly jones illustrating the rascal prince short story & i d say it is the most disturbing thing he s done. on top of that, matt wagner illustrates a seperate two pager in that same book. i wanna say norm breyfogle but spelled correctly did the third story, with buck markingham arted the book-end chapters. all said, mackeralman had some strong talent going and i hope they continue barry windsors’ covers & have d israeli d emon d raughtman on interior paints, shucks that d be keen i tell you what. oops i rambrantled on there, sorry.. keep up the great greatness of artisterical disclosures if you donut mind me saying i m enjoying the goshdern heck outta these artist write-up whatsits a somethinq feerce.

s!mon: Yeah, I own that issue – I considered using it, but decided on Grimjack instead. You’re right, though – it’s a pretty disturbing story among a bunch of disturbing stories. I do hope Marvel reprints those, too.

Thanks for the nice words!

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