INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jamie McKelvie, and the issue is Defenders #9, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated October 2012. These scans are from the trade paperback, which was published in January 2013. Enjoy!
Matt Fraction’s 12-issue Defenders run was uneven, but it had its moments. One of those was when the Defenders ended up in an alternate universe New York, which was a fun issue that happened to be drawn by Jamie McKelvie. Let’s boogaloo!
On the first page of the issue, we find Betty Ross waitressing in “The Hydra Club,” where Nick Fury is having a drink with a sexy blonde (who, of course, turns out to be evil). Panel 1 is a great McKelvie drawing, as it perfectly captures the 1960s vibe of a Playboy club, but McKelvie gives Betty her nice She-Hulk muscles, so the sexism is subverted well. As always, McKelvie nails the facial expression, with her innocent-yet-sexy side glance as she hands Fury the glass. The cheery Nazis in Panel 3, with Baron Strucker and Hitler, is another excellent panel – yes, they’re Nazis, but they’re having a good time. Fury’s sneer in Panel 4 is reminiscent of Loki’s yesterday, but Fury is even more disgusted.
Dommo Aymara colors this, and we’ll see more of the coloring in later scans, but there’s a bit more nuance in the coloring than we’ve seen the past two days. Aymara uses shading more often and does more contrast between the shading and the more lightened parts of faces, for instance. By happenstance, Fraction places Red She-Hulk in a HYDRA setting, so we get the nice complementary colors of her skin and the HYDRA standard green in Panel 1. It’s not Aymara’s choice, but it’s still a nice color scheme.
McKelvie goes full-on Steranko here, and it’s pretty stupendous. As our last scan didn’t have much in the way of backgrounds, I didn’t mention that Mike Norton draws the backgrounds in a lot of McKelvie’s art these days, and I assume he did it on this page. (McKelvie explained the process here.) I’m not sure who did the screens, but they’re very neat, especially as Aymara colors them with that luminescent blue and white that glows nicely. McKelvie, as we’ve been seeing over the course of the past few days, is getting better at action scenes, and while this is still a posed, static image, his figures look a bit more fluid than we’ve seen, so it becomes a bit easier to imagine that all these people are moving. McKelvie and Norton design the page well, too. The screens dominate the upper part, obviously, but the triangular shape point us down to the main action quite well. The “Hail HYDRA!” word balloon blocks us on the right, and even if we move down to the pop-up agent shouting directly at us, his head and gun frame the central image of the page, so we’re directed that way if we’ve skipped past it. Hitler is fighting, of course, but I find it very humorous that Agent Pussycat’s breasts are pretty much the focal point of the entire page. As everything is green and blue, the tan on her upper body stands out, and the way her body is posed means her breasts jut out rather emphatically, while the fact that she’s running means her necklace flies out of the way of our view. It’s pretty funny, if you ask me.
Terry Dodson drew the first issue of this collection, and then McKelvie took over. He immediately lengthened Dr. Strange’s mustache, which is hilarious. It’s much more porno when McKelvie draws it, as we see here. I love Fury in Panel 1, as he’s casually scratching his head with the barrel of his gun. It’s such a perfect thing for someone who’s intimately familiar with guns to do – Fury might have forgotten he even has a gun in his hand by now. McKelvie gives him a bit of a gaping mouth as he wonders what happened to HYDRA, an instant before the giant drill punches through the floor. We see how McKelvie is getting better at action – the figures bursting through the glass look more dynamic than we’ve seen, and McKelvie – I assume it’s him and not Norton – draws the exploding floor quite well. Did Norton or Aymara put in the jagged “explosion” lines? I don’t know, but motion lines tend to add dynamism to action scenes, and it’s something we hadn’t seen in earlier McKelvie art, so maybe it’s not him adding them.
As we’ve seen, McKelvie has figured out some interesting ways to lay out a page, and this little sequence is pretty neat. Felicia has to grab the brass frogs, so McKelvie uses a nice perspective in Panel 2, placing the frogs in the foreground to highlight their importance, while placing Felicia in the middle of the three HYDRA agents. She’s leaping “against the grain,” so to speak, but it leads our eyes back toward the second level, where we get the three circular panels in which she makes the grab. We know that she does a cartwheel over them and grabs them, and McKelvie counts on us to fill in the blanks, which we do. He draws the three agents smashing into each other as she soars above them, which also leads our eyes the “correct” way. I assume, again, that Norton puts the lines behind Felicia in Panel 2, which speeds her up nicely, especially as she’s in a more dynamic pose than the agents, who appear to be standing still. It’s a nice little sequence. (I should point out that the frogs are never seen again in this issue. What happened to them?) [Edit: this is what happens when I assume. McKelvie let me know that the speed lines are his. Yes, I know I should have asked him. My bad!]
This is another nice action sequence, and it shows how far McKelvie has come. The page is laid out really well. Iron Fist leads us from his punch of the one agent along his body to the kick of the other one, while underneath his leg, Dr. Strange is using some laser nunchucks, which continues in the next panel. The HYDRA agent in Panel 2 dominates, but Strange is still the first thing we see, and we can follow the light stream around the agent’s gun and right into his jaw, which leads us nicely to Panel 3, where we find Danny up against the panel border, just like the agent in Panel 2. His arm leads us along to his fist, which is smashing into the agent’s face. Finally, the agents in Panel 4 lead us to Betty, who’s busy pounding them. Her punch leads us onward to the next page. It’s a fine layout.
They’re nice drawings, too. Danny is posed really well in Panel 1 – even though he’s wildly contorted, McKelvie is so good at drawing figures that he doesn’t look crazy. The folds in the agent’s clothes in Panel 2 work very well – his head is moving to the left, so his body pulls up on his right, and McKelvie draws nice lines in the tunic to show that, while Aymara uses shades well to fill it out. Once again, I’m going to assume Norton put the motion lines in, as it works very well in Panel 3, where the lines all converge on the agent’s face, making the punch more dramatic. In Panel 4, McKelvie does a nice job twisting the agent’s head rather gruesomely when Betty hits him – if you’re getting smacked by She-Hulk, your neck would probably twist that way, too. I love Betty’s grumpy look – she’s mad because she has to fight off at least five HYDRA agents while Strange and Danny are chatting about the laser nunchuks, and while Fraction’s line is good, McKelvie nails the facial expression, too.
The Defenders get shunted out of this universe, and McKelvie does a nice job with it. He didn’t originate the idea of using negative space to show how they get sucked right out of the dimension, but he still does it well. He places the Defenders around the omega in the center (the omega is on the hand of Prester John, who causes their dimensional shifts, and if you want to know more, you should just buy the series!), and does a nice job with the thick border lines, showing clearly who everyone is. Once again we get the speed lines in the background, which adds urgency to the scene pretty well. We never find out what happened to the bullet Fury fires, though.
McKelvie does some very nice work on the three issues he drew in this series, and he continued that on his next series, when he once again teamed up with Kieron Gillen. Come back tomorrow to check that artwork out, as I cheat a little, but for a good cause! And spend some time in the archives – they get lonely!
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