Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Pugh, and the issue is Generation X #65, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated July 2000. Enjoy!
After spending some time doing some fill-in art (on The Spectre and Hitman), some odd work with Warren Ellis (five issues of Doom 2099), a Preacher tie-in (The Saint of Killers), some Penthouse Comix, and other odds ‘n’ ends, Pugh jumped onto Generation X with Ellis plotting and Brian Wood scripting in 2000 for the “Counter X” reboot that didn’t last long but gave us some strange comics set firmly in the Marvel Universe, back at the height of the Bill Jemas “Let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” Era. The reason I skipped to this comic rather than showing some of his darker 1990s work is because on Generation X, he was largely inked by someone else. So I wanted to check out what happens when he’s just penciling and leaving the inking to others, in this case Sandu Florea. It’s also a foray into straight superheroics, even though it’s plotted and written by Ellis and Wood, two guys not necessarily in love with superheroes – they can’t keep the superheroes out of a mutant book! So this gives Pugh a chance to do some more action than he normally had in the past, even though he had drawn, for instance, a Batman story not too long before this. So let’s get to the art!
Chamber blows shit up, because he can. Pugh’s chunky artwork has never been the best fit for action, and he doesn’t do a great job here, although farther down, we’ll see some better instances of it. He does a nice job with the perspective of the page, as we begin with Jonothon at the extreme left, and his furnace blast leads us to the right, where the destruction is, naturally, much larger as it’s closer to us. Jono is wearing a giant cloak because he’s, you know, in a comic book, but at least he looks cool. Pugh draws each individual part of the panel pretty well, but the elements within in don’t flow very well. He circles the car with the men, who are in varying states of chaos, and the car falling apart is nicely drawn. Despite the fine lines flowing through the fire and the broken glass exploding from the windows, there’s not a great sense of movement in the panel, so it’s not quite as dynamic as an exploding car should be. Note the way the dude closest to the right is holding his gun, too – it’s quite odd. I suppose we can chalk it up to him dropping it as he gets thrown from the car, but it’s still a weird way to show it.
This action scene works a bit better, because Pugh and/or Florea realized that motion lines aren’t necessarily the enemy! Pugh can certainly draw figures in odd poses, as we see in Panel 1, but just the few flicks of lines around the figure and his gun make it “move,” and we see that throughout the page. The bad guy in Panel 1 leads us to Panel 2, and Angelo’s fingers coming in from “outside” the panel not only help show how distended Angelo can get, but also link us to Panel 3. In the background of Panel 4, Angelo’s arm and hand lead us to the bad guy sneaking up behind him and then to Paige, who’s behind that guy. It’s a nicely designed page.
We see the influence of Florea’s inking. Florea, from what I know about him, has always been a good “superhero” inker – he uses thin lines, not a lot of heavy inks, and not a lot of florid brush strokes, and it helps tame Pugh’s work a little and make it more “mainstream.” Pugh, as we’ve seen, likes to use a lot of blacks, which occasionally gives his art a bit more of a static look, and while Florea does use plenty of thick blacks (as we see on this page), he doesn’t use them too often, so Angelo’s skin, for instance, becomes less horrific than it could be, and Paige’s hair is more precisely curly than when Pugh inks hair. I’m almost positive an inker was brought in so Pugh could work faster, and it led to this hybrid Pugh style, which retains some of his tics but obliterates others.
On the very next page, Paige does her “husk” thing. Pugh designs a nice page here, with the inset panel showing the beginning of the strip and the larger panel pulling back to show the rest of it. Then we get the progression of panels as the bullet travels toward Angelo, and finally Paige catching up to it. In Panel 1, Pugh exaggerates Paige’s face just a little, and I’m not sure why – does it hurt Paige to husk like that? It’s been a while since I paid that much attention to her and her abilities. Either way, Panel 2 is even better – it gets to some of Pugh’s horror roots, as Paige’s skin comes off in chunks, and Pugh remembers to put part of her scalp flying off to the upper right. Once again, we see Florea’s influence – Paige might be mostly black, but we can see it’s a sleeker black than when Pugh inks himself. I will guess that Florea added the lines in the backgrounds of the panels with the bullet – this “speeds” up the action and makes work better in a superhero book. In the bottom panel, Paige has a pretty good “Pugh face” – her nose is flat and wide, her eyes are set somewhat far apart, and her lips are thick along the top and bottom but non-existent on the sides. It’s been refined, but it’s still the kind of face Pugh tends to draw.
Here are the bad guys, and I wanted to show them because of Florea’s influence on these pages. This is a good example of “Pugh face” – the wide nose, and the big chin when the mouth is closed – but it’s really the inking here that’s interesting. Despite Florea using a lot of hatching, this is still not as rough as when Pugh inks himself. Notice the dude’s eyebrows in Panel 1 – they’re thick and bushy, but Florea clearly keeps the hair fine and separate from anything else. The wrinkles under his eyes are plentiful, but they’re so individual that they look more delicate than anything. In Panel 2, the hatching on the dude’s forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin is certainly a bit rougher than the other lines around his eye sockets, but again, Florea uses a thin line very precisely, so that the blacks are clearly separate from the tan skin. This is even more evident in Panel 3, where the face is in greater close-up – Florea uses more blacks, but he’s being very precise with it. The bad guys still look villainous, certainly, but there’s something a bit restrained about their faces that keeps them from being pure evil.
This is nice page showing Jubilee wanting to go into the bad guy’s lair and kick ass, and Banshee allowing it. Pugh’s classic face is in evidence here, as we get the wide, flat nose, the eyes a bit far apart, the thick lips, and a chin that tends to recede when the mouth is open wide. Pugh is pretty good with facial expressions, although not all the time, as Jubilee’s look in Panel 6 is a bit confusing – is she excited, regretful that she opened her mouth, scared, or happy? All of the above? Still, Jubilee’s exuberance in Panel 2, is nicely done, and her attempts to recall which X-Man told her the scheme in Panel 3 is also quite nice. Once again, we see the finer inking lines, such as Sean’s very light scruff and Paige’s busy hair. Florea’s inks do allow a bit more subtlety in Pugh’s faces – not much, but a bit – and that helps him on this comic. Pugh has also gotten better at either not using photo references quite as much or integrating them better into the artwork – we’ll see that in the next two days, but we see it in this issue, too, as it appears that everything was drawn free hand. I could be wrong, but that’s the way it looks!
After this run, Pugh did some other stuff for a while, and then he drew a comic that features perhaps the greatest superhero ever to strap on a weird costume. We’ll check that out tomorrow! For now, content yourself with the archives!
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