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Year of the Artist, Day 102: Mahmud Asrar, Part 4 – Supergirl #1

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mahmud Asrar, and the issue is Supergirl #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated November 2011. Enjoy!

After Dynamo 5 wrapped up, Asrar did a bunch of minor stuff for Marvel before jumping over to DC and doing an arc on Adventure Comics. When DC rebooted, he had just begun drawing Supergirl, so they kept him on the book in the DCnU. That turned out pretty well, and he drew the book for quite a while. I don’t own those issues, however, although I do own issue #1!

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These two pages show Kara crashing to Earth, and what we don’t get in page design, Asrar and his collaborators make up for in in-panel art. Asrar and Dan Green inked this, and Dave McCaig colored it, and while some of it suffers from the murkiness that we saw yesterday, on the whole, it’s a lot brighter than Cosmic Collision. So Asrar does the whole “Rock crashing to the Earth and something climbing out of it” in a fairly standard way, he still does it quite well. The meteorite crashes in Kansas (much like Superman’s, as the narration reminds us on Page 1), but then it keeps going through the Earth, as we see in Panel 1. Asrar shows just enough of the Earth’s matter so that the progress of the meteor through it looks impressive, and then it blasts out of the Earth in Siberia. Asrar’s explosion in Panel 2 is indicative of the evolution of his art, as we’ll see throughout this post. He’s still a smooth artist, which makes him good for superhero comics, but he’s using a bit of a more jagged line, so that he’s not quite as slick as he’s been in the past. We see this in the explosion, the smoke in Panel 3, and the rocks around Kara as she clears the hole. Even the final panel in this sequence, when we see Kara’s head for the first time, shows that Asrar has gotten more confident with his line, as he uses strong hatching in Kara’s hair, something we haven’t seen very much in his previous work (although he did is occasionally, so it’s not too new, but it looks bolder here). He’s using some nice special effects with the paint splatter mimicking snow in Panels 2-3 of the first page, which become more rounded on the second page as we get closer to Kara. McCaig uses the blue/yellow complement well here – it doesn’t look forced, because the Russian tundra at night probably does have a blueish tint to it, and McCaig smartly mixes in grays and blacks so the blue doesn’t overwhelm everything. It’s a good way to set up the scene, as Kara won’t have much peace for long.

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So a bunch of guys wearing robot suits show up and try to contain Kara, and she gets a bit upset. Then the sun rises, and, well, you know what happens next with Kryptonians. In Panel 1, Asrar shows Kara’s anguish as she realizes what’s happening isn’t a dream, and you’ll notice once again that his lines seem a bit harsher, even though they’ve always been strong. Her nose is smudged black, Asrar actually draws her philtrum (which we didn’t see yesterday with Hanna’s lighter inks), and the small lines at the corners of her eyes make her look a bit more stressed. Asrar puts small tears in her eyes, which gets even more into Kara’s emotional state (even though I’m not a fan of it, mainly because I doubt if a man were under this kind of stress, an artist would draw him with tears) and, perhaps more importantly, links the progression of her eyes throughout the page. Panel 2 is stark simplicity – the horizon, with etched mountains, and a smattering of small triangles for trees – Asrar, like so many other good artists, understands the impact of abstraction – and then we get to Panel 3, where Kara starts to realize something is wrong with the sun. Just the change in color helps change her emotional state, even though she’s still upset – the light softens her cheeks and Asrar seems to widen her face just a little, making her look less drawn in and more open to whatever’s happening. She still has the hatching and the spot blacks around her eyes, but they’re open just a bit, and this time the tears appear to originate because she’s staring into a bright light. The shift is intriguing – Asrar moves in closer just a bit, so that we don’t see her mouth, allowing us to concentrate on her eyes, which draw us in more. Panel 4 shifts back to the sun, rising even higher, and then, in Panel 5, Asrar moves even farther in so that we can only see her eyes, with have switched from teary to fiery red. Obviously, this is because Kara is being imbued with power, and it’s very effective – the fact that we saw the slightest blue in her eyes in Panel 3 makes the switch to bright red even more powerful, and Asrar, naturally, makes them wide open as her mood shifts dramatically from sadness/fear to confusion/fear to rage/fear. We still get the cross-hatching around her eyes, but because her eyes are wide open, the lines make her look angry rather than defeated. Notice, too, how McCaig gradually switches from cool colors to hot colors, so much that it appears her hair in Panel 5 is a brighter shade of yellow than in Panel 3. It’s pretty neat.

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The page before leads to Kara’s energy exploding out of her on the next page, as Asrar gives us this really nice panel. It’s very well designed – Kara’s cri de couer is the first thing we see when we turn the page, and the word balloon leads us down to her before we move to the left, which is where Asrar wants us. Kara is still restrained by the weird purple tendrils that the men trying to capture her shoot, so her left side is being pulled toward the edge of the page, allowing Asrar to put her in a wide fighting stance even though she’s only shooting energy out of her eyes. In the background, the mountain frames her, providing a back-up triangle to the triangle formed by her body and once again reinforcing the power pouring out of her – a tripod is stable, after all, and Kara needs to be stable at this moment. Asrar draws the energy zooming out of her from the lower left to the upper right, and our eyes follow it to the payoff, which is the dude in the suit getting gobsmacked backward. Asrar draws a rough explosion on his chest, inked heavily with black smoke, and McCaig does a nice job illuminating the front of his suit with a light red, reflecting the light from the energy burst. Asrar doesn’t forget the ground, either, as we see the indentations made from where the guy in the suit was standing a moment before. I have a theory that Asrar drew the panel this way because Kara is smaller than the guy in the suit, so by putting her in the background, Asrar can emphasize her size in relation to the bad guys, making her outburst more impressive. Perspective makes the robot suit even bigger as it flies toward the reader, so the fact that Kara is blasting him off his feet gives us the impression that the energy burst is really powerful. That’s my theory, anyway. Whatever the reason, it’s a cool panel.

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Before I get to the art, I should point out that writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson do something clever on this page … although I don’t know if it was their idea or editorial’s. The word balloons in Panel 4, when Kara’s superhearing kicks in, are from other DCnU #1 books – Nightwing, Birds of Prey, and Aquaman – which is a nifty little piece of continuity. But let’s look at the way Asrar lays out the page! Kara had the upper hand briefly, but the robot suits recovered and counterattacked, as we see her get struck in Panel 1. The blast, as well as her hearing getting “better,” drives her to her knees and eventually into a tight crouch, and Asrar shows this by tilting the panels and breaking the top row a bit, which is fairly clever. By shrinking her in Panel 4, Asrar makes her even more vulnerable, especially as the guy in the robot suits surround her (you can see Pandora in Panel 4, too – wasn’t she supposed to be more important in the DCnU?). The energy blast in Panel 1 comes at her awkwardly and doesn’t really seem to hit her, but I guess we’ll have to forgive it – I do like how McCaig colors it purple, keeping with the blue/red theme that is present in any “Super-” comic. Once again, we see the heavy blacks that Asrar and Green are using on this comic – despite the snow, the landscape still looks harsh, as the bad guys roll up the snow in Panel 4, and Asrar/Green lines the pushed-up snow with thick strokes, and there are some nice black chunks around the feet of the robotic suit. Once again, Asrar uses the landscape fairly well – the mountains on the left and right in Panel 4 now create a bowl, in which Kara is trapped by the bad guys. Asrar also draws her hair slightly more disheveled in Panels 3 and 4 as she crashes – it was never perfectly combed, but because she’s grabbing the sides of her head, her hair gets scrunched up a bit more.

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When Kara finally breaks into one of the suits and drags the operator out, Asrar shows once again how lost she is. In the first panel, Asrar shows her in profile, as she’s holding the dude by the throat off-panel. We’re back to Asrar showing her emotions well, as he closes her eye just a bit and gives her a curved line underneath it, both tiring her and saddening her. Her mouth is slightly downturned, and the hatching around her nose and on her cheek is back, implying how tough she’s struggling with her new reality. Asrar doesn’t forget to put the dude’s hand on her arm – he’s trying to keep her from choking him, so it’s nice that Asrar didn’t forget to draw it. He rotates the view in Panel 2 so he can show more clearly the arrival of Superman behind her – it’s all motion lines and sound effects, but McCaig’s colors make it clear who it is, even though we see him on the next page. What’s interesting is that Superman moves the “wrong” way – he’s moving from right to left, which is against the grain of how we read, and I’m not sure why Asrar did it that way. Still, he does a very nice job with Kara – Superman’s wake lifts her hair up and blows it sideways, and the strand across her face draws attention to her eyes, which are again starting to tear up. Once again, we get a good indication of her emotional state – the tears are bright in her eyes, and her mouth is a bit wrinkled, as if she’s trying to compose herself. As I noted above, I’m not too happy with the tears, but Asrar’s drawing is very nice.

As I noted above, Asrar drew Supergirl for a while, then he did an arc on Ultimate X-Men before jumping back into the “regular” Marvel Universe, which is where we’ll find him tomorrow for our final day of his art. As always, you can spend some time in the archives, if you choose!

10 Comments

Something worth noting in this art here is a change to using more shading and undertones in the original art instead of relying on the inker and colorist. You can see this most notably in the early pages–the dark shading in the trail of the ship and the shadows dancing across the mountains. This set the artwork for Supergirl apart from previous works. He stopped using it for… I want to say issue #3, and then continued using it afterward. Eventually stopped using it altogether (I imagine due to time constraints) which made his last few Supergirl issues look more like his Supergirl art from the previous volume.

He played with this type of shading again on Ultimate X-Men (at least with the covers–I didn’t read the story to know what the interiors were like), but seems to have dropped it again for Wolverine and the X-Men. I wish he wouldn’t do that. That extra bit of watercolor-like shading adds so much to his art.

R.: Yeah, I’m positive it’s because of time constraints, unfortunately. The monthly grind makes it almost necessary for artists to be as “simple” as possible, which means we can get the artist for a while but also means that it’s not always going to be the “best” work from the artist. With some of these artists, it’s astonishing how beautiful their art looks when they do stuff like this (or other things, of course) and how different – not necessarily worse, but not as rich – when they don’t have time. I didn’t do Steve Pugh’s most recent work because it’s clear he is not pushing himself as much, artistically, on Animal Man and Invaders, probably because he’s getting paid decent money and they don’t want him to spend too much time on it. It’s frustrating.

How long was Asrar on Nu52 Supergirl?

Morten: It looks like he did the first 20 issues, with two skipped issues. I don’t know if that’s accurate, because I didn’t read it, but it seems to be.

When I heard that he was coming on to W&TXM, I was pretty excited because I had seen awesome work in Supergirl. But so far, I haven’t really been blown away by it. Which is a shame. Still good, though.

Why the X-office has not dragged Dan Green to ink a few issues of whatever they produce now is baffling. One of the great X-artists.

David: I haven’t actually taken a look at the new book, because I figured I’d just get the trade. That’s too bad about the art, although, as R. said above, it’s probably time constraints. With the way Marvel ships books, I’m amazed they get artists to last three issues, no matter how quickly they draw!

Kabe: It’s very weird. Green is a fine inker!

I miss artist like Jon Bogdanove ( Inked by Denis Janke ) or Larry Stroman on an monthly comic ( creator owned or other wise ) namely Bogdanove . his line work and versatile skills in terms creating clean , cinematic page compositions , but I do agree with your point on how an artist must adjust his drawing skills to meet the ever closing gap working on an Monthly Deadline ( or even the weekly deadline ) to meet the Intensive Marvel Double Shipping .

my favorite Inkers are Denis Janke , Klaus Janson , Al Milgrom , Dan Green & John Beatty ( namely because of his work with Kelley Jones )

Jeffrey Brown, something tells me we read the same comics in the 90s

I was a young kid reading a lot of it during the 90s . namely a few of the Superman Books during the Death of Superman run ( I still enjoy the Weezie / Bogdanove issues , the Tom Grummet Superboy issues and Dan Jurgen/ Brett Breeding issues featuring the Cyborg Superman ) ^_^ also later on into my teenage years reading trades and Back Issues of 80s and 90s X-Men ( also issues of Peter David`s X-Factor with Larry Stroman and Joe Quasada ) also reading the Vampire Batman Trilogy ( I really read it for both the story and the Killer Kelley Jones Art + the Inkers like John Beatty really complimented his Gothic take on Batman ( which to me was my favorite Batman next to the Bruce Timm Batman Animated series look is my close second ) but I also had read my far share of Image books during the 90s ( Savage Dragon being my favorite since then so Bombastic and Bold in Erik Larsen`s Execution ..very very Kirby ) but yeah I was a 90s Kid . ^_^

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