Year of the Artist, Day 115: Chris Bachalo, Part 2 – Legends of the Dark Knight #64 and Generation Next #4
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Chris Bachalo, and the issues are Legends of the Dark Knight #64 and Generation Next #4, the first of which was published by DC and is cover dated September 1994 and the second of which was published by Marvel and is cover dated June 1995. Enjoy!
I decided to cheat a little and show these two books, because I didn’t want to show another issue of Shade, and in between the Legends of the Dark Knight issue and the final issue of Generation Next (the best Age of Apocalypse book?), Bachalo took some interesting strides as an artist. He switched inkers, for one, but he also became more and more cartoony. So I figured we could check out these two issues and compare and contrast. Everyone loves comparing and contrasting!
The title page (with Jamie Delano’s first name spelled incorrectly!) shows us some of the cool things Bachalo has developed over the four years since our last post. He’s still crazy detailed, as he draws every brick of the Terminus Hotel and every overgrown blade of grass on the ground in front of it, but he’s also more cartoony than he was when he began on Shade. The exaggerated curve to the hotel is amazing, because it’s not only something that we understand from reality but because Bachalo’s exaggeration brings in the concept of the hotel itself being evil, which Delano hints at throughout the issue. The curve draws Studs and the audience in, creating a sinister vortex that, even if we haven’t read the issue yet, implies that it’s very much a Hotel California situation (which, of course, it is). In the first three panels, we see some of what Bachalo was doing at this time. The streetlamps are lit by cinnamon-bun swirls in Panels 1 and 2 and splotchier blots in Panel 3, as Studs gets farther away from their warming glow. Bachalo’s figures had, by this time, become more caricature-ish, so Studs’s mop of hair in Panel 2 obscures his eyes. Also in Panel 2 we get the first “Bachalo nose” in this post (but not the last!). Mark Pennington or Bachalo himself used horizontal hatching across the nose in a lot of Bachalo’s art at this time, and it became a signifier of Bachalo’s art. Bachalo leads us down to the fire hydrant in the splash panel, where we start to see the decay. The hydrant is tilted just slightly, the weeds grow up around us, and it points us toward the planks lying around the entrance to the hotel and then Studs himself, with his too-long legs and his skeletal frame. As usual with early Bachalo, we get a lot of cracks around the entrance arch and along the wall, and Bachalo/Pennington inks the sign so that it also appears cracked underneath the sickly neon. Studs looks up at the sign, which is where Bachalo leads us, up and into the aptly named Terminus Hotel. Damn, that’s a great drawing.
Here are some good examples of “Bachalo nose.” Poor Eddie. Life sucks for him. Notice that Bachalo, while not exaggerating the figures too much, still makes their heads slightly larger as we move upward, with Mike’s dome, especially, almost turning into Samuel Sterns in Panel 2. Any exaggeration in this sequence is to drive home how depressed Eddie is at this moment in his life, and it’s something that Bachalo was doing more of – changing even the size of his characters depending on what mood they were in.
As Bachalo became more confident, he began to experiment with more extreme “camera” angles to show action (and, of course, perhaps he became overconfident, as we’ll begin to see below and tomorrow). Eddie leaves the bar and decides to drive his own car home. Yeah, not the best move there, Eddie. He hits a baby carriage (because in 1994 people apparently still used baby carriages from the 1950s) and drives on, ending up at the Terminus. Bachalo gives us a very low-angle view in Panel 1, placing the carriage in the front to emphasize its presence but making sure the panel begins with Eddie taking the corner poorly. The rain streaks down, leading us to the car, which is knocking out the trash can, and then taking us right to the wheels of the carriage. The car, the trash can (foreshadowing!) and the carriage wheels are on the same level, and they’re tied together visually – they all “touch” each other the way Bachalo draws the panel. In Panel 2, Eddie hits the carriage, and Bachalo makes the panel thinner so we don’t see the carnage of the baby flying out of it, while also focusing on the destruction. The windshield striking the wheel is the central image of the panel, and it ties everything else together. Eddie is a shadow behind the wheel, because at the moment, his life is essentially over. In Panel 3, Bachalo reverses Panel 1, placing the car on the right side instead of the left side, but still putting it in the background. The focus is on the mother, crouching in the foreground, so our sympathy stays with her as Eddie disappears into the night. It’s a well constructed sequence, and Bachalo’s drawings are really well done.
That’s some classic “Bachalo nose” right there, folks. This is, in fact, a classic “early classic Bachalo face” (“early classic Bachalo” meaning after his early stuff on Shade, in which he was working on a style, but before his more abstract phase). I doubt if Bachalo uses photo references, as his work is too cartoony, but danged if that dude doesn’t look like Nicholson. Anyway, the slightly larger forehead; the thick brows; the thin eyes; the “Bachalo nose”; the wide mouth; the long, pointed chin; the scruff – this was how Bachalo drew many men for quite a long time (the guy behind him also has a fairly standard “Bachalo face,” but he didn’t use that as often). Revel in it!
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll do it again: If you are a comic book artist, at some point you will draw a Batman story. It’s just axiomatic! This is Bachalo’s Batman story (well, his first – he has done a few others), and he draws a cool Batman, as you might expect. One thing artists always try to do is put their own stamp on Batman’s cape, and Bachalo is no exception. I love this cape, as Bachalo draws it so that it looks like hands with long, creepy fingers, reaching for Studs as he tries to flee (Studs killed his dealer at the beginning of the issue, which is why he ended up at the Terminus). The inset panels make it appear that the cape is even encompassing the hallway more completely, which is neat. In Panel 1, Bachalo once again skews the perspective, bending the hallway in just a bit to create a more harrowing tunnel effect, as Batman comes out of that smudge of blackness and moves toward us. As you can see in the credits above, this book is colored by Digital Chameleon, which was founded by Chris Chuckry and Lovern Kindzierski, both good colorists. As I mentioned yesterday, this was early on in digital coloring, and the oranges and yellow in the flames look a bit slicker than they need to be, but overall, the effect is nice. I don’t know how Bachalo created the smudges of flames that surround Batman – I imagine he used a thick brush of some sort, but I don’t know if he used colors just on that part of the art or if Digital Chameleon added it. Bachalo used smudges quite a bit as he became a better artist, and it was usually to good effect.
Here’s another Bachalo effect, smearing the image to show a shift in the way the character perceives reality (in this case, because Studs shot up some heroin). We see this quite a lot in “early classic Bachalo,” although he never abandoned it completely. I have no idea how he does it – perhaps someone who knows art tools better can explain it. I imagine today it’s easy with Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator, but I don’t know what was available to Bachalo back in 1994.
Batman smiling is never not terrifying. Bachalo drawing Batman smiling means with get the long, pointed chin, the thin eyes, and the somewhat wider-than-normal lips. Damn, Bats, don’t promise me anything while smiling like that!!!!
Around this time, Bachalo moved on to Marvel and began drawing Generation X, which for the first two years of its existence was a damned fine comic book, as it felt like the comic Scott Lobdell was born to write. After four issues, Marvel dropped the “Age of Apocalypse” onto the creators, and we got a four-issue “Generation Next” story, which, to answer my question above, was the best “AoA” mini-series by a pretty wide margin. Boy howdy, does it get dark in this final issue! In less than a year, Bachalo had evolved quite a bit in his art in addition to getting a new inker, Mark Buckingham. His art was becoming more cartoony and less “realistic” (not that he had ever been extremely realistic, but it was even less so on this comic!), so let’s take a gander.
Man, look at Mondo. Bachalo has taken the “Bachalo face” to a logical extreme – he’s widened the face ridiculously, including the “Bachalo nose,” and while Mondo’s lips aren’t wide, they are stretched far across his broad face. But we’ll get to his figure work more below. I want to point out the musical notes floating across the top of the panel. As Bachalo became more cartoony, he began to use cartoon tropes, including large and obnoxious sound effects like the notes. It’s rather goofy, and kind of neat. It gives Bachalo’s art a merry tone even when he’s drawing things that are really dark, like this entire mini-series. The clash of tones gives Bachalo’s art a weird tension as he continues to draw extremely serious comics but it also makes those that aren’t so serious (and Lobdell didn’t always write deadly serious issues in this series) much more of a joy to read. Odd.
Bachalo continued to be incredibly detailed for years, even as his figure work became more abstract, and this period was perhaps the height of his details, as we can see from a page like this. Buckingham and/or Bachalo goes a bit nuts with the lines, as we get the Sugar Man covered with tiny hair and Quietus (who’s not really Quietus!) with the hatching all along his suit. When you’re hatching teeth (as we see in Panel 3), you might have gone a bit too far! We also see how exaggerated Bachalo has become with his figures – yes, this comic takes place in an alternate reality where mutants have taken over the world, but Sugar Man, his cronies, and Quietus are still a bit crazy. In Panel 2, we get that minion’s giant mouth and teeth, with the wide nose and long brow ridge, and Sugar Man’s teeth are a bit nuts in Panel 3. Bachalo continues the insanity with the hair in Panel 6, as each strand, it seems, is precisely drawn in. Bachalo was still keen on doing swirls, which would become more and more part of his artwork, but here is confined to Quietus’s knuckles. This is a very detailed page, and Bachalo is just getting started!
Angelo and “Jono” (in the “AoA” universe, he’s too cool for the extra syllable!) are part of the group trying to rescue Illyana from the “core,” and they come across the Sugar Man and blow him up, although he does survive (not sure how he’s so resilient, but he is). We can see how Bachalo has refined the way he draws human faces, as Angelo and Jono both look like Bachalo people, with the pointed chins, the wide smiles, and the thin eyes, but they look a bit more cartoony than even those in “Terminus.” Bachalo had always experimented with unusual page layouts, and we see a bit of that here, as he takes the standard row layout with a big pay-off in the final row and tweaks it just a bit, angling the rows upward a bit so that the explosion of the Sugar Man in the bottom can take up a bit more room. Once again we see the swirls on the knuckles of the Sugar Man, and we also get Bachalo’s keen attention to detail, with the turtle in the final panel, as well as the disturbing hand reaching out from the wreckage. He and Buckingham are using blacks well in this issue, and we see that when the Sugar Man disintegrates – it’s not quite as disgusting as it might be, because it’s basically a lot of black splotches rather than a bloody mess.
This is the next page, so we see already that the Sugar Man isn’t dead (Lobdell doesn’t keep us in suspense!). Notice that this is an even more interesting layout for Bachalo, as he zigs and zags all over the page. We can see that he’s beginning to go for style over substance, which is too bad – I think in this series, he balanced it quite well, but you could tell that he could go either way. The final three panels, where the Sugar Man reappears, are especially strange – I remember reading this 20 years ago and not really understanding what was happening there, and it’s still not exactly clear why the Sugar Man isn’t dead (I guess he can reconstitute himself from any of his molecules?). Anyway, Bachalo’s move toward exaggeration serves him pretty well on this page, as he uses silhouettes with giant, toothy grins to show the various minions trying to kill them. We also see in the panel where Colossus bellows at everyone another shift in Bachalo’s art – he’s beginning to use more solid borders for stuff like flames. At the bottom of the panel, we see a more fluid look, abetted by Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon and their digital coloring. At the top of the panel, Bachalo uses a thicker line to create solid blocks of flame, something he would do more as his art became more stylized.
Here’s another unusual layout, as Colossus “breaks” the panels at the bottom from the impact of his fall in the first panel. This shows Bachalo’s cartooning skills pretty well – the Sugar Man was holding Illyana in the previous page, but when Piotr lands on him, Illyana pops into the air as the Sugar Man gets crammed into the ground. She continues to fly through the air in the lower panels as Colossus pounds on the Sugar Man, which is oddly funny. Bachalo’s layout is clever because of the kinetic impact Colossus has in the first panel, but notice that it’s starting to get cramped and difficult to follow – obviously we know he’s pounding on the Sugar Man, but it’s hard to place both he and Illyana in a larger context because the panels are so small. Colossus is bashing the bad guy, but the close-ups on him are not as clear as they might be because of the way Bachalo chooses to lay the page out. I’m also not sure if Bachalo or Richard Starkings and Comicraft put the sound effects into the book, because it’s pretty clever how they lead us over the page. The “splot” in Panel 1 curves us toward the bottom row, and the “splang” along the left side of the page leads us down to the “bonk” as Piotr punches the Sugar Man again. It’s interesting, and I don’t know if it’s Bachalo or the letterers doing it.
In the end, everything goes to hell and most of the good guys are killed. Piotr and Kitty get Illyana out, but when Colossus goes back for the rest of them, this is what he finds, and he decides to shut the door rather than re-enter the fray. Bachalo does a tremendous job with this page – in Panel 1, Husk is surrounded by all the bad guys, and they’re dragging her down to her doom (even though I guess later we learn she didn’t actually die, but that’s a later retcon). The details in the panel are stupendous – Bachalo and Buckingham don’t cut corners with any of them, even the dudes in the background, plus we get the eight ball and the angry frog-like thing in the foreground. The inking is heavy but not too thick, so it feels solid and dark without obscuring anything. Bachalo, you’ll see, continues putting the swirls on knuckles. Panel 2 is also excellent, as Paige looks at Colossus as the hands overcome her, and Bachalo nails her expression of rage and betrayal. The fact that she’s slightly off-center is one of those nice touches that makes everything work a bit better. Colossus knows she’s seen him, and Bachalo gives him a wide, white eye in Panel 3 as the fear strikes him. Then he drops to his knees as he closes the door and leaves them to their fate. It’s a wonderful sequence finishing up a brutally sad issue, and Bachalo nails it.
Bachalo drew Generation X for a while before moving to Uncanny X-Men for Steven Seagle’s somewhat ill-fated run. Then he started to get weird. We’ll check out some of that weird stuff tomorrow, for the height of his idiosyncratic style but the nadir, perhaps, of his storytelling skills! Won’t that be fun? Find comfort before that in the archives!