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 Alex Maleev, and the issue is Batman #563, which was published by DC and is cover dated March 1999. Enjoy!
By 1998, Maleev was well known enough that DC tapped him to draw the “No Man’s Land” Special that kicked off the year-long “No Man’s Land” story that ran through all the Bat-books, plus the first arc, “No Law and a New Order” (insert rant about how, in a universe where aliens become superheroes and gods freely roam the earth, the idea of the federal government cutting off one of its largest cities and kicking it out of the country remains one of the loopiest things in comic book history). This, of course, lends credence to what I’ve decided to call the Burgas Axiom of Comics, which states that any artist who ever draws a comic book eventually draws Batman, as this is Maleev’s turn in the pool! Let’s dive right in with him!
On the first page, we see some ways that Maleev is still drawing like he did a few years earlier, with the large chunks of black making everything murky. The design of the page is very nice, with the bad guys forming a barrier around Gordon and MacKenzie Bock, who are diminished at the bottom of the panel. Maleev does a very neat – and chilling – thing with the dude holding the chain: by placing a hook on the end of it and ringing Bock, and not Gordon, with it, he brings to mind lynching, which I have to believe is deliberate. It’s a really subtly terrifying image. While Maleev is still using thick blacks for, say, the folds of the jackets the Demonz are wearing, he’s being inked on this book by Wayne Faucher, and I’ll get more into the inking below. Suffice it to say, the composition of this panel is striking and very effective.
Maleev does some interesting things in this issue, and one of them is the way he draws faces. It’s clear that this was before he started using models, as his faces look far more cartoonish in this issue than they do later in his career. If we take a look at the dude in the foreground of Panel 6, with the weird horizontal hair, the large forehead, and the squashed features, we can see that Maleev was not using models, unless he found a fairly unusual-looking person. In Panel 8, we get more faces that aren’t modeled on anyone – Maleev makes them a bit longer than usual from front to back, perhaps to make the scene look a bit more fluid. In Panel 7, Gordon looks relatively “normal,” as Maleev obviously wants to draw the gang members as slightly less than human, so we get the contrast to Gordon’s stolid humanity. Maleev is still using a lot of spot blacks, which, of course, could be the work of Faucher. Obviously, this is a pretty dark storyline, but Maleev and his collaborators make it visually dark as well as dark in tone.
In later years, Maleev would become less and less comfortable with action as his figures became more posed, which is why this marvelous drawing of Batman swooping down is such a revelation. Maleev draws him as he would look while swinging down – his torso is long, his legs are bent in a realistic manner, and the way his arms are raised has pulled his Bat-logo out of proportion slightly, as would happen in this situation. Maleev, as every Batman artist in the past 40 years has done, goes a bit nuts with the cape, but the way it swirls around Bats works when we consider the way he’s coming down. I love that Maleev, who is very comfortable with big chunks of black, doesn’t even draw Batman’s head, as it fades into the shadows under the bridge. We just get the two white eyes, which makes him look more terrifying. This is a very effective drawing, and it shows how good Maleev can be at drawing free-hand.
Batman gets in a fight, naturally, and Maleev draws it over the course of two pages. Notice that he’s still not too great at action, despite the previous example – in Panel 4 of the first page, Batman and the bad guy look a bit stiff as Bats flips him, and on the second page, the bad guy throwing the stone and Batman chucking it over his shoulder don’t flow particularly well. That sequence isn’t choreographed really well – I assume that Bats ducks the stone, but the way his hand is raised, it could be that he caught the rock and threw it over his shoulder himself. As neat as the drawing where Bats smashes the dude with the car door is, we have no idea where Batman got that door, as Maleev gives us no details in the previous panels that show car doors lying around on the bridge. Still, it’s not a bad fight scene, and Maleev, once again, enjoys using a lot of spot blacks to make Batman a bit more menacing. The sharp nose is particularly effective. I don’t know how much Maleev did with the blacks and how much Faucher did, but let’s consider the inking a bit. I picked on Faucher in an earlier post because I felt his inking obscured Yildiray Cinar’s artwork a bit too much, but Faucher isn’t a bad artist by any means, just a slick one. In this comic, it seems that he smooths out some of Maleev’s rougher edges, making it a bit more superhero-friendly. As we saw yesterday, Maleev appears to be an adaptable artist, but he does have hard edges that make his work a little less fluid. I don’t know if he altered that to work on Batman or if Faucher was responsible, but the long, thin lines on Alfred’s coat in Panel 6 on the first page, for instance, give the fabric a looser feel. The blacks aren’t as solid as they were yesterday – the borders bleed off into hatching a bit – which adds just a bit more movement to the work. Again, I don’t know if this is Maleev or Faucher, but it’s just enough of a change that the action in this issue works pretty well.
Once he started working with Brian Michael Bendis, Maleev got to do a lot more of these kinds of scenes, but even when Bendis isn’t writing the story (Bob Gale wrote this issue), he gets to do it! Obviously, he didn’t draw Gordon and Petit in the second row more than once – he simply used the same drawing and altered Bock’s appearance slightly as he looks from Petit to Gordon. This is interesting proto-Maleev, as he would start doing this a lot more in the new millennium. We see what I think is Faucher’s influence on this page, too – we still get the big spot blacks, but we get some finer lines on Gordon’s and Bock’s faces, as Maleev’s somewhat heavy lines are made a bit lighter. I still don’t believe Maleev was using models at this point, but if he was, he was drawing them rather than photo-referencing them, and it works pretty well. This is a pretty good sequence for Maleev’s storytelling, especially as we get a sly sense of humor when Bock moves back and forth between tough guys Petit and Gordon.
Maleev moved onto Sam and Twitch, where he and Bendis presumably figured out they like to work with each other. I don’t own those issues, so I’m going to skip to the book that really turned him into a household name … well, if any comics creators are household names, which I doubt. Come on back tomorrow to check it out! And, of course, be sure to give the archives a whirl!
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