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Year of the Artist, Day 122: Alex Maleev, Part 4 – Spider-Woman #7

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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 Spider-Woman #7, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated May 2010. Enjoy!

In the years after Maleev’s run on Daredevil ended, he began using more and more models for his work, to the point where Marvel would include them in the credits (a woman named Jolynn Carpenter is his model for Jessica Drew in this series). He also began to get sloppier with his work, I think, to the point where his art began to deteriorate, unfortunately. The nadir came around 2009-2011, when he was working on this comic and Scarlet, two extremely ugly comics. He’s begun to recover a bit from those years, which we’ll see tomorrow, but first, we have to check out the art on this book, and you can agree or disagree with me!

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As we can see, Maleev is taking more and more shortcuts, as he uses the exact same pose for Spider-Woman in three consecutive panels, just moving outward from a close-up for something different. He photographed his model, who was possibly not wearing any clothes at the time, then painted her naked (or near-naked) form with Spider-Woman’s costume (Maleev colored this series). Jessica doesn’t move throughout all that Bendis dialogue, which adds a bit of unreality to the scene. It’s frustrating reading this series, because Maleev does this kind of thing a lot.

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When he was drawing Daredevil, Maleev made an effort to integrate backgrounds into the entire scene, but by the time he worked on Spider-Woman, that seems to have gone by the boards. When I reviewed an issue of this back when it was coming out, I wrote that it looked like actors in front of a green screen, because the characters seem to have no relation to the backgrounds. Notice here that Jessica and the woman are in a shop, but the differences in the way the photographs are filtered make it appear that they’re not really inside a stall selling things, but in an empty room to which the background is added later. Maleev tries to integrate them with the coloring just a bit, but it doesn’t work very well. This takes me right out of the story, and it happens all the time in Spider-Woman.

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Obviously, when you’re using models almost exclusively, the biggest part of the art that suffers is action scenes, because you can’t show any flow between panels or between characters in the same panel. Maleev covers this up a bit by using heavy blacks, lurid coloring, and special effects … pretty much like a lot of CGI-heavy movies these days do. So we get paint splatters and swirls across the page, which helps mitigate the stiffness of the poses. Maleev can’t completely alleviate it – Panel 3 is strange, as it seems to have no relation to the rest of the page – but he does try.

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Here’s the end of the fight, as Jessica bashes the Skrull with a stool. The use of blacks and the coloring helps obscure the storytelling troubles, like what exactly is happening in Panel 1. Is someone kneeing the Skrull in the groin? The lack of context and the overwhelming use of blacks obscure the panel so much it’s almost a pointless piece of work. In Panels 4 and 5, Jessica hits the Skrull, and Maleev does what he can – he again uses paint splatters for the blood to show that Jessica is indeed hitting the alien. But where does she hit him in Panel 4? The blood bursts from his face, it appears, but the Skrull’s arm is blocking the stool from hitting his face, so where exactly does she hit him? In Panel 5, she appears to be striking him from her right (and the blood splatter backs this up), but his head is tilted to his left, implying that she’s swinging from her left. Notice, too, that it seems the background shows a cityscape, but this fight is taking place in a nightclub. Is that a giant window showing the city? We have no idea, because there’s no sense of place once Jessica enters the club. The background becomes that hot pink and it obliterates any details we might use. It wouldn’t be a problem except for the few details that do come through, which seems to show this fight occurring in front a large window.

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The Avengers show up, and we get this monstrosity. This was the final issue of the series, which is just as well, because for me, this was the last straw. The Avengers are coming out of their ship, but Maleev doesn’t seem to care that many of them can’t fly and even the ones who can don’t look like they are actually flying. We get Luke Cage floating down, apparently running through thin air; we get Carol doing some sort of aerobic exercise as she descends; we get Ronin (is that Clint at this time?) doing some sort of martial arts pose as he floats down; we get Mockingbird – the closest to looking like she belongs on this page – celebrating her independence, Mary Richards-style; we get Logan about to attack Jessica even though the team is there to rescue her; we get Spider-Man doing jumping jacks as he comes down; and we get Captain America standing there with perhaps the worst facial expression ever in a superhero comic. This is absolutely ridiculous, and I remember when I reached this page, I thought, “Damn, thank goodness this series is over, because I just can’t believe someone let him get away with this.” Sheesh.

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One last shot here, as I want to point out that I really don’t mind the special effects, but when it’s used lazily, I get annoyed. The blood splatters in Panel 4, for instance, as supposed to be riotous, as Jessica is hitting the Skrull with a full power blast and basically blowing him apart. The neon power surge in Panel 1 isn’t too bad, either, as Maleev’s coloring is weird and creepy. He still has a lot of problems with posing, as the Skrull in Panel 1 doesn’t appear to have any relationship with Wolverine – even the way the energy trail hooks up with his fist is problematic, as it does not seem that he would swing his fist that way. But I don’t object to Maleev creating art this way, I just object to the sloppiness that seemed to go into it. It’s frustrating.

After this, Maleev seemed to get a bit better – maybe he decided this kind of art wasn’t working for him, or maybe it was too annoying to create. Beats me. For the last day of Maleev, I’ll check out a comic where the art does improve. How much? Well, you’ll have to wait and see! For now, take a look at the many wonderful comics in the archives!

5 Comments

tom fitzpatrick

May 2, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Scarlet – I liked, but Spider-Woman was a miss.

Man, Logan’s left arm looks way too long on that splash page. Unless that’s Reed Richards in disguise.

I have really hated the photo-realistic trend that has been so prevalent the last 10 years or so, and these pages demonstrate so many of the reasons why. The trend seems to be waning now, which I’m grateful for.

The cityscape in the background of the skrull fight page you’re referring to… is that the shelves and rows of bottles that are shown in the back of panels 4 and 5? Look again and see if you see it now. Their perfect symmetry do tend to look like windows on a skyscraper at first glance.

Agree with Robert on Logan’s arms. Why are they sooooo long? In both the splash page and the next page. He’s only 5’3″… I doubt his arms would ever look longer than, say, Spider-Man’s. Here it looks like he can grab his knees while standing up straight. Mr. Fantastic in disguise, indeed!

Everything else in this article is spot on, though.

Ace: Ah, good catch. Thanks for pointing that out!

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