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CSBG Archive

Year of the Artist, Day 133: Walter Simonson, Part 5 – Marvel and DC Present Featuring the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Walter Simonson, and the comic is Marvel and DC Present Featuring the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans (don’t blame me, I didn’t name it!), which was published by Marvel and DC and is cover dated January 1982. Enjoy!

By the time 1981 rolled around, Simonson had enough of a reputation that he was tasked to draw what turned out to be probably the best Marvel/DC crossover ever. Chris Claremont at the height of his bombastic powers, Terry Austin, Tom Orzechowski, and Glynis Wein on board, the two hottest teams in comics at the time – what the hell could go wrong? As it turned out, nothing. This is an amazing comic, and Simonson showed that he had arrived (if he hadn’t before), with these pages serving as a template for his Thor run, his Fantastic Four run, and his Orion run. Let’s get into it!

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Pairing Simonson with Terry Austin was pretty inspired, because Simonson could do his crazy shit while Austin could tone down the craziness in some of the “quieter” moments (as much as this book has quieter moments) and soften his lines just a bit to contrast them with the more cosmic stuff. Simonson draws a wonderful scene of Jean collapsing into Scott, but Austin’s inks help blend the wild line work into a softer, more gauzy look as Jean disintegrates. In Panel 2, Austin’s inks help tone down Simonson’s smoky lines, which makes Jean’s aftermath a bit more spooky. Finally, Panel 3 is a nice study in contrasts, as Simonson’s harder lines make Scott’s powers explode out of his eyes even as Austin’s inks soften his facial features a little. Austin’s crisp inking lines grounds Simonson’s pencil work just a bit, which is helpful. Wein’s coloring is nice, too, as she gradually softens Jean’s stark red/green complements into a haze of pinks and yellows in Panel 1. It’s well done.

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Obviously, Austin isn’t softening Simonson’s pencils throughout, as we can see here. Austin’s hatching in Panel 1, for instance, helps give Dick a bit more definition than Simonson’s stark pencils probably would, but when Deathstroke fires his big ol’ gun, Austin uses thicker lines to keep the Simonson crackle (or, in deference to Kirby Krackle, how about Simonson Sizzle?) around the energy spewing forth. In Panel 3, we get more gouts of black when the gun blasts the area, and the by-now typical Simonson jaggedness from the energy of the gun and the explosion. Panel 4 is almost a mirror image of the panel from yesterday where the alien spider crab attacked Kane, as Deathstroke kicks Robin in the face, shoving him violently off the panel. Simonson knows that keeping figures off-center in panels is a good way to simulate movement, so Robin off to the side implies how strongly Deathstroke kicked him. Simonson knows what he’s doing!

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This is an interesting example of Austin’s influence, I think. The two main panels are, by this time, fairly standard Simonsonian explosions, but Starfire is telling this to others, so they’re just her memories, which is why we see her straddling the two panels. This seems to be more of an “Austinian” drawing than a Simonson one, as Austin uses very thin hatching on Kory’s face to add nice shading to her, as she’s lit from below by the glow of the two explosions. Obviously, Simonson drew the face, but I think the delicacy of the shading and the lack of holding lines shows how much Austin was doing on the book, as Simonson and “subtle” tend not to go together too often. [As Ganky pointed out in the comments, this is Dark Phoenix, not Starfire. I've owned this comic for over 20 years and I always thought it was Kory narrating, but the instant it was pointed out, it's obvious it's Dark Phoenix. Sheesh, I'm too stupid to live sometimes.]

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Holy crap, now that’s a Simonson drawing. If you show this to anyone who’s read comics for more than a few years and they can’t identify that as a Simonson drawing immediately, you should probably punch them.

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Man, Claremont can write a lot of crap, can’t he? Anyway, Darkseid “resurrects” Dark Phoenix, and we get this amazing sequence. On the first page, Simonson gives us giant wheels with the X-Men strapped to them as “nimbi” of fire swirl around them, and Austin gets out of his way and lets the Kirby Krackle fly! Notice in the second row how Simonson’s faces have become more like the Simonson of the 1980s and onward, with harder angles and exaggerated expressions. He and Austin go nuts with the swirling flames until we get to the second page, where Dark Phoenix floats in front of Darkseid. I love the way he draws Jean’s hair – he and Austin use thick blacks to suggest curls of hair, but unlike a lot of Simonson’s work, he doesn’t fill in every strand, allowing Wein to fill in the rest with reds and pinks, giving DP a nice evil halo. Simonson and Austin fill in Jean’s face with spot blacks, making her a bit more evil, but once again, Austin inks her outfit a bit smoothly, making it look more like satin or silk. I assume Austin added the hatching to Darkseid, too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Simonson did more work on him, because his thicker line seems more evident for Darkseid, who definitely looks craggier than Ms. Grey. I like how Simonson poses them in on the second page – while Darkseid is in the foreground and therefore bigger than DP, she floats above him, so their evil is balanced against each other. Neither can claim dominance, which is a nice touch. And how about Orzechowski’s ornate lettering on this page? Dang, Orzechowski knows how to letter a comic.

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Darkseid explains his evil scheme to his prisoners (because he’s a Bond villain), which somehow includes taking over the realms of imagination? How will that work? Anyway, this is yet another nice page. Panel 1 gives us more New Gods stuff that Simonson is proving he can draw in his sleep, as he uses hard lines and angles to show the fierceness of the dog cavalry (oh, they’re so cute!) and the para-demons (seriously, how did DC not throw a ton of money at Simonson to draw Final Crisis?). We get a typical post-apocalyptic scene in Panel 2, but then we get his “new Apokolips” in Panel 3, where Simonson has some fun with Kirby Krackle while Austin’s inks actually add some nuance to the hellish scene. Of course, Wein’s beautiful blues help make the white from the fire pits stand out even more, which is pretty cool. Simonson, as we can see, draws a pretty neat Darkseid, with the giant brow ridge that always denotes eeeeeevillllll, the wide nose, and the slightly open mouth, implying a hunger that cannot be satisfied! Again, we see some angularity to Darkseid, although it’s Darkseid, so it’s not like it’s that surprising.

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Simonson continues to get better at “big” moments, especially from a perspective standpoint, as we see here. He places the characters at the upper left, which is where we would begin reading, so even though we’re seeing a slightly different view than they are, we’re still right there with them, and it could easily be us voicing the “Wow” in this panel (I think it’s significant that we can’t tell who says it). Simonson uses the characters as a way to lead us straight down, where the giant head of Darkseid is the focal point and everything points right at it. Simonson puts a stream of Kirby Krackle floating up from the head, and it’s interesting that it’s inked a bit more roughly than it was in the past by Kirby’s guys. This is a very Kirby-esque panel overall, ain’t it? The Krackle, Darkseid, the oppressive and giant machinery, the energy burst at the bottom – these are good Kirby tropes. I really don’t like the evil troll in the corner breaking up the drawing, though. It’s kind of annoying.

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Dark Phoenix is dying, so she tries to inhabit a physical body, and Scott happens to be there, so … yeah, you know. Simonson draws the energy going crazy around him, which means he can use bold, sketchy lines, and Austin can hatch with thicker but fewer lines. It sets up the final panel well, where the energy bursts out of Scott and Simonson obliterates his face, using it as a focal point from which the lines stream. Again we get nice jagged lines from Simonson, and Wein does a marvelous job with the colors, especially the choice of pink in the final panel. Yes, Scott’s eye beams are pink, but that much might feel like overkill but for the way Claremont and Simonson build up to it. And hey, it’s a good thing Marvel never gave Scott the Phoenix Power again, right? I mean, that would have been crazy!

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This is a nice culmination of what Simonson was doing on this book, with the Kirby Krackle, the cosmic scale, the weird-looking dudes on the Source Wall, and Austin’s inks making his pencil work just a bit softer than they would have been if Simonson was inking himself. The entire book, including this page, let readers and editors know that Simonson would really kick ass on a cosmic book. It’s a good thing people were paying attention!

I think this comic really is the culmination of Simonson’s development, as the art that comes after this is very much in line with this. He began working on Thor in 1983, and even though the inking is a bit rougher, it’s very similar to this artwork. Like Alan Davis, whose work I stopped checking out early in his career, it’s not that Simonson hasn’t changed over the past 30 years, it’s that the changes are more subtle, and his big developments came in the first decade of his career. So I hope you don’t mind if I end here!

Tomorrow I think I’ll check out an artist who’s quite good but who rarely draws anything anymore, as he’s too busy writing stuff. Yes, that describes a bunch of people, including at least one dude in the archives, but that’s the way it is. Come back tomorrow to see what’s what!

44 Comments

One of my top favorite comics of all time. I was a fan of each title at the time but would never have conceived that they could be blended so seamlessly. Chris Claremont really outdid himself on the story, and Simonson was on fire. This is the crossover by which I judge all others.

tom fitzpatrick

May 13, 2014 at 3:07 pm

I second that!

Two highly popular titles from The BIG TWO, and in one rare moment, did they ever collaborate on such a project! A great writer – a great story; A great artist and inker(s) – Fantastic art; A great letterer – Terrific and readable lettering; A great colorer – Colors that dazzles!

What more can a Fanboy ask?

20-odd years later: JLA/AVENGERS cross-over by Busiek & Perez. ;-)

Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another 20 years for another great cross-over!!!!! :-)

I completely forgot about this! This was one of my favorite comics growing up. Found it collected with a bunch of fairly mediocre MarvelDC crossovers and it just blew them out of the water. That page where Phoenix meets Darkseid is still one of my all time favorites. Obviously I thought you were going to do the cliche thing and go with Simonson’s insane work on Thor, but thanks for proving me wrong.

Also, this reminds me how much I need to read Orion. Hopefully DC gets off their ass and collects it soon. And as much as I loved J.G. Jones on Final Crisis I am now salivating over the thought of Simonson artwork for (at least part of) that event. Would have been completely different tonally but perfect in its own way,

No arguments from me about the pure awesomeness of this story. It really blew my little mind when it came out, and it also made me a lifelong fan of Simonson’s art.
As for whether it’s the best Marvel/DC crossover ever – well, I think Byrne’s Batman & Captain America shares the top spot with this one…

Chrome Aardvark

May 13, 2014 at 3:19 pm

One of the cooler concepts relating to the New Gods, the Source Wall, came out of this crossover. One thing that’s different about this book to the earlier entry with Milgrom inking is that Simonson was doing full pencils here, as opposed to rough breakdowns. He went through a period in the mid to late 70s where he was only doing breakdowns, like on Hercules Unbound, his first Thor run and the aforementioned Detective story.

Yup, one of the best comics ever. They made such a good art team that I still can’t believe there weren’t many (any?) more.

And that errant ink blob on Darkseid’s nose on the big reveal splash page still bugs me now as much as it did back then. Argh!

LouReedRichards

May 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Truly wonderful art.

The story was adequate, but man o man that artwork, the penciling, the inking, the lettering, just a truly impressive package!

When I got into comics in the mid 80′s the going price for this comic was crazy expensive. My friends and I viewed it almost as a holy relic. It had a mythic like status. When I finally got a copy years later I understood why!

It wasn’t until you worded it that it made me realize that this is probably the best Marvel/DC crossover. I would have agrued that JLAvengers is but which one would I rather pick up? X-Men/Teen Titans.

I really like how on the cover, Wolverine is the same size as all of the other heroes, so you know this is Pre-Wolverine-Exposure.

I also like how Kitty and Beast Boy are charmed by each other, instead of the obvious Robin and Kitty (both being sidekicks of sorts – in Kitty’s instance) but we’ll get Robin and Jubilee during Marvel vs DC.

I wished we got the promised of the DC side of this as I would have loved to see George Perez tackle the X-Men as he rarely ever has outside of Avengers Volume Three Issue 10. oh how I hate the renumbering of comics! Having to cite them is so painful on the eyes.

Great article, Mr. Burgas, and thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

Being a big X-Men fan as a kid, I was already reading those famous mutants in Uncanny, and of course I knew Robin through Batman, but this was actually my introduction to the Teen Titans, Deathstroke and Darkseid. This will always be my favorite crossover and one of my most treasured comics.

In the scene where we see D’Bari and the Shiar ship explode, I don’t think that’s Starfire at the top, but Dark Phoenix glaring lustily at the destruction she wrought; at least that’s how I always read it. The face looks older and more mature, definitely more evil, and has long flowing hair that goes out to the sides, as Jean had in the above examples, and no curls are hanging down onto her brow as Cori’s did. The relative scale of the events depicted make showing Phoenix do these things directly difficult, as she would be too small, so we get the metaphoric “overarching villain portrait” instead.

Ganky: You know, in all the years I’ve owned this book, I’ve never thought of that, but the minute you say that, I think, “Duh – of course it’s Phoenix!” Sheesh, I’m a moron. Thanks!

If I were programming a robot to draw TEEN TITANS, the I am pretty sure I would go with two part George Perez/Romeo Tanghal, two part Nick Cardy and one part Simonson/Austin. This has to be one of the biggest impacts per published page of all-time.

Other than Alan Moore on GREEN LANTERN, what else is on that list?

I agree with the general sentiment that this was the best of all Marvel/DC crossovers. At the time, those two comics were the hottest in their respective companies and, wonder of wonders, they crossed over when both were going through creative peaks, and they meshed pretty well. What are the odds?

The main contender, JLA/Avengers, gets a lot of love, but I think it’s too self-aware.

The artwork on this crossover is just beautiful. I’m trying to recall if Walter Simonson and Terry Austin worked together on any other occasions.

One of the cooler concepts relating to the New Gods, the Source Wall, came out of this crossover.

Holy crap, that’s nuts. That’s got to be the biggest effect on actual DC continuity of any DC/Marvel crossover ever. (Admittedly, it’s a short list. There were some ripple effects from JLA/Avengers, but mostly the crossovers stayed pretty self-contained.)

Man, it’s a shame you’re stopping at this point with Simonson. I just got THE JUDAS COIN on discount and enjoyed the heck out of it. I’d have liked to have read your analysis of that one.

Adam: I love The Judas Coin, but there’s just too much good Simonson, and I could easily do another week of his art!

this comic, bought off the rack way back when, is one of the reasons I got into – and still remain into comics as a hobby

others of the time / that result include American Flag, the x-men run contemporary to this (Paul Smith, JrJr iirc), Great Darkness Saga, wolverine 1st mini

I’d been into comics before on and off as kid (golden-age DC reprints, old-timey LSH, enemy ace, howard the duck, bws conan, engelhart+brunner Dr Strange, the Strange Tales Reprint which had the classic Spidey-trapped-under-that-huge-metal-thing… wooh that was good), but this was when when the bug bit hard (and hasn’t ever stopped biting ever since)

Nice way to finish Simlonson’s review… even if there were many choicies (Thor 380 would have been good too)

When an issue of THE COMIC READER first mentioned this crossover as coming somewhere down the line, it wasn’t even listed as X-Men/Teen Titans. Marvel and DC were originally going to do X-Men/Legion of Super-Heroes, but no more details were given.

I don’t think the X-Men/Legion book got very far in the planning stages, Michaelmas. Someone pointed out that The New Teen Titans was the hottest selling book at the time, so they went with that instead.

I love this book. It’s funny that you say Simonson shoulda drawn Final Crisis because I doubt DC would have thought that way. Simonson totally woulda nailed it but I think DC is too obsessed with their weird version of gritty realism to really have gone for it. Too bad.

Fortunately, the “Days of Future Past” X-Men met the Silver Age Legion of Super-Heroes in the Unlimited Access miniseries, so it all worked out in the end.

Jenos Idanian #13

May 14, 2014 at 7:31 am

Five chances, Burgas. I gave you FIVE CHANCES to discuss Walt Simonson’s unique and awesome (not to mention uniquely awesome) signature, and you passed them all up. I warned that the consequences would be ugly, and I was not joking.

WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!

(What? You don’t think it’s ugly when a grown man cries?)

You really are pulling out the swerves with this series, though. Giffen without ever touching his Legion work. Simonson without Thor. I wonder what’s next — Perez without Teen Titans? Miller without Daredevil? McFarlane without Spider-Man?

The one thing that leaped out at me from these excerpts… the splash with Dark Phoenix and Darkseid. Those two are saying their names in LOGOS! I can see both those names splashed across the top of a cover.

And yeah, this is pre-Wolverine Explosion. He didn’t even make the front cover, he’s in the background of the back cover!

Buttler, you beat me to the Unlimited Access reference! I can’t imagine a Legion / X-Men story being not about Days of Future Past related, in the least, as the story would have to deal with time travel.

Shoot, I meant to write this the previous two times. I own two copies of X-Men/Teen Titans. The original one that I bought a not great copy of (as those copies are expensive!) and a Gold Reprint that came out in 1995 – which is a far better copy of the previous one I own.

Jenos: I warned you! :)

When (if?) I do Miller, I will definitely take a look at Daredevil, because it’s so early in his development and he started to evolve so much on it. I honestly don’t know if I’m doing Perez or not – I don’t own any of his 1970s stuff, so by the time I own his comics, he’s pretty much fully formed. I might have to track down some of his earlier stuff if I can! And I’ll definitely do McFarlane’s Spider-Man, because, like Miller on Daredevil, he made some big leaps forward on that comic. So I might not do everyone’s most famous work, but I won’t ignore it all!

@jenos

i can make you angry my friend (fellow reader??) …

my copy of X-Men/teen Titans has a disonaur in it ^^

peace …

Stephen Conway

May 14, 2014 at 11:32 am

@Greg- Is there a master list with all the artists you’ve already covered? I know i missed a few.

Also, kudos on not going the obvious route of Thor, though I’d have liked to see Star Slammers make a bow.

Stephen: The archives link at the end of each post will take you there! :)

I love Simonson’s work on Thor, and even Star Slammers, but after this comic, I think it would have been less about the development of him as an artist and more about writing, “Hey, isn’t this awesome!” Which, yes, it is, but that’s not the real point of this series, even though I certainly don’t mind doing that occasionally!

It’s funny… I hated this comic when it came out in ’83. And I’m still largely indifferent to it. I found the plot dense bordering on impenetrable (it really suffers from an over-reliance on X-Men continuity and Kirby’s fourth world stuff, which I wasn’t into and so was on the wrong foot right from the start), I found the Titans were kind of generic (except for Changelling) and I really didn’t like Austin’s inks on Simonson– even as a 14 year-old I was of the opinion that Simonson should only ink himself (though I think Bob Wiacek was pretty good).

But looking at the pages you cite, I am impressed with the layouts for sure. Maybe I should re-read it. I’m surprised it’s looked on with such fondness.

Graeme -

I didn’t know there was any superhero comic book fan living circa 1983 that didn’t know everything about X-men continuity back then. That stuff was the air we breathed.

Now I know that there was at least one.

Graeme: For me, one of the more interesting things about any work of fiction is re-visiting it in later years, because you have changed so much. I’ve gone back and liked things I never did or disliked things I thought were excellent, and it’s always interesting – to me – to examine why that’s so. So maybe you’d like it now!

For those who liked The Judas Coin graphic novel, here’s a link to my review of it:

http://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/comic-book-reviews-the-judas-coin-by-walter-simonson/

And, yes, I do wish Greg had covered an issue of Thor, or Starslammers, or X-Factor, or Orion, or Fantastic Four, or Robocop Vs Terminator, or Elric… did I miss anything?

But, yes, thinking it over, Greg is right. After the early 1980s Walter Simonson’s work did not really make any drastic leaps in development or style, or go into any areas of experimentation. It’s remained pretty consistent… and, of course, consistently goo. You can hardly criticize him for sticking with what works.

Now how about Bill Sienkiewicz? He would be a fantastic artist for Greg to spotlight, from Neal Adams clone to abstract, surrealist insanity in five easy installments!

Ben: I’ll get around to Sienkiewicz, you can be sure. I was waffling on him because I featured him so prominently two years ago, but that was two years ago – in Internet time, that’s like a century!

Thanks for the link – I always like to read reviews of books I’ve read to see what others think of them!

Stephen Conway

May 14, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Greg: Ha! Thanks, I must be going blind.

It’s amazing how an inker can change everything. And how they work so well with some pencilers and so poorly with others. Austin works well with Simonson here, but I was taking a look at the Cloak & Dagger mini and he just brutalizes Leonardi robbing him of his very best feature, his fluidity of line.

It’s too bad modern Western comic art relies so heavily on digital coloring and texturing effects rather than a solid inking job. Really robs greatness from classic artists of Simonson’s generation. They just don’t look right when they do modern books and modern production is applied.

Anyone who wants to see how great Terry Austin really is should get the black and white reprints of his X-men work with John Byrne in the X-men Essentials paperbacks. However good you thought that art looked before, it becomes flat out amazing when unblemished by late 70s cheap printing and coloring.

George Perez’s art in Uncanny X-men Annual #3 in one of those reprint books is also extremely impressive. Those Essentials reprints showed me why manga artists prefer their work to be black and white to really get its power across. And they’re right.

Yes, so very true. While I love the better colour quality overall, I really can’t stand the direct to colour approach. It works with some artists, but overall the results looks half baked. Not to forget that penciller/inker pairings always bring along a surprising finished work. On the con side that could mean a pairing where it does not fit, Austin for example is very dominating and less lively in his line.

Larroca always benefits from a superb colorist.

Glynis Wein is probably my all time favorite colorist. She really knew what she was doing.

Bob Sharon would be up there too.

Jeff Nettleton

May 16, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Walt was the first guy of that era (and subsequently) who could draw Deathstroke on model, while still adding something of his own.

And this is what introduced me to DC Comics. I had been a diehard Marvel Zombie, snapping up anything X-related. When I got this, I wanted to know more about the Titans, and I finally started branching out into DC.

I loved this book so much, all the stuff I didn’t know about the Fourth World and the Titans just made me that much more curious and eager to dive into the back issue bins.

I really miss that feeling, since most books today don’t make me want to go back.

Still, this was a great trip down memory lane. Thank you, Greg. Thank you very much.

Comparing this book with “JLA/Avengers” is comparing apples and oranges. “UXM/NTT” was about capturing one specific era of both teams (albeit unintentionally), while “JLA/Avengers” is more about saluting the legacies of both teams since every single member, past, present and future, show up in issue 4.

Somehow I have never read this. Not because I don’t want to. But now I want to even more.

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