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