Year of the Artist, Day 139: Mike Deodato, Part 1 – Wonder Woman #85
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mike Deodato, and the issue is Wonder Woman #85, which was published by DC and is cover dated April 1994. Enjoy!
Mike Deodato (or, to call him by his Brazilian name, Deodato Taumaturgo Borges Filho, but I’m only going to do that once!) has been drawing comics for over 20 years, and while I don’t own his very earliest work, this was only about a year after that, so it’s close enough, right? He’s a wildly divisive artist even today, but his style has evolved quite a bit, which makes him a good choice for this series! Yay!
First, I want to show the cover and then the very first page of Wonder Woman #85, because it’s wild:
You rarely see that, but it’s pretty awesome. Brian Bolland is a more accomplished artist, especially at this stage of their respective careers, but Deodato’s drawing is still pretty energetic. Diana never appears in costume in this issue, so Bolland’s drawing is more iconic, I guess, but Deodato’s obviously fits the story. Bolland’s demon is a bit uglier than Deodato’s – the creature has more hair, an uglier face, and more leathery wings – while Deodato’s seems a bit more gleeful about attacking Diana (and Deodato loves drawing teeth like that, so we’ll see it again!). In both cases, the perspective is a bit off: both Bolland and Deadato – more with Deodato – draw the building at such a degree so that the demon and Diana don’t exit the window perpendicularly to the glass, but at an angle. The way both men draw the demon and Diana – straight-on – means that we don’t quite know what’s odd about the way they’re falling. Of course, they could be coming out of the window at an angle, but it still seems a bit strange.
1994, of course, was at the height of the Image X-TREEEEEEMMMMMM!!!! revolution, and Deodato was certainly not adverse to that style! It’s probably why he got hired in the first place, actually. Anyway, back when I was but a 22-year-old comics neophyte, I thought this art was the shit, and while my tastes have changed, I can’t hate it as much as I now hate the art on, say, early X-Force (I’d list some of the early Image books, but I didn’t buy them). There’s a manic energy here and even storytelling that you don’t get from a certain denim-advertising wunderkind (Deodato was already 30 when he drew this, so he was possibly a bit wiser than that dude), and it’s not hatched insanely by Terry Beatty and Kevin Conrad. I’m not too familiar with Conrad, but Beatty, of course, was a long-standing professional by this time, and I wonder if he helped keep Deodato’s pencils in this issue from going too far. When Deodato returned to the book in issue #90, he was inking himself, and he went a bit further with the hatching, although not too crazy. Anyway, his anatomical work here is fine – yes, Diana’s clothing are shredded in strategic places because cheesecake sells but this is still a family comic, but she’s not ridiculously proportioned, and in Panel 4, down at the bottom, she strikes at the demon in a perfectly reasonable manner. He leads us across the page pretty well – the first panel is “backward,” but it leads from the previous page well, while the rest of the page works perfectly fine. The demon is a bit ridiculous, but it’s not deformed by contortions or giant pecs. That’s always good!
It’s still 1994, so of course we have to be a bit ridiculous. Still, Deodato draws Randolph and Naissi without too much embellishment – in Panel 1, Randolph’s face isn’t over hatched, as Beatty/Conrad simply accentuate his cheekbones and shadow his eyes, while Naissi in Panel 2 has just a touch of inking on his face. Deodato goes a bit wacky on Naissi’s design when he turns into a supervillain, but again, we see that his anatomy is perfectly fine, with a few exaggerations. His arms are a bit long, even though he’s crouching, and his left hand looks bigger than it would even if it’s slightly in the foreground. But Deodato again restrains himself on his torso, and the clean inks help make him look shiny and metallic. Patricia Mulvihill colored this issue, years before she began turning every Vertigo book brown, and she uses yellow and orange to good effect.
Here’s another action scene, as two ridiculously costumed bad guys (remember: 1994!) try to snatch some people from an apartment building and the landlady, an old actor, takes them apart. I don’t remember too much about William Messner-Loebs’s run on WW, so I don’t recall if we’ve seen this woman before and have an explanation about why she’s able to destroy these dudes, or if the implication is that because she was a swashbuckling actor in the 1920s (and she’s still kicking ass in 1994?), she’s able to fight big, heavily armed dudes. I don’t know. Anyway, Deodato lays out the page quite well. Camille smacks the one dude in the eyes with her sword, blinding him temporarily. We’re led across the panel nicely, and Deodato even gives us a panel border of blood to drive home the violence. In Panel 2, we get the big dude holding his eyes and Backstabber (yes, that’s really his name – Messner-Loebs, I like to think, was totally fucking with us) confronts Camille. Deodato wisely keeps her out of the panel, allowing us to see the two baddies, but he puts the hand holding the sword there, creating almost two panels and dividing the injured bad guy (who, sadly, doesn’t get a name) and the angry Backstabber. It’s a pretty good composition. Camille stabs him in the hand (which is a bit hard to do, it would seem, given that he’s clutching that knife so tightly), then ducks his thrust in Panel 4. Again, it’s a nicely laid out page, even with the crashing of panel borders that was so in vogue back then. Once again we see the nice inking job – both Bad Guy #1 and Backstabber are wearing armor, so Beatty/Conrad don’t rough up their outfits too much, while they use somewhat soft hatching on the exposed skin of the participants. We get thicker folds in Camille’s clothing in Panel 4, but again, there’s not an overabundance of hatching, which is nice.
I have no idea if Deodato was using photo references on this comic – I know he did on his first penciling gig, which was Beauty and the Beast, but that’s understandable given he was working on a licensed property. Obviously, everyone who reads mainstream superhero comics knows about his “Tommy Lee Jones as Norman Osborn” weirdness from years later (it still freaks me out!!!!), but again, I don’t know what the deal is here. I only mention it because that baby’s face is perfect, and unlike the other faces Deodato drew in this issue, it looks far less cartoony and more “realistic.” As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t care if artists use photos for reference, because if they’re drawing the stuff but using photos as a guide, that’s perfectly fine. It’s when they’re dropping images into the pencil art just because they’re lazy that bugs me. But look at that baby in comparison to Diana’s face. Deodato might have used photo references for Diana, but Diana has to “act” in the scene, so if he did, he just used her as a base. The baby doesn’t have to do anything, so its face looks more … perfect. Anyway, this is nice, quiet work by Deodato, and once again we see the way restraint in inking can be extremely beneficial.
That’s it for this issue, but I did want to drop in an iconic image of Diana after she loses the “Wonder Woman” designation to Artemis and turns into Hot Urban Vigilante Diana in issue #93:
Man, look at that. It’s composed really well, actually – the smoke leads us from where our eyes fall naturally down to Diana, whose straight leg takes us down to Rock Dude’s jaw, while the sound effect helps move us to the woman with the camera and the dude. Deodato is inking himself by this time, and he uses a bit more hatching on Diana, but not too much. But that anatomy is starting to be worrisome, as her thighs look like tree trunks and her waist is (relatively) tiny. And that outfit. Oh, that outfit. Let’s just move on from that outfit!
So that’s early Mike Deodato. He would continue in this vein for a while, as the Nineties kept being X-TREEEEEEEMMMM!!!, and we’ll see some more of that tomorrow, as he goes even crazier. Yes, it’s one of the comics I hate most in the world, but I will examine it for you, good readers! Find some solace in the archives!