Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Michael Lark, and the comic is Batman: Nine Lives, which was published by DC and is cover dated April 2002. Enjoy!
I decided to skip Terminal City, Lark’s collaboration with Dean Motter that is well worth your time, but I decided to show Nine Lives, an Elseworlds graphic novel written by Motter from 2002 that puts all your favorites in a strange setting that could take place in the 1940s, the 1950s, or the 1960s. It’s Elseworlds – what are you going to do? Anyway, Batman finds Selina Kyle dead at the beginning of the book, and he and Richard Grayson – who’s a private investigator – look into it. Yes, it’s another cool comic. Tom Fitzpatrick claims that this series is making him look for comics he doesn’t own yet. I REGRET NOTHING!!!!
Nine Lives is published, as you can see, in landscape format, which is nice change of pace. It also appears that either Lark was moving this way, or the rougher inkers who had been working on his pencils in the recent years – as we saw yesterday – might have pushed him away from his ligne claire roots toward a more impressionistic style. His line remains strong, but he’s not afraid to scuff it up a bit if needed. He still uses big chunks of black – along with Matt Hollingsworth’s muted palette, it makes this a very dark book – but again, the distinction between the blacks and the colored parts of the comic aren’t as crisply defined. Batman’s cape in Panel 1, for instance, is a bit more raggedly inked that we would see from Lark in the past. In the background in Panel 1, he actually gets rid of holding lines on that mechanical contraption, which is something his inkers did yesterday but would seem anathema to the Lark of the mid-1990s. The alligators are roughly inked, which thick, jagged black lines on them instead of thinner, more precise lines, and Lark uses the black space well to create their teeth, for instance, in Panel 5. It’s a nifty transition, as Lark is still crisp when he wants to be, but he’s allowing more nuance to creep into his work, which works for a morally gray world like the one Batman inhabits.
Lark and Motter introduce “Jack” here, and Lark does a nice job designing him to resemble the Joker without actually being the Joker. I don’t know why anyone would style their hair that way, but I guess it’s his thing, so fair enough. Lark inks his face a bit more roughly than he did with figures in the past, giving him slight bags under his eyes, a wrinkle across his chin under his mouth, and the thick line delineating his chin, as he’s looking down at his cards. The inks fit the description Grayson gives of him as a down-and-out card shark, as Jack just isn’t that good at his “job.” Anyway, Lark is still using blacks to good effect, as the gunsel (I love the word “gunsel,” by the way) is shrouded well, and once again Lark ditches holding lines to show him as a figure made up of black chunks offset by some gray chunks. In the final panel, note that Lark is still good at details, as he draws in the flying wood, either as planks or just as shadows, but he draws them all! That’s partly why this new-ish style works well for him.
More moody work from Lark, as the bad guy tries to shoot Batman. I wanted to show this page because Lark really ditches holding lines here, as we see most clearly in the final panel, where the structure is constructed of blacks and browns, but no lines. This helps create that moody atmosphere, as his still relatively crisp lines on the bad guy make him stand out a bit more among the less distinct steel around him. I haven’t mentioned the way Lark moves us around the page, but he does a nice job with it, doesn’t he? In Panel 2, the bad guy aims his gun at Panel 3, and the shot takes us to Panel 4. The push of the button in Panel 6 leads us right to Panel 7, and the fact that the dude is on the right side of that panel makes his leap away to the right work better. It’s a simple layout, but Lark makes reading it effortless.
Lark goes a bit nutty with the blacks on this page, as Gotham is shrouded in Panel 1, Batman is a blotch in Panels 2 and 3, and it’s all to spotlight Gordon and the cops covering bodies. I don’t know how Lark drew this, because in Panel 1, for instance, the lights along the bridge are just blobs of light, so Hollingsworth, I assume, put them there. Was there anything on the page when he got it? Lark is obviously willing to move toward a more impressionistic style, as we still get the crisp lines on the bridge in Panel 1, but then we get the fuzzy lines in the water reflecting it, which is a nice contrast. I don’t know what that white spot on Batman’s cape in Panel 3 is. It kind of looks like I spilled something on the page, but when I examine it closely, it actually seems like it’s an indelible part of the art. Is it on anyone else’s copy? I don’t recall spilling anything on the page, and I wonder if it got screwed up during production.
Lark has always been good at body language, as we see in this sequence with Richard Grayson and Barbara Gordon, his gal Friday. In Panel 1, Lark crosses her arms and, even though she’s in the background, he gives her a wry expression – the head tilt sells it, but the cocked right eyebrow helps. Grayson has been beaten up, obviously, and in Panel 2, Lark scrunches up his mouth as he gets grumpy, showing both that he’s grumpy and that it appears to hurt him when he moves his mouth. In Panel 3, we get a closer look at Barbara, and Lark raises her eyebrows and wrinkles her forehead as she expresses disapproval with him. It’s very nicely done. Meanwhile, we see his thicker line well here, as her shirt is striped with strong, heavy blacks, giving it almost a fuzzy texture. As we’ve seen, Lark is using rougher blacks on stuff like hair, so Barbara’s hair in Panel 6 looks thicker and lusher than the hair of the women in the Shade examples from a few days ago.
Lark continued moving in a rougher direction, but tomorrow, I want to look at one of his comics where I might have to discuss the coloring a bit more. I haven’t studied it yet, but it’s an issue colored by someone who has far too much influence on comics these days, so we’ll see what’s what with that. Don’t take any wooden nickels, unless that’s the only way you can get to the archives!
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