"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
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 Daredevil #82, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated April 2006. Enjoy!
Lark, like so many others, moved over to Marvel in the early-to-mid 2000s, when it became clear that if you weren’t willing to retroactively rape characters and sever a lot of limbs, you weren’t really welcome at DC, and so he hooked back up with Ed Brubaker on Daredevil, where he drew a good amount of the run. Time constraints seemed to be pressing on Lark more and more as his career moved along, which tends to happen to artists, so he couldn’t quite keep up a monthly book, but this is his first issue, so there’s no fear that Stefano Gaudiano is going to show up and make me wonder what is his work and what is Lark’s (which is why I didn’t show some of the later issues of this run, as I assume Gaudiano is inking Lark, but they’re both credited as “artists,” so I’m not sure what the division of labor is … and let me be clear, I don’t have anything at all against Gaudiano, but I’m not writing about him!). But that’s not the only reason why I picked this issue. I picked this issue partly because Frank D’Armata colored it.
Our Dread Lord and Master has sung the praises of Mr. D’Armata on this very blog (actually, that might have migrated over from the old blog), and I admit that D’Armata is not a bad colorist, and we’ll see some nice work below. However, artistically, I think we’re living in the “D’Armata Age,” which began when Marvel hired D’Armata to color Brubaker’s Captain America (actually, it began earlier, when D’Armata colored the late, lamented El Cazador from CrossGen, but as it was a CrossGen comic, you certainly didn’t read it!) and quickly realized that you could almost put any artist on the book and D’Armata would make that artist look like every other artist who worked on the book. You didn’t need a consistent artist as long as you had D’Armata, and he proceeded to make Steve Epting and Mike Perkins and Michael Lark and John Paul Leon all look pretty much the same. Now, Epting and Perkins have similar styles, but Lark and Leon don’t, but D’Armata overwhelmed the pencil art to give Captain America a unified look, and a trend was born! Brian notes this and, interestingly enough, doesn’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s not like what D’Armata does is a big secret, but it’s weird how no one seems to mind. Well, except me. I don’t like what he does, because while I agree that colorists deserve more recognition, the balance when D’Armata colors a page is way off, so the individuality of the penciler doesn’t come through at all. But Cap was a great comic (at least for a while), and more importantly, a popular one, so a lot of people began thinking this was a good idea. D’Armata spawned imitators, perhaps most notably Dean White, whose work also abuses pencils and against whom only strong artists like Jerome Opeña or Matteo Scalera can push back (not that White’s colors are similar to D’Armata’s except that they tend to overwhelm the pencil art). It’s a symptom of the assembly line of comics – in the old days, artists might simply do breakdowns and an inker would be the primary artist, but today, colorists are, in some cases, becoming the primary artists. It’s a shift I don’t particularly like, and I wish that all aspects of the art would be better balanced. So let’s take a look at Lark under D’Armata’s colors on Daredevil, shall we?
You can see D’Armata’s influence already on this splash page, as I’m not terribly certain Lark drew in the rain (obviously, I’ve never seen the original art). The rainfall is made up of white streaks that almost appear chalked on, which is a cool effect, if you ask me. But look how soft, for lack of a better word, the art is. We can see remnants of Lark’s crisp pencils on Matt’s face and a little bit on the inking lines on his legs, but the spot blacks – which I assume are Lark’s work – dominate the page. D’Armata uses a dull red for Matt’s costume, which slides almost into pink where the light hits it. Meanwhile, the pencil art on, say, the water tower is brushed out, and while the profiles of the thugs are still a bit sharp, the grays and whites that we do see are soft and indistinct. The tone is not bad, but it’s a sign of how D’Armata puts his stamp on the pencil art.
Part of coloring in Photoshop (or some other program – I don’t know how D’Armata does it) is the way a colorist can render the artwork by “washing” it to add texture. That just means adding layers of color, using a brush to build up the color. This has become a huge trend in comics coloring, and we’ve seen it quite a bit this year (and, of course, if you look for it, you see it everywhere). We see it in Panel 1 pretty clearly (I assume; again, I don’t talk to artists too often, so I’m just going by the way this looks), but we see it all over this issue. Anyway, it’s the big change in the move from traditional to digital coloring, and some people prefer the flatness of traditional coloring. We get the folds in Matt’s prison clothes, the shading on his face, and even the hues in his hair. It’s impressive, of course, but washing the art this much does tend to obliterate the pencil work. When D’Armata backs off a bit, like he does when Matt hears and smells everything going on in the prison, we can see Lark’s pencils coming through a bit more. He’s not as crisp as he used to be, which is fine, but because the panels are so small and D’Armata uses a basic red, we can see the intricate details a bit better. In Panel 3, we see the difference between Lark’s pencil art from earlier in his career to this point. Lark inks very few lines on Matt’s face, but he does add some ragged spot blacks, and then once again D’Armata adds shading, with very light tan bleeding into darker tan on the bottom half of his face. He even adds some tones to Matt’s teeth, with a bit of gray down the center of his mouth.
One thing I don’t love about the way D’Armata – and a lot of modern colorists – color pages is the way they do backgrounds. Granted, back in the day, colorists often left backgrounds empty, and modern colorists don’t do that as much, but it’s still problematic, at least to me. Lark – I assume – draws some jagged clouds in the sky, and D’Armata colors the entire sky with little regard for them. He adds browns in Panels 3 and 4, which is nice, but the gradient of red to orange looks out of place, as it appears D’Armata just found a sunset and dropped it in. Is that better than leaving it blank, like you can see in a lot of older comics with traditional coloring? I suppose it’s up to the individual reader.
Lark has always been pretty good at action scenes, and as he’s gotten more experienced, he’s gotten even better. That he’s using a less precise line helps, but D’Armata, I think, helps too, as the lack of crisp colors makes things a bit messier when there’s action going on. Lark is still crisp enough that he can give us nice details like the cracks in the clock face. He even draws individual hairs on the dude’s face. His use of spot blacks is also nicely done, as Lark or D’Armata uses a thick brush to almost propel us across panels, especially in Panel 1, 3, and 5. It’s pretty neat.
Unlike a lot of modern colorists, D’Armata, at least, is not bound by the crazy idea that everything has to look “realistic.” He understands that occasionally, you need to use “unrealistic” colors to set a mood, and he does so here, as Matt hears Foggy getting attacked, and he shows Matt colored “realistically” while the panels with Foggy are colored violent red. This ties into the way Matt “sees” the world, of course, but it also shows the violence that he’s experiencing. Lark’s 9-panel grid (there’s a page-wide horizontal panel at the top of the page that I’m not showing) is neat, too, because it speeds up the action and allows him to jump back and forth, creating a nice contrast for D’Armata’s colors. Notice again that because he’s sticking to a basic red palette, he doesn’t render the art too much, which allows Lark’s crisp lines to come through a bit more. There’s still the blending of hues, but because it’s all red and black, we see the precise lines on Foggy’s shirt, for instance, in Panel 2, while the punk’s arm in Panel 6 is inked simply, with the jagged line running down it, dividing the light top from the slightly darker bottom. It’s an interesting contrast between the panels where Foggy is getting attacked and the ones where Matt is yelling for help.
I’m not a big fan of D’Armata’s work, or the work of colorists like him. He has his fans, and I suppose Marvel likes him quite a bit, as he’s still doing plenty of work for them, but I don’t love the way he colors comics. Lark does pretty good work on this comic, and personally, I think he would have been better served with a colorist who works with his style instead of against it. But that’s just me.
For the final day of Michael Lark’s art, I’ll check out his recent comic, a book I dropped because it wasn’t doing it for me, but which I still own issues of, so I’ll use that! You know you want to come back and see what’s what! Or you could just hang out in the archives!
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