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Year of the Artist, Day 167: John Romita, Jr., Part 1 – Iron Man #120

ironman3003 (2)

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is John Romita, Jr., and the issue is Iron Man #120, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 1979. These scans are from the hardcover edition of Demon in a Bottle, which came out in 2008. Enjoy!

Romita’s run on Iron Man isn’t his earliest work, but it was pretty close to the beginning of his career, and since it’s the earliest work I own, I figured it was a good place to start. More importantly, it’s before he developed his signature style, so we can see how he grew over the course of his career. In this issue, he’s credited with “pencil art” while Bob Layton is credited with “finished art,” so I’m not sure how detailed Romita’s pencils were – usually “finishes” are linked with “breakdowns,” so maybe his pencils were more detailed than simply laying out the page. But let’s not worry about that and get into this issue!

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Romita’s faces tend to be perhaps the most distinctive thing about his artwork, but there’s no evidence of that quite yet. He was 22 when he drew this, and despite the fact that his dad was a bigwig and so Romita might have already known what he was doing, either he wasn’t confident enough yet or Marvel wasn’t confident in him yet or Layton was just a very good inker, because his influence is pretty strong here. He uses a lot of brush strokes, especially in Panel 2, as he gives Tony those thick, lush eyebrows and slightly cheesy mustache, while heavily defining his cheekbones. Tony’s facial expression, frankly, is a bit weird given that he’s flirting with the flight attendant – he looks a bit more belligerent than we might expect him to. Maybe those three martinis he’s already have are getting to him a bit. Of course, the way Romita and Layton draw her in Panel 1 isn’t great, either – she looks like she might go for his throat at any moment. This is a weird, sexually charged scene, and it’s making me uncomfortable, so I’m moving on.

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Romita lays a page out pretty well, as he tilts Panel 1 to show the distress the plane is in (after a flying tank hits it, courtesy of Namor chucking it at some army dudes who pissed him off), and the angle leads us down to Tony, who’s crouching on the floor in Panel 2. He, in turn, is grabbing a chair, both leading us off the row and also pulling himself up, giving the entire sequence a “V” momentum. He struggles against the tilt in Panel 3 before reaching the toilet, which of course is occupied by a ridiculously stereotypical spinster. Romita still uses the tilt of the plane in Panel 6 to show Tony pushing by the woman and moving her – and our eyes – toward Panel 7, where she takes the time to move our attention back to the toilet, which is now essentially where the reader is sitting. It’s a nice layout. Romita doesn’t forget that it’s 1979, so Tony’s shirt is open and either he or Layton added a chain – you never know when you might need to swing – and the woman he forces out of the bathroom is strangely inked, as Layton obviously wants to make her “older” so he gives her some wrinkles, but her sharp and shapely eyebrows make me think she’s really a younger, beautiful woman who’s suddenly going to tear off her dress and go all “Hot for Teacher” on us. Okay, now this page is making me uncomfortable. Let’s move on again!

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Iron Man saves the plane, of course, and we get this sequence as he does so. One thing that bugs me about Iron Man is how artists always make what he’s wearing look less like armor and more like a costume. Layton doesn’t need to add muscles on his torso, and he definitely doesn’t need to hatch it so that it looks rougher and more like skin. The rough inks on the arms and legs are fine, because Layton actually inks in a sunburst on Tony’s left arm, so that it looks metallic, but the inking on the torso is silly. I get that it’s a comic book and Tony’s armor wouldn’t do any of the many things attributed to it, but it would be nice if it looked a bit like actual armor. Some artists do a good job with it, but while Layton’s inking is nice here, it doesn’t make Tony’s torso look like armor. It bugs me.

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Iron Man is trying to explain things to Namor, but Namor, as we know, has major anger issues, so he chucks a boulder at our hero. Once again, Romita lays the page out well, and once again, we get Layton’s dominating inks – he uses thick lines on Namor’s cheekbones much like he did on Tony’s, and he gives him eyelashes that some women would kill for. With regard to Tony’s armor – we can’t absolve Romita in that last panel, as he drew the shape of Tony’s legs as if Tony weren’t wearing any armor whatsoever, so the fact that Layton’s inking it doesn’t really come into it too much – he could have changed the shape of the legs, but that would have thrown the balance of the entire drawing off, and obviously, Layton was unconcerned with making Tony appear as if he were actually in armor. C’est la vie.

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This is another nice layout by Romita, as he gets the fluidity of the action really well, which probably speaks to his upbringing, as he seems to have a better grip on it than many young artists. Of course, it could also be Layton’s inking, which continues to be very nice. Romita, staying generally “on-model” for the Marvel house style of this period, makes both men strangely barrel-chested, as their torsos seem a bit out of proportion with their legs, even though their legs are pretty powerful. He does a nice job leading our eyes across the page, from the roll in Panel 2 to the way Tony gets his leg onto Namor’s chest and blasts in Panels 4-5. Layton, I’m going to assume (although I know I shouldn’t), added the bubbles to the water, which makes Panel 2 more dynamic and also shows that the water is getting hotter. This is just a nice superhero fight scene.

Oh, and “Meanwhile, back at the ocean”? Really, David Michelinie?

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You can see the lack of “armor” quite well here, as Tony’s legs in both Panels 1 and 3 might as well be naked. The inking in Panel 2 gives Iron Man’s mask just the right touch of humanity, and because Layton keeps the lines straight, even the small extra hatching doesn’t interfere with the fact that he’s trying to show a rigid face plate. His reaction in Panel 3 seems a bit extreme due to the (probably) small amount of water that’s gone into his mouth, but it’s a superhero comic – extreme reactions are where it’s at!

I know I wrote more about Layton in this post than Romita, but the idea of inkers dominating pencilers is fascinating to me, and it’s pretty clear that Layton knew what he was doing and maybe Romita didn’t quite yet. It makes this more of a “Layton” book than a Romita one, but it’s not a bad place to start so we can see where Romita went from here. So come back tomorrow and see where I go next. The dude has drawn pretty much every single Marvel comic ever published in the past 35 years, so who knows where I will go (not Batman, though, as Romita is the exemplar of the Romita Exception to the Batman Axiom of Comics)? It’s so exciting! Calm down by checking out the archives!

36 Comments

If you go back to JRJR’s first issue or two of Iron Man, you see that he had some real problems with foreshortening and consistent proportions, especially, when dealing with the armor. That may be why Layton was doing more than most inkers and being credited a bit differently. He improved really rapidly, though as the pages here show!

Iron Man saves the plane, of course, and we get this sequence as he does so. One thing that bugs me about Iron Man is how artists always make what he’s wearing look less like armor and more like a costume. Layton doesn’t need to add muscles on his torso, and he definitely doesn’t need to hatch it so that it looks rougher and more like skin. The rough inks on the arms and legs are fine, because Layton actually inks in a sunburst on Tony’s left arm, so that it looks metallic, but the inking on the torso is silly. I get that it’s a comic book and Tony’s armor wouldn’t do any of the many things attributed to it, but it would be nice if it looked a bit like actual armor. Some artists do a good job with it, but while Layton’s inking is nice here, it doesn’t make Tony’s torso look like armor. It bugs me

Yes, you are right about the shortcomings of Layton and company in depicting armor that looks metallic, but to be fair you should see every Iron Man artist preceding Bob Layton. Up until that point, this is the most metallic and armorlike Iron Man ever looked. Judging it by today’s standards it fails in that department, but for the time it was a major step in the right direction.

Punisher vs Batman circa 1996 drawn in Romita’s Punisher War Zone style.

A series of posts about JRJR? Cool, but please be kind and stop just after (the amazing) Man Without Fear…

Does somebody know if the Iron Man covers had also JrJr breakdowns, or were they 100% Layton’s?

Annoyed Grunt

June 16, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Rest easy, JR jr drew the Punisher/Batman crossover so the Batman axiom remains intact.

Imagine if you had picked #150, where Tony faced off against von Doom in Camelot.

Oh heavens, the art is so CLEAN here. I look at this and then look at his stuff from the late 2000s, where everyone is either really stiff or looks like they’re made of rubber, and I wonder what happened to the guy.

While from a 21st century view, Layton’s inks are heavy handed, we must remember that the JRjr, Layton, Michelinie team defined an era and gave Stark his defining drinking problem. Layton and JRjr were also just going on historical precedent with making the armor look more like a traditional superhero spandex, just take a look at Gene Colan’s run on the book. So, to fault the armor to not look like armor is like faulting Shakespeare for not having enough parts for women. (Michelinie even tried to explain this look with the whole metal mesh concept, which never truly worked. Imagine what he could do with nano technology.) I will admit that it is much nicer and realistic in the current era to see the armor treated as armor. But, we must give props to the historical aspect of the material we are looking at, as that was the aesthetic of the time. After all, isn’t that what this column is all about?

Didn’t Romita draw Batman in a Punisher/Batman crossover written by Chuck Dixon?

Is this the story where they cut from Tony going into the bathroom to Iron Man flying away from the jet? I thought at the time, “How did he get outside? Through the toilet?”

I also thought international flights had separate women’s and men’s toilets. No wonder she was mad.

T.: I haven’t read many Iron Man comics, period, and certainly not a lot from earlier than this, so while I figured that, I wasn’t sure. Even after this, though, it seemed to be a problem. It doesn’t bug me too much, because it’s COMICS!, but it’s still a bit strange.

Jaime F.: Ah, wouldn’t it be nice if I would stop there? Alas, it’s not to be.

Mike: Yeah, that’s the one. There’s a Superman story from about the same time where Clark Kent changes into Superman in the toilet of a plane, and then we see him outside. He and Tony know the secret way to get out of a plane’s bathroom, I guess!

I always thought that John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton were an exceptional pencil/inking team. They really compensated for each other’s weaknesses and played to each othr’s strenghths, with Layton providing detail and finish while Romita Jr. brought expressive figures and faces. When Bob Layton returned to the book in the mid 1980s inking over Mark Bright, the finished product was much less lively than the work here (although still technically impressive).

” While from a 21st century view, Layton’s inks are heavy handed, we must remember that the JRjr, Layton, Michelinie team defined an era and gave Stark his defining drinking problem. Layton and JRjr were also just going on historical precedent with making the armor look more like a traditional superhero spandex, just take a look at Gene Colan’s run on the book. So, to fault the armor to not look like armor is like faulting Shakespeare for not having enough parts for women. (Michelinie even tried to explain this look with the whole metal mesh concept, which never truly worked. Imagine what he could do with nano technology.) I will admit that it is much nicer and realistic in the current era to see the armor treated as armor. But, we must give props to the historical aspect of the material we are looking at, as that was the aesthetic of the time. After all, isn’t that what this column is all about? ”

Ironically, as technology has become smaller and more efficient, and nanotech proliferates all branches of science fiction (with reality not overly far behind), Iron Man’s armor gets bulkier and clunkier-looking. The current volume basically has the movie suit with a palette change.

Matthew: I get that. As I noted, it doesn’t bug me too much, just a little. You’d think at some point someone would have said, “Shouldn’t his armor look like armor?” Maybe someone did, and the others said, “Sheesh, it’s comics, man!” It’s just something that always struck me about Iron Man, specifically because his whole thing is that he’s wearing armor.

Mark: Dang, I forgot about that. You’re totally right. The Batman Axiom of Comics lives on! :)

David Plunkert

June 16, 2014 at 6:02 pm

What doesn’t make a lot of sense is Ironman’s suit getting less sleek and more complicated as time goes by. The original Kirby suit was a clunkier piece that Ditko redesigned to look more like a standard superhero suit with armored aspects. It’s a good design too…..thin as cloth that got tough and allowed his muscles to show. Probably the last suit that any Ironman artist can draw from memory.

Regardless of what the credits say, I’m still convinced Infantino drew this issue.

Hey, that was Kidney Lady from Howard the Duck! Guess she lost weight.

Wow nice to remember when JR jr could draw stuff I wanted to buy. This was as good as anyone else while his more modern stuff is not something I would ever part with cash for.

Ah, back when he could still draw a nose

tom fitzpatrick

June 16, 2014 at 9:11 pm

I have fond memories of JRjr. My first JRjr series was the Uncanny X-men, which he drew for several years, with Dan Green.

However, of ALL the series he’d worked on, my all-time favorite is his Daredevil run with Ann Nocenti. Quite arguably his best.

More importantly, JRjr, in my opinion, was the more reliable and dependable MARVEL artist to date. He would remain on titles for years, rarely taking a month off now and then, until his run on that particular title ended.

I noted that recently, he’d started branching out to other publishers.

Fourth pic, second pannel: how long has Namor had super neck streching powers? That doesn’t come up much.

JrJr … so much to say in only 5 days….

The first published work JrJr did has been re published some years ago in the “Special 30th anniversary of JrJr at Marvel” (a short Spiderman story with Daryl Edelman and Jim mooney)

I think, that one of the points in his career, when we can see real changes in his art, is Starbrand, with another heavy inker (and great artist on his own).. Al Williamson.(that will lead to Daredevil)

will we finish with this week’s Supes?

tom: Well, I don’t know if he’s branching out to other publishers. He did one creator-owned series, and now he’s working for DC. It’s not like he’s drawing something for IDW or anything. That would be crazy! :)

ollieno: I missed the 30th anniversary book. Oh well. I also don’t own Starbrand, but maybe I’ll show some Williamson-inked work! ;)

I’m still ahead with these, so I’m already done writing these up, and obviously Superman hasn’t come out yet. Maybe I’ll pick it up, but for 4 bucks, I might not. So no Superman – sorry!

I guess I’m massively in the minority here, but I still really like JR jr.’s recent stuff. Or at least his Spider-man work. He’s actually the one that has drawn what is quite likely my favorite picture of Spider-man ever.

If I had my way the Iron Man armour would go back to this design permanently instead of changing every few months!

I like his recent work solely because it breaks the monotony of modern American comics. It reminds me of later Kirby.

Jenos Idanian #13

June 17, 2014 at 4:15 am

I have to agree with a couple of others here — the artwork is really, really clean and clear, and this is another example of a penciler and inker finding an amazing synergy. I bought these as they came out, and I also bought JRjr’s X-Men run, and I liked the Iron Man art vastly preferable. In fact, when I found out later that it was the same artist, I was astounded — it almost felt like when Keith Giffen radically changed his art style from Neal Adams style to that Filipino guy’s style, and almost as unappealing to me.

I like your psychological analysis of the cause — JRjr was still new enough to be inexperience and lacking in confidence, and Layton took that and made the art look amazing. Hell, I remember Layton’s name a lot more prominently than JRjr’s.

I know you say you don’t feel up to doing inkers, but Layton might be another one to put up alongside Joe Rubinstein…

Or, back to my thought about “great/legendary art teams,” JRjr/Layton could be another pair. Byrne/Austin, Adams/Palmer, Giffen/Mahlstedt, Perez/Tanghal, Kirby/Sinnott…

In an interview on the “Sidebar” podcast Romita Jr. made it clear that he only did breakdowns on Iron Man, and that he was almost as loose on the early issues of X-Man. I think he said he got closer to full pencils by the end of that run, or maybe he just implied it. Regardless, he was doing full pencils by the time he got to the Daredevil monthly.

His earlier work really show the need, at this point in his career, for a strong inker. Illos in Marvel Classics Comics and in FOOM (self-inked), a pin-up in Kid Colt Outlaw (with John Tartaglione) and the aforementioned short story in Amazing Spider-Man Annual (inked by Al Milgrom, not Jim Mooney) are much rougher than the slick Layton inks we see here.

I adored modern Romita on Captain America, with Klaus Janson–another solid penciler/inker team, plus Dean White on colors.

It’s rough to see him trying to draw Bendis’ Avengers, because he’s not so much of a “talky” artist.

@T and others on the suit- yeah, this just really comes off as only knowing the post movie interpretation of Iron Man. I mean, this was a suit that fit in a suitcase. I believe the Handbook had it energized by a force field to become rigid or something similar. If anything that kind of look is more emulated in movie Batman costumes. While there wasn’t any Iron-nipples, the body form body armor is what it is more. As opposed to the original and yellow armor that were more boxy and Iron Man 1 movie like. Not till Adi Granov did it really try and look like metal pieces (though he went through a bunch of versions that looked pretty silly when it was all nano based). And if you think of it, transformer Iron Man in the movies isn’t really a lot more realistic. (And I won’t even get into Iron Man 3….)

It shows in other things like the “Cheesy mustache” comment…when that was all the rage back then. From Burt Reynolds to Tom Selleck. (Likewise I think from the obviously old lady dialogue the eyebrows aren’t meant to be “hot,” but give that old lady painted on look. It’s the miscoloring of the hair that throws it off. But if you still want to be uncomfortable, do it over Iron Man climaxing over the hole in the jet).

As has been pointed out, Layton is a guy who even did his own art at times, and really was in a lot of ways the primary artist and co-writer/plotter for Iron Man, working with a lot of different pencilers over the time. So if he has a strong influence, it’s probably because the penciler was taking the more complimentary role that is usually the inker’s job.

@Kabe- but not a nose on the Iron Man armor, thankfully.

@Toozin- only slightly more rare than his electric eel powers.

M-Wolverine: Well, when I was growing up at this time, there was a big difference between a thick, manly mustache like that sported by Selleck or Reynolds and a cheesy mustache (even though we didn’t use the term then), which is closer to what Tony has. Layton and/or Romita should have embraced the bushiness!

I don’t have the original issues, so I don’t know if the old woman’s hair is colored differently there, but if it’s brown in the original and here, you’re right that it’s probably a miscoloring.

I honestly didn’t even think about Tony and his … behavior in the banner pic until I published it and took a look at it. Then I thought, “Well, that doesn’t sound great.” But I figured I’d leave it to see if anyone else picked up on it, so kudos to you! :)

Bright and Layton was the next best run after JRjr`s, IMHO.

I’m hoping Doc Bright will be a future profile.

Vin: I hadn’t thought of Bright, but I’ll put him on my list. I’m not sure how much I actually own by Bright, but I’ll check!

The angular stretching of the old woman’s body as Tony shoves his way past her in the middle panel is more like later John Romita Jr.

Twice in JRJR’s career I have stopped following him because his style changed too much. The first time was on the 1990s Thor, but I came back for Spider-Man. The second time was just this month, after I saw the previews for Superman #32.

I know it’s been addressed that this skin tight uniform look was the standard for Iron man in the 1970s, but I always figured Tony was using designs and materials that were so high tech he could make armor that was like this. I was 10 years old of course.

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