Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
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 issues are Amazing Spider-Man #246 and 250, which were published by Marvel and are cover dated November 1983 and March 1984, respectively. Enjoy!
Romita had a nice run on Amazing Spider-Man, and as far as I can tell, it’s where he really began to exhibit the “Romita Jr.” style that we all know and love (or hate, I suppose, but you definitely know it!). I wanted to take a look at these two issues, however, because they’re inked by two guys who would ink Romita throughout his career, and it’s interesting to see how it influences the art early in his career and later in his career. The two inkers are, if you haven’t guessed, Dan Green and Klaus Janson. First up is Green!
Issue #246 features four characters – Felicia Hardy, J. Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane Watson, and Peter Parker himself – daydreaming about how they’d like their lives to be. Yes, Marvel devoted an entire issue of Amazing Spider-Man, which had to be one of their top sellers, to daydreams. Remember when comics were fun?
So this is Felicia’s daydream, in which she and Spidey steal documents from an evil country’s embassy and then zip away on a yacht, which is when Spidey reveals himself to be Cary Grant. Anyway, we get this nice page, on which we can see a little bit of Romita’s style coming through, but also a lot of heavy inking. Green isn’t as heavy an inker as some (like Janson, for instance), but he’s not adverse to it, either, so he gives the evil foreign guard a thick mustache and shadowed eyes in Panel 1 and turns Agent Phelps into a stereotypical “secret agent” in Panel 4, with his creased face and heavy coat. I don’t know how much Romita did in Panel 3 and how much Green did, but that’s a nice, moody panel – the buildings in the background loom over the dock, with Bob Sharen’s yellow illuminating the scene. Phelps is a monolith on the dock, which is made up of roughly inked pilings, and Green even uses rough circles on the light to make the illumination a bit more menacing. It’s really well done.
Jameson, of course, daydreams about punching out Spider-Man, as he does here. It’s a good page, as Jameson grabs Spidey, drags him down, and then lays him out, which brings him the admiration of his workers, including Peter Parker. Jameson’s face in Panel 3 and Peter’s in Panel 5 are why this is around the time Romita became “John Romita Jr.” He began to square off his men’s faces a bit more, widening them in the process and giving them stronger chins. It would become more obvious over the years, but the “Romita face” has its genesis here. Yesterday we saw that Layton was able to impose his own style on Romita, and while Green is a strong inker, Romita is getting more confident, so we can see him resisting – or perhaps I should say complementing? – the inker a bit more.
Mary Jane daydreams about being a famous actor, but she can’t escape her past!!! Woody Allen’s presence here is a bit creepier in hindsight than it was in 1983, although even back then, it was a bit weird (Allen was 48 in 1983, past even his short prime of being a non-creepy leading man who could score women far more attractive than he was). I imagine Romita didn’t use any fancy tricks to add Warren Beatty [Edit: Or is it John Travolta, as most commenters think? It’s a conundrum!] and Allen – he just found photographs of them and then drew them with the photos taped next to his drawing board. The likenesses are quite good. We see a bit more of the development of the “Romita face” with regard to Mary Jane – she has a strong chin in profile, and while her nose in Panel 2 is a bit too pointy, in Panel 4 it’s fairly typical of the way Romita is starting to draw noses. Green again is a strong presence, but not overwhelmingly so. In Panel 3, he gooses up Mary Jane’s lashes a bit, and of course he uses thick strokes in her hair, which isn’t as glamorous as when a certain T. McFarlane would draw it, but certainly wasn’t as dull as when Mary Jane was drawn in the 1970s. Romita and Green do a nice job in the final panel, as Mary Jane’s eyes lead us back to her sister, with the thickly inked curtain and floor linking the two women.
Spider-Man dreams about saving Jameson, but then his daydream gets a bit depressing (and it makes the Avengers and the Fantastic Four totally douchey, which is … weird). We’ll focus on the good part, though! Romita gets to draw a bunch of Marvel villains, which is nice for him. As everyone is so far away, we don’t get a ton of detail – in Panel 2, for instance, most of the characters are pretty sketchy – but we do get a nice view of Spider-Man’s taint, so that’s something (hey, at least he didn’t draw something like … this – hey-oooohhhhh!). I like the final panel, where Peter’s camera expands into a super-camera. I’m going to assume Green added the motion lines, with Romita simply drawing the small camera on the left side and the expanded camera on the right, but I could be completely wrong. The way the lines make the camera not only “move” across the panel but expand in some kind of twirling fashion is very neat. It’s a cool little panel.
So that’s Green’s work. It’s not too obnoxious, and it seems to blend well with Romita’s work. Green would work with him quite a bit more later in his career (including another issue from this run that I’m not showing, as Romita is only credited with “breakdowns,” so I didn’t want to use it), and they created some nice art together. After running through a few more inkers (this Romita run on ASM was littered with inkers), including his own father, we got the 250th issue of Amazing Spider-Man, which featured these two gems on the cover:
Man, remember when comics were fun? Oh, wait, did I write that wistfully already?
This is a weird issue, as it’s the middle section of the finale of “Act One” of the Hobgoblin Saga. I guess Marvel really didn’t think isssue #250 was anything great, because the story ended in boring old issue #251! Plus, Roger Stern only plotted the final chapter, with DeFalco scripting it, and Romita didn’t draw it. Man, Marvel was weird back when all they cared about were the characters. Just shuffle someone else onto the book – who cares, right?
Anyway, Janson has also inked Romita quite a bit in his career, and this was early on in their collaborations. Let’s see how it’s different from Green’s work!
Romita liked giving Peter those cowlicks in the front of his hair, so I imagine that’s not the inker, because it’s consistent no matter who was inking Romita. Janson, as we can see, uses a thicker line than Green, so everything looks a bit more ragged – the boxes behind Peter in Panel 2, for instance. He makes Jameson look a bit more stressed than Green did, although that might be because the Hobgoblin has blackmailed everyone in the room, including Jameson. Panel 3 is interesting, not only because the black is awesome, but because of Peter’s fingers. They seem fatter than we’ve seen from Romita before, and I wonder how much Janson altered them, if indeed he did. It’s a bit strange. Peter’s face in that panel and in Panel 6 is nicely done – he’s young, so Janson doesn’t give him wrinkles, but he thickens his eyebrows, gives him a thick line under his lips, and just the two short strokes on Peter’s glabella in the last panel is enough to make him look worried. Less is more!
I’ve long wondered who draws the lines on Spider-Man’s costume – the penciler or the inker. I really don’t know. In several comics, the farther away Spidey is, the less likely you will see all the lines, which doesn’t really mean anything – the penciler might leave them out but in close-ups draw them in. Does anyone know? I bring it up here because we don’t see the lines, but Janson still inks Spidey pretty heavily in Panel 4, even though he’s far away. It’s a conundrum! (And yes, it’s one that’s easily solved – I could just ask an artist – but do I look like I want to take the easy way out?!?!?)
The other noteworthy panel in this sequence is Panel 3, where Georgie hears Spidey talk. That looks like a panel straight out of Daredevil, and I wonder how much Janson did on it. He rounds off Georgie’s right cheek and gives it a thick brushing, so even though it’s not where his face “ends” due to the sliver of white running along the side, it still looks like something Miller would draw. Georgie’s eyes aren’t perfectly oval – they seem to be made up of short straight lines rather than a smooth curve – which is another trait of Miller’s Daredevil work. It’s a nice panel, but it’s eerie how much it looks like Frank Miller under Janson’s inks.
Stephanie’s face doesn’t look like a typical Romita face, which makes me think that his pencil art wasn’t as strong as it would later become – either Romita or Janson makes her face a bit harsher than Romita was doing at this point, and I’m not sure whose influence that is. When Spidey shines his “Spider-Light” on Daniel Kingsley – although I’m not sure if Peter knows that this isn’t Roderick Kingsley, as Daniel often impersonated his brother – we get a nice little scene, with Janson using thick lines to give the impression that it’s a shadow, and then in Panel 3, he inks the light shining out from Spidey’s midsection with short, thick strokes. Christie Scheele uses a nice shade of pink in the final three panels, casting everything into an eerie light.
Jameson is being blackmailed because he created the Scorpion and no one knows, so he’s writing a piece to admit, but Spidey calls him out on it, because if he really thought it was a mistake, he would have admitted it years earlier. But that’s not important right now! What is important is the way Janson inks JJJ in Panel 2 (well, in Panel 1 too, but that’s the back of his head). We get the thick strokes for Jonah’s hair, the shadow running down the right side of his head, and the right side of his face thrown into shadow. Janson inks wrinkles on his brow, giving him a giant brow ridge, and uses thick brows to shadow his eyes a bit. This is another very Daredevil-esque panel, and it’s due solely to Janson, as far as I can tell.
The last three pages of the issue are very well done, both from a penciling standpoint and from an inking one. Romita gives us a good layout on the first page, as Spidey stands over the defeated Hobgoblin, who then turns and smacks him backward before reaching for the switch that turns on his “automated ray cannon.” Romita does a nice job with the final panel, leading us well across it so that we take in everything in it. Janson’s inks are really well suited for the tone of these pages – either he or Romita adds the spot blacks in Panel 3 of the first page, shrouding the Hobgoblin’s face as he pulls the switch, and Scheele gets to color just his eyes that evil shade of red. In the final panel on the first page, Janson uses thick black lines to show the explosions that surround Spidey, creating more of a cage for him. On the second page, the Hobgoblin’s face in Panel 1 and the spectators in Panel 4 are other ones that appear to be right out of Daredevil – the thick lines on the forehead, the hatching around the nose and on the cheeks of the Hobgoblin and the simple, almost geometric shapes of the dude who speaks the dialogue in Panel 4 are very Miller/Janson. Finally, Panel 5 gives us another good explosion, with the heavy lines radiating outward, adding force to the blast. The final page is another Jansonian masterwork. He uses the dying sun to stripe Jameson with Venetian blind shadows (which already had to be a cliché in 1983, but it’s still pretty cool), and in Panel 3 we get the short, thick brush strokes on Jameson’s hair and Hitler/Chaplain mustache, as well as the heavy hatching along his cheek and jaw. The final image, with his silhouette standing in front of the window, gives us smudges on the buildings outside, showing both the dying of the day and the pollution that besmirches New York. It’s a great page.
Once again, I know I wrote a lot about the inkers, but it’s interesting to me how different inkers do over Romita’s pencils. I’ll probably do it tomorrow, too, as we check out another one of his great runs, this time with a legendary inker! Find more inking insights in the archives!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.