Year of the Artist, Day 170: John Romita, Jr., Part 4 – Uncanny X-Men #301
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 Uncanny X-Men #301, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated June 1993. Enjoy!
Romita returned to Uncanny X-Men for a brief time in the early 1990s, when Scott Lobdell was writing the book, and we got that whole “Upstarts” plot, with the kids of the Hellfire Club trying to take over. This issue is right in the middle of that, so you know that it stars Trevor Fitzroy, the Character Find of 1991!!!! (“Fitzroy,” I should point out, is really hard to type – those letters just don’t go together very easily.)
Ewwww. This is the first page of the comic, and Romita does a tremendous job with it. He’s back with Dan Green on inks, and he’s matured quite a bit in the 10 years since Amazing Spider-Man #246, so we see them working together quite well. He draws Selene like he draws most characters – she’s a bit wide and stocky, which is somewhat unusual for mainstream superhero artists, who tend to make women wispy or really muscular, with nothing in between. Selene’s face is agony, and Romita does a nice job showing that, while he and Green make the “transpatial bio-molecular displacement” (God, I love comics) look horrific. Romita tears the flesh from Selene’s bones, and he makes sure the strips are ragged, making it look even more painful. The hatching on her – ugh – costume is great, as it usually looks sleek like leather but here looks rough and beaten up, which is presumably the result of being ripped apart and stitched back together. Either Romita or Green adds the Kirby Krackle, which makes the process look even more horrifying, especially where it’s wedged in between the strips of skin. Steve Buccellato, who was on the forefront of digital coloring, makes this issue bright, which was kind of the style of the times (I think he might have been wearing an onion on his belt) and looks really weird today when you compare it to the dreary drudgery of modern comics coloring (yes, yes, get off my lawn). You can say a lot about the coloring of comics in the early 1990s, but it certainly wasn’t boring.
These are two good examples of the “Romita face” – both Fitzroy and Selene have the thin, rectangular eyes that Romita often draws, and they both have the wide, toothy mouths associated with Romita. As we see Fitzory straight on, we get a better sense of his wide, flat cheeks and his long, thick nose, which are also Romita staples. He still does the cool stripping of Selene’s face in Panel 2, which still looks really painful. Either he or Green hatches Fitzroy’s face somewhat excessively, but it’s because Buccellato is lighting him from below, so he has to look hellish, as that’s the cliché when someone is lit from below (it’s true!). So we get the thick lines on his forehead and cheeks to imply shadows, while the area under his eyebrows and around his mouth is left unscathed. Buccellato uses yellow moving into orange to get a good creepy vibe to the whole thing. Meanwhile, Chris Eliopoulos letters this, and like digital coloring, at this point it could have been digitally lettered or lettered by hand – Eliopoulos, like Buccellato, was on the forefront of digital lettering, but I don’t know when he started doing it. Starkings and Comicraft were offering fonts around this time, but again, I don’t know about this particular issue. Either way, even though Selene’s speech is a bit hard to read (the early 1990s were a weird time for lettering in Marvel comics, as we got a LOT of different fonts), I like the way Eliopoulos does this, because it helps create the vibe that Selene is in some major distress.
Man, the Nineties rocked, didn’t they? Fitzroy attacks Forge in his “aerie,” and we get this scene (Mystique was staying with Forge at this time because she was more than a little unbalanced, and Forge … decided he was a psychiatrist?). Romita, as we all know, could be a very detailed artist, and so we get the bazillion shards of glass bursting inward as Fitzroy arrives, leading us from that panel to the marvelous second one. Buccellato adds pink, purple, and blue hues to show something moving fast, but we don’t see it until Panel 2, where we get that drawing of Fitzroy, which is one of the many drawings from this era that you could use to sum up for someone who didn’t read comics then exactly what everyone means when they say “1990s comics.” I mean, look at that glorious panel. It’s pure Romita, as Fitzroy is blocky and thick, with as much of the “Romita face” as we can see. He gives him that great wave of hair on a head that’s shaved on the side for no other reason than it was 1993, and he designs that terrifically busy suit of armor, with the transparent torso guard and thigh guard, which is supposed to protect … his family jewels? Beats me – it’s the Nineties! The spot blacks are wonderful, too, as they add a slight menacing tone to the armor – it’s gaudy, sure, but it’s seen some rugged action, too. And, of course, we get the Kirby Krackle. Everyone loves Kirby Krackle! Buccellato tops it all off with the greens and blues, surrounded by the nauseating magenta of Fitzroy’s energy and the yellow shards of glass. Fitzroy, as you should all know, comes from a dystopian future, and it’s apparently dystopian because Clinton Kelly and Stacy London never existed.
Fitzroy and his sweet boots chase Forge and Mystique away, but not before Forge cooks up a little gift for the bad guy. In Panel 1, Romita shows the beauty of simplicity, as he draws simple shapes around Fitzroy to show the ceiling collapsing. In Panels 2 and 3, we get more “classic” Romita figures, as he draws Forge with a wide face and a wide mouth, while either he or Green makes sure Forge is nice and hirsute. I really wanted to point out the weapon in Panel 3, because this is also a “classic” Romita drawing. Romita loves big weapons, and he tends to draw them as weirdly ornate but also utilitarian – he uses a lot of rectangles, but he and his inkers don’t over-hatch the surfaces, so that we get something like we see in Panel 3, where the lines are bold and the shapes are regular, but there’s no metallic sheen or roughness to the surface. It’s very interesting, because it’s one of those things you can pretty much count on seeing in a Romita comic if the story calls for a weapon.
This is a nice two-page sequence of Forge fighting Fitzroy. Forge thinks he’s disabled Fitzroy, but he didn’t, and he pays for it. Romita does a nice job in the first two panels of the first page, as we walk with Forge toward the prone body of Fitzroy, but then, in Panel 2, Fitzroy turns and slashes at Forge’s prosthetic leg (Marvel: dismembering people 20 years before DC made it fashionable!), which goes with the momentum of the panel. That Panel 2 is really wonderful – Romita and Green give us a lot of tiny details that make Forge’s leg look even more robotic, but the angle from which we see it makes it look painful, too, even though it’s not a real leg. Buccellato once again has some fun in Panel 4, as he gets to go from white to pink to red to show Fitzroy’s energy warming up, leading to Panel 1 of the second page, where Forge blows up his own hand to escape. That’s another great panel – the explosion is in the upper left, but the lines bursting out of it make sure to take in Forge’s arm and shoulder so we can orient ourselves, while also leading down Fitzroy’s arm to his body, where we get the recoil from the blast. Lobdell, learning at the foot of his Claremontian Master, has Fitzroy say “Mesmro’s eyes” instead of “Holy shit,” because “Mesmro’s eyes” sounds so much cooler. We get a lot of nice spot blacks on the page as Forge’s hand disintegrates, and at the center of the explosion, Fitzroy’s hand loses some holding lines as the light is too bright for definition. Buccellato takes the relatively benign colors from the previous panel and makes it a bit harsher, with the pink deeper and scored with white, so that the explosion looks quite violent. In Panel 2, we once again get a lot of hatching on Fitzroy’s face, as once again he’s being lit from below, this time from the smoking remnants of Forge’s hand, and then Forge staggers away, with a nice movement from Fitzroy in the “back” of Panel 3 to Forge along the trail of smoke, and then to the gun lying in the foreground. Romita really knows how to lay a page out.
Fitzroy blows himself up for some reason, and we get this wonderful final page. Romita’s attention to detail means we get individual window panels scattering in the explosion, and he or Green add the nice black lines radiating outward and the spot blacks all over the tiles as they burst. The wonderful sound effect leads us down to Storm, who was just about to head inside, and Romita and Green ink her heavily, while Buccellato wisely keeps her colored a muted blue so that we can see her and so that she seems a bit insignificant against the bright explosion. Buccellato thinks about the range of the explosion, so we get bright yellows on some of the glass, which shifts to orange and then even darker orange the farther away we get. It’s a cool cliffhanger, and the art team does a very nice job with it.
These aren’t great X-Men issues, but they’re not terrible, and Romita was really doing some unusual work on them, because it’s clear he was, at 36/37 years old, trying to adjust to the New Kewl Reality of comics, but he was still old-school enough that it created some weird tension in the books. Soon he would move on again to other comics, but I’m going to skip ahead to a more recent comic, where he’ll be teamed once again with Klaus Janson, and the results are … well, they’re something. You can find more interesting penciler/inker pairings in the archives!