Year of the Artist, Day 174: John Paul Leon, Part 3 – Earth X #X
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is John Paul Leon, and the issue is Earth X #X (yeah), which was published by Marvel and is cover dated June 2000. Enjoy!
Earth X is a weird comic, which isn’t surprising considering it came out during the Bill Jemas Era at Marvel, and while it’s not the first time Leon showed this style, it’s probably the most high-profile gig he had had at this point, plus it’s really nice-looking. Onward!
Leon’s heavily inked style of this time makes me really wish I could see the original pencils, because Bill Reinhold inked this, and I’m really curious about how the labor was split up. I wonder how detailed the original pencils are because Leon drew 14 issues of Earth X and they came out fairly regularly – the zero issue showed up in January 1999 and this came out in April 2000. The artwork, as we can see, is incredibly dense, and while Leon has embraced a slightly more abstract style, it’s still fairly detailed. So how much did Reinhold fill in? I don’t know, so I hope you’ll give me some leeway when discussing this. The spot blacks are thick in this issue, as we see on this page, and I’m going to assume Reinhold filled them in.
Leon turned out to be a good choice for this comic, even though it might have seemed a bit odd beforehand (actually, maybe it wasn’t – he drew Challengers of the Unknown right before this, so maybe he had shown some flair for the bombastic in that book, but I don’t own them, so I don’t know). We see here how nicely he draws Galactus and the Celestial behind him, while also keeping the scale human enough to make them look out of place. Yes, that’s one of the Twin Towers on the left side of the panel, and it helps frame the scene while drawing us down to take in the people and boats on the bottom left. Galactus’s ornate contraption is nicely done, and while we don’t see his armor in too much detail, we can tell that Leon has a handle on it. In the late Nineties, he began to use those thick blacks a lot more, and that’s why I’m not sure if Reinhold adds the black or not, because everyone who inked Leon did it, which means Leon had very specific instructions about it. It does add a weird, mysterious, and oppressive element to the book – I remember when it came out that I didn’t love the comic partly because it didn’t “look” like a superhero comic, but that’s kind of the point – and helps the colors pop a bit more. Melissa Edwards, who colored this, gives the dome behind Galactus some paint spatters, which is neat. She uses a darker palette on this issue, but that’s to be expected for a book set in a dystopian future. What ya gonna do?
Leon doesn’t use a lot of interesting page layouts in this comic, but perhaps it’s because his design work was so insane that he didn’t want to distract too much from all the characters. X-51 is a neat character throughout, with the machinery underneath that gelatinous-looking skin, and Leon’s solid lines and the spot blacks make the fantastic more down to earth, so when X-51 is confronted by a lupine John Jameson, it looks more “realistic” than we might expect. Meanwhile, in Panel 4, we see again that using blacks is a good way to define faces, as there aren’t any lines on Jameson’s wife’s face (I don’t remember her name, if she ever got one, and I don’t think it’s She-Hulk, is it?), just blacks creating an eye, nose, and mouth. Leon probably drew them in and then he or Reinhold erased the lines, but that effect works quite well in this comic.
Leon shows some nice Kirby-inspired work here, as we get the machine ripping the dude apart while the other Celestials watch. The black highlights of the dude is nicely done, as he’s lit up by the giant surge of energy, so he’s thrown into stark relief, with Kirby Krackle streaming from him. Down at the bottom, we get nice details on the Celestials as they look up, as Leon shows that he hasn’t moved too far into abstraction. Edwards’s use of purple in the background is a nice touch, as it complements the bright yellow very well.
Leon’s work on the Asgardians is nice, too, as he gives us plenty of intricate details on their armor and that of their horses as they ride into battle. We still get plenty of black, but it’s tempered by the precision of the work we can see. In Panel 3, we get a face that’s again defined by blackness – the dude’s eyes are deep black pools, while his cheeks are so sharp they cast shadows down his face. Leon, as we can see, doesn’t do anything fancy, but his solid line work is something that lends a grounded feel to everything, even Norse gods.
Galactus leaves the earth (I’m not spoiling what comes right before it!), and we get this wonderful panel. There’s some kind of vortex over Galactus, and we get the rocks spiraling around the core and then the black clouds swirling. Leon does a nice triangle of light, so that the top of Galactus is lit up and shadowed a bit, while the bottom is completely in shadows. We get thick smoke – I guess? – below Galactus, and down below there’s a nice splash of water next to the Statue of Liberty. Again, I’m not sure what Leon does with this – I imagine there’s a lot of pencil work that gets erased when Reinhold adds the spot blacks and then Edwards colors it, and that makes this such an unusual-looking book, and it’s interesting to see the soft lighting on Galactus as he rises. This is a beautiful panel, and it’s because of the contribution of all three artists.
X-51 confronts Uatu, and we get this nice panel. Leon keeps his features “normal-sized” but enlarges his head, so that his eyes, nose, and mouth don’t seem quite like they fit on his face. Leon makes his eyes deep pools (Uatu is blind, by the way), gives him worry lines on his forehead, and has tubes coming out of his mouth, making Uatu look fairly pathetic. Once again, Leon uses thick lines and we get a lot of blacks, which adds some heftiness to the characters, grounding even characters as outlandish as Uatu and X-51. It’s a nice panel, showing how far Uatu has fallen.
Leon did nice work on Earth X, and you might think that he would continue in this style for the rest of his life, because why wouldn’t he? Well, he didn’t quite go that way, which was a bit odd. Tomorrow I want to look at an issue where his art is a bit strange, and I’m going to speculate why! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!!!! In the meantime, you can always find out what’s what in the archives!