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Year of the Artist, Day 174: John Paul Leon, Part 3 – Earth X #X

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

24 Comments

Earth X was probably the first work of Leon’s that I read but I loved it. He became someone whose work I had to track down. Though I remember about halfway through the Earth X, Wizard Magazine made an off-hand comment about how terrible the art was. It really confused me at the time as it was one of my few outlets for comics commentary and I couldn’t believe they could be so wrong. Looking back, I’m not at all surprised I disagreed with them and Leon’s work here has stood the test of time.

Adam: I noted above that I didn’t love it when it came out, but it came out at a time when I was still moving past superheroes, and it didn’t look like a superhero book. I still bought the whole thing (I skipped the sequels, though), and over the years, I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. Wizard could be a good magazine when it came to finding unusual stuff and praising it, but they were primarily a superhero comic, so perhaps they were reacting against it in that mode.

I loved JP Leon’s work when I saw it in New x-Men.

So moody and a throwback to the old 60’s style of movie poster illustration, which oddly enough, is not my favorite but his line work really evolves it, as well as the color choices.

tom fitzpatrick

June 23, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I kinda wish that MARVEL kept JPL as the artist on the remaining two series of the EARTH X trilogy.

No offense to Doug Braithwaite, but a new artist in mid-stream was rather jarring. The other two part had one-shots and a mini-series to supplement the back-story for the trilogy and had different artists for each.
The upside was Doug Braithwaite did the full 14-issues of the second/third part.

Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I’d prefer JPL. ;-)

SGC: I thought about showing his X-Men work, but decided against it. In one issue, he was inked by Sienkiewicz, and it was almost more a Sienkiewicz book than a Leon one, so it made sense to skip it. But it was good art.

tom: Yeah, that would have been cool. I don’t remember the reasons I didn’t keep up with the sequels, but I know the fact that it was different art had something to do with it.

I don’t think it was Wizard, but there was a review at the time that questioned what JPL did on these issues, because as they put it, the character designs were by Alex Ross, the layouts were by Jim Krueger, and it was inked by Bill Reinhold “with a Q-tip dipped in lamp black.” I hope one of the creators weighs in here with who-did-what, because as you point out it is very similar to other work credited to JPL.

I loved the concept of the series, but it was a real struggle to get through it, and the sequels.

And I believe, John Jameson’s wife’s name was Kristine Jameson.

Dammit, this was a good series. One this that’s really neat about JPL’s artwork here is that he does a lot of storytelling outside the dialogue, if that makes sense. Take that panel above where Reed Richards says “We do what we must.” In the background, you can see the Silver Surfer (Shalla-Bal is with him) zipping around in Galactus’ fight with the Sentinels. It’s like two stories are running at the same time, and it’s very well-done. JPL has a LOT of scenes like that, in this issue and elsewhere.

Shame that EARTH-X isn’t given more love–I really do consider it Marvel’s “prestige” book akin to DC’s KINGDOM COME and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. I know people like Earth X, but I don’t think it’s ever reached that level in terms of acclaim. The two sequels probably didn’t help, although Earth X *mostly* stands on its own with only one major issue unresolved by the end of the story.

Loved Earth X. Didn’t buy the sequels because John Paul Leon didn’t draw it it.
Also, the new Inhumans series used an idea from this series.

I am pretty sure I have Earth X (just the first series) but I remember not being too wild about the writing, and that is why I didn’t get the follow-on series. As always, Greg’s article is giving me a strong desire to find it and re-read it now, with a finer eye to the details.
I do like JPL’s work!

Earth X was kind of fun, but the follow-ups got really obsessed with coming up with bizarre “secret origins” for characters that were based mostly on vague visual resemblances. I think by the end it turned out Mister Sinister was a time-traveling Colossus, Wolverine was actually one of Moon Boy’s people, Belasco was Nightcrawler, and Thanos was half-Skrull. Plus there was a lot of axe-grinding against characters Alex Ross didn’t like, such as potbellied beer guzzling loser Logan and whiny, useless Peter Parker.*

Johnathan Hickman seems to be a big fan of the trilogy, as he keeps using plot elements from it in his Marvel work. The “Celestial Embryo” idea was part of his SHIELD series, the idea of Franklin Richards and Galactus teaming up to fight evil Celestials in his Fantastic Four seems a lot like the resolution of Earth X, Infinity has the Terrigenation of Earth as in the backstory of the trilogy, and in Secret Warriors he had HYDRA using an alien tentacle symbiotic thing that looks rather like the Hydra creature from Ross and Krueger’s stuff too.

* Ross has said many time sin interviews that he doesn’t like Peter Parker, but he does like Spider-Man. Apparently this is because he first saw Spidey on the Electric Company, where he had no other identity; on finding out that in the comics a guy named Peter Parker was behind the mask and seeing him lie to people to protect his secret, the young Ross decided Peter was “a weasel.”

Omar–

I am *almost* certain that the alien Hydra creature came from an old Ulysses Bloodstone comic. I say “almost” because I’ve never actually seen pages from it. It’s amazing how much old stuff is referenced in the series. A long time ago, I made a timeline of the events in the series, and there was an astonishing amount of old Marvel stuff referenced on every page. Anyway, the only thing I could never find photographic proof of was the Hydra creature. Bendis did end up using it in his New Avengers run, though, with the Viper (I think) getting possessed by the creature.

Believe it or not, the potbellied Peter Parker started as a joke. After the success of KINGDOM COME, Wizard Magazine pestered Alex Ross about what Marvel’s version would be like. Ross’ response was to draw a picture of a really fat Spidey. He then began to wonder WHY Spidey would get fat, and Earth X grew from there. I’m not sure where Jim Kruger came in.

tom fitzpatrick

June 23, 2014 at 8:20 pm

@ DavidTheGrey: I remember feeling the same about the writing as well. I suppose that some writers are like an “acquired taste.”

Sometimes you have to read more of their works before you can appreciate it. Or not.

The panel with The Executioner and Hela has Simonson all over it.

@Tom: Definitely! And it’s not to say they’re bad at all. Similar to artists, I have a hard time claiming that something is bad unless I myself am an expert at it – and so while I can say I dislike someone’s art or writing, I usually won’t go so far as saying it is bad. Those artists and writers that I don’t end up liking can still write/draw circles around me.

But I will say that one thing that gets an artist or writer on my “awesome” list is if I can remember it years later. I remember the Nocenti & JRjr Daredevil, or the JPL STATIC. I don’t really remember much of Earth X except for the Alex Ross covers.

I wonder if Greg is going to pick Winter Men for today? That is one JPL book I have not read. It came out at a time I was not interested in Image/Wildstorm. Evidently from reviews it is a great book that I may have to track down if I can get it at a decent price. But given the great reviews, I don’t know if it would qualify as “art is a bit strange” from Greg’s description. As I’m sure Greg would say, “You’ll have to wait to find out!”

Just to tie this back into the issue being examined, one reason I would like to read this series again is because I doubt I even noticed the Celestial behind Galactus (on that first page) before. That is sad to say, but I probably was focused on Galactus. Spending time and really taking in each panel seems like a good idea with JPL’s darker art.

I like this series, it is great to see how the artists progress through the their careers and I have discovered some artists I wasn’t even aware of. I do feel however Greg can often make very definitive statements about subjective areas in the artists work.

For example in the previous John Paul Leon post on the Shadow of the Bat he says something along the lines of “he is still not very good at action” when describing a very well executed, laid out and drawn action scene which I am sure all involved poured a lot of time and effort into.

Like Kirby said “comics will break your heart”. I have to respect every comics professional for the dedication and effort they pour into an art form which is hated and feared by the mainstream art world. Obviously there will always be hacks like Greg Land but from what I have seen so far in this series it is mostly spotlighting fantastic artists such as Paul Smith and Walter Simonson.

Greg could maybe temper some of these sweeping statements with an IMHO. But other than that this series is fantastic, in my opinion!!

David: You should really read Winter Men. It’s really, really good. I’m not showing it today, but I will get to it tomorrow – today I really do have something that’s a “bit strange.”

Kevin: Thanks for the nice words and the criticism. I do try to not make sweeping statements, but when I do, I hope I back them up fairly well. The scene yesterday was laid out well, but the other aspect of action is a fluidity to the characters, and in that sequence, I pointed out that I didn’t think Leon was as good at that part as he was at the layout. So while I occasionally make definitive statements about subjective things, I do try to explain why I made them.

The reason I don’t add a caveat is because this is ALL my opinion – or most of it, anyway (I mean, Alan Grant DID write the issue – no one’s disputing that!) – so I figure that I don’t need it. I’m perfectly happy to discuss things in the comments, though, so thanks again!

Thanks Greg. I hope that post didn’t come across too harsh, as I said this is a fantastic series, I am off to track down some more John Paul Leon work!

Kevin: No worries – you weren’t harsh at all. As I noted, I love debating things, and I do take them to heart, because I’m always trying to do better!

I am *almost* certain that the alien Hydra creature came from an old Ulysses Bloodstone comic. I say “almost” because I’ve never actually seen pages from it.

Bloodstone’s enemy Ullyxy’l Kwan Tae Syn draws on the same Lovecraftian imagery as the Hydra monster from Earth X, as do other Marvel characters like the Dweller-in-Darkness and DC characters like the minor Legion of Super-Heroes villain Grullug of the Pre-Crisis version of the Dark Circle.

It may be that Ross, Krueger, et al. intended the Hydra alien to be linked to Bloodstone’s foe, but Hickman is almost certainly referencing Earth X rather than the Bloodstone series by linking a similar-looking monster to the actual HYDRA organization. For what it’s worth, the notes Ross and Krueger provide in Earth X suggest that the Hydra monster is just their was of playing off of the organization’s name and loyalty oath.

However, There is a panel of Marvel Presents #2 in which Bloodstone hallucinates an image of Ulluxy’l’s head superimposed on a creature he is fighting, so I can see where there might be a visual link.

Bendis did end up using it in his New Avengers run, though, with the Viper (I think) getting possessed by the creature.

That was Hickman in Secret Warriors. Viper is shot and killed by another character, but HYDRA resurrects her by grafting the alien onto her head. This is her status quo at the end of that series.

In New Avengers, this look was shown on a cover. However, int he actual comic, Bendis had Norman Osborn and AIM find a way to keep Viper alive without an alien squid-thing on her head; he got rid of the reference, in other words.

Aaaaand HTML fail!

I hated how quick Bendis was to reverse this bit of character development with Viper.

I really enjoyed the Earth X Trilogy, even if the conclusion at the end of Paradise X felt a bit flat.

To be honest, I wasn’t that thrilled about the John Paul Leon artwork when I first read the series.. I had read the free sampler Alex Ross did for Wizard Magazine, where he did his Kingdom Come versions of Marvel Characters. But after being impressed with the cover art, it was a bit of a let down to find out Alex Ross wasn’t doing the interior artwork for the series.

It did take a while to develop an appreciation for JPL’s art style, but after a while, it became fun to examine the dark lines and shadows, to pick up on the details or activity in the background.

Hopefully one day the trilogy will be reprinted, with the bonus conversation pieces that were missing from Universe and Paradise, and with the original ending Jim Krueger planned for Paradise X.

IIRC, Leon was replaced with Braithwaite because JPL turned them down when the sequel was greenlit, and Ross and Krueger were big fans of Braithwaite.

The whole Earth X trilogy was weird in that, to a certain degree, it came across like a big mishmash of fan fiction, i.e. a whole bunch of bizarre twists such as the ones Omar Karindu mentioned, i.e. “Mister Sinister was a time-traveling Colossus, Wolverine was actually one of Moon Boy’s people, Belasco was Nightcrawler, and Thanos was half-Skrull.”

I remember reading it and honestly thinking to myself, “If some reader off the street had submitted this exact story to Marvel, the editors would have probably tossed it into the garbage as the worst sort of fanwank. But because Alex Ross was so heavily involved in it’s conception, we’re supposed to think Earth X and its sequels are brilliant and edgy.”

All that said, John Paul Leon did do nice artwork on the series.

Having never read Earth X I have no idea if it is brilliant and edgy, but the art is fantastic and the story looks like a lot of fun for a long time Marvel reader like myself. I have no problem with “fanwank” that is so well illustrated. JPL’suse of blacks to create form reminds me of two of my favourite CB artists, Mike Mignola and Alex Toth.

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