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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Gabriel Hardman, and the issue is War Machine #5, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1994. Enjoy!
A funny thing happened on the way to me writing about Gabriel Hardman. I was convinced that I owned Hardman’s earliest work, which was an issue of The Black Coat (The Black Coat is awesome, by the way). Being a diligent blogger, though, I went to the Comic Book Database (which has been invaluable doing these posts; it’s not 100% accurate, but it’s close) to check out the chronology, and what did I find? Hardman was drawing comics in the mid-1990s under the pseudonym “Gabriel Gecko.” Not only that, I owned one of them (which I’ll get to tomorrow). So I went to my comics shoppe, dug through their back issues, and found an issue of War Machine that he drew. This was not the first comic he drew, but it was close, so let’s take a look!
Scott Benson and Len Kaminski, who wrote this issue, fully embrace the ethos of the time as they introduce the new villain. On the first page, we learn “His birth name is Saint van Sant. His professional name is Deathtoll.” If you can find two sentences more “1990s COMICS!” than that, I will give you one shiny dime.* That’s just tremendous. Deathtoll apparently has some weird power where he … bursts into flames? I made the mistake of Googling him, and believe me, you don’t want to know more about Deathtoll, I’ll tell you that much. Anyway, Hardman and Pam Eklund, who’s inking him, give us a sturdy, not particularly dynamic but not terribly egregious page either – which is something we’ll see in this post going forward. The layout is fine – Deathtoll rises up (he was lying on the ground), and we move from him to his victim and thence to Panel 2. Panel 2 is angled downward so that we move pretty easily to Panel 3, which is oriented from left to right. Panel 4 is also leading us from the left to the right, toward Panel 5, where Deathtoll takes us off the page. Most of the heavy lifting on the page, it seems, comes from the hatching, whether Hardman or Eklund is responsible for that. We get nice hatching on Deathtoll’s flaming body, and nice blacks and lines on the bad guy as he reacts to the flames. After Deathtoll kills everyone else in the room (he had already killed several of them), we get a lot of blacks in Panels 4 and 5, highlighting the carnage without making it too horrific. The coloring – by someone named “Ariane” [Edit: It’s Ariane Lenshoek, according to David in the comments] – is nice, as we move from the heat of Deathtoll in Panel 1 to the coolness of the blues as all life leaves the room and Deathtoll makes his exit. It’s a neat shift.
* Note: You will not get a dime.
Hardman, at this point, was not terribly distinctive – he was drawing everything rather blandly, which meant the art was completely serviceable but not something you’d really remember. He frames Dr. Jeffries and Rebecca well in Panel 1, and I’m not sure if he meant this, but Rebecca’s slightly askew hair could imply that she’s not happy being hassled by the press. Rhodes steps in in Panel 2, and Hardman makes sure his head is a bit more square and thick, as befits a strong dude like Rhodey. In Panel 3, he leads us to the right as Rhodes and the other two head inside, and I find it interesting that even though it’s clear that Rhodes is supposed to simply be protecting his people with his hands on their backs, Hardman puts his hands up so high it almost appears as if Rhodes is some kind of puppet-master. Notice in Panel 2, instead of using spot blacks, Rhodey’s face is shaded by hatching, which has somewhat fallen out of favor in recent days. Still, this is artwork that simply gets the job done, which is fine but unremarkable.
Deathtoll, being a 1990s character, says “hoss” a lot, as he does here. Again, this is mostly just a nice layout, with Deathtoll bursting through the window (and receiving absolutely no cuts, as fictional windows never hurt anyone who bursts through them), guns a-blazing, and freaking everyone out. War Machine reacts appropriately, and then we get Panel 3, which leads us from Deathtoll to the dead cop to War Machine. Panel 4 is a bit “backwards,” with War Machine leaping against the grain, but it keeps Deathtoll on the left and War Machine on the right, so there’s some continuity. War Machine’s boot blasts are in the upper right, which is what helps us move off the page. Anyway, as this is the 1990s, Deathtoll is wearing a duster that looks a bit like a cape, has a belt of pouches around his thigh and a bandolier across his chest, and he’s holding a giant gun in his left hand that doesn’t look like it can be used with one hand (the Uzi in his right hand might be more feasible with one hand – I don’t know, as I’ve never fired an Uzi). Is the woman on the lower left a sly homage to Action Comics #1? I can’t imagine it’s not. In Panel 2, Hardman draws an interesting War Machine – the armor is in close-up, so Hardman can make it look a bit more like armor than I noticed back when I was writing about John Romita’s Iron Man. It’s thick and heavy, and as we’ve already seen Rhodes, we can believe he fits inside. The next two panels are, again, somewhat unremarkable. I don’t know why Deathtoll is generally colored like he’s an albino – Panel 1 is actually an anomaly in this comic. But if I wanted to know, that would mean Googling Deathtoll again, and I’m not doing that.
Rhodes and Deathtoll end up in the East River, where Rhodes decides he has to kill Deathtoll (yeah, that doesn’t work, because … no! I refuse to explain!!!). This, again, isn’t bad – We get a wide view of the two foes struggling, then a close-up as Deathtoll disengages the “air feed.” We get a bit of hatching next to his eyes, which alters the “expression” on War Machine just enough to make him look worried. Then we pull out so we can see War Machine grab his neck, which is, you know, important. The “split-screen” in Panel 5 is neat, as we get to see Rhodes scrunch up his face as he snaps Deathtoll’s neck, and then we get the clichéd panel where Deathtoll’s hand falls away. Hardman, again, does a serviceable job, making sure that Deathtoll’s hair is flowing in the water, and he makes sure the water is sufficiently roiled with bubbles. But, like the rest of the issue, the art simply does its job. There’s a lot to be said for that, but there’s not a lot about which can be said about it beyond pointing out that it doesn’t screw up.
So that’s very early Hardman art. Tomorrow I’ll check out some more of his early stuff, which is quite a bit better than this in the service of a story that reverses one of the most clever and interesting developments of a Batman villain I’ve ever seen, so it’s wildly disappointing to me. But that’s for tomorrow! Remember: archives!