UnSHIELDed: "Agents of SHIELD" Evolves With the Marvel Cinematic Universe
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 Avengers vs. Atlas #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 2010. Enjoy!
Jeff Parker’s Agents of Atlas was a strange beast, going through a bunch of different permutations as Marvel, desperate to appease Parker thanks to those pictures he has of Joey Q not actually wearing a baseball cap (think of the damage that would do to the world if they went public!), kept publishing it either though none of them sold terribly well, but they lasted long enough for Parker to tell some cool stories. Part of the problem, I believe, is that it had no continuity whatsoever in the art department, so one month it might look like a superhero book because Carlo Pagulayan was drawing it and the next it might look like more of an espionage book because Hardman was drawing it. Personally, I like Hardman’s art more, but I would have taken Pagulayan if it meant he drew it all the time. But he didn’t, and weirdly enough, Hardman ended up drawing most of the most “superheroic” of the Atlas stories, the four-issue crossover with the Avengers. So let’s take a look!
We get this nice splash page, with the weird-looking creature asking where she is. Who is she? Don’t worry about it! Hardman is working in color now, and he’s paired with Elizabeth Breitweiser, who’s quite good. So we get a nice drawing of a bunch of misshapen faces, which Hardman does really well with, and Breitweiser uses a deep blue-green against the black of deep space to make the creature more horrific. The creature looks mostly created by coloring, although I’m sure Hardman put up the scaffolding for Breitweiser. Hardman, we can see, has gotten very comfortable with soft pencils that help make the colorist’s job easier, as he obviously knows where to get rid of holding lines so that Breitweiser can add texture to the faces. We’ll see more of this below.
Here we see the Agents of Atlas in action, and perhaps get one reason why Hardman wasn’t able to draw this book monthly – this is very detailed art, and it doesn’t appear like anyone could do this month-in and month-out. Maybe that’s it. On this page, we see the Agents fairly well, especially Namora in the final panel, but we see the “crystalloids” better, as Hardman does a nice job with the hard angles and lines to create the crystalline creatures. His inks move from crisp to more thick, as the crystalloids have to be precisely inked while someone like Gorilla Man (down in the lower right of the page) can be a bit more loosely inked, as he’s covered with thick fur. Hardman does a good job with the brain and the spine of the shattered crystalloid – it’s not too gruesome, as it’s more 1950s science-fictiony than anything, but it’s still brutal, showing how powerful Namora is. Meanwhile, Breitweiser uses the shading common in coloring these days to give the crystals a sheen but also show them in shadows in certain places. One reason this works with an artist like Hardman when we’ve seen it not work with other artists is because Hardman, it seems, can vary his line weight rather well, so that when the shading of the coloring is prevalent, his line work isn’t so strong that the color effects look awkward. We’ve seen some artists this year who don’t seem to be able to transition as well as others, and while Breitweiser’s colors work quite well with Hardman’s work, the same coloring wouldn’t work with a lot of other artists. As I’ve noted plenty of times this year, there’s no reason why colorists can’t make their colors “flatter” for certain artists, and it would be nice if they did. That’s not necessary with Hardman, and therefore this art/color combination works quite well. (All right, I’m done on the soapbox … for now.)
Hardman doesn’t seem like a “traditional” superhero artist, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t draw them if he wanted to, and he gets to show off a bit in this series. Here he gets to draw a giant robot destroying a taxi in Panel 1 and then getting Spider-Man’s sticky white gunk all over its face (yeah, I know – but I rarely make a joke about it, so I figured why not?). The final panel is the … um, money shot, and Hardman does a nice job with it. His Spider-Man isn’t gawky like a lot of artists draws him, but graceful as he kicks the robot in the face, and the motion of his body is countered by the web line leading us back to the robot’s face, so the motion of the panel is creating some tension. The web line is inked well, giving it a tactile feel, especially when it attaches to the “Growing Man’s” face (yes, that’s its name). The background in Panel 3 is really nice – Hardman draws a skyscraper (the Chrysler building?) and some other buildings, inkes them very lightly, and then Breitweiser colors them a dull gray. The Dutch Masters sky, however, is wonderful, as Breitweiser gives us a bit of blue in the upper reaches of the atmosphere and then a lot of off-white, making Spider-Man pop quite nicely.
The Atlas bunch takes on the Lava Men, and we get this very nice panel. The Lava Men are awfully creepy, with Hardman creating them from tiny shapes, denoting rocks, while Breitweiser fills in the blanks with red and orange lava. Meanwhile, he does a good job isolating the agents in their bubble as the waves pound against them. Notice that Hardman manages to give the Lava Men the tiniest bit of personality – the one on the middle left wears a grumpy expression and appears to have large fangs, while the Lave Man in the lower left looks a bit depressed, as if he was a middle management kind of dude, just trying to get through the day and go home to his Lava Wife before Type A dude above him came around and said, “Come ON, Howard – we’re going to attack the surface world!” and Howard just thought, “Again?” before going along with it because he doesn’t want to be that guy, and don’t you just feel bad for Howard? Are Leanne and the kids just sitting at home at the dinner table, lava soup slowly going cold, because Howard was too much of a wuss to call them and tell them that Steve dragged him along to yet another expedition to the surface world? Man, I feel worse for Leanne and the kids than I do for Howard, even though Howard elicits a lot of sympathy, too. The dude is probably missing House Hunters International for yet another futile attack on the surface world.
Breitweiser does a lot of the heavy lifting on this page, although I imagine the raw pencils were very intricate. She adds a nice, thick orange to the sky, and of course we get the orange and red of the Lava Men. M-11’s shield is, of course, blueish, because that gives us a blue/yellow complement, but it’s still a good choice because it’s a cool oasis in the middle of the hot panel. Hardman makes it a dome to stand in contrast to the rockiness of the Lava Men, which is another good choice (although it’s pretty standard for a force field to be round, so I doubt if Hardman thought too long about it – it’s just serendipity that it works out well).
Howard and Leanne are going to have to go to counseling, aren’t they?
The Growing Man grows when you hit him, so now he’s much bigger than when we first saw him. Hardman does a nice job with this action scene, showing that he’s gotten even better than when we saw him a few years earlier. The Growing Man’s fist is the first thing we see, as Atlas arrives on the scene and sees the android fighting the Avengers. So the fist implies the punch to come, and there’s a good deal of tension in that first panel. Scattered across the rest of the panel are some Avengers and the agents, all in the shadow of the fist. In Panel 2, the Growing Man strikes, and the action of the panel leads us from the upper left to the lower right. The destruction in the lower right is nice, as it’s juxtaposed against the sleekness of the Atlas spacecraft in the upper left. In Panel 3, Hardman focuses on Carol Danvers and Logan, with the big hulk of the android blocking a good part of the panel. Then we switch the point of view again, as the Growing Man backhands them away – Hardman leads us from the fist, which echoes the fist in Panel 1, down through the scattered heroes, to the angry face of the Growing Man. He gives him a squat nose and a wide mouth, with the helmet so tight over his eyes that they’re almost obscured, and then he inks around the eyes, the black giving him more of an angry expression and making his red eyes stand out a bit more. Breitweiser uses the muted palette that is so common in superhero comics these days, but because of Hardman’s soft pencils, it works well. This is what I’m talking about when it comes to pairing the colors to the pencil art – this kind of coloring wrecks some art, but it works in tandem with Hardman’s.
The weird blue thing reappears, and sucks in the Avengers. Hardman’s fluid art makes the stretching of the thing and then Captain America work well, as we’ve already seen how nicely he distorted the faces in the blue thing, but because he uses lighter lines and because Breitweiser uses “soft” colors, Cap’s stretching in Panel 3 looks fine. Breitweiser’s textured coloring makes this scene a bit more believable, as she uses a good blend of shading so that reality itself looks distorted. She also uses the white spots to create a strange kind of scene, so that just some spattering helps with the distortion effect. Hardman uses silhouettes in the final panel to hide the original Avengers, but they’re iconic enough and Hardman is good enough that it’s pretty clear who they are. Again, the spot whites in the panel help with the bending of reality that’s occurring. The combination of Hardman’s softer lines and Breitweiser’s softer colors are what sells the page nicely.
Hardman has continued to work steadily, branching out into writing (with his wife, Corinna Bechko), and in the past few years, he’s been working on some licensed properties, which is where we’ll finish tomorrow. But which licensed property?!?!? You’ll just have to come back to find out, won’t you? And be sure to check out the archives! They’re lots of fun!
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