Luke Cage History: From Hero for Hire to Hollywood
TV, Comic Books
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Ditko, and the story is “The Djinn” in Coyote #7, which was published by Marvel (under Epic Comics) and is cover dated July 1984. These scans are from Coyote volume 3, which was published by Image and came out in 2006. Enjoy!
According to Steve Englehart, who wrote “The Djinn,” he planned it as a Dikto strip in 1980, but I’m not sure when Ditko actually drew it, as it didn’t appear until 1984. Such is life, right? This time around, Ditko is inked by Steve Leialoha, which is yet another unusual combination. There’s no time for love, Dr. Jones, because we need to get right to it!
The splash page is somewhat ridiculous when you really think about it – even if Englehart and Ditko had never been to Cairo, did they really think it looked like that in 1984? It certainly didn’t look like this in 2006, although we’ll see a scene below that does ring a bit truer. But Englehart wants to tell a tale of the “mysterious East,” and Ditko was only too happy to provide it, and if we ignore the fact that this is supposed to take place in the modern day, the drawing is quite nice. Ditko packs the page with people, from the utterly ridiculous (the scantily-clad women on the balcony, the large, knife-wielding thug in the center) to the more credible (the guy in the blue suit, the dudes in fezzes in the lower left, although the gun transaction is still silly). He does a nice job with the architecture, and he gets across the busyness of the dockside quite well. Leialoha is a more brusque, rough artist than Ditko, and his inks on this page and throughout the story take Ditko’s rather angular lines and scuff them up a bit, making both Cairo and the people who inhabit it slightly seedier.
As we can see from this close-up, this is definitely a Ditko book – Tom Grummett, who was just getting started in the industry at this time, may have seen Ditko’s version of Tony Coyne and decided to base his entire career on that face, but Ali Pasha is a true Ditko creation, with the thin face, the arched eyebrows, the wide mouth, and the high cheekbones. However, Leialoha gives him thick lines on those cheekbones, while the rest of the hatching on his face adds some gravitas to his face. Ditko is quite good at giving his characters those thin eyes with the slightest bit of line work on the lids, making Ali Pasha look somewhat louche. It seems like it would be tough to do, and Ditko does it really well.
Coyne gets in a fight, because it appears he’s just about the tensest person in the world (he really wants to fight, so he basically walks into a bar and starts one), and we get this nice page. Of course Ditko’s layout is well done, and Leialoha’s rough line makes Ditko’s somewhat stiff figures move a bit better. When Coyne flees into the street, Ditko gives us a vision of Cairo that, in some sections, is pretty true to life (although I still don’t think Ditko looked at any contemporary pictures of Cairo – he probably just assumed the entire city looked like this). The inks in those final three panels are quite nice, aren’t they? Leialoha softens Ditko’s hard lines, erases some holding lines, and adds a lot of blacks, creating an eerie and somewhat ethereal atmosphere, as if Coyne is running through an unreal city (which seems to be the vibe that Englehart and Ditko want in this story). Leialoha hatches a lot of the walls, making the buildings rougher, meaner, and more ancient, while Ditko lays the panels out to imply that the alleys were constructed rather haphazardly (which, to be fair, they probably were). It’s a strange vision of the city, but it does buttress the mood of the story well.
Coyne sees Ali Pasha get kidnapped (well, not really, but it sure looks that way!), and when he follows, he falls into a hole and gets knocked out. As he’s coming back to consciousness, we get this nifty panel, which recaps some of Coyne’s life, including how he ended up in Egypt shuttling around an aloof … Arab? Turk? Kurd? – does Englehart care exactly what ethnic group Ali Pasha belongs to? The judge is a very Ditkovian dude, with the stern face and the accusatory finger, and Leialoha once again does a nice job with the spot blacks. Ditko does well with the swirls separating the memories, as Coyne is not quite conscious and his head hurts, so his memories swim through his head a bit. I always like seeing little details like this, because I like it when artists think about things like this.
So it turns out that Ali Pasha and Coyne are prisoners of “the Djinn,” but it also turns out that Ali Pasha wanted to be taken captive, because he has history with Mr. Djinn and wanted to get close enough to kill him. D’oh! Naturally, there’s a women dressed like that lying on a couch in the room where the Djinn rants at Ali Pasha, and before the Djinn throws Coyne and Ali Pasha in the pit, she sashays on over to Coyne and does this. She’s a very Ditkovian woman, especially in Panel 2 – her face isn’t too thin, but it’s still angled nicely down to a more rounded chin, while Ditko always gives his women nice eyebrows, which Sharaia (her name is Sharaia) sports. With a name like Sharaia, we might expect her to be a little less middle-America-looking, but such is life in comics sometimes. Leialoha, I assume, inked in the details on her outfit, which lend it some authenticity. In the final panel, the Djinn rants again, and Leialoha again does a nice job with the inking. The wall in the background is hatched thickly, with the shadows thrown by the flickering wall sconce creating an uneven spray of rough lines, while Leialoha uses a lot of blacks on the Djinn’s thugs, as they stand farther away from the light (and they’re evil, so that’s always a good look for artists to subtly remind us). Once again, it’s a nice blend of Ditko’s designs and Leialoha’s roughness.
This is the next page, obviously, and we get this nifty death trap. I love Ali Pasha, standing there calmly, as it’s both a nice indication of how much calmer he is than Coyne and because it’s such a Dikto drawing – Ali Pasha is standing ramrod straight (I mean, he has to, but still) and because he’s wearing a suit, he looks more like a conservative Ditko man than Coyne does. The design of the Djinn’s death trap is neat, as Ditko gives us a curved wall which almost appears to crowd out the poles on which Ali Pasha and Coyne are standing. The gears below are a clever touch, of course. Leialoha’s inks are again very neat – once again, we get the increased hatching as the light fades at the bottom of the wall, but he also makes what I imagine were sharper angles on the gears and blunts them a bit by erasing some holding lines and adding some stippled blacks instead of harder borders, which turns them from piercing weapons into great metal crushers. Which is worse? I don’t know, having never been pierced by sharp gears nor ground by blunter ones. I don’t think I’d like either.
Coyne comes up with a plan that allows Ali Pasha to get to the “master gear,” which, if jammed, would stop the other gears. It’s on Coyne’s side of the room, so Coyne becomes a human trapeze to allow Ali Pasha to swing over toward the main gear. As we’ve seen, this is a typically Ditko layout and the figure work, despite Leialoha’s presence, is a bit stiff in the Ditko tradition, but it’s still clever. As Ali Pasha moves, we get an awkward kind of sprawl in Panel 3, a fairly stiff swing in Panel 4, and an awkward landing in Panel 5. Ditko’s occasionally stiff figures suit him on some comics, but not necessarily on this page. The layout does help it, which is nice, as do Leialoha’s inks, which don’t do much for the figure work but continue to create a beautifully dank background. His gears remain rough, scratched, and horrific, which is presumably what he was trying to do.
Ditko drew a few more chapters of Coyne and Ali Pasha’s adventure (oh, and Ali Pasha drops a nice bombshell on the final page of this installment when he tells Coyne that Sharaia is his wife, but the less said about that plot point, the better), but the other inkers – Bob Wiacek and Art Nichols – weren’t as distinctive as Leialoha was, and Ditko reasserted his dominance, so the art looks like a lot of other Ditko work we’ve seen. So tomorrow I’ll check out Ditko inked by two different people – one a legend, the other … not so much. Will there be a clear distinction? We shall see! And, as usual, you can wade through the archives to find an artist you might have missed!
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