Year of the Artist, Day 196: Rob Liefeld, Part 5 – Hawk & Dove #1
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Rob Liefeld, and the issue is Hawk & Dove #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated November 2011. Enjoy!
When the DCnU rolled around, I decided to read and review every single new #1. We know how that turned out! What this meant, of course, is that I bought a Rob Liefeld comic, as he was the artist on the new version of Hawk & Dove (I used the ampersand to distinguish it from the earlier Hawk and Dove, because that’s just how I roll!). So let’s see what happened when Liefeld returned to the book that got him noticed in the first place!
And … here’s the first page. One thing I noticed pretty quickly is that Liefeld has pulled waaaaaay back on inking lines onto characters’ faces, and that’s nothing but a good thing. It doesn’t mean his art is great, but it certainly makes it easier to deal with. He still inks things a bit oddly, as with Alexander Quirk in Panel 2, who appears to have a mustache even though he doesn’t and still has more severe cheekbones than most normal humans. Panel 2 cracks me up a bit, as everyone sits, mouths agape, at Quirk’s announcement. Liefeld doesn’t do anything too egregious on this page, although the tables in the coffee shop do look a bit strange. The asymmetrical face on the newscaster in Panel 4 is charmingly old-school – Liefeld does everything free-hand, man! The inking in that panel is pretty good – it’s not excessive, obviously, and Liefeld even considers that she would have darker eye make-up on. Matt Yackey colored this, and we see the influence of the more modern techniques, especially in Panel 1, where the clouds are fringed with sunlight. Yackey’s colors are fairly restrained here – he doesn’t go overboard with rendering, so the light in Panel 4, for instance, looks far more natural than what many colorists would do. Liefeld seems like the kind of artist who would benefit from flat colors, and on this page, Yackey finds a pretty good balance between flatter colors and some more textured tricks that have sprung up over the past 10-15 years.
Liefeld’s characters aren’t as freakish anymore, but they’re still occasionally odd, anatomically. The zombie thing is … fine, especially as it’s supposed to be, you know, a zombie, as Liefeld’s commitment to basic shapes works for something degraded like that. The inking on the zombie is fine, too – it ought to be a bit more heavily inked, and Liefeld actually uses thicker blacks quite well on the body. Dawn’s body is a bit stranger. One thing you might have noticed about Liefeld over the years is that it often looks like he doesn’t erase lines. The lines in Panel 1 look a bit sloppy on the right side of the panel, but they’re overshadowed by the darker lighting and the zombie attack. Dawn is wearing a diaphanous capelet, I guess, but that doesn’t come across very well in Panel 1, and it’s not significantly better in Panel 2, although it’s certainly clearer. But look at Dawn in Panel 2. Her cape is haphazardly drawn, with the lines “below” it on Dawn’s body simply inked a bit more heavily to indicate the the cape is see-through. It’s sloppy, and it really does look like a sketch, as if Liefeld was simply laying out the page and decided to leave it as is. That’s one of the many things that’s frustrating about his art. Meanwhile, he gives Dawn fairly large breasts, which would work if it weren’t for the tiny waist he also gives her. Then, we can see that Dawn has fairly thick thighs, so her proportions are even more out of whack. There’s really no reason for it. Plus, her unfortunately-designed costume gives us the butt of the dove pointing right down at her crotch, which … yeah.
Hank punches out a zombie and then insults it, which just seems mean. The poor dude didn’t intend to be a zombie, did he? Anyway, Liefeld gets to do his favorite emotion – pure rage – and he does it pretty well, especially in Panel 2, when he inks around Hank’s mouth, showing only his gritted teeth. Hank’s punch in Panel 1 is okay, although, as usual, the devil is in the details with regard to Liefeld. He shows a lot of characters from high vantage points so that he doesn’t have to draw necks. Hank’s mask allows Liefeld to draw another circle for his head, which makes it easy on him. Hank’s body is a bit better – it’s not great, but it’s better. His broad shoulders and thick torso don’t narrow too much to his waist, which means his giant thighs don’t look as silly as they did on Dove. Again, the inking on the zombie and Hawk is pretty good – Liefeld has learned a bit more about nuance, it seems. Yackey’s colors again straddle a good line between flat and more textured, so that this doesn’t seem over-rendered but it still looks modern. The biggest issue with Panel 1 is Hank’s “wings” or “cape.” Liefeld simply draws spears of fabric ending around Hank’s chest, but there doesn’t seem to be anything connecting them to his body. He does this constantly throughout the issue – how do they stick to Hank’s chest? It’s a mystery. Meanwhile, the poor zombie doesn’t have any man-junk – he’s like a Ken doll. That’s just mean.
Washi Watanabe talks to Hawk and Dove about the zombies on the plane, and we get this sequence. Like we saw with Alexander Quirk, Liefeld inks the corners of Watanabe’s mouth in Panel 2 strangely to imply that he has a mustache even though he doesn’t. Like so many other colorists on Liefeld’s comics, Yackey doesn’t color Watanabe’s lips (women, of course, get thick red lips, as we’ve seen, but men obviously have tan lips), so his mouth looks a bit strange. But I wanted to take a look at Watanabe’s facial expression in Panel 1. Why is he smiling so devilishly? He’s looking away from the people to whom he’s speaking and smiling at the readers, as if we’re supposed to be sharing some joke with him. What’s the joke, Washi? It’s very disturbing. Also, his hand is a deformed stump. In the previous panel, he was holding what appeared to be a notebook, but I’m not sure what he’s holding here. Man. And thin mirror shades? 1999 called – they want their look back.
At this point, Dawn was dating Boston Brand, and I don’t even want to know how that worked. So she hangs out with Deadman, and we get this sequence. I’m not going to write about the backgrounds – Liefeld has never been too interested in backgrounds – and instead focus on the characters. Boston is bald, so again Liefeld can draw a nice, round head, and both he and Dawn are slightly under the point of view, so Liefeld skips drawing their necks. Liefeld gives Boston those wide shoulders so that his upper body becomes a “V,” and while some people might mock the fact that his legs end at the knees, I’m not going to, as the way Boston is “flying” makes it perfectly plausible that the lower half of his legs are hidden behind his thighs and torso. Dawn is more problematic, as it seems like Liefeld wants to imply that she’s running, yet the fact that both her feet are on the ground make it look like she’s power-walking. Her waist is a bit thicker than before – not much, but a bit – but her hips still jut out rather wider than is plausible. Liefeld inks in her ribs rather heavily underneath her breasts, which has the effect of making her look more gaunt even though her waist isn’t as wide as it was in the earlier example. In Panel 3, Liefeld draws her jumping off the building and landing on a completely random car, crushing it. What the fuck, Dawn? She’s just running along rooftops chatting with her ethereal lover (hey, remember the Human League song “Ethereal Lover”? – good stuff!) and she decides to jump down on a car and crush it. Isn’t she supposed to be a superhero? Man, that’s a dick move, Dawn.
So that’s a look at Rob Liefeld’s career. He was working for DC in the brave new rebooted world, but I’m not sure what he’s doing right now. He’s had a very odd career, and while I don’t like his art very much, I do wish he hadn’t gotten so big so fast, because it’s clear from his early work and even intermittently since then that he knows what he’s doing, but he too often lets flash take precedence over substance. But what do I know – the dude is living the life he wants, I guess, and that’s great for him.
It’s time for a new artist tomorrow, and I was thinking about doing a bunch of Image founders in a row, but I decided to break them up a bit. I was also going to focus on one old-school artist, but I’m still missing a crucial section of his career, which I think should be getting shored up soon, so I can’t do him yet. I will go old-school, though, just with a different dude, one who drew one of the most influential stories in comics history! Come back to see who it is, and spend some of your precious, precious time in the archives!