Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Adam Hughes, and the issues are Elementals (volume 2) #12 and Justice League America #39, the first of which was published by Comico and is cover dated February 1990 and the second of which was published by DC and is cover dated June 1990. Enjoy!
I’m cheating again and using two different issues, but in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I really really REALLY like Adam Hughes, so I want to check out his work with different inkers, which makes an interesting difference in these two issues. Plus, I’m going to show scenes from two other Justice League issues, just for the fun of it! It’s a smorgasbord!
Hughes’s first issue on JLA was issue #31, which was cover dated October 1989. The issue of Elementals is cover dated a few months later, but I wonder when he drew it. By this time, Elementals was way off schedule (if I recall correctly; I wasn’t buying it at the time, but my best friend was, and he often complained about delays), so who knows when Hughes actually drew it. It looks a bit rougher than his JLA work, but that might be because Bill Anderson, who inked it, was not quite as accomplished as Joe Rubinstein, who was inking most of his work for DC. I’m not sure, but I figured we’d take a quick look at it before seeing what’s what on JLA! (And yes, this is the third time this year I’ve shown an Elementals issue. It was a fertile place for young artists!)
Anderson adds a bit more roughness to Hughes’s pencils than Magyar did yesterday, but not too much, and we can see it’s still recognizably Hughes’s work. All three charactes – Jeanette, Jeff, and Tommy – are pretty stereotypical “Hughesian” characters. Jeanette has the sweeping hair that Hughes loves to draw, with the arched eyebrows and full lips he also digs; Jeff has the slightly bulbous nose that a lot of Hughes’s characters sport, and Tommy’s hair is fairly typical Hughesian male hair. Anderson’s hatching makes the monster a bit more menacing, while he smartly keeps Jeanette’s face relatively clean. Hughes, who got better at drawing metal over the course of his career, shows that a bit with the monster’s armor – I’m going to assume the spot blacks on the metal are mostly Hughes, because it’s so common to see in his art even with different inkers. As Hughes became much smoother, his instincts with regard to metal became more incorporated into his art, leading to some interesting panels.
Our heroes fight the monster, and Hughes gets to draw some nice action (we’ll see more of that when we get to JLA, I promise!). His smooth line work is well suited for action, so it’s not surprising that one of the Big Two snapped him up, but he did get to draw some action in other books, too! You can see some nice Hughes stuff on this page, although I wonder how much of this is Anderson, too. The monster’s facial expression when Tommy kicks it in the groin is pure Hughes, with the small, round mouth a terrific go-to Hughes tic, and just the fact that he draws the monster bent over with his hands clutching his crotch shows again what a good sense of humor Hughes has and how well it comes across on the page. Anderson, I imagine, did a lot of the hatching, and in Panel 2, Tommy looks rougher than he usually does because of the scratchy inking. When Jeanette decides to incinerate the monster, we get nice cross-hatching around her eye, making her look slightly more evil. The way Hughes uses the blacks and Anderson inks in the lines and Julia Lacquement uses whites in that final panel help create a horrific scene of murder even though we don’t see anything. It’s a very nice drawing.
On the next page, we get this nice scene, as Tommy wonders why it was necessary to kill the bad guy. Tommy is a boy, so he’s much less used to killing, while Jeanette was a police officer before she died (the Elementals are resurrected, in case you didn’t know), and she knows sometimes bad things have to be done (Jeff was a soldier, so while Hughes draws him as a bit surprised in Panel 1, Bill Willingham doesn’t gives him any words condemning the killing, because he too understands why Jeanette did it). Hughes does a nice job with the corpse in Panels 1 and 3, as he uses blacks to keep it from being too gross (unless Anderson inked in the blacks) but still makes sure we know how horrific it was. In Panel 2, we get another very Hughesian drawing, as Jeanette explains why she did what she did but nobody reading this cares because they’re too busy staring at how hot she is. Hughes draws her lips a bit too full, but he does a really marvelous job hardening her eyes and setting her face to make her resolve come through very well. It’s interesting that Anderson (or Hughes) doesn’t ink her hair as lushly as we’ll later see with some Hughesian females – I wonder if both artists were under some deadline pressure. Once again, we get a humorous moment (Willingham was always good at adding humor to his darkest stories in this series) at the end, when Tommy tries to get the monster’s staff. Hughes uses a lot of black chunks and Anderson hatches it a bit more than he’s been doing to show the power of the staff, and Lacquement’s yellow obliterates some of the details at the contact point, which is a fine idea. It’s a pretty neat panel.
I imagine Justice League was where most people first saw Hughes’s art, and it seemed to revitalize the writers, Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis, just a bit after Kevin Maguire left and the book went through a period of rotating artists (which included Ty Templeton and Bill Willingham, so it wasn’t like the art was terrible, but it was somewhat inconsistent). In issue #31, Hughes decided to revamp Fire:
Beatriz remains one of my favorite characters, and it might – might – have something to do with the way Hughes drew her. The first time I ever encountered Fire was in the story arc I’m going to show below, and she spent most of that story as a green flame, so it might not have anything to do with that (despite not faring too well against Despero, I just loved Bea’s attitude in that story). When I finally got around to reading the rest of Hughes’s run, I began to appreciate … other aspects of her, too. To be fair, Giffen and DeMatteis wrote a kick-ass Bea, so it wasn’t all appearance! Bea, of course, is ridiculously dated now (heck, she was probably dated the instant this issue hit the stands), but Hughes really did a wonderful job with her. Hughes likes drawing women in the grand Kirby tradition, meaning his most attractive women tend to be drawn like brick shithouses, even though his range is a bit wider than that. He gives Bea larger breasts, but he also draws her with a bigger frame and a non-tiny waist, so she looks like a wonderfully proportionate woman. Her clothes are … unfortunate, but it was 1989 – what are you going to do? Hughes draws both Bea and Tora quite well – he gives Bea a slightly broad face and big features, so she stands out in a crowd, while his body language with Tora – in Panels 3 and 5 – is wonderful, as she’s far more self-conscious than Bea and is very unsure how she’s going to look out in public. Rubinstein’s inks on Bea’s hair are nicely done, as they make her ‘do look a bit shaggy, which fits with the times. Beatriz – not Tora – looks like she’s about to go hang out with Cinderella on the set of one of their videos, but that’s why she’s awesome!
I just wanted to show this panel from issue #34 because Hughes gets to draw Jen and Gabe from The Maze Agency on the left side of the panel, while I’m going to assume that’s Roberta Bliss, a cop who often works closely with Jen and Gabe, on the right side. Inter-company cameos in comics rock!
Issues #38-40 are the apex of Hughes’s work on the title, as he gets to draw the League’s big battle against Despero and Giffen and DeMatteis shift to a very intense story with a lot of violence (I’m not a huge fan of what happens to Gypsy’s parents, but it was pretty shocking) and a weird twist ending (yes, it’s not that great, but it’s not as bad as a lot of people think it is). So we get this page, in which Despero has just mind-fucked J’onn and is about to kill Gypsy. Hughes’s fluid art fits the superhero action well, as he’s able to show how limp Gypsy is in Despero’s grip in Panel 1 and how terrifying Despero is in Panel 2. Gypsy’s face in Panel 2 is well done, too, as Hughes shows her fear very well. After Guy Gardner contains Despero’s blast in Panel 3, we get that great final panel, where Despero staggers against the trees – Hughes does a nice job with it, as it really looks like Despero is in some discomfort – and in the foreground, J’onn shakes and drools in a horrifying image. Hughes drew J’onn very interestingly, as he often widened his eyes, got rid of the big ridges over those eyes, and softened his face, so that J’onn was far more “human” during this brief run than he was in most of his other incarnations. The sight of J’onn, vulnerable and defeated, is really well done by Hughes.
Guy, of course, puts the moves on Gypsy when he shows up, and even in the midst of the carnage, we get a nice page of reactions like this. Hughes gives him that smirk in Panel 1, and when Gypsy mentions J’onn, he quirks Guy’s mouth even more into a sideways frown, as Guy doesn’t like others harshing his mood. Hughes twists his nose and his mouth nicely, so that we see how put out Guy is that Gypsy is resisting his “charms” and talking about J’onn. Down in Panel 5, Hughes gives us “classic” J’onn, with the beetled brow – the spot blacks where his eyes should be are intense. Rubinstein is inking this, and he scuffs up Gypsy’s face and uses thick blacks to show the time of day. I imagine that Hughes put in the blacks, which also helps place this at the right time. In the final panel, the thick blacks and Gene D’Angelo’s colors create a nice, gauzy portrait, as the light erases some of Hughes’s holding lines and blends the figures more into the darkness.
Despero heads back to New York, where the battle gets really intense. In Panel 1, Guy blasts Despero up through the pavement, accidentally knocking Tora unconscious (it’s a fairly clever moment where DeMatteis has Guy yell about Despero hurting Ice in the final panel when, really, it’s Guy being reckless that caused it). That’s a great panel – Hughes’s details are terrific, and the loose lines give the Guy/Despero fight a lot of dynamism and movement – I actually wish the giant sound effect weren’t there, as it distracts a bit from the art. Hughes’s fluid style means that Tora’s fall is really well done – the way he draws her figure is how someone in that situation would fall, and the fact that her head is cut off by the panel border makes it even clearer that Guy and Despero consider casualties a secondary concern, as she’s not even able to stay in the shot. In Panel 4, Bea’s fire bursts around Despero, and Hughes does a nice job with it. The curved smoke creates a bubble around Despero, trapping him in the fire, and the cape (the UN flag, a superb visual) blasts behind him, showing the force with which the flame hits him. Hughes’s lines disappear at the bottom of the drawing and they get consumed by the fire, and Rubinstein adds a bit of hatching to make the flames look tougher, for lack of a better word. Hughes lays Panel 5 out quite well, as Bea comes shooting toward Despero, with the thick black trail looping around the flagpoles to turn into green flame as it gets closer to her, and then our eyes move across toward the hulk of Despero, whose skin is now scuffed from the fight. Guy’s words lead us off the page and past the advertisement on the facing page!
The fight continues, as Beetle tries to run up some steps to check out what’s going on. Hughes didn’t quite get the memo that Ted is supposed to be out of shape, as he looks perfectly fine in that panels, but whatever. Hughes continues to show his good work with faces, as Ted’s jaw drops and we get the big gaping hole of his mouth when he sees what’s going on. The battle continues to be amazing, as Bea turns up the heat on Despero. We get really detailed flames consuming him, and Despero’s anguish in Panel 4 is well done – Hughes tilts his head back and closes his eyes, so even though he’s a monster, we can see that the fire is causing him pain. Hughes also does well with Bea’s arrogance in Panel 5, as she’s smiling at Despero because she thinks she’s winning. Hughes shows her head band, and I wonder if that was a nod to the Comics Code so readers were aware that Bea is not actually naked when she’s flying around (although how she designed fire-proof clothing, I don’t know). As usual, we get Hughes’s wonderful attention to detail, as he draws in every lick of flame and uses thick lines on Despero in Panel 6 as he passes through Bea (hey, who knew she could do that?), and Rubinstein’s inks complement it very well – the hatching on Bea’s face in Panel 5 make her look a bit scorched, which, considering that she’s on fire, isn’t a bad thing.
Despero kills Mister Miracle, who isn’t actually Mister Miracle but a robot Scott Free put with the League while he could go on tour, so while this is a traumatic experience for the League, it wasn’t as bad for readers, who knew about the robot. Still, it’s a great page. Once again, Hughes’s flexible line makes the explosion more powerful, and that panel is a masterpiece of artwork, with all three artists contributing mightily. Rubinstein makes the explosion more impressive with the lines radiating from it, and either he or Hughes does a really nice job with the thick black smoke in the explosion. Hughes/Rubinstein backlights Despero so he becomes a hulking silhouette, with just his tattered cape colored to add some contrast. Down at the bottom, the light from the explosion makes the ground and the wreckage hazy, and D’Angelo does nice work with the lighter colors, which makes the black giant at the center of the page even more impressive. In Panel 2, we get another great face from Hughes – it appears that Hughes drew the bug eyes on the costume a bit larger than usual, so that reaction shots like this work really well. We know they’re not Ted’s eyes, but we interpret them as such, so while rationally we know his eyes aren’t open that wide, emotionally that’s the way we feel, as he’s in that much shock. Finally, we get the fire in Panel 3, once again backlighting the two men, making them silhouettes. It’s a powerful image on a powerful page.
Hughes, I should point out again, was 22 when he drew this issue, and he was already this good. Unfortunately, not long after this he would cut way back on his interior artwork, and his output would slow down considerably. He still drew interiors, of course (including some Penthouse Comix, which really need to be collected given the great artists who worked on them), but I guess he made a lot more money doing covers and commissions, because that’s where he began to concentrate more of his talents. Tomorrow I’ll jump forward several years to check out the work he did on one of the best crossover mini-series ever, and we’ll see what we see! Be sure to traipse through the archives if you’re feeling blue – it will cheer you up!
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