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 issue is WildC.A.T.s/X-Men: The Modern Age, which was published by Image (Wildstorm) and Marvel and is cover dated August 1997. These scans are from the trade paperback WildC.A.T.s/X-Men, which is cover dated December 1998 and is totally awesome. Enjoy!
WildC.A.T.s/X-Men is a phenomenal mini-series, with several excellent creators tackling stories set during World War II (Scott Lobdell and Travis Charest), the “1960s” (Lobdell and Jim Lee), the early “1980s” (James Robinson and Hughes), and a dystopian future (Warren Ellis and Mat Broome, whose art on the story is tremendous but still seems out of place on this roster). Robinson, not being an idiot, wrote some scenes in which Hughes got to draw scantily-clad women. FAN SERVICE RULES!!!!!
Early on, we get a short fight between Nightcrawler and Warblade (God, I loved the Nineties!), and we see that Hughes has gotten much slicker than he was on JLA. He uses a lot more black – yes, it’s Nighcrawler, but still – and his lines are softer and less clear, although the quality is still there. Mark Farmer inked this, and I wonder how much influence he had. This page isn’t quite as detailed as we’ve seen from Hughes in his older work, but he does manage to get a good expression on Kurt’s face when Reno (God, I loved the Nineties!) grabs him around the neck. The use of thick blacks and the luminous colors (by Joe Chiodo and Martin Jimenez, although I don’t know how they split up the work) give Kurt’s teleporting effect a neat, otherworldly feel to it. We’ll see more changes in Hughes’s art as we move along!
The WildC.A.T.s (man, I hate typing that) and the X-Men both come to the conclusion that they have to investigate Blair Cameron of the Hellfire Club, so we get two pages (this is the first one) of them independently reaching it. The reason I wanted to show this is because while Hughes is obviously still drawing his characters, Xavier kind of freaks me out. Everyone else is in naturalistic poses – Void is looking pensively out the window; Voodoo has her hands on her hips, as if she’s stretching a bit (on the next page, she inexplicably starts doing leg stretches on the floor, so at least this drawing shows her preparing for that); Kurt crouches on the bust, Logan is looking at him, and in the background, the X-Men stand somewhat casually (with Scott looking up at Jean and thinking, “Why won’t she let me felch her? I know she’d enjoy it!”) Xavier, however, is weird. He’s completely divorced from the setting, and while he could be thinking about a solution to their problem, even that is pushing it. It’s as if Hughes simply found a picture of Yul Brynner on the Internet and copied it. It’s very weird.
Hughes will always be good at facial expressions, I imagine, and he crooks Logan’s mouth and crinkles his nose in Panel 1 when he gets a whiff of the Daemonites lurking around Cameron’s estate. We also see that, despite the smoother lines, he or Farmer still make sure to put hair along Logan’s arms, because he’s, you know, hairy. One of the problems with the night scenes in this book are that the use of blacks is so overwhelming that it obscures a good deal of the art. The thick inks in Panel 3 almost hide the Daemonites (until Kurt alerts us to their presence), and the black in Panel 1 almost makes it look like Kurt and Logan are in two different places, not very close to each other. Robinson’s prose and the linked word balloons alleviate that, but it’s still very dark, unfortunately. (And, as always, I have to point out that it’s brighter on the screen than in print, so it’s not quite as egregious if you don’t have the actual comic.)
Jacob gets to enjoy the “excess” of the Hellfire Club, as Robinson, when he heard Hughes was going to be drawing this, probably thought to himself, “Well, I have to fit buxom women with little clothing in here somehow!” Hey, I don’t mind at all. Once again, we see the evolution of Hughes’s art, as he and/or Farmer use blacks more than simple inking lines – Marlowe’s face in Panel 2 is created by thick blacks, not thin lines, while Cameron is in deeper darkness. In the foreground of Panel 1, we get a richly detailed suit of armor, which has delicate line work included, but even that uses more blacks than we saw from Hughes in earlier years. Hughes still does details – my wife would love those box beam ceilings – but I wonder if he’s using more stock backgrounds, as in Panel 1, it looks a bit more … clinical, I guess? In Panel 3, he ditches some holding lines and he and Farmer continue to use a lot of blacks to create more of an atmosphere, which works pretty well. Hughes, as we see, is still really good at faces and he continues to have a nice sense of humor, as Jacob’s astonishment in Panel 2 is wonderful, with the cigar hanging limply from his mouth as he realizes what’s in store for him. Hughes doesn’t change his eyes too much, which is clever, as Jacob is supposed to be the worldly dude (I mean, he’s been around for a while, and I’m not up on my WildC.A.T.s history enough to know if he’s remembered his past by this point), so he doesn’t want to betray his … surprise? pleasure?, but he’s still impressed with the possibility of a threesome. I have to believe the shift of the cigar from where it is in Panel 2 to where it is in Panel 3 is Hughes’s way of telling us that Jacob is very interested in this situation (in this case, a cigar is most definitely not just a cigar). The women are typically excellent Hughes women – they’re built like real women, and the fact that they look like they could break Jacob in half must be part of the appeal.
More cheesecake, as Spartan realizes they’re being taped so Priscilla decides to, as she puts it, “give ‘em a show.” In Panel 1, we see a full-blooded Hughes female. Priscilla’s hair is long and flowing, while her nose is tiny almost to the point of non-existence. Her breasts are just altered enough to imply they’re fake – that change in direction below her collarbone gives it away – but they’re not too large for her frame, as Hughes makes sure her waist isn’t too small and her legs aren’t too skinny. As I noted with Kirby’s women, it’s refreshing to see artists drawing proportionate women who aren’t tiny. In Panel 2, we again get the thick blacks creating shadows – the story is very shadowy – and we once again see Hughes’s sense of humor, as Spartan looks like a little kid who’s seeing boobies for the first time. Hughes doesn’t open his mouth too much, but enough to register his surprise, and he lengthens his face a bit and gives him pinpricks for eyes, making him look more like a cartoon character. The pigeon-toed feet complete the picture. I have a hard time believing that Spartan would be that taken aback by a topless woman, but it’s still a hilarious image.
Cameron is summoning a demon, like you do, and so Hughes channels Mike Mignola and creates this thing. This panel is a weird mix between Kevin Nowlan and Mignola, as Hughes and Nowlan in their later years began using a lot of those thick blacks with some hatching around the edges, which might be them or just the inkers, but it’s so common in both their works that I think it’s more them. The monster is wonderfully drawn, with nice details – the crooked, uneven teeth, the suckers on the tentacles – and a good use of blacks to show how evil it is. Using fewer lines on Cameron turns him into a more demonic figure, as the thick blacks that even obscure his hands and the blousey shirt he’s wearing make him a bit inhuman. Priscilla looks great, too, but that’s to be expected!
As Hughes became a bit more stylized, the one thing that suffered just a bit is his action work, which isn’t quite as fluid as it was during his Justice League heyday. With the greater use of black and the slicker drawing, there’s less room for motion lines, so Hughes’s posed work has to work overtime, and it doesn’t quite come up to task. Panel 1 is fine, and the coloring around Jean is quite neat (as we’ll see below). In Panel 2, Zealot is supposed to be stabbing the Daemonite, and technically, the drawing is perfectly fine. The isolation of the panel – this is the only time Zealot appears in the fight – and the fact that there’s not any kind of motion lines makes it appear that Zealot is simply holding that … spear? … in the thing’s mouth, not really doing anything with it. In Panel 3, Cyclops’s eye blast creates its own motion line, and the coloring creates the explosion to make the dude flying up look like he’s actually, you know, flying up (although he seems awfully calm about it), but it’s still not great. Hughes, presumably, was slow by this time, so even though this is a one-shot, it was 44 pages long, so maybe he did come up against a deadline. We can see that he’s skipping backgrounds, which helps to provide some context, and he’s using bigger panels and kind of boring layouts, which makes it harder to show fights. The art is lovely, but it’s becoming a bit static.
Hughes gets to draw a nice Phoenix, and while her pose is a bit strange (and makes me wonder if it was copied from somewhere else), Hughes once again resists drawing impossibly proportioned women. Jean’s breasts aren’t as big as Priscilla’s, and the way she stretches makes them stretch a bit, too. Jean’s waist is perfectly reasonable, and her legs are thinner than Priscilla’s, which makes sense as her frame is smaller. The blacks swirling around her and the beautiful yellow coloring make her a true Phoenix, and the coloring in “Panel 2″ (if we count Jean on the left as Panel 1) is impressive, as we get a vague outline of the fiery bird throwing back its head in triumph. The coloring creates the motion lines, which makes Jean’s dispatching of the demon more impressive. This is, of course, one of the reasons why Claremont often worked so hard to dampen Jean’s powers, as she’s makes the rest of the team superfluous.
Hughes continued to pull away from interior work over the next decade, to the point where he was doing almost exclusively covers. For the last day, we’ll look at a very brief interior appearance, which I’m using mainly because I didn’t buy Before Watchmen and I don’t feel like getting a copy. But we can still look at some recent work! There’s more recent work in the archives!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.