Axel-In-Charge: New X-Men Editorial Era, Garth Ennis' Marvel Return
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Todd McFarlane, and the story is “Slash” in Coyote #11 and the issue is Infinity Inc. #16, the first of which was published by Marvel (under Epic Comics) and is cover dated March 1985 and the second of which was published by DC and is cover dated July 1985. The scans of “Slash” are from the trade paperback Coyote volume 4, which was published by Image in 2006. Enjoy!
Yes, it’s time for McFarlane. According to the INTERNET (which is always, always right!), “Slash” is McFarlane’s first published work (and the credits for the issue seem to back this up), but the following month, his first issue of Infinity Inc., #14, showed up (I don’t own that, though), so I’m not sure what he drew first. But I have “Slash,” and I have his third issue of Infinity Inc., so let’s check ‘em both out!
McFarlane drew the “secret origin” of Slash, the Soviet agent who showed up in the main “Coyote” story. She was just a regular Russian woman named Dunya Rulitskaya who got dragged away by the KGB for … well, for some reason. She argues with the colonel, who has two dudes kill her. I won’t show that page, but I’ll show the one where she argues with the colonel! We see already that McFarlane enjoys a cartoony style that would suit him well going forward. The colonel’s frog-like face is very proto-McFarlane, with the wide nose and thick lips. It’s a caricature, sure, but it gets the idea of a disgusting Soviet soldier/bureaucrat very well. Dunya, on the other hand, is very much not cartoony – McFarlane draws her as a bit of a classical beauty, with her hair dropping languidly around her face, her eyes half-closed and darkened by smoky make-up, and her lips full and inked just enough to be sensual. It’s a nice drawing, even though it doesn’t fit her words at all. Panel 4 is better, as McFarlane opens her mouth and arches her eyebrows, while Art Nichols (who inked this) hatches along her cheekbone to make her face harsher. The thugs in Panel 6 are also proto-McFarlane types, as they’re a bit less cartoonish than some of McFarlane’s later nameless punks would be, but the first guy, especially, has very wide and simplistic features. I should point out the cigar smoke lazily wending its way across the panels. This is a trope to which McFarlane would return.
Dunya is killed – sort of – and this is her journey toward heaven, from which she is yanked back as we learn that the Russians have figured out how to “trap one’s life force between this world and the next.” Sucks to be her, I guess. McFarlane’s layout on this page is pretty cool – we get the tunnel of light, and Dunya moves through it before something rips her away, sending her spiraling through the void and back to her body. I imagine a lot of the scuffing – the tunnel in Panel 1, for instance – is due to Nichols, but McFarlane’s details are still very nice. The enlarging eye in Panel 2, with more blood coming from it in each successive drawing, is a cool touch (Dunya got stabbed in the left eye), and the blockage of the tunnel is quite neat, too. Petra Scotese colored this, and she uses a lot of white to achieve that “negative” effect as Dunya is torn away from the tunnel, while McFarlane and Nichols don’t overuse lines so that it’s clear Dunya is a spirit at this point. It’s a nifty page.
Oh, yeah, and Dunya – or “Slash,” as I guess she’s now called – can’t die, because the Russians made clones of her and can transport her life force into a new body when she – unsurprisingly – tries to kill herself. This is a pretty awesome idea – I mean, it’s so freaking COMICS!!!! that it works, you know? But we’re not here to talk about the bizarre secret origin of “Slash,” we’re here to talk about McFarlane’s art! McFarlane, we can see, had a pretty good handle on layouts and packing a lot of information onto a page – see more of this below – even though there are a few problems. The first panel shows Dunya’s point of view when she opens her good eye, and the distorted colonel looking down at her is just the thing you want to see when you open your eye after you think you’ve committed suicide. The drawing of the colonel in Panel 2 is a bit strange – McFarlane is cramming him, Slash, and two of Dunya’s old bodies into the space, so the colonel puts his arms around Slash but McFarlane draws his right hand as if it’s growing out of Slash’s shoulder. In Panel 4, we get another good shot of the colonel, with Nichols’s inking providing a bit of roughness to his toady face. A cigar magically appears in his hand in Panel 5, burning Slash’s hand, and while the cigar appears suddenly, it’s a nice callback to the smoke in the page I showed above. McFarlane does a nice job with Slash’s face in that panel, as he contorts her face in pain but remembers to leave the eye socket unchanged, as the muscles presumably have been burned away. Panel 7 is the confusing one, because it’s such a close-up and we’ve only seen Slash use her power from her own point of view, so we don’t really know what this black, spiky thing is (a sea urchin? an echidna?). McFarlane makes sure to draw the ragged skin around her eye, but it’s still so close in that it’s tough to figure out what’s going on. Even in the main story, when Slash uses this power, Englehart and his artist (in this case, Chas Truog) opted not to show it too graphically. So this is the first time we see it building in her eye socket, and McFarlane, I think, goes too close to make it as powerful as it needs to be. The death of the colonel (who’s also a clone, so it doesn’t stick) and Slash’s gaze down at his body are also crowded, even though we can see clearly what’s going on. The final panel on the page is a bit odd. Scotese’s bright colors and use of white again turns it a bit “negative,” which obscures the lines a bit, but Slash’s face looks elongated, and I’m not sure why. Above the strand of hair swirling over the panel, we see what looks like her eyes and nose, but then, below that, we get a big gap between the nose and her mouth, which is open in pain. Is this supposed to be two separate images of Slash as she “explodes” (which she doesn’t really, but her face gets messed up), or are we supposed to infer that her face is splitting apart so violently that it stretches? I’m going to go with the second explanation, based on the narrative box, but it’s not terribly clear.
As I noted, at about this same time, McFarlane began working on Infinity Inc. for DC, and so I figured I’d combine the two comics into one post. Yes, I know that’s cheating, but I’ve cheated before this year, and that’s just the way it is! Let’s take a look at this book, which was much higher-profile and presumably got McFarlane the gig drawing The Incredible Hulk.
Whether McFarlane drew this issue or “Slash” first doesn’t really matter, except to note that this is less cartoony, which might be because it was a more mainstream book and conformed more to a DC house style. I’m not sure – I wasn’t reading comics in 1985, and I don’t own a lot of issues of Infinity Inc., so I don’t know much about the standard artwork of this time period. This is the first page, and it’s interesting for a lot of reasons. First of all, the perspective is a bit wonky, as McFarlane doesn’t quite get the net angled correctly, but that’s a minor thing. Jade isn’t even looking at Hector, but she still tells him that he shouldn’t tickle his fiancée, even though there’s absolutely no indication that he’s tickling Lyta at all. Meanwhile, Lyta isn’t supposed to be using super-powers, which is fine, but McFarlane draws her as if she was shot out of a cannon instead of jumping up to block the shot. Hector, at least, is bent in a way that makes him look like he’s trying to spike the ball. Jade is ostensibly part of the game, but she has her back to the action and appears to be fixing her hair while talking to Rose, who hasn’t joined the game but appears to be standing on the court. Of course, there’s the fact that all this dialogue manages to get said in the second or so that Lyta and Hector contend for the ball, but that’s an old comics thing, and it’s Roy and Dann Thomas’s fault, anyway. Still, McFarlane does a nice job with Jade – her body is nicely proportionate, as she has reasonable breasts, waist, and legs, while everyone but Lyta actually looks like they’re playing volleyball. The layout remains a bit weird, though.
Hey, it’s some more cheesecake – why not? The entire layout of this comic is bizarre – for some reason, McFarlane randomly drops the members of the team into the pages, outside of the flow of the rest of the comic and in full costume. Only Lyta appears in costume in this entire issue, so maybe McFarlane was reminding us of who all these people are, but it’s just weird. Nuklon’s appearance here is one of the less intrusive drawings of the team – on one page, Jade is simply lying on her side in between two rows of panels. Anyway, as we’ll see, this is fairly typical of the comic – McFarlane packs a lot onto each page. Is this a consequence of Roy Thomas, with whom I’m not as familiar as I should be but whom I know has a bit of a reputation for verbosity, writing this comic? I don’t know, but McFarlane has quite a bit to do, and he’s not completely successful. I’m not entirely sure why Lyta and Yolanda are hugging in Panel 5, but because of space constraints, they look very awkward doing so, as if they bumped into each other and are trying to prop each other up. Ted Grant, behind them, looks like he’s cheering them on (MAKE OUTTTTT!!!!! he thinks, fist-pumping all the way), and it’s unclear why he even needs to be there. Yolanda disrobes awfully quickly, and I suppose McFarlane could have had more room if he didn’t devote so much space to her preening, but there it is. Once again, McFarlane draws a good female form. She’s not ridiculously chesty, and her waist and legs are in line with her torso. I do like how he just adds small inset panels of the men staring at her, even though whoever is saying “Take … your time” (maybe it’s Ted?) seems awfully skeevy.
I should point out that Tony DeZuniga inked this, and it’s an interesting combination. DeZuniga tends to rough up whatever penciler he’s inking, and we see that he adds some hatching to Ted’s face in Panel 4 and some thickness to Hector’s hair at the bottom of the page. We can see a bit of “McFarlanism” in the thin panel of Northwind whistling at Yolanda (the wide eyes and nose), but DeZuniga uses heavy blacks even on that drawing to keep it from being too cartoony.
The group decides to use superpowers, and Lyta spikes the ball so hard that it tears through the net, causing the man who wants to marry her to get so angry that he goes for a drive. I mean, I get being competitive, but really, Hector? A couple of things stand out here besides another packed page. We get another “hero standing outside the panels” as McFarlane drops Hector in his Silver Scarab outfit onto the page, but at least he’s looking sad and lonely after he yelled at Lyta. McFarlane adding the hearts falling and breaking is an odd but clever touch, as it reminds us that comics can and should do strange things that we don’t see in movies. Down at the bottom, Lyta holds two kangas she got from her mother – Wonder Woman – as an engagement present. We’ll get back to the kangas. Anyway, as this is early McFarlane, the people are much less cartoony than they would later be (which is why I wonder when he drew this as opposed to “Slash,” because the colonel already looks like a later McFarlane character), but there are small hints – in Panel 9, the one with all the characters, Nuklon’s face has shades of later McFarlane characters like Peter Parker. Again, I don’t know if McFarlane was simply trying to fit in and was suppressing his natural inclinations toward more cartoonish characters, or that was part of his evolution.
This issue features the dramatic debut of Mr. Bones, who would get a much-needed makeover over a decade later in Chase. I mean, I know it was 1985, but sheesh. McFarlane gives us a dramatic first panel, as a mysterious wind swirls Lyta’s hair and DeZuniga gives it some nice thick strokes while also darkening Lyta’s eyes a bit. Then we get the entrance of Mr. Bones, with his cape billowing around him, his giant collar, his thigh-high boots, and the “X” of bones on his chest. DeZuniga does some hatching on Bones and Lyta to roughen them up a bit, with the hatching on his cape and the small marks on his skull. People must have responded positively to Mr. Bones’s cape, because boy howdy, did McFarlane run with this.
Once again, we get a packed layout, but it’s not hard to follow. Lyta grabs the second pole of the volleyball net and we don’t see it, but Lyta explains it in the dialogue. He and DeZuniga do nice work with the details. In Panel 2 – the close-up of Bones’s face – DeZuniga does nice hatching to make him look more, well, bony. Bones rips the pole out of the ground and swings it at Lyta, which is a bit awkward. It’s far enough away that McFarlane can get away with being a bit sloppy, but Bones’s hand is holding the pole with the fingers down, which would seem very hard to do. When Lyta grabs the pole, it creates a panel border, and then we get the bottom panel, where we get a decent progression. Once again, the capes are a bit nuts, but not as nuts as later in his career. In the final panel, you can see a larger-than-normal moon, but it’s not as large as some moons that McFarlane would later draw!
One of the kangas that Lyta got as a gift attacks Mr. Bones and touches his exposed hand, which kills it. I remember reading old Wonder Woman comics in reprints when I was a kid, and the kangaroos were a bit odd-looking but still looked like kangaroos. I don’t know if their depiction had modified over the years, but those are the worst-looking kangaroos I’ve ever seen. Why McFarlane didn’t get some actual photographs of kangaroos and use those, but these kangas … man. Anyway, McFarlane again has to cram the page with panels, but notice, say, the panel where Bones hits Lyta with his elbow. It’s supposed to be happening quickly so we get speed lines and some blurry stuff, and I wonder if McFarlane laid it out very sketchily and DeZuniga drew more than just the inking. It wouldn’t surprise me. McFarlane shows that he has some idea about perspective, as the final panel works pretty well. We still don’t see a lot of distinctive McFarlane, but it’s nice work.
McFarlane drew Infinity Inc. for a while (just about two years) before jumping over the Marvel, but I don’t own the later issues of his run. So I’ll move on tomorrow to … well, that’s a good question. I’ll have to see. You know you want to come back to check it out, and I know you want to head on over to the archives!
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