EXCL. PREVIEW: Superman Escapes a Black Universe in "Dark Knight III" #5
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Todd McFarlane, and the issue is The Incredible Hulk #330, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated April 1987. Enjoy!
McFarlane began a celebrated run on The Incredible Hulk with this issue, which was, in fact, not written by Peter David but by Al Milgrom, who also inked the story. So many people have linked McFarlane to the first part of David’s run, I thought I’d remind people of that. As I noted yesterday, I don’t own McFarlane’s later issues of Infinity Inc., so for me, this is the first issue that really looks like “McFarlane,” far more than the work we saw yesterday. So let’s get to it!
This is the first page, with the title and credits chopped off. Look at that Hulk. Now, it’s Rick Jones, not Bruce, so that might explain the hair, but man, that’s something, isn’t it? The Hulk looks like a matinee idol, and Milgrom helps that with some lush inking. This is not as crazy as McFarlane would eventually draw the Hulk, and I wonder if he and Milgrom decided on that to contrast him to the new, gray Hulk that David had lurking in the wings. McFarlane does give us a lot of detail on this page and throughout the book, but we’ll see as we go along that Milgrom is restrained in the inking, as he keeps thing relatively simple – dark cheekbones, some hatching around the muscles, that sort of thing. It’s something that McFarlane did not learn when he started inking himself. I do wonder about this scene, though. Rick is holding a thin piece of twisted metal, which seems to be holding up that large mass above him. How is that possible? And perhaps long-time Hulk readers can tell me if Bruce is stronger than usual in this time period, because McFarlane draws him as if he’s helping hold up the destroyed vehicles. If he’s not, what kind of weird pose is that? Anyway, I wanted to show this because of Dreamboat Hulk. He’s kind of freaking me out.
We saw some of the “McFarlane face” yesterday, but we see it here becoming more clear. McFarlane and his inkers tend to use well defined cheekbones, as we see on Bruce and Clay Quartermain (and on General Ross, too, but that is partly to make him more jowly), but notice – and we’ll see more of this below – that McFarlane is beginning to round his faces more. It’s actually a little more obvious with Ross, perhaps because he’s more in close-up, but this kind of face will become more of a McFarlane staple when his characters are simply calmly speaking. Notice, too, how strong Milgrom’s inks are – they add nice gravitas to Ross’s face without turning him into a desiccated old man. If you’ve seen some of McFarlane’s later inking jobs, you know how nice this is.
Martel is a better early example of the “McFarlane face.” Yes, he’s bald, so of course his head is going to appear rounder, but McFarlane also puts his eyes a bit farther apart and gives him a very wide mustache to accentuate the width of his jaw, which fits in with the roundness of faces that McFarlane was slowly moving toward. Martel is an outlier in this issue, but he’s still a harbinger!
So this thing jumps from body to body, using up its life force before moving on. He’s apparently just a mutant or something, because when he talks about his “secret origin,” he simply mentions that he was born this way. He finds Samson, because he’s pretty strong, but he really wants the Hulk. This is a pretty good page, but it does show signs of the way McFarlane is going, even if he didn’t ink it. Betty is a standard early McFarlane female, but let’s concentrate on Leonard. His face isn’t quite as rounded as McFarlane would later get, but there are some hints at it. McFarlane gives him a strong nose and chin, which is always nice to see. His ponytail is always going to be a bit ridiculous, but McFarlane and Milgrom make it long and lush, presaging McFarlane’s radical redesign of a certain Ms. Watson-Parker. The thing on Leonard’s head, though, might be the first great McFarlane creation. McFarlane gives him thick ridges over his eyes, which squashes them a little, and a wide nose and an even wider mouth. Yes, he’s supposed to be hideous, but this is a good template for the way McFarlane would draw faces over the next few years, as we’ll see. His limbs/tendrils are grotesque, and overall, the creature is very cool-looking, as he’s meant to be icky, but you’ll also notice that McFarlane and Milgrom do ink him quite heavily. I’m not sure how much was McFarlane and how much was Milgrom, but the lines on his face are supposed to (and do) make him look decrepit, while the hatching on his limbs makes him look more gooey than anything. The reason I point this out is because while there are a lot of lines, they’re pretty strong and they fit the way the artists want us to view the creature. Once McFarlane started inking himself, that wasn’t always the case.
Rick Hulks out, of course, and fights Leonard. McFarlane wasn’t quite great at fight scenes yet, but his style worked pretty well for thme, even though we get some wonky poses like the Hulk in Panel 1. Where’s his other leg? Why does it appear that he propelled himself in that pose across the room? McFarlane does lay the page out pretty well – the Hulk’s weird leap in Panel 1 drives us into Panel 2 (Petra Scotese colored this issue, and I have no idea why she made Leonard all red in that panel). In Panel 2, the Hulk punches Leonard, moving us nicely across that panel, and then in Panel 3, Leonard retaliates, and McFarlane makes sure he punches the Hulk with his left hand, which drives us toward Panel 4. Four guys jump on Leonard, but he brushes them off, and McFarlane and Milgrom show remarkable restraint by relying on McFarlane’s positioning of the bodies to show him doing so rather than using a lot of motion lines. In Panel 6, Betty is in the foreground, while Leonard is the last thing we see before we go to the next page, where the creature leaps toward her. The page and panel layout is quite good, even though (or especially because?) it’s not too complicated. McFarlane doesn’t do anything fancy, but he shows he can handle a superhero fight, which is always crucial in a superhero universe.
Bruce, of course, gets possessed next, and McFarlane gives us this drawing, which is even more “McFarlanian” than the one with Leonard. He matches Bruce’s eyes with the creature’s, which is pretty neat, and he or Milgrom give Bruce those inch-worm eyebrows, which freaks me out. Bruce’s face isn’t round, but it is pretty wide, and Milgrom inks his cheekbones heavily to make is look harsher. One thing that McFarlane tends to do is draw eyeglasses as perfect circles, which is a bit odd. Bruce’s glasses are gigantic, but if I recall correctly (I haven’t checked yet), by the time McFarlane got to Peter Parker, he was drawing them a bit smaller, even though they were still completely circular.
A few issues before, Ross was possessed by Zzzax, an electric creature, and he retained some of its power. He’s understandably not keen on being possessed by this thing, so he zaps it with the residual electricity, killing it and himself in the process. The first two panels just set it up, but that third panel is pretty cool, especially because it’s very proto-McFarlanian. The thick lines showing the electricity is a good McFarlane thing, but the way he draws Ross, with the thick, twisted torso, the pointed knee (what’s up with that?) and even the pose, is very McFarlane-esque. I also like how the sound effect is Zzzax, which is of course the electric creature that possessed Ross.
We can see a lot of hints of what McFarlane was evolving into in this early issue of his run on The Incredible Hulk, and by the end of that run, McFarlane was inking himself and we could see almost the style that he would employ for the rest of his career. But I’m going to detour tomorrow to a comic that he drew and was published only a few months after this one. It was still inked by someone else, and it also shows a good bit of what we come to think of as “McFarlane” style. So come back and see what’s what! Or browse the archives – you might have missed something!
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