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 Todd McFarlane, and the issue is Spawn #9, which was published by Image and is cover dated March 1993. Enjoy!
Yes, it’s the issue that launched a thousand lawsuits and probably kept us from enjoying Miracleman for at least a decade, if not longer! Whoo-hoo! I bought this issue of Spawn solely because Neil Gaiman wrote it, and who knew it would turn out to be so contentious? We’re not here to talk about the future of Angela, though, we’re here to talk about the art on this one issue, so let’s get to it!
Here’s good old Medieval Spawn himself, checking out the sweet, sweet “maiden” (who’s a maiden no longer, which is just how Medieval Spawn likes ‘em!). McFarlane, as we can see, never quite reached the heights of exaggeration as his fellow Image Founder Rob Liefeld did, as Spawn’s shoulder pads actually fit on his shoulder and they only have two measly spikes sticking from them. McFarlane did enjoy inking, though, even as we’ll see later in the post that he might not have had as much time to do it as closely as he was doing in the past. Here, with a set pose, he can take his time a bit, so we get nice blacks on Spawn and nice hatching on the shield and the horse. The horse has a lush mane, which is apparently just something McFarlane likes, because so many of his women has that kind of hair, and here it is showing up on the horse. There’s a lot of nice attention to detail in this panel, as we can see that McFarlane is quite good with nice, dramatic poses.
In this sequence, we see some developments in McFarlane’s art. The first panel is fairly typical – heavily inked, in other words – but once Spawn and Angela go behind the waterfall, we get Panel 2, where the two characters are plunged into darkness. This isn’t a bad panel, given the circumstances – McFarlane uses nice thick, simple lines to show their outlines, which is all we need here – but it’s a bit of a foreshadowing to other, less impressive panels. In Panel 3, Spawn lights things up, and in Panel 4, we see the effects. Once again, we can make the argument that because of the lighting effect, the random inking on Spawn’s hand and his overwhelming cape make sense, which is certainly something. McFarlane still takes time to hatch along the edges of the light on he cape, which adds to the lighting effect. Still, it’s something to remember. In the background, Angela shows her true colors, as she brought Spawn to the cave to kill him, and McFarlane draws her revealing her evil. She’s interesting, because she’s an evolved McFarlane female – even more feline than Mary Jane in yesterday’s example, as McFarlane emphasizes her arched eyebrows, makes her eyes thinner, and gives her a cockeyed evil grin. Her hair is not as richly inked as with Mary Jane, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, as in other panels it is lusher, but here it’s interesting, as the frizz seems to imply more evil than a different style.
Angela reveals herself, and man, look at her. McFarlane could still bring it when he wanted to! Her hair, so frizzy in the previous panel, gets an Alberto VO5 upgrade, as McFarlane inks it more heavily, creating a lush, bouncy mane. She wears a Valkyrie headdress (I guess), with wings stretching far and wide. Instead of actual functional armor, she has chain mail arm guards, because the most important thing to protect in a fight is your upper arm, don’t you know. The disappearing sword (where does it go on the other side of her body?) is thicker, it seems, than her waist, and I’m not sure if her hands, the way McFarlane draws them, can actually grasp that hilt. In yesterday’s entry, Mary Jane was obviously wearing a belt from Macy’s “Angela Collection,” because Angela sets the trend right here, and then we get to those boots, which we’ll see more clearly below. A couple of things stand out about this drawing (I know, DOZENS of things stand out, but I’ll try to focus on two): First, the giant weapon that Angela holds is very odd. McFarlane tries to make it impressive by having it smash the panel border, but it’s weird because if you look at it too closely, it becomes more of an optical illusion. I appears that the actual blade part – whatever the hell that is – is much closer to the reader than the top by Angela’s head, yet McFarlane doesn’t really do anything to add depth to the way she’s holding it. The base of the blade, for instance, seems to be viewed head-on, when we would expect it to be angled slightly backward. This lack of perspective is one of the more frustrating things about the artists who came of age during this time period – as good as some of them are (or were), there was always this element of style triumphing over substance, and it was frustrating. Secondly, the way McFarlane inks Angela shows that he really does need an inker. He doesn’t go nuts with the line work, which is nice, but the fact that he inks her torso at all is strange, as it makes her skin, which should be sexy and glossy, more hardened and rough, and ages her as much as the other characters we’ve seen McFarlane ink. While his restraint is commendable, even the little bit of inking he does seems misplaced, making Angela’s body look far more desiccated than it should be. If you’re going to draw Angela in an outfit like that, you could at least make her as sexy as possible, but McFarlane doesn’t because he can’t control his inking instincts.
Around this time, we begin to see that McFarlane wasn’t putting quite as much effort into his artwork as he was before, as it seems time constraints began to eat away at the length he could devote to interior artwork. His close-up work – Panels 2 and 4 – are still pretty good, although there are some concerns there too – but Panels 1 and 3 are more sketchy. Our characters are fighting in a cave, which explains the black background. The way McFarlane lays the panels out is fine, too. From the distance, we can understand why he sticks to basic shapes and rather dull inking lines on Spawn in Panel 1 and why he might go for the Frank Miller tribute in Panel 3 (if the entire book was drawn like Panel 3, in fact, that might be extremely interesting, but McFarlane doesn’t got that way). Panels 2 and 4, however, despite being a bit more detailed, also seem to have “weaker” lines – Angela’s hair is back to being frizzy, and Panel 4, especially, has some sketchiness to the line work. Angela’s left hand is quite odd, and I’m not really sure what’s going on above her head – it’s her body, obviously, but is it her lower back or her shoulder? I’m going to say shoulder, because her arm is over that way, but it’s still weird. These little things are death to McFarlane, because his sketchy pencil work is never his forte – he needs inking and even coloring in his art to make it work.
So now we’re in the present, and Angela shows up to hunt the new Spawn. McFarlane doesn’t quite mail this page in, but it’s close. The building in Panel 1 does nothing for anyone, as it’s not even a detailed cityscape that McFarlane drew quite a lot on Amazing Spider-Man. It’s just a boring building. Then we get a full-view shot of Angela, ready to rumble, with her Spawn earrings and her odd … coat? dress? suit? what the hell is that thing? Once again, Angela’s hair is a bit frizzier than when she goes “Full Angela” on us, and McFarlane continues with his penchant for drawing women with rather wide cleavage (McFarlane, I would imagine, influenced a lot of artists in this way, as it became much more common to see this in the mid-1990s). Once again, we see the very thin, blackly-rimmed eyes, and has Angela’s face shrunk? Either way, the pose is kind of strange, as it comes seemingly in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, so why is Angela doing it? Just for us, the readers? Can she see us?!?!?
Despite this, McFarlane could be quite a careful draftsman, and this close-in panel of Angela is pretty cool. He inks her hair nicely, he doesn’t over-ink her face, so that she still looks youthful, he gives her that wonderful, evil eye with the nice thick lashes, the wide-but-not-too-wide smile, and he takes time to draw the energy emanating from her “hunting permit.” He couldn’t do this kind of thing on a regular basis, but he could do it occasionally!
I didn’t show this entire double-page spread, because I wanted to focus on Angela again. McFarlane still doesn’t know quite what to do with all her weapons – the giant blade looks smaller, the hilt of the sword is definitely wider (and the sword once again disappears behind her back), she’s wearing yet another giant blade on her back, and then she has some kind of standard sticking out to the right. What the hell, McFarlane? I mean, really? She’s a magical character – can’t she just summon those from another dimension when she needs them? Her right leg, you’ll notice, also disappears at her knee, and while I didn’t mind it too much when we saw it in Hawk & Dove, here it seems a bit more egregious for some reason (I can’t quite explain it). The blacks on her body distort her torso a bit, which is weird, and the way McFarlane draws her, we get the giant boot on her left foot coming right at us. McFarlane gets out of drawing her feet by putting those boots on her, but it doesn’t mitigate the fact that it’s a very weird-looking boot. How does she even move in those things? This kind of drawing, with its odd detailed-but-not-detailed look to it – McFarlane inks her wings, the blades, and her hair well, but overall, there’s a looseness to the pencil work – became standard for McFarlane, and again, I wonder if he was becoming to obsessed with action figures at this time to spend enough time drawing.
The bottom panel is what I want to focus on, but I included the top panel because of DAT ASS. That’s just hilarious. Spawn has vanished … into his cape? is that right? and he drags Angela in with him, and so we get DAT ASS. Anyway, inside this shadow dimension, Angela and Spawn battle, and we get the bottom panel, which is pretty neat. McFarlane does a nice job with the details on Angela, although I’m not sure what that hunk of metal in between her upper arm and lower arm is – her breast cone? Maybe, but I’m not sure. McFarlane uses rounded black chunks to make the metal shine even in the dim green light, which is neat. He keeps Spawn in shadow for the most part, which allows him to emphasize his mouth and eyes, with the scribbly lines flowing out of the corners of his eyes as he fights. I imagine McFarlane drew these in, unless it was added in by Steve Oliff and Reuben Rude, who colored this issue. It looks very “electric paintbrush,” which was the trend back in those days, but it could have been McFarlane using thick marker and then the colorists going over it with green. McFarlane’s heavy inking style works pretty well on Spawn’s hand, as he’s supposed to look burned and mummified, but once again, you can see that he inks Angela’s hand a bit too roughly. Finally, we get a nice inset panel of Spawn’s mouth and drool. Charming!
Here’s another clue that McFarlane might be getting too far behind. Yes, the black chunks are used for effect, but they’re also quicker, presumably, and McFarlane appeared to be using them more and more. He was also putting people in robes and such, like the homeless dude talking to Spawn. Yes, the homeless man is more than he appears, but a robe? Really?
Just for the fun of it, to end my look at McFarlane’s art, I thought I’d hit you with one more Batman drawing, from the Batman/Spawn crossover written by Frank Miller. Holy crap, if you haven’t read Frank Miller and Todd McFarlane doing a Spawn/Batman crossover, you haven’t lived! This is from 1994, and I’m pretty sure it’s the most recent McFarlane interior work I own, even considering he’s done barely any in the 20 years since this book came out. His Batman is a bit more muscular than the “Year Two” version, but the cape still rules!!!!
So that’s Todd McFarlane, who for maybe a year was probably my favorite comic book artist. I still like his art, but I see a lot more flaws in it these days. It’s great that he makes piles of cash designing toys, mainly because it seemed like his art was beginning to deteriorate just a bit in 1993-1994. Such is life, eh?
So tomorrow I’m going to check out another artist who doesn’t do a lot of interior work anymore, and who honestly never did a ton of it anyway. He’s also pretty slow, as the one big huge mini-series he drew needed several artists to finish it, unfortunately. But we’ll start with some tiny comics he did, including tomorrow’s, which was written by … Len Wein? Be here to see who it is, and in the meantime, go nuts in the archives!
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