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 J. G. Jones, and the issue is Black Widow (volume 1?) #3, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1999. Enjoy!
I first saw Jones’s work on Black Widow, where he teamed up with Devin Grayson to give us a taut thriller in which we get two-two-TWO Black Widows for the price of one! Yes, in this series, Yelena Belova is introduced (okay, she shows up in Inhumans, but let’s ignore that, shall we?), because … there weren’t enough blonde chicks in superhero comics? According to Wikipedia, she’s now the Minister of State in a country populated entirely by super-villains? How is that not an ongoing series yet? Anyway, we’re not here to talk about the superfluity of a second Black Widow, we’re here to talk about Jones’s art, because hot damn, is it pretty neat in this series.
And by “neat,” of course I mean influenced very much by Joe Quesada! Look at that page, man – it’s like Joey Q shoved Jones aside and drew it himself. Now, there’s nothing wrong with aping someone’s style, and while the book does have a Quesada vibe to it, it’s also clearly the way Jones was evolving, but Daredevil looks like he stepped right out of Kevin Smith’s run on that series. Jones is inking himself on this comic, and we see that he’s a bit enamored of black, although it’s kind of a good fit for this page. Matt, of course, is crouching on top of some sort of column (because God forbid he just, you know, stand on a floor or anything), but he has his back to the setting sun, so of course his front is going to be dark. For some reason, Jones draws him with his billy club flying around him – I guess because he just swung up there and is retracting it? – which is also reminiscent of Quesada. We get good details in that first panel, as Jones carefully inks the capital of the column and colorists Ian Herrin and/or Andy Troy give it a bronze sheen. Jones has gotten good at drawing leather, as he uses white paint along the legs and arms of his protagonists, which gives the material a shine. This is a standard way to draw leather, but it doesn’t mean it’s not good.
This is not a terribly exciting sequence, but Jones does some nice work with it. In the background, he cracks the marble a bit, making Dr. Ines’s lab seem a bit seedy and old. He inks the panels with a lot of black, heavily rendering it so the folds in Ines’s coat stand out even more, rumpling him a bit. In Panel 2, he once again uses a lot of black, as Ines obviously doesn’t believe in a lot of light in his lab, but Jones also does a very good job with Ines’s eyes, which show his anxiety quite well. Jones opens them a bit more than is normal, as he hears the voice on the other end of the line and knows he might be in trouble. You’ll notice in sequences like this that Jones has embraced the modernity of comic book art – he’s comfortable with the heavy rendering that we get in comic book art these days (yes, this is in 1999, but it was coming into vogue back then), unlike so many other artists. That makes him a thoroughly modern artist who can work within the textual coloring tools that so many colorists use these days. Many artists can’t.
Jones shows that he can still draw action pretty well even as he becomes more stylized, as Yelena leaps into action. As usual with a lot of younger artists, Jones loves chaotic page layouts, so this one zips all over the place, but the drawings themselves are fine. He begins on the left in Panel 1 and uses the truck to lead us from Yelena to the bad guy. Notice, again, the attention to detail in Jones’s work – the truck looks real, from the precise hub caps to the desert dirt on its surface. Jones draws every shard of glass when Yelena bashes the dude on the face and knocks him through the window, and he draws every fold and seam in her gloves when she hotwires the car. Yelena had blown some shit up on the previous page, so the dude who appears in the final panel is running away from that, which explains why he’s on fire. The problem with this page is not in the drawing, but in the storytelling. Jones’s reliance on crazy page layouts makes this a bit confusing. Yelena approaches the dude in Panel 1 on the passenger side of the truck. She bashes him with the rock and knocks him through the window, which appears to be the passenger side door. So we can imagine the dude running toward her and Yelena catching him just as he passes the door, but why would he get knocked sideways through the window? Then, it appears that she gets into the truck on the driver’s side. Why would she run all the way around the truck to get in that way? Jones chooses to lay the page out the way he does, making Panel 1 quite large, which doesn’t allow him a lot of room on the rest of the page. It seems like this got him into a bit of trouble. Oh well.
There’s a bit of fan service in this book, as Grayson writes a story in which two gorgeous, leather-clad women run around blowing shit up, and Jones happily goes along with it. This panel, with its charming bondage overtones, is one such panel. Jones draws Yelena in her regular outfit (because of course a top secret spy would want her midriff exposed), and his inking is nicely done on said midriff, as the black lines imply some mistreatment at the hands of the evil soldiers. His details are, as expected, quite good. The crates look weatherbeaten, Yelena’s leather looks a bit dull, and Jones draws her with a suitable “I’m going to kill you all” expression on her face. However, some other things are weird. Yelena’s top, which is usually zipped up, is unzipped, implying that the guards did some fondling, although as this is a mainstream Marvel book, that’s as far as Grayson and Jones are willing to go (Grayson famously had Dick Grayson get raped in the pages of Nightwing, so she obviously wasn’t too bothered by it, although that came some years after this, so maybe she had gotten more keen to write about rape). Jones draws two bayonets pointing at her, and yes, we call many things phallic symbols that are just, you know, cigars, but in this context, I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest that those are more than just bayonets. Jones also doesn’t actually tie her up that well – the ropes look very loose and haphazard, and Yelena is able to loll suggestively against the post to which she’s tied rather than be forced to sit up. The gag seems excessive – she’s in the enemy camp, who’s going to help her? – so it becomes more bondage gear than anything else. Yelena is free the next time we see her, so perhaps Jones is implying that she’s gotten the ropes free, but if so, what the hell are those soldiers with bayonets doing? They’re certainly not guarding her. This is a weird, sexual panel all around, and in a book where the sexual stuff is mostly subtext, it’s odd to see it so blatant here.
This is the next time we see Yelena, and she’s escaping, so obviously, the ropes weren’t too tight! I like this page because it shows how well Jones does body language. Yelena is a bit goofy-looking in Panel 2, as her face is so emotional it looks like she’s going to bawl or spit fire, but Jones contorts her body well as she hears Natasha behind her. In Panel 3, Jones draws the OG Black Widow wonderfully, as she stands casually and schools Yelena on the reality of life in the Marvel U. In Panel 4, Jones expands our field of vision, so that we see the soldiers in the background while the two women argue. It’s clever because it’s obvious they know the soldiers are coming but don’t consider them worthy of their attention. I’m not sure why Natasha turns her back to Yelena in Panel 5, but she does, and so Yelena attacks her, which is what Natasha wants her to do. This is just a nicely laid out page, unlike the one we saw earlier, and everything works well – the penciling, inking, and coloring are all good.
Here’s some more nice work from Jones, as Natasha takes out the head bad guy, who’s been infected with a “bio-toxin.” The first panel is a dramatic shot, as Natasha kicks him in the jaw and drops him like a bad habit. Jones does a very nice job with his desiccated torso, while our heroine has a good, kick-ass facial expression. Unlike some artists, Jones actually draws Natasha’s bent leg so it looks like a leg and not something that got cut off at the knee, which is always nice. One of the themes of the book is that Natasha is a bit old to be running around in a leather catsuit, so Jones draws her bent over and huffing in Panel 2, which is a nice touch. She still has it together enough to stop Yelena, though, and Jones draws Yelena’s face well in Panel 5, as Natasha explains to her what she really loves. Yelena looks surprised and a bit angry, as if she didn’t know what she liked and doesn’t like hearing it. It’s a good expression.
This is the final scene in the book, and it’s blatant fan service. There’s absolutely no reason for Natasha to stand with her head turned dramatically to the side and her hips cocked like that, but Jones gives us one more drawing of Sexy Natasha and her Leather, and while it’s ridiculous, it’s still a nice drawing!
Jones continued to get higher profile work, and tomorrow we’ll check out one of his most visually stunning works. You can probably guess what it is, but I’ll still leave you in suspense! But don’t worry – the archives are here to waste your time!
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