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 Marvel Boy #4, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated November 2000. Enjoy!
Marvel Boy feels like it should have been more important, doesn’t it? It’s Morrison doing insane crap in the Marvel U. (although it is fairly conventional, eventually – it seems like he wants it to be weirder than it is) and it introduces some brilliant new characters, yet it never really had much of an impact, and then Bendis came along and gutted the character, if Chad Nevett is to be believed (I didn’t read Bendis’s Avengers comics, so I don’t know). It’s almost certainly the best art of Jones’s career – he was really hitting on all cylinders here, and despite wonderful work since, I’m not sure if he’s hit the heights he does here (although we’ll see some more tomorrow to compare!). Maybe the lack of the promised sequel is part of it. It’s too bad – this came out at the height of the Jemas Era, which, today’s Better-Than-Average Marvel notwithstanding, is the best Marvel era since the Image guys absconded, and despite its conventionality, it feels like the first “new millennium” comic that Morrison so desperately wanted it to be. [Edit: As Jeremy points out in the comments, Jemas shot down a Marvel Boy sequel. That’s weird, as he had no problem letting this one see print. I still think this is a great era of Marvel, but I guess it could have been better!] So let’s check out this amazing artwork!
This is the first page of the issue, and it’s pretty cool. Obviously, Morrison came up with “white running,” and he may have even suggested the way Jones portray it, but Jones makes the distractions that bring Noh-Varr out of his mental state really come together nicely. First, there’s Noh-Varr himself, with his crazy bike shorts and ripped costume. We only get close enough to him to see his face in the final panel, but Jones does a good job showing his anxiety as the distractions filter in. His eyes look at the woman on his right, while his mouth is pursed from breathing heavily and from worry that he’s not able to continue “white running.” Jones uses precise inking lines, so his hair is disheveled but never scruffy, while the lines on his face chisel it rather than wrinkle it. I’m curious if Jones has the dude on the right in the final panel looking to his right as an implication that Noh-Varr is running so fast that the dude is still looking at where he was rather than where he is, which is past the dude. That would be clever. But Jones also does the clever trick of blurring the panel borders as Noh-Varr comes out of his state. That’s neat. At least I think it’s neat.
Look how well Jones lays this page out. We’ll get to the continuation of the fight below, but this begins it, and it’s tremendous. Many artists try to move away from motion lines as they get more experienced, and Jones obviously was doing that, but where some artists, unfortunately, still need them, on this page the action is beautifully rendered without any extraneous lines. So Oubliette* rides into the subway tunnel on her gold-plated (or all gold?) motorcycle, and Noh-Varr is grabbing the girder and beginning to swing around. Jones places him on the left so we see the beginning of his swing and our eyes can “move” him around the girder to where Oubliette is, and we can anticipate exactly what’s going to happen. That doesn’t mean Jones doesn’t show what happens, as in the next instant, Noh-Varr kicks Oubliette off the bike. Jones draws her in a very good position, as she looks like someone who’s had their direction and momentum changed very violently. Even her coat billowing around her implies that well. Jones doesn’t forget to draw the back of the motorcycle, which continues on its way. The layout of the first two panels helps with the storytelling, too, as the first one flows well, while the second one doesn’t, as our left-to-right reading collides with Noh-Varr’s feet. Avalon Studios and Matt Milla, who colored this, choose to use “unrealistic” colors in that panel, too, so that it stands out as a violent clash among a smoothly flowing page. The fact that they choose Noh-Varr’s dominant color, green, rather than a violent red is clever, too. Then Jones shows, in a thin row of drawings, how Oubliette tumbles and recovers, which is so wonderful it’s almost animated. He rolls her as someone would fall, and he also shows how agile she is when she stops herself and has the wherewithal to grab her gun, which she dropped earlier in the sequence. Then we get her in the final panel, fully recovered with her gun pointed at Noh-Varr. Jones pushes her to the right of the panel not only to move us off the page, but also because it implies the violence of her fall – she can’t even stop herself in the center of the panel! This is another great drawing by Jones – Oubliette’s coat falls and lies on her body very well, the BDSM costume looks more crackly and leathery than even yesterday’s dueling Black Widows’ did, and the pose is both seductive and dangerous. It’s a superb page, all around.
* I first learned the word “oubliette” from this series. Comic books – expanding your vocabulary since 1935!
All right, buckle in, because I’m showing the entire rest of the fight between Oubliette and Noh-Varr. Then I’ll write about it!
I’m almost tempted to just leave this sequence here and not write about it because it’s so gorgeous, but I’ll give it a try. First we get the two 12-panel grids as Oubliette chases Noh-Varr up the side of a building. It’s impressive how he moves our eyes across the panels and shows all the action he needs to, while the discipline of the 12-panel grid means he can show reactions too without interrupting the fight. A larger panel layout would have not allowed the reaction shots, which are a pretty neat part of the scene. Oubliette shoots the window out and Noh-Varr falls, while the people inside the building look through the hole in the window at his predicament. Oubliette is wearing “vibranium soles” on her shoes, which is how she’s able to stick to the window, and Jones does a wonderful job in the bottom row of the first page, as Noh-Varr lands on her and knocks her loose, and we see it from the perspective of the people inside the building. The violence of the collision in Panel 11 is palpable, and while each panel forms a single drawing, time still moves in it, so that Panel 12, which shows a dude looking toward the “center” of the scene, still shows the passage of time because Oubliette and Noh-Varr aren’t in the panel anymore. It’s a very clever device. On the second page, Jones nails the chaos of their fall, as some panels – Panel 6 specifically – are “off-center” a bit, giving us a sense of everything moving very fast. The violence is also nicely implied, as Panel 3 shows Noh-Varr’s hand ripping through the flag as he uses it to slow his descent and Panel 11 shows the tattered flag wrapped around him, denying him a chance to get his bearings. These two pages are really tremendous.
Jones, of course, doesn’t stop there. Noh-Varr lands on the bus and we get a beautiful, cartoony “BOOM!”, a circular panel, and the crashing of that circular panel to drive home how violent the impact is. Panel 3 is really well done – reminiscent of Despero’s UN flag in Justice League America – as Jones uses thick blacks on Noh-Varr and the flag to make him look more menacing. He gets “Plex,” the Kree Supreme Intelligence, back on-line, and Plex tells him that he’s surrounded, which takes us to the next page. Jones sets the scene very well – Doctor Midas is filming the attack, so we get a very high shot of Oubliette’s feet as she looks down, showing us the bus as it’s about to be shot to pieces. Jones, as we saw yesterday, uses some chaotic page layouts, but unlike yesterday, here he’s in total command, so there’s no difficulty moving from panel to panel. The money shot on this page is beautifully drawn, as the SWAT teams shoots up the bus while the cameraman films it all from above Jones uses smoke from the bus in Panels 1, 2, and 6 to show its movement, but notice that in the final panel, he just shows the orange cones getting knocked over, yet the sense of movement is still palpable. On the final page, he tips the bus on its side and uses four panels to show its movement across the page. The car in Panels 2 and 3 shows us that the bus continues to slide forward, and in Panel 4, we get that poor weird dude running away from the bus, which for whatever reason makes me think of Homer Simpson skittering away in “The Fugitive” parody the show did years ago. Midas blows the bus up, and we get more kinetic movement as the tire flies toward us, and then Noh-Varr is attacked by a Buddhist monk. Because why not? That final panel is also tremendous, as Jones uses excellent perspective to drive us from the back to the front, and it’s almost three-dimensional the way the monk’s foot looms forward and Noh-Varr comes at us. We see the nice thick inking on the bodies and the more delicate lines on the monk’s robes, and we’re not terribly surprised that Jones doesn’t do more interior work if he’s going to be so meticulous about it.
Anyway, this is an amazing chase/fight scene in the middle of a gorgeous comic, and it shows that Jones could easily handle the biggest superhero comics if he chose to do that.
Finally, Jones shows that he’s still pretty good at quieter moments. Doctor Midas claims that Oubliette is horribly scarred (of course, just like Doctor Doom, she’s not), and here she responds to her father’s question about Noh-Varr looking at her (in a sexual way) with this brief scene. Whenever people (me included) rant about Morrison caring too much about being weird and not about writing human characters, I’m reminded of little stuff like this, which is heart-breaking but brief enough that it doesn’t become maudlin. Jones does a wonderful job with it, too. He shows her crestfallen face in Panels 1 and 2 as she pops her mask off, and of course Jones shows her from the rear in Panel 3, but then we get that wonderful Panel 4, where Jones inks her face completely black but her pose is brilliant. She’s slouched because she lacks confidence, and her hair flops forward, drooping sadly. Jones does really well showing how hard she’s clutching the mask that is her crutch. Midas, too, wears a mask, so Jones can’t do anything with his face, but the way he turns him slightly toward his daughter and casually lights a cigarette speaks volumes. Jones puts Oubliette in reflection in Panel 5, distorting her, which speaks both toward her physical abomination (which doesn’t exist) and the way her father, in whose gauntlet she’s reflected, has twisted her. Jones does a great job making Midas’s hands in Panel 6 softer than we can imagine, as he places the mask back over her face. Jones tilts Oubliette’s head up, almost in supplication, as Midas hides her from the world again. On the next page, we get the final panel, in which Oubliette looks strangely blissful, which Jones shows really well, half-closing her eyes and leaning her head to her left, as if she’s trying to feel her father’s hand against her skin. It’s scenes like this that make Morrison’s depiction of the relationship, which Oubliette calls “weird” a few panels later, both more disturbing but also, strangely, more tender as well. Is Midas lying to his daughter because he wants to control her or because he’s so afraid of the world? It’s never answered, but Jones is able to show that while Midas is a monster, he might not be completely without a soul, which is why Oubliette’s eventual betrayal (in this very issue!) cuts him so deeply.
Jones kept working, cranking out a Wonder Woman graphic novel and Wanted, but I’m going to skip those to check out his even more ambitious collaboration with the God of All Comics. Join me, won’t you? And be sure to check out the archives!
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