O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Bill Sienkiewicz, and the issue is Marvel Preview #18, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated Spring 1979 (it went on sale in May). These scans are from the trade Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy, which was published in 2014. Enjoy!
This is not the very first Sienkiewicz comics work, but I’m going to show Moon Knight tomorrow, so I figured I should probably skip the first few Moon Knight stories he drew and go to Star-Lord. It was early enough in his career that his major influence, Neal Adams, was still very, very obvious in his work. Plus, his Moon Knight work has been reprinted often, while I think this recent trade was the first time this was reprinted, so perhaps fewer people have seen this artwork!
Doug Moench’s story in this issue is simple: Bad guy has a secret and a secret weapon, lion-man hybrids he created and then genocided want secret weapon, Peter Quill gets in the middle and has to decide if his no-killing oath is that important in a war zone (answer: no.). But first Sienkiewicz, all of 21 when he drew this, has to establish the lo-tech world of Redstone and introduce Sylvana, who sits around in a bikini for no discernible reason! Obviously, Sienkiewicz is channeling Neal Adams in this issue, but there are worse artists in 1979 to channel, so the art is pretty danged good, especially for someone drawing something like their fourth comic. He already can draw horses quite well (although those are horse-elephants, from the looks of it), and he knows how to draw square-jawed, barrel-chested dudes. Sylvana, for some reason, is just sitting in that bar wearing a bikini and a sword – her presence in the story is never explained, so let’s chalk it up to “cheesecake reasons.” Bob McLeod inked this, and at this stage of Sienkiewicz’s career, an old-school inker like McLeod (who was only 27 when he inked this, but who had been around for a few years longer than Sienkiewicz, working on a variety of Marvel titles) was a good fit. As usual, I don’t know where the penciling stops and the inking begins, but some of the more feathery and sleeker touches, like the horses’ gleaming hides and Peter’s groovy hair, are probably due to McLeod.
Sienkiewicz was pretty good at action even this early in his career (some would point to his avant-garde stuff and say this was the only time he was good at action!), as we see here. His characters move like they would in a sword/fist fight, and Sienkiewicz keeps them loose as they move around. Yes, the Beastmen are wearing really tight pants, as if they stopped by for a sword fight on their way to the disco, but it’s 1979, right? I should point out that I don’t know how much Marvel “remastered” these pages for the trade release, because McLeod’s inking is really stellar, with the various shades of gray, black, and white really making the world fully realized, and I’d be disappointed if a good amount of it was added post-production. Does anyone have the original issue?
Look at how good Sienkiewicz was with body language and facial expressions. Again, at this point Sienkiewicz had drawn a few – 3-5? – Moon Knight stories, and that’s it. Sylvana in Panel 1 is wonderful, as she suddenly realizes that Peter Quill might be, you know, a bit out of touch with reality (he’s not, but she doesn’t know that). Sienkiewicz opens her eyes wide and tilts her head down, while he bends her body into a concave curve as she places her hand on her chest, showing her incredulity. Yes, her breasts are trying really hard to burst out of that tiny bra she’s wearing, but the body language is tremendous. In Panel 2, her mouth drops as Peter begins speaking to the “widgets,” with “Ship” sent out to warn Peter, and she begins to understand that Peter might actually not be crazy. Then, in Panel 3, she’s recovered enough to get back to her point, which is that Peter stole her sword and won’t give it back. Despite being farther away, we can see that Sienkiewicz has given her an angry face, while placing her hand on her hip, straightening her up, and showing her pointing at the sword all indicate that she doesn’t really care what Peter is up to, because he won’t give her the furshlugginer sword back! That’s a really nice pose, and the way Sylvana moves through her emotions is really well done.
“Musical montages” in comics are so much less annoying than on television because, well, they’re not “musical,” for one, but they usually last only one panel, as we see here. Can you imagine this on a television show? We’d get a full minute or so or Peter Quill reliving his past and imagining what it’s like for the lion-man hybrids to live, all while some hipper-than-thou music played on the soundtrack (I’d name some hipper-than-thou music, but as I am not hip, I don’t know any), and we’d all to endure it. Here, Sienkiewicz draws an attack on the bad guy’s citadel, which causes Peter to flashback, and we get it all in one nice panel. First, of course, McLeod probably does the heavy lifting on the explosion in Panel 1, and it’s beautiful brush work. In Panel 2, Sienkiewicz/McLeod do wonderful work with the explosion that kills Peter’s mother, and McLeod inks the lion’s mane exquisitely on the right side. The exploding planet is nice, too, as either Sienkiewicz or McLeod simply use black chunks to make the destruction more abstract but also more devastating.
Sienkiewicz was so good this young, in fact, that he soon after began working on Fantastic Four, which is impressive for someone so young, even though the comic didn’t have quite the cachet that it enjoyed before and after this time. I don’t own those issues, though, so tomorrow I’m going to check out one of his later Moon Knight issues, when he decided to stop being a Neal Adams clone and decided to go … in a slightly different direction. Come back tomorrow and check out the evolution! And don’t forget about the archives!
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