How "DC Universe: Rebirth" Fulfills Its Promise of Restoring Legacy to DC Comics
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jim Lee, and the issue is The Punisher War Journal #2, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated December 1988. Enjoy!
I first saw Lee’s artwork in Punisher War Journal, but I didn’t own any of it, because I read my best friend’s issues. When I decided to feature Lee, I needed to find some issues of it, and I found issue #2. It turns out that Carl Potts, who wrote the issue, laid it out, while Lee is credited with “finished art.” I don’t love featuring artists unless they’re credited with penciled art (and, hopefully, pencils and inks), because the division of labor begins to get murky, but because I had to go find this issue, I decided to use it. I own issue #11, too, where Lee is credited with pencils (and Klaus Janson inks him), but as tomorrow’s entry will show a comic from pretty much the same time as issue #11, I decided to go with this, from a year earlier. Such is life!
While Lee didn’t lay the page out, I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that Potts used as little detail as possible, which means Lee still had quite a bit to do.* He does a nice job with the spot blacks, giving the art a grittier feel than we got yesterday, as Castle’s world is a lot darker than Alpha Flight’s. He’s very precise with the inks, as we see in Panel 3 when Montoya bashes the dudes’ heads together. Lee highlights the mustaches and mouths of the punks, while Gregory Wright, the colorist, leaves the center of the collision uncolored to make it more violent. Montoya’s face is nicely done, with his messy hair, dark eyes that curl into his eye brows, and mustache and beard. Lee uses a lot of motion lines, but that was fairly standard back in those days, and he gives Montoya (and Castle, but he’s not in close-up as much) a lot of arm hair. Manly men had hair back in the 1980s!
* I mentioned this in the comments when Norm Breyfogle stopped by, but I don’t like to contact artists before I put these up. First of all, this year I’ve contacted three artists beforehand, for some very minor things, and after initially hearing from them, I didn’t hear anything else. One of them warned me that he was very busy, which is why I’m not too put out by it, and it’s also why I don’t contact artists. I assume they’re busy and don’t have a ton of time to spare for me, and I’m okay with that. I’m also terrible at asking questions – I tend to ask questions for which the answers would be incredibly detailed – and I don’t want to put an artist in a position where he or she has to say, “Man, that’s a terrible question.” I’d rather write that I’m speculating about certain things rather than bother artists. So I’m going to assume that Potts laid out the pages as lightly as possible and Lee did most of the heavy lifting. The artwork has much more of a “Jim Lee” feel to it, so I think I’m on pretty firm ground here.
As I noted, I don’t know how much detail Potts put into his layouts, but here are some nice early Lee faces. He doesn’t over-hatch Frank’s face in Panel 1, simply using a dark line down the right side of his face to show where the light source comes from. He uses a bit of hatching to roughen up his face, but not too much. In Panel 2, Jason’s mouth almost looks like a classic “Liefeld” mouth, even though both Lee and Liefeld weren’t big stars at this time, so perhaps they hadn’t seen each other’s work yet. Still, that hexagonal shape of Jason’s lips feels Liefeldian, and the way Lee/Potts thins his eyes is also very much a product of the time. When I went over Liefeld, I noted the hatching arc on noses, which started to come into vogue about this time. Right on schedule, Lee gives Jason one. It’s weird to see little tics like that become a big feature of art and then fade, and this one was a pretty big tic! Lee is still using very solid lines to create detail, but he’s still restrained. It’s a pretty good mix.
Lee does some nice character work here, using thin, Kevin Nowlan-like lines to give us a scene between the old man and the young woman (their relationship is not noted in this issue, so I have no idea what the deal is there – grandfather and granddaughter, most likely, although the man seems more intimate with her than that relationship might imply). He inks just enough of the old man’s face to age him, while giving the woman a glisten to her lips, as we can see in Panel 3. In Panels 1 and 4, he uses shadows nicely to show the darkness of the street, as the two of them are holding on in a part of town that hasn’t been gentrified yet (gentrification is a subplot in this issue that I assume Potts returned to later). In Panel 4, in fact, Lee almost uses shadows exclusively to define them, which is quite neat. Meanwhile, Frank digs tight shirts to show off his awesome physique. Frank likes showing off for the ladies!
Lee, naturally, uses chunks of blacks for Frank’s costume, as pretty much every artist does. He uses a bit more hatching on the punks here, perhaps to show how tough they are and also to show more kineticism in the artwork. In Panel 1, we get chaotic motion lines driving Frank’s boot onto the punk’s head. The punk has a fence of lines along his forehead, while Lee uses short, thick lines to show his impact with the pavement. We get more motion lines in Panel 2 as Frank somehow swings his leg downward and breaks the dude’s arm. He’s holding onto the arm, so the fact that he breaks it isn’t too wild, but how does Frank get his leg so far above his own head and bring it down like that? It’s very strange, especially as it seems to take no effort. Lee, however, makes sure to use a lot of black at the break, making it look uglier than just the sharp elbow where the break occurs. He uses a lot of blacks on the dude’s pants, turning them into leather, and he uses vertical lines on the dude in the foreground to make sure our attention doesn’t linger with him – Wright backs him up by using blue on the dude to simply make him a frame to the action. We get more good inking in Panel 3, with heavy lines on Frank’s face, showing the strain in his body as he jams the pole into the dude’s midsection. The motion lines in this case work nicely to in this instance to speed up Frank’s attack, making the impact work better.
Montoya poisons Frank with the same thing he’s been using to kill others on a hit list he has, and Frank goes down, just like Frazier. Lee inks a bit more fussily on this page, from Montoya’s leather gloves to Frank’s dazed face in Panel 3. Both Frank and Montoya are a bit beaten up, having faced off against each other, so Lee adds smudges and lines to their faces. In Panel 3, Lee once again uses shading to divide the lit side of Frank’s face from the darker part, but he also adds quite a bit of cross-hatching to scuff Frank’s face. He uses a lot of short lines framing the characters – Jason in Panel 2 and Frank and Montoya in Panel 4 – to show how shaky they are on their feet. He also draws in those starbursts to show how dizzy Frank has become. Potts and/or Lee remembers to show Frank pulling the pin on his knife – yes, he has a pin on his knife, which when pulled allows him to shoot the blade across the room – as I’m sure it’s pretty vital in the next issue (it doesn’t come into play in this one). As Frank falls, Lee does a nice job with the motion lines and the spot blacks on Frank’s coat.
We can see a bit more of Lee in this issue than we saw yesterday, but because Lee is just finishing, it’s tough to say exactly how much influence he had. More than an inker would, but not as much as a full penciler would, I imagine. But Lee’s work on Punisher War Journal was enough to get him the gig on Uncanny X-Men, where he became a superstar. So we’ll check out that work tomorrow. Could it be time for more than one comic in a post yet again? Yeah, it might be. I can’t keep away from them! Find more of those kinds of posts in the archives!
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