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Year of the Artist, Day 233: Jim Lee, Part 2 – The Punisher War Journal #2

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

24 Comments

I missed Lee on Punisher WJ, since I can’t stand the character (I prefer the original Mack Bolan); but, his art is pretty darn good here. Lee is an artist who I thought had great potential when I first saw his art (X-Men); but, his stuff tended to frustrate me. I always felt he was over-rendering characters and posing them too much and not spending enough time on story, and that he had trouble with quieter stuff. That’s not so much the case here. Maybe that’s the Carl Potts influence, maybe Lee was challenged more at this stage. I did think he was one of the more articulate spokespersons for Image, when they began. He certainly came off more mature than some of his colleagues, in interviews (at the initial launch of Image).

Probably the last time I enjoyed Jim Lee’s artwork. Having Carl Potts do layouts and not having Scott Williams as an inker didn’t hurt.

I had #7, #12, and #13 laying around. Lee was credited for pencils instead of finished art in #12. He had two inkers but I didn’t notice much of a difference. Really just a few more big splashes. He didn’t do #13, but Ross and Heath did an impressive job of aping him.

Jeff: Yeah, I never liked the Punisher (I still don’t), so I didn’t have these either. I think with Lee, as with any artist who achieves great success, the need to push disappeared, so his later stuff, while it shows some experimentation (as we’ll see a bit), isn’t as challenging as he might have been earlier in his career. I still like his work, but I wish he would try new things a bit more.

DubipR: Well, we’ll see Williams tomorrow!

Duff: In tomorrow’s post, we’ll see three different inkers, and it’s a interesting difference there.

I remember an interview of Jim Lee just around that time..where he clearly said that working with, and over the loose pecils, of Carl Potts helped him a lot to evoluate. (Speakeasy maybe?? )

That period style is the one we can see over in the short stories cited by other contributors .. in Avengers Solo, and the story in Classic X-Men

Joe Rubinstein (and his family of inkers) will keep the effects and some rendering (Classic X-Men, Uncanny …) Scott Williams will changethe rendering entirelly

Jim Lee’s Punisher never got collected into a trade, right? Weird missed opportunity on Marvel’s part. A Jim Lee Punisher visionaries line would sell.

Jim Lee’s Punisher never got collected into a trade, right? Weird missed opportunity on Marvel’s part. A Jim Lee Punisher visionaries line would sell.

Marvel treats their Jim Lee material poorly period. He’s one of the most popular comic book artists in the entire comic book industry and all they have in print in color is a $50 X-Tinction Agenda hardcover, a $50 hardcover featuring the first seven or so issues of X-Men Volume 2 and a $125 omnibus collection Uncanny X-Men #273-277 plus X-Men #1-10 or something like that.

No smaller trades of his X-Men or Punisher stuff.

Brian: That’s not true. I own a trade collecting at least eight issues of Jim Lee’s Punisher stuff. It’s called ‘Punisher War Journal Classic’

Link: http://www.amazon.com/Punisher-War-Journal-Classic-Volume/dp/0785131183/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408689290&sr=8-1&keywords=%27Punisher+War+Journal+Classic

Thanks, Solid Snake. That trade was from six years ago so I thought it was out of print by now (there are some other Lee X-Men trades from the 1990s that they let go out of print). Thanks for the head’s up that it’s still in print!

The Angry Internet

August 21, 2014 at 11:44 pm

@Solid Snake: That collection’s been out of print since 2011. Of course you can’t really get upset at Marvel for leaving it OOP when there’s still plenty of new copies around, but it does seem odd that they never followed it up with the rest of Lee’s run.

Wellllllll, I suspect that whole “Jim Lee is a bigwig at that OTHER big comic company” might play into Marvel not doing much to reprint his stuff. Regardless, he certainly was a major player at the company for long enough and his work was big enough it ought to be in print.

Wellllllll, I suspect that whole “Jim Lee is a bigwig at that OTHER big comic company” might play into Marvel not doing much to reprint his stuff. Regardless, he certainly was a major player at the company for long enough and his work was big enough it ought to be in print.

Yeah and I don’t get that at all. Print what’s popular. Jim Lee is really popular. It’s not like he’s going to take a popularity hit by Marvel not reprinting his work. It just seems like throwing money away.

I’m going on memory here, but around this time, weren’t Potts and Lee’s styles somewhat similar? Kim DeMulder is another one who produced Leesque art back then, methinks

I suspect there may be a fear on Marvel’s side that if someone gets the old stuff and likes it, and looks into more by the same creator, they’ll find that creator isn’t working for Marvel any more, and fear they’ll miss out some cash that way/ direct people to the competition.

Same sort of thing came into play with the Aztek TP from DC — Morrison (who was/is still working for DC) had his name HUGE, while Millar the co-writer, who no longer does any DC stuff, had his name tiny (I believe).

(Of course, maybe in that case Millar didn’t really write any of it anyway…. /snark)

Regardless, I agree with you, it certainly seems like they’re leaving money on the table and if they are thinking the way I said, they’re probably over-thinking it ;)

Not that the issues aren’t easy to find, but I’d love a War Journal Classic volume 2. They wouldn’t really have to promote Jim Lee either, since he wasn’t completely contributing to the interior art.

And on a side note, I wish The Punisher would always say “the eagle has landed” right before kicking the shit out of a bunch of thugs. I love that Lee threw an axe kick in there, even though really you’d use that to hit the head or collarbone. Using it and hitting the bicep or inside elbow is a hilariously inefficient way to break an arm.

@Greg Burgas: Williams made Lee worse in my opinion. He was and is the true definition of a tracer. Just made Lee’s artwork that much flatter than it is. There’s no anima to his pages. If Lee had an good inker… well, we’ll never know.

Look forward to Friday’s selection.

@DubipR
Your point is fairly interesting as I see it totally opposite. Williams is the one who added the feathering in Lee’s art and made/makes it much more dynamic. Plus he is anything but a tracer, the pieces I’ve seen entirely his own look great.
But that is art, some love this, others that. Great to see so many different views.

I like the Punisher in small doses. I do not think he works as a character carrying an ongoing monthly series. As I recall, Steven Grant himself, who had a major role in helping to make the Punisher a super-hot character in the mid-1980s, felt that the character should only be featured from time to time in a miniseries or graphic novel once every year or two, no more frequently than that. Of cousre, by the early 1990s Marvel was publishing no less than THREE ongoing Punisher titles, plus numerous miniseries and specials. That was crazy.

The very first Punisher comic I ever read was War Journal #10 (the Punisher get a tank!) by Carl Potts, Jim Lee and Scott Williams. I actually rather enjoyed it. A major component was actually the artwork. Lee & Williams did really nice work. As Jeff Nettleton mentioned above, this was the point when Lee was doing some good storytelling, drawing in a dynamic style that still flowed nicely from panel to panel. Soon after, though, Lee’s work began to feature those overly posed characters (especially the women who were thrusting out their chests), a reliance on splashy pages, and way too much crosshatching.

All the more reason while I would rather see a Jim Lee series with inks by Jim himself. Even if it would mean even more months of advance work before publication.

This was the best period of Jim Lee’s career for me. Maybe it was mostly due to Potts laying out the art, but the first year of War Journal was a cut above average. I’d rank it next to the Grant/Zeck mini-series, the Baron/Portacio run on the first ongoing series, the Final Days arc and the Dixon/Romita Jr. arc which launched War Zone.

I think with the Jim Lee reprints Marvel figure that they’ve reprinted the bulk of his X-Men stuff and the Heroes Reborn stuff he did so they don’t really need to put any effort into reprinting anything else he might have done for the company. Especially early work where Lee was kind of finding his voice, so to speak.

It’s not beyond a company like Marvel or DC to let petty personal jealousies govern who and what they print/reprint. DC do it all the time. There is no end to the amount of comic books DC refuses to reprint. In Marvel’s case, as has been said, Jim Lee works for the competition, so if Marvel foster interest in Lee’s work they will more than likely encourage new fans to go and read DC’s books. It’s not really the same with the other Image people, largely because they either don’t do comic book work on a regular basis any more or they’re washed up hacks whose current books no sane human being would read. Perhaps the lone exception to this is Erik Larsen and, perhaps not coincidentally, Marvel has only reprinted his Spider-Man work in dribs and drabs.

@Solid Snake: No “perhaps” about it my friend – Erik Larsen is defintiely the exception to that rule ! Savage Dragon continues to be a great book which pushes the envelope of comics storytelling, from the stories taking place in real time (Judge Dredd is the only other comic I can think of where this happens) to incredible art which is fluid and dynamic to real changes taking places regularly – most recently the “savage” Dragon of the title is in prison and his son Malcolm is the Dragon the book follows. It’s a huge shame the book is not a best-seller, as it has all of the elements that most comic fans claim to enjoy – character arcs, change, continuity which is meaningful yet not overly complicated.
Rant over, thanks for bearing it folks !

Oh, and Larsen did some great work on Nova and – my personal favourite – the Defenders too, neither of which have been repribnted as far as I am aware

The story shown here was one of the very first comic books I’ve read (super hero stuff, I mean – I had been reading brazilian publications of Disney stuff and our own Turma da Monica from a much younger age – I’m from Brazil, BTW). Anyway, around this time the Punisher was one of my favourite characters, and Lee really made an amazing impression with those issues. His art back then was detailed and more grounded, and the storytelling was also great, although now I don’t know if that’s own to Lee or probably to Pott’s breakdowns – until reading this article I didn’t remember that, besides the writing, he was also helping with the art.
Off course, I was a teenager during the 90’s, so I also loved Lee’s stuff in X-men (who didn’t?), but when he moved to Image his art just got too sketchy, and even though he’s got somewhat better in his last works, in my opinion PWJ is still the pinnacle of his carreer, artwise.
I’ve just found out about this series of articles you’re doing the other day and have been having a blast reading them. Very good work indeed. I’d love that you’ve included Norm Breyfogle, since around the same time I was reading Lee’s Punisher my very favourite title was Breyfogle’s Batman, which I still love to this day, and feel he’s a great artist who never got the opportunity to shine as was his due (I really hope that someday he has the chance to draw spider-man as I think it’d be a perfect match to his artistic abilities).
If I may suggest a couple of artists for your list, I’d love to see the works of Frank Quitely and Bryan Hitch analised, and off course, this year long work won’t be complete if you don’t take your shot at maybe the most idiosyncratic carrer in comics – Frank Miller’s!
If I may suggest an artist or two, I’d

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