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 Steve Mannion, and the issue is Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #10, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated June 1999. Enjoy!
Some commenters have been asking me if I’m going to feature Steve Rude this year, and I’ve noted that the Dude emerged as a fully developed artist on Nexus and hasn’t changed his style too much, so I might skip him. But I have featured artists whose style hasn’t changed too much just because I happen to like them, so I might have to show the Dude at some point this year. I bring this up because Steve Mannion, whose work I’ll be showing over the next few days, is another dude whose work hasn’t changed too significantly since 1999, but I dig it quite a bit, so I’m going to show you some of it! In the mid-1990s, Mannion did evolve quite a bit, but I don’t have many examples of that artwork. He worked on some of those “Big Book of …” books from Paradox Press, but I can’t find those, either. In The Bomb trade paperback, there are two stories from 1993 and 1994, and I did, of course, just get his Strange Pirate Tales in San Diego, which features at least one story from before this, because Mannion put the date on one of the pages. Here are three pages – the first from 1993, the second from 1994, and the third from 1997:
In the first two, you see how “Mad-magazine” his work is, with lots of silliness, lots of details, lots of buxom women and goofy men, and lots of good, wholesome violence. The third one is smoother, as he began to ease slightly back on the insanity and concentrated a bit more on craft. Luckily, he has never backed off completely on the insanity, as we’ll see moving forward. But that’s just a little bit of his very early work, so I have to move on to 1999, where we find Sentinel of Liberty, which is a rather odd Captain America story.
Mannion, as we can see, is very cartoony, and he loves exaggeration. He draws Cap with large muscles, and he slouches him over so his head sticks out freakishly from his body. He’s a bit surprised to see Marilyn Monroe in the White House, and she’s a bit surprised to see him. This page establishes a pattern for a lot of Mannion’s work – his men, especially his manliest men (the general doesn’t really count), tend to be lunkheads, while his women tend to be petite, curvy, and scantily clad. We’ll see other examples of Cap’s very square jaw and his wide eyes, as Mannion portrays him in this comic as a pretty straight-forward good ol’ American hero, bulldozing ahead in the face of overwhelming odds. Mannion also does a nice job showing Cap’s embarrassment – he and colorist Matt Hicks don’t shade Cap’s face, but the way Cap hides his face and his gaping mouth in Panel 2 do a nice job getting across the idea that Cap isn’t comfortable around naked women who use the American flag to cover their womanly bits.
When Mannion works in black and white, he tends to use starker lines, while his color work, at least at this stage, had more spot blacks where he could ditch holding lines, as we see with the machinery in Panel 1. You can see that, while he likes drawing figures in a cartoonish manner, he’s good at making the machinery look clunky and metallic, so we get a good contrast with Cap’s more fluid design. His M.O.D.O.K. is pretty good, too, as he smushes his face more than we usually see, with M.O.D.O.K.’s eyes and mouth stretched out across his face and his nose smashed into the center. It makes M.O.D.O.K. look a bit goofier than he usually looks (and let’s be honest, M.O.D.O.K. usually looks pretty goofy), but he’s still menacing.
M.O.D.O.K. has a bizarre scheme that involves putting people into a chamber, which tends to drive them insane. So M.O.D.O.K. himself enters the chamber, and Cap follows. Hence, this page. This kind of insanity is right in Mannion’s wheelhouse, as he’s able to create all kinds of weird creatures on the perimeter to show how strange this place is. Mannion’s loose, curvy, funky line helps him make the creatures look all kinds of weird, which is all that matters. He draws a cartoon face on Cap’s shield, with the big oval eyes that angle downward and to the outside, implying fear and worry, while he turns down the shield’s mouth, which implies the same thing. Cap’s mouth, with its overbite, shows shock that his shield is now sentient, but also a bit of terror. M.O.D.O.K. is once again drawn really well, as Mannion makes his mouth much larger to accommodate his giant teeth and tongue, which drips with drool, another stereotypical signifier of insanity. Apparently Cap is terrified of snails, and Mannion draws them oozing out of M.O.D.O.K.’s eyes, while Hicks uses a nice green hue speckled with white to make the ooze even more disgusting. Mannion still draws Cap out of proportion in the final panel, as his hands are gigantic, but the exaggeration helps the reader see his fear and helplessness a bit more. The screw-up on the page comes with the word balloons, and I’m not sure whose responsibility that was. The word balloons that read “Whoa, man! This is too freaky!” and “I’m outta here!” don’t seem to be said by anyone or anything, except maybe the snails. I assume the shield is saying both of those things, as it’s trying to get away and Cap is chasing it, but I’m not positive.
Mannion has a bit of an issue with the layout, too. The top panel is fine, but the way the word balloons lead us, we go down the right side of the page, where we see the snails in the small panel where Cap chases his shield before we go to the left side of the page and learn what the hell that green stuff is. I guess the reveal of “SNAILS” at the bottom of the page is the joke, but the way we move around the page isn’t, in my opinion, worth it. I don’t even think Mannion needed to change the layout – some editing of the dialogue and better placement of the word balloons could have allowed us to take in M.O.D.O.K.’s assault on the left side of the page and then move to the right. But that’s just me.
Cap figures out that this is all in his mind, so he can use his mind to, say, grow giant wings out of the little ones on his cowl, and off he goes! I love his face in Panel 2, where he goes Professor X on us, as Mannion gives him a giant mouth and an even bigger chin, while narrowing his eyes as he thunders away. Cap is tired of being played for a sucker! Mannion gives the shield a more resolute face, too, as his eyes are no longer angled downward, but turned inward, while his brow and mouth are set grimly. Mannion inks the wings on Cap’s head really well, making them thick and puffy, a lot like clouds, which turns them more dream-like than real wings, indicating again that this is in Cap’s mind. Down at the bottom, when he smashes through the wall of skulls, Mannion uses nice blacks to add the small details to the heads, and notice that Cap and his shield are smiling. They’re back, baby!
Don’t worry why Robo-M.O.D.O.K. is saying “baby” – it all makes sense if you read the issue (okay, it doesn’t, but at least you know why he’s saying it). Focus instead on how nicely Mannion draws him. He uses very light lines or no lines at all for his outline and a lot of spot blacks to full in the details. He once again flattens M.O.D.O.K.’s face, this time in a slightly more traditional manner, and he uses a lot of black on that face to make it more malevolent. The blacks that create the gears and the armor plating are really well done, and Hicks’s use of yellow and orange works well with the blacks. Hicks, of course, knows all about complementary colors, so the men and the background are colored blue to make Robo-M.O.D.O.K. pop a bit more.
I only showed one page with Mannion females, so here’s another one. He does curvy women very well, doesn’t he?
Mannion is influenced by Wallace Wood – he has name checked Wood in his comics before, and even if he didn’t, it’s pretty obvious. I’m planning on featuring Wood this year, but I have a bunch of Mannion comics, so I figured I’d get to him first. So fret not, if you’re wanting to see some good Wood (get your minds out of the gutter, you!) this year. I’ll get to him!
Tomorrow, the immutable Batman Axiom of Comics rears its head, as Mannion drew not one, but two Batman stories. Which one will I pick? You’ll have to come back and see! And, of course, you can find plenty of Batman in the archives!
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