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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Mannion, and the story is “Fear Is the Key” in Batman: Gotham Knights #37, which was published by DC and is cover dated March 2003. These scans are from Batman Black and White volume 3, which came out in 2007. Enjoy!
As we all know, the Batman Axiom of Comics states that if you draw a comic, you eventually draw a Batman comic, and this is Mannion’s second Batman story, after he drew a weird adventure of “Copernicus Dent” in Detective Comics #753 (coincidentally, it was the second Big Two story Mannion drew with the word “Janus” in the title, as the Cap story I featured yesterday also had “Janus” in the title). I just like this one a bit more, so I showed it even though it doesn’t feature slinky women like the Copernicus Dent story does. You’ll just have to deal with it!
A wizard calls up a demon that just happens to look like Batman, and so we get this page. Mannion does amazing work with the Bat-demon in Panel 1, as his muscles bulge and his teeth pop out of his mouth. Mannion gives him a lumpy spine, too, making him even creepier. He uses a lot of details on the clothing of the wizard and his assistant in Panel 2 and the bad dudes in Panel 4, making them look both medieval and somewhat silly. The blacks on Bat-demon’s gloves are really nice, turning them into crackly leather instead of fabric. Hilary Barta inked this book, and as usual, I don’t know how much he contributed to the issue. I love the shadow on the wall in Panel 2 and the wizard’s beard in Panel 3, and I wonder if Mannion penciled all that in and then Barta simply used a thin marker to darken the lines or if Mannion didn’t draw much and let Barta ink everything in. It’s frustrating. Still, that’s a nice page. Mannion loves chaos in his comics, and this entire story is fairly chaotic.
On this page we learn that the “wizard” is really the Scarecrow, who’s been dosed with a mixture of his fear gas and a hallucinogen, which can’t be good. Once again, Mannion gives us some nutty work, as Batman tries to talk them down. The black chunks in Panel 1 help the crazed expressions on the punks’ faces stand out well, while Mannion’s Bat-demon in Panel 2 is even more ferocious, as he draws it with an even bigger mouth, larger teeth, and bird-of-prey talons instead of feet. The shift from Bat-demon to Batman is dramatic, even though Mannion still draws Bats with some good-sized muscles. His Scarecrow is on-model, of course, but he does nice work with Crane’s eyes, as they look more vacant than usual from the effect of the mixture. Once again, Mannion’s fluid line helps create a sense of constant motion, making this page chaotic and crazy, which is, of course, very cool.
Scarecrow doesn’t listen to Batman, and when the punks try to chop his head off, we get this scene. For some reason, the Bat-plane flies into the scene, probably just so Mike Carey could get Mannion to draw a dragon, which he does. Look at that thing. I don’t even know where the body goes, but it’s still pretty danged cool. Mannion and Barta do a tremendous job with the blacks and the inks, as the dragon seems to be all black chunks, creating that sinewy, creepy thing. Mannion doesn’t forget that Batman is still a “demon,” and he makes him quite hulking down in the corner. In Panel 2, the Scarecrow slides from fantasy to reality, and Mannion does a nice job showing his anxiety as he realizes what’s going on. Panel 3 gives us that great, creepy Scarecrow, with the beautiful hatching and the stitches over Crane’s mouth. Mannion shows that he can do both very solid, somewhat utilitarian drawings, as the Bat-plane, as outlandish as it might look, is drawn with solid, thick lines and no exaggeration, but he can also do craziness, as Crane is rather insane. One thing you might have noticed about Mannion but which is very clear in Panel 3 is that he doesn’t take perspective all that seriously. Yes, Scarecrow should be bigger than Batman because Batman is deeper in the background, but Crane is so much bigger and the Bat-plane’s size makes no sense whatsoever. Do I care? I do not. With some artists, it’s crucial to get these dimensions correct, but with Mannion’s type of art, it’s not as important. Feel free to disagree!
The story ends with Crane back in Arkham, speculating about Batman. I love Panel 2, where Crane is still thinking about Batman in a cage. Mannion uses some simple line work in his doodle, giving Batman a beakier nose than usual and big goofy teeth. The thick blacks swirling around Batman and the cage create a sense of unreality. Mannion, as we see, can draw “normal” people pretty well, as Crane has a slightly long nose and a jutting chin in Panel 2 but looks like a perfectly “normal” man otherwise. The story ends with Batman and the creepy narration (Mike Carey, it’s clear, had a very cool idea he wanted to get to, and he did so pretty well), and Mannion gives us an odd drawing of Bats collapsed against a brick wall. His limbs are far too big, even if we consider our perspective from the ground, looking up at him just a little bit. His right foot, the bottom of which we see, is big because it’s “closest” to us, but Batman’s dimensions are still a bit off. Again, I don’t care too much, because when you read a Mannion story, there’s going to be some wonkiness with the designs, but it does take us by surprise a bit. The pose is pretty good, though, as it’s clear that Batman is recovering from what Crane put him through, and so Mannion draws him with his head resting on his arm and his right leg bent up underneath him. He drapes the cape over his back and leg, and the blacks give it a good, silky feel. I love the tread on Batman’s boot. These are the kind of things I notice.
Mannion started doing more creator-owned work after this, and tomorrow we’ll check out something from the series that first put him on my radar. Will there be more scantily-clad females? Well, after today’s lack of them, I’m afraid not to show them! As always, you can peruse the archives for more fun stuff!
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