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Year of the Artist, Day 238: Steve Mannion, Part 2 – Batman: Gotham Knights #37

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

10 Comments

Hilary Barta’s a good fit for this kind of stuff. Excellent hand with the cartoony stuff and someone who knows how to use shadows. Also a dang funny artist, in his own right.

Jeff: Good point about Barta. I’m not hugely familiar with his work, but I know he’s inked other cartoonish work, and it always looks good.

Andy Marinkovich

August 26, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Steve Mannion and Hilary Barta are a good match because of similarities in style, but I don’t think these pages would look much different had Steve inked them himself. Steve is a fantastic inker. I always enjoy seeing him get more and more attention in comic fandom as he truly deserves it. His work is always bursting with crazy ideas and characters, fantastic action, and great humor. And he does it all without worrying about too much about traditional artistic conventions that might otherwise stifle his creativity. Steve’s work always seems so “free form” to me, as though you’re seeing exactly what’s going on in his head, unchecked and unfiltered. He never ceases to amaze me! Thank you for devoting a few columns to this unique talent.

Geez that looks insane.

Ooh yeah, Barta inking Mannion is an amazingly good fit. Other good Barta stuff includes the Stupid one shot from Image (the Spawn parody “Spewn”, iirc), the story from the JRJR 30th anniversary book (written by that Neil Gaiman guy), and the Splash Brannigan stuff from Tomorrow Stories.

That last Batman image is sorta like that Manara Spider Woman cover, a bit ;)

I don’t think I actually knew about this story before you offered your commentary on it, Greg. I do have the Detective Comics issue that Steve Mannion worked on, and it was great, but somehow this one slipped under my radar. It looks nice.

I really should pick up the Batman Black and White trade paperbacks. I think that the Black and White back-ups in Gotham Knights were often better than the main stories.

Andy: This entire year, I’ve had issues trying to figure out where the pencil work ends and the inking begins, unless it’s something really obvious. Over the next few days, Mannion is inking himself, and you’re right that he’s excellent at it. As I noted, I know a little of Barta’s work, so I know he’s a good fit for Mannion, but you’re right that I’m not sure if it would have looked substantially different than if Mannion had inked himself. That’s why I love seeing straight pencils, even though I don’t get to do that too often.

Anonymous: Oh, it is. And it gets even more insane over the next two days!

Travis: Hey now!

Ben: I like all of the Batman Black and White trades, and I’m looking forward to the fourth one. A lot of talent, some weird stories, and no worries about how anything “fits.” What’s not to like?

For Barta, a really fun one to check out is Marvel’s What The…?! #19. It’s a parody of the old Strange Tales comics, with a Dr. Strange parody on one side and Nick Fury on the other. It’s a toss up as to which one was funnier; but, I’m partial to the Nick Fury one. There’s a bunch of Steranko jokes in it and it’s a lot of fun. I believe he did quite a bit of work on What The…?!, and I know he did work on Power Pack. he also worked for First Comics, on Warp, Starslayer, and some of the Munden’s Bar stories in Grimjack; plus, some stories in Nexus. Barta is another with that Wally Wood style.

I loved inking Steve on this story. He’s a fantastic artist and, as noted, a great inker. His pencils are very tight, so there’s very little to “add”. In a case like this I’m attempting to keep it faithful but also spontaneous. And I NEVER use a marker. Everything is ink–mostly brush, and some pen.

Hilary: Thanks for stopping by! I’m trying to get better about distinguishing between the pencils and inks, and I hope I am, but I always appreciate creators stopping by to discuss the work. Very cool!

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