"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
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 The Bomb #3, which was published by Atom Bomb Comics and is cover dated 2006. These scans are from The Bomb trade paperback, which was published by Asylum Press in August 2008. Enjoy!
I’m pretty sure I first saw Mannion’s work in The Bomb (his back-up story from Fear Agent came out in trade in 2008, too, so maybe I saw that first), and since then, I’ve gotten his creator-owned work, Fearless Dawn, and tried to find a lot of the other stuff he draws (I’ve missed some, but I’ve gotten a lot!). The weird thing about this issue is that it’s The Bomb #3, but in the trade, it’s the second one that shows up. The cover, it appears, has been altered to reflect that, while even the splash page inside has been altered. I’m not sure what’s up with that. It doesn’t matter too much, as issue #2 and 3 aren’t really connected, so they can come in either order, but it’s still a bit weird. But, again, it doesn’t matter, because we’re here to check out the art! The Bomb is where Mannion debuted Fearless Dawn, his fun superhero-ish character, and this is the second story with her!
Prissy Jones decided to send away for one of those “Charles Atlas” kits that she found in a comic, wondering if it would work on girls. It did, and she became a powerhouse. She wears a costume (and a wig) and kicks butt. That’s Fearless Dawn. Now you know. Anyway, this is a fairly typical Mannion scene, with the exception of the scantily-clad women, who don’t appear here but will soon! In the circular panel, he draws Prissy with care, making sure her glasses are prominent (Prissy remains a bit of a nerd in her “secret identity”), but of course Mannion is somewhat unable to draw an unattractive female, so she’s very much “Rachael Leigh Cook-in-She’s All That” nerdy. In the bigger scene, we see plenty of good Mannion-esque characters. The little girls on the sidewalk look like cartoon characters, with their big black eyes and simple mouths. Mannion does 1940s-era men pretty well, so even though we don’t see the face of the dude walking toward the girls, we get a good idea of him from the fedora, the suit, and the briefcase. In the foreground, Mannion puts two boys, with the odd amalgam of clothes and the makeshift skateboards. The Nazis on the podium, like most Mannion villains, are a bit ridiculous, but Mannion still makes them menacing, as they’re always built like brick shithouses. He tends to give them a lot of teeth in big mouths in big heads, which makes them look more monstrous. Mannion is inking himself here, and he appears to be using more brushes to add the grays, which helps add some nuance to the scene. Mannion doesn’t always do this, but it’s interesting to see it when he does.
Prissy, as Dawn, decides to check out what the Nazis are up to, so she heads to the sauerkraut factory. Notice how goofy Dawn’s costume is – she got it when a mistress, angry that her lover wasn’t leaving his wife, threw a latex costume out the window and it landed at Prissy’s feet, and then she altered it a bit. But it’s a silly comic, for the most part, so it’s okay that Dawn has a silly costume. Look at how easily Mannion switches from more realistic drawings to a more cartoony style. Panel 2 is very nice – the buildings of the city are well done, with Mannion adding blacks and grays where necessary, while the beautiful shadow on the wall of the factory might not make perfect sense (the light is shining downward on Dawn, not upward), but still looks wonderful. In Panels 3-7, when Dawn gets out her glasses (another nice and humorous touch by Mannion), he uses a simpler line to get her through the row, but the more cartoony work doesn’t diminish the work at all. Her facial expressions are very nice in those panels, as she spots something, digs her glasses out of her pocket, adjusts them, and finally sees what’s going on. It’s just really nice storytelling by Mannion.
Yes, it’s time for Nazi zombie robots. The great thing about Mannion’s comics is that, more than a lot of other comics, he doesn’t need to even try to explain things. Some creators put Nazi zombie robots in their comics and think that it’s cool because everyone hates Nazis and love zombies and robots, but they don’t do much with the creations beyond that. Mannion doesn’t either, but he gets away with it because he doesn’t even care how clichéd they are and because he draws them so well that they move beyond annoying to awesomely goofy. I mean, the use of Nazi zombie robots in this comic is basically just so he can draw this panel. He does a really nice job with the general in the top circular panel, as he uses blacks to turn his eyes into white, manic globes. Mannion makes his mouth even bigger so he can fill it with giant, ugly teeth, with helps to accentuate the creepy eyes. The N-Z-R are typical Mannion villains, but he does amazing details on them, turning them into true monsters. The hatching isn’t overdone, but gives the impression of rough muscles and tough leather, while Mannion makes sure to add all sorts of cables and stitches such that would be essential to these things but still look extraneous, making Nazi engineering look horribly inefficient. In Panel 3, he keeps Dawn’s face simple and line-free, with her big, expressive eyes contrasted with the general’s vacant gaze and her smooth skin contrasted to the N-Z-Rs’ ugliness. Mannion isn’t subtle, but that’s okay!
Mannion adds clowns to the mix, because why not? And, of course, the Nazis murderize them, because they’re goddamned Nazis. Mannion goes with a much rougher line on this page, as he turns the clowns into sad sacks, with thick blacks and even smudgy lines, while of course their faces reflect their state of mind. Then, in Panel 2, when they’re confronted by the murderous Nazis, he cartoonizes them a bit more, as they realize what’s in store for them. It’s interesting that Mannion does this often, because it changes the tone of the book, even between panels. In Panel 1, we kind of agree with the general – the clowns do look like “schmucks.” But suddenly, the tone shift comes when Mannion gives us real bad guys, and the clowns are now innocent victims. It’s very interesting how Mannion does that, manipulating his reader even though his work seems so cartoonish (of course, cartoons manipulate us as much as any media, but it’s harder to spot). The rough lines on the clowns in Panel 1 are transferred to the giant Nazi goons, with their Mannion-esque exaggerated giant heads (and necks, as we can see from the dude on the right), the drool from the one on the left, and the veins popping out of their arms. Mannion doesn’t take the violence too seriously, as the sound effects in Panel 3 are more humorous than anything, but he still wants us to feel a bit of sympathy for the poor, bludgeoned clowns.
Dawn is rescued by Betty, the high school bully who inspired Prissy to get fit in the first place. No, Mannion doesn’t bother to explain why she shows up or why, in issue #4, Betty and Prissy are suddenly best friends. Mannion has no need for logic, fools! This is a nice action page, as Betty crashes through the window wearing roller skates (like you do) and spirits Dawn away from the Nazis. The window glass doesn’t cut Betty at all, of course, but at least Betty goes in feet first, so it’s a little easier to believer. Obviously, Mannion is going to draw Betty as a sexy chick, because that’s what he does, but what’s always nice about Mannion’s women is that they’re either posing ridiculously because he knows that it’s ridiculous or they’re doing things that look believable. For instance, while we see Betty’s garters, it’s because she’s wearing a skirt that gets blown up by her swing. Yes, the skirt is short, but it’s not like that wouldn’t happen when she crashes through the window. Meanwhile, Mannion draws stitches into her clothing, because it’s actual clothing. Betty’s breasts aren’t ridiculously large, and her legs are thicker and more powerful than a lot of superheroines’ legs. When Dawn climbs on her back, Mannion does a nice job blackening the corners of her eyes, as she’s looking sideways at Betty but we’re not close enough to see irises. The way he draws Betty, squatting to balance herself and give Dawn a wider area to hold onto to, is also nicely done. Mannion tilts Panel 3 to “speed up” the action, as the tilt and the motion lines give the illusion of Betty moving fast across the page toward the next one. It’s not fancy, but it’s well done.
Betty and Dawn get to the roof, and we get this sequence. Notice again that Mannion uses gray shading to excellent effect, adding a nice touch of seediness to the stark black and white of the city. In the final panel, when Betty and Dawn jump from the roof, he uses good hatching and shades to illuminate the night with the fire. As usual, when Mannion (like other artists, to be fair) places people farther in the background, they’re not as detailed, but it’s interesting that Mannion is able to keep them expressive as they become more cartoonish, as Dawn is in Panel 2 of the first page. It’s kind of weird that he makes a big deal of Betty turning away from the reader in that panel, because she still has underwear on, after all. Mannion, as we’ve seen, doesn’t care too much about consistent perspectives or sizes, as the general in the final panel looks far larger on the roof than he should and the factory itself looks smaller than it did earlier. But that’s no big deal, is it? Mannion, as we saw above, does a nice job with the details, from the oldey-tyme police car to the run-down appearance of the factory building. His technique remains very cool, too – he uses blacks to write out “sauerkraut” in Panel 5 of the first page, which is neat, and he uses gorgeous line work in Panel 6 makes the moon and the fire look grittier. It’s just nice work all around.
Mannion continued doing Fearless Dawn comics, first in color, then back in black and white. I thought about showing one of the color ones, but decided to move on to a story with Fearless Dawn that looks a bit different, so I’ll check that out tomorrow. You know you want to check out the archives before then!
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